The National Football League’s Scouting Combine that just concluded at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis is becoming the Holy Grail for teams selecting the correct collegiate football players in the upcoming draft in May.

More than 300 college football prospects, talented enough to play at the next level in the NFL, were invited to this year’s combine where the scouts from the 32 NFL teams tested these athletes with on-field drills that measured speed, size and the athletic ability to successfully compete in the league.

This group included a record 102 underclassmen that chose to leave college and declare for the NFL draft.

Besides the on-field drills, the combine also conducted personal interviews with each player with the team’s general manager, head coach or even the owner. A player can have anywhere from 10 to 15 interviews in one night.

Medical examinations also provided a key source of information. Each team uses its complete medical staff for the physicals, and prospects are checked from head-to-toe.

Much of the focus was on the Houston Texans who earned the No. 1 draft pick because it was the lousiest NFL team during the 2013 season. So the Texans’ staff scrutinized the best players in this year’s draft, hoping to fill their biggest need which is at the quarterback position.

The three best players at this position appear to be Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Central Florida’s Blake Bortles. But the best athlete in the upcoming draft could very well be defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney, an All-American from South Carolina.

The consensus around the Lone Star State is that the Texans should select Manziel as their No. 1 overall pick and be done with it. After all Manziel is a Texas native, played his college ball at nearby Texas A&M and definitely is a fan favorite. And if the draft were a popularity contest, Manziel would win hands down.

Unfortunately, that’s not exactly the way teams decide on who should be their No. 1 pick. The NFL teams have less than 10 weeks to decide whether this prospect can step right into a starting position and contribute to team victories, if he’s going to blend into the team’s chemistry or is he just going to play for a huge paycheck.

Texans’ General Manager Rick Smith told the Houston Chronicle Monday. “Quarterback is obviously the most important position in our game because, really, it’s difficult to win without one. The quarterback in our league, to me, is the position that’s the most important.”

The top two quarterbacks, Manziel and Bridgewater, are as different as night and day. Manziel is flashy and hyper on the field while Bridgewater is calm and refined.  However, both seem to get the job of winning done really well. Manziel will take off and run with the football while Bridgewater will spend more time searching for an open receiver and has developed into a smart, accurate passer.

The Texans new head coach Bill O’Brien loves coaching quarterbacks, which means he can select a quarterback he can nurture and develop to his preferred system of play over the years.

O’Brien got a good dose of quarterback Bortles under game conditions while at Penn State last season when Central Florida upset the Nittany Lions 34-31 at Happy Valley. Bortles threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns.

The victory enabled UCF coach George O’Leary to beat his protégé O’Brien. When O’Leary coached at Georgia Tech, O’Brien was an assistant coach for seven years.

O’Leary thinks very highly of the 6-5, 232-pound Bortles because he’s so athletic and so very competitive. O’Brien values O’Leary’s opinion which could help Bortles become the Texans’ No. 1 draft pick.

Clowney tried to convince the Texans that good offense wins games but defense wins championships and used the 2013 Seattle Seahawks as his example.

Defense won the Super Bowl for Seattle when the defense shut down Denver’s potent offense,” Clowney said at the Combine last week. “You had a great quarterback in Peyton Manning, but defense won the Super Bowl for Seattle.”

Clowney was measured at 6-5¼ and 266 pounds Monday and was the fastest defensive lineman at the Combine, running the 40-yard dash in a remarkable 4.53 seconds, which is the average speed of the wide receivers at the Combine. He believes he should be the No. 1 draft choice.

Clowney came out of Rock Hill, S.C. and was recruited by almost every major college program in the country. He was the highest-rated prospect. Now he is again.

“That’s one of my goals, to go No. 1,” Clowney said. “I came out of high school as the No. 1 player, so I want to come out of the Combine as the No. 1 guy.”

Clowney knows Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, who also graduated from the University of South Carolina, which shouldn’t hurt his chances of being the Texans’ top pick in May.

The next 10 weeks should be very interesting around the offices in Reliant Stadium. Manziel should have the inside track as the top choice, but stranger things have happened, like drafting defensive end Mario Williams over quarterback Vince Young in 2005.

KWICKIES…Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan has returned to the Houston Astros to serve as the team’s executive advisor to his son Reid, the president of business operations, General Manager Jeff Luhnow and owner Jim Crane.

Former Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, who was hired last month as the offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, has been working really hard getting the playbook together. When he finishes that project, he will then start working with quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense during April OTAs.

College basketball’s two winningest active coaches matched wits Saturday night when No. 1 Syracuse visited No. 5 Duke in Durham, N.C. with the Blue Devils Mike Krzyzewski getting the best of the Orangemen’s Jim Boeheim, 66-60. But the game wasn’t without a controversy when a charging violation on a driving lay-up was called against Syracuse that would have tied the game at 60-all with 11 seconds left. Instead Boeheim couldn’t believe the call and was slapped with two technical fouls and ejected from the game. “I just thought that was the worst call of the year,” Boeheim said after the game. “I hated to see the game decided on that call.”

As far as this Korner is concerned, the firing of Lamar University head basketball coach Pat Knight came about a year too late, after losing 50 of 56 games. And he had the audacity to complain about some of the players he inherited from Steve Roccaforte “stealing” their scholarship money. Knight needed to back up to the pay window twice a month so nobody would recognize him not earning his money. And then to top it off, the under-ambitious son of Bobby Knight walked into the sunset with $400,000 severance pay for the buyout of his lucrative contract. I’ll bet his next job ISN’T coaching college basketball.

Earl Thomas III with Jennifer and Shannon.

Earl Thomas III with Jennifer and Shannon.

Susan and Me with Earl's Grandma

Susan and Me with Earl’s Grandma

JUST BETWEEN US…Went to the Mardi Gras parade Saturday evening and watched Orange mayor Jimmy Sims declare Feb. 22 “Earl Thomas III Day” and present the All-Pro safety and Super Bowl XLVIII champion with a key to the city. We also got to visit with Earl after the parade where he was kind enough to autograph items and pose for photos with wife Susan, his former West Orange-Stark High School Pre-calculus teacher, daughters Denise Bybee and Cathy Whitehead and granddaughters Jennifer and Shannon Whitehead. Earl told the crowd the honor shown to him by his little hometown meant more to him than the big city festivities in Seattle after winning the Super Bowl.