• Reuters


The Houston Texans beefed up their defensive line by taking extraordinary pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney from the University of South Carolina with the first pick of the NFL Draft on Thursday.

The Texans, picking first after a league-worst 2-14 season, kicked off the annual selection party at Radio City Music Hall by taking defensive end Clowney to partner with two-time All-Pro DE J.J. Watt, the Defensive Player of the Year in 2012.

“I’m going to do everything I can to help the program,” said Clowney, who registered 24 sacks and 130 tackles in three seasons and became the first sophomore to win the Hendricks Award as the nation’s most outstanding defensive end.

“To be the No. 1 pick is the greatest feeling in the world.”

Houston needed help on both sides of the ball after finishing with the second-worst scoring average last year while allowing the eighth-most points in the league, but chose to take the player with the most potential impact in a division that features strong-armed Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was subjected to some jeering as he officially opened the draft, which produces the primary pool of talent for teams as well as plenty of raucous reaction from thousands of fans in attendance decked out in team jerseys.

Clowney was the first of 32 picks in the opening round of the draft.

A freakish athlete, Clowney, who stands 196 cm and weighs 121 kg, stunned many at the Scouting Combine in February by running a blistering 4.53 seconds in the 40-yard dash — faster than many of the wide receivers tested.

The St. Louis Rams used the second pick of the draft to take Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, with the Jacksonville Jaguars grabbing quarterback Blake Bortles of Central Florida University with the third choice.

Jacksonville’s selection of Bortles seemed to stun the crowd, many of whom had anticipated that Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel would be the first quarterback taken in the draft.

The first trade of the draft sent Cleveland’s pick to the Buffalo Bills, who used the fourth selection to take dynamic wide receiver Sammy Watkins of Clemson.

In return, the Browns got Buffalo’s first-round pick, No. 9 overall, as well as the Bills’ first-round choice in 2015 and their fourth-round pick next year.

Hard-hitting linebacker Khalil Mack from the University of Buffalo was taken fifth by the Oakland Raiders, ahead of offensive tackle Jake Matthews of Texas A&M, the latest member of his illustrious NFL family to join the league.

Matthews will be the seventh member of the clan to play in the league following his grandfather Clay Matthews Sr, his father Bruce Matthews, uncle Clay Matthews Jr, and cousins Clay Matthews III and Casey Matthews, and brother Kevin Matthews.

“It’s been my dream since I was a kid,” the Falcons player said before being asked about his famed football family. “That’s some big shoes to fill. I’m just so proud to have this last name, and excited to be on the Atlanta Falcons.”

Cleveland kept its trading cap on, sending a fifth-round pick to Minnesota to move from ninth to eighth spot and select cornerback Justin Gilbert after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected towering wide receiver Mike Evans from Texas A&M.

Minnesota followed by taking linebacker Anthony Barr out of UCLA, before former Detroit Lions running back and Hall of Famer Barry Sanders announced that Detroit had selected tight end Eric Ebron from North Carolina to round out the top 10 picks.

Local fans gave mixed reactions to the New York Giants’ selection of Louisiana State wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (12th pick) and the offensively-challenged New York Jets’ 18th pick of defensive back Calvin Pryor from Louisville.

The loudest response from the packed audience came when it was announced that the busy Browns had traded with the Philadelphia Eagles to move up to the 22nd pick.

Sensing that the quarterback-needy Browns had positioned themselves for Manziel, a thundering chant of “Johnny, Johnny” rose up and the crowd broke into a roar when Goodell announced that Cleveland had taken the popular Texas A&M signal caller.

Manziel’s scrambling style earned him the moniker “Johnny Football” in college.

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