NEW YORK — Every NFL draft is filled with intrigue. When the crop of college players has 102 early entrants, including the likes of Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel, that simply ratchets up the excitement.
Here are five things to watch for in the first round Thursday night:
WE’RE NO. 1
That would be the Texans, who went 2-14 last season to more than earn the first spot in the proceedings. But there’s no certainty who they will grab, or if they will stay there.
General manager Rick Smith has made it clear the Texans have listened to offers for the first pick.
“If we take the first pick, we know who we want,” Smith said. “(But) we are obviously open to moving out of the first pick, if in fact there is an opportunity for us to do so and if we think that is in the best interest of the organization.”
Teams that could be interested in jumping up to the top, presumably to select South Carolina star defensive end Clowney, are Atlanta, Tampa Bay and even Dallas, which needs lots of work on its defense.
Many analysts have dubbed this the best draft for wide receivers in years, perhaps ever. The consensus top guy is Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, followed by Mike Evans of Texas A&M, Brandin Cooks of Oregon State, Odell Beckham Jr., of LSU, Marqise Lee of Southern California, and Kelvin Benjamin of national champion Florida State.
Watkins is projected to go in the first five picks, unusually high for a wideout.
“I think what sets Sammy apart is his sincerity and passion for the game,” ESPN analyst and 2003 Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden said last week. “Everyone I’ve talked to has come away very impressed with Watkins’ passion to be great and to put forth a tremendous work ethic.”
No one is comparing this to the 2012 class that produced Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. Still, there’s talk four quarterbacks could go in the opening round.
There’s also some thought that only two, Texas A&M’s Manziel and Central Florida’s Blake Bortles, will be taken Thursday night.
The other highly rated quarterbacks to watch for are Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Fresno State’s Derek Carr, and two late risers: Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Pittsburgh’s Tom Savage.
Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, has lots of boom or bust in him. Nobody can deny he is a big-time playmaker, though.
“When you’re dealing with a high-profile position like the quarterback, obviously there’s some well-documented things to cover and to consider,” Gruden said. “Manziel brings a lot of excitement and interest to your organization. Maybe some people don’t want to be part of it. That will be up to them.”
IN THE TRENCHES
No fewer than a dozen guys who play on either the offensive or defensive line figure to go Thursday. They range from the NFL-ready tackle Jake Matthews of Texas A&M, whose dad, Bruce, is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, to UCLA guard Xavier Su’a Filo on offense. On defense, look for Pittsburgh tackle Aaron Donald and Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III.
It’s possible that the first three players chosen all will do their work in the trenches: Clowney, Buffalo DE-LB Khalil Mack, and Auburn tackle Greg Robinson.
Some players from smaller schools to watch out for, if not in the first round then certainly in the second:
LB-DE Khalil Mack, Buffalo — A certain high pick who can disrupt any offense with his pass-rushing skills and is no slouch against the run.
S Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois — Hits a ton and had an impressive Senior Bowl. But he comes off foot surgery.
QB Jimmy Garappolo, Eastern Illinois — From the same school that produced Tony Romo, he’s skilled, mature and a leader.
OL Joel Bitonio, Nevada — Versatile blocker who can play anywhere on the line, he has a real mean streak.