|Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press|
|Texans head coach Bill O'Brien was an assistant coach for the New England Patriots from 2007 to 2011.|
Technically the Houston Texans are on the clock, but really, that distinction goes to new head coach Bill O'Brien. Whoever is the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft will provide an intriguing glimpse into how O'Brien views the quarterback position.
O'Brien said the Texans are "a long way from a decision" on how to use the selection, adding that he has yet to begin evaluating Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and other top prospects.
"I think I've only seen him on TV twice, but I think he's a very exciting player, one of the better college players to come along in a long time, and I'm looking forward to studying him as a player," O'Brien said in an interview with ESPN that was subsequently transcribed by the Houston Chronicle.
There are two fundamental questions facing O'Brien, whether he believes a franchise signal-caller is necessary for success. If the answer is yes, then it comes down to whether Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville, Blake Bortles of UCF, or Derek Carr of Fresno State meet those qualifications.
O'Brien saw first-hand the impact a superstar can have on a team as an assistant coach for the New England Patriots. But O'Brien was also around when the Pats won 11 games without Tom Brady at the helm, relying more on the offensive line and defense to assist a caretaker quarterback in Matt Cassel.
NFL Media analysts Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks each see the Texans going with the latter approach, adding South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to an already stout front seven in their initial mock drafts. Charles Davis has Bridgewater going No. 1 overall.
If the Texans do go with a quarterback, history would seem to be against Manziel. O'Brien favored the conventional approach in his time at Penn State, best exemplified by freshman Christian Hackenberg, a prototypical pocket passer at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. And no one would ever mistake Brady for the often frenetic, always exciting Manziel.
But Manziel might be better suited to operate O'Brien's offense than his freewheeling style might suggest. Manziel attempted the highest percentage of passes covering 20 yards or longer among the consensus top four quarterback prospects, a whopping 18.69 percent of his throws, according to Greg Peshek of Rotoworld.
Manziel completed 55.84 percent of those shot plays, also the top mark and better than Bridgewater, Bortles and Carr.
Whether O'Brien agrees with that assessment will determine how the draft shakes out.
Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.