- Associated Press - Saturday, December 7, 2013

Forget the playoffs. There’s a highly competitive race going on at the bottom of the NFL standings that could have as much impact on the franchises involved as winning a Super Bowl can have for the contenders.

It’s the chase for top draft picks in what looks like a loaded year for prospects, assuming some of the top underclassmen come out.

Need a quarterback, as the Jaguars, Vikings, Browns, Raiders and perhaps the Texans do? There should be several enticing choices, from Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater to Fresno State’s Derek Carr to Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel.

Searching for someone to protect that most prized commodity, as just about every team living in or near the cellar will be? Last April was the time for grabbing blockers high in the draft, with three of the first four selections offensive tackles (Eric Fisher to Kansas City, Luke Joeckel to Jacksonville, Lane Johnson to Philadelphia). But next spring will offer Jake Matthews of A&M, whose blood lines are regal _ his dad is Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews _ and perhaps Cameron Erving of Florida State among other blue chippers.

It would be difficult to pass up a pass-rushing demon such as South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, likely the top overall talent in the 2014 draft class.

The selection order won’t be set for weeks, although Houston will get the top spot if it loses out. Here’s how the nine teams most solidly in the mix for the No. 1 draft position figure to approach next May’s grab bag.


This has been a shocking downer of a season for the Texans, who went into it expecting to contend for the Super Bowl. They have lost 11 straight and have lost their way offensively, leading to coach Gary Kubiak being fired on Friday.

So choosing a quarterback is a strong possibility unless Case Keenum catches fire in the final four games. The defense already is strong and has an All-Pro pass rusher in J.J. Watt.

The Texans also will address their offensive line and running backs depth at some point.


Also seriously in the QB derby are the Jaguars, who have soured on their No. 1 pick of 2011, Blaine Gabbert, and recognize that Chad Henne is a solid option as a backup. They’d also like a passer who is mobile, and their fan base would love a big-name signal caller such as Manziel after the team emphatically ignored local hero Tim Tebow.

But a big-time playmaker such as Clowney could be too enticing to pass up.

Jacksonville also will address its offensive line issues again.


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