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Teams facing tough strategic choices in draft

by Hiroshi Ikezawa

Staff Writer

Best or bust?

It’s the tough question every team faces in the NFL Draft. The players you choose do not always fit your scheme best. Remember the quarterbacks the Cleveland Browns selected in the first round — Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, and most recently Brandon Weeden — have never been their franchise quarterbacks.

On the other hand, picks in later rounds can unexpectedly blossom into major contributors. See how the Seattle Seahawks have benefited from Richard Sherman (fifth round in 2011), Kam Chancellor (fifth in 2010) and Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith (seventh in 2011).

The three-day draft kicks off on Thursday at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Here’s how I see this year’s draft unfolding:

— Who should the Houston Texans take with the first overall pick?

As the 2013 season ended, many analysts predicted that the Texans would use their No. 1 pick for a future franchise quarterback and select one of Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M), Blake Bortles (Central Florida) or Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville). The release of Matt Schaub accelerated that idea, but it seems the Texans don’t like this year’s quarterback class that much.

I don’t think any of the quarterbacks currently on the Texans’ roster (Case Keenum, T.J. Yates, Ryan Fitzpatrick) is the long-term answer, but none of the aforementioned quarterbacks would bring more to the table than South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack.

Both Clowney and Mack provide excellent pass rush, which is an advantage to have in this pass-happy league. The combination with J.J. Watt and one of those two players would be awesome and be a threat to quarterbacks. The Texans should take Clowney or Mack over any quarterbacks, and whoever they don’t select will go to the Jacksonville Jaguars with the third overall pick.

— Should the Browns select a quarterback at No. 4?

There have been recent reports that the St. Louis Rams, selecting third overall, will go for Manziel, but I don’t buy it. It’s true Sam Bradford, No. 1 overall in 2010, hasn’t met expectations yet, but he still has something left in the tank. The Rams need to surround him with a better supporting cast instead of giving up on him. So tackles Greg Robinson of Auburn and Jake Matthews of Texas A&M or Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins should be the realistic choice.

One of the teams that really needs a quarterback is the Browns, who have the fourth and 26th picks in the opening round.

The Browns, as usual, have many holes to fill this year but they should not miss the chance to take a quarterback at No. 4. They have a big-time receiver in Josh Gordon and now they need the passer who can bring out the best in Gordon. Brian Hoyer helped Gordon have a Pro Bowl season last year, but he is recovering from an ACL injury.

They can possibly choose a quarterback with the No. 26 pick, but there are no guarantees because the Oakland Raiders (No. 5), Minnesota Vikings (8), Tennessee Titans (11), and Arizona Cardinals (20) are expected to take a quarterback in any round of the draft. The Browns should not miss the chance to take Manziel.

The Raiders are in a good position to take Watkins if the Rams and the Browns pass on him. The speedy Watkins can be the major target for newly acquired Schaub and make an impact for their offense.

The Falcons need to improve their offensive line and will have a chance take Robinson or Matthews. Either can be the Day 1 starter at one of the offensive line positions and eventually become a fine left tackle.

Some reports say the Kansas City Chiefs could look for a quarterback in the first round because contract negotiations with Alex Smith have halted. But at No. 23, there is little chance to take Manziel, Bortles or Bridgewater. The Chiefs don’t have a second-round pick this year, so they should wait another year or two. Smith is under contact until the end of the 2014 season.

The Indianapolis Colts and the Washington Redskins don’t have first-round picks this year. The Redskins finally finish the RGIII deal in which they traded three first-rounders, including a 2014 pick, and a second-round selection to the Rams in order to make Robert Griffin the No.2 overall pick in 2012.

Since Roger Goodell became the league’s commissioner in 2006, the NFL has made some changes. The Pro Bowl occasionally takes place outside of Hawaii, and the announcements for the NFL awards and the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees have been transformed from moderate press conferences to prime-time shows on the eve of the Super Bowl.

Now the NFL Draft could take place at a venue outside of New York City in the near future. The NFL reportedly has a plan to expand the draft from its current three-day format to four days and move it to another city. Los Angeles, which hasn’t had an NFL team since the end of the 1994 season, is one of the candidates.

— Recently, the San Francisco 49ers exercised their 2015 option on Aldon Smith and that caused many to question their policy on off-the-field issues. The fourth-year linebacker has had three arrests in the past three years and faces felony weapons charges. Most recently, Smith was arrested for allegedly making a false bomb threat at Los Angeles International Airport last month.

The league is expected to suspend Smith soon, but apparently the 49ers chose Smith’s pass-rush ability over maintaining a clean image by deciding not to release him. Some old-school teams would have done things differently. The 49ers will have the benefit of retaining Smith to bolster their defense. But at the same time, they are responsible for discipline and not disappointing fans again for off-the-field issues. Otherwise, he may lose his place in the NFL for good.