Confusion at the Top of the Draft Board
With the 2013 NFL regular season finishing, and January bowls in full swing, players’ draft stocks are under extreme evaluation. The common conclusion in the media is that Louisville Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will be taken first overall by the Houston Texans. However, I do not believe in the Texans, or any NFL team spending their first round pick on a QB. Granted, multiple QBs will be taken in the first round, but I’m against this practice.
Throughout his college career, Jadeveon Clowney, Defensive End for the University of South Carolina, was considered a manchild and the type of player who only comes around once in a generation. After a lackluster start to the season, Clowney’s stock dropped, allowing for others to take the spotlight. There were rumors that Jadeveon was not putting forth his full effort, as to not injure himself before the draft as he saw former teammate Marcus Lattimore do. After seeing Clowney’s performance in the Outback Bowl, and his immediate declaration for the draft, I believe that this is the case. In my mind, as long as Clowney doesn’t show a lack of speed or explosion at the NFL combine, I’m putting this potential red flag to rest.
As a student at the University of Florida, and an avid Gator Football fan, I have first hand experience of Teddy Bridgewater’s mastery in the 2013 Sugar Bowl. As apposed to Clowney, Teddy Bridgewater put up better numbers in 2013 than 2012, and doesn’t lead to doubts of a potential decline. There is no question that Bridgewater is an NFL ready QB, but with Clowney still on the board, I don’t see the value in taking a QB early in the draft. I’ll go into more specifics with this team-by-team.
To assess the current projected draft structure, I took all 2014 Mock Drafts released during the month of December, pulled from DC Pro Sports Report, and calculated the frequency of both Teddy Bridgewater and Jadeveon Clowney throughout the first 5 overall picks and beyond. As can be seen, a majority of the mock drafts have Bridgewater going #1 overall, but Clowney seems to be evenly split among the first five picks, appearing most often as #3 overall which would send him to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Houston Texans (#1 Overall)
2013 was filled with disappointment for the Texans. After winning their first two games, Houston lost 14 straight, and fired their head coach Gary Kubiak in the process. The team has hired Bill O’Brien, formerly the head coach of Penn State to fill the void. The Texans flip-flopped between veteran Matt Schaub and second year player Case Keenum throughout the 2013 season. Schaub is probably not the answer at QB, and Keenum is unproven. Bridgewater is projected to be an upgrade over Schaub and Keenum, but by how much? Matt Schaub saw great success in Houston prior to 2013, finishing top 10 in the league for passer rating from 2008-2012. Case Keenum set multiple NCAA passing records at the University of Houston, though not against the top competition. Keenum stepped in for Schaub in week 7, and put up good performances through his first three games before starting to struggle, and eventually handing the job back over to Schaub. Yes, the QB situation in Houston is not ideal, but it still does not warrant selecting Teddy Bridgewater with the first pick in the draft. Is the potential upgrade of Bridgewater worth letting 31 more first round picks fly off the board before other areas can be assessed? Not in my opinion. Is Bridgewater 31 first round picks better than a Quarterback the Texans can take in round 2? Probably not. Looking at the top QBs in the draft; Bridgewater, Bortles, Manziel, Carr. None of them are surefire NFL stars. None of them are as much of a sure thing as Andrew Luck was perceived to be. Some of the big names projected to be available in the 2nd round are McCarron, Mettenberger, Murray, Boyd. Grab one of these guys in the 2nd round. Is Bridgewater that much better, and that more valuable to the Texans than one of the other 31 first round picks and the addition of one of the QBs from this list? Most likely not.
Due to this, I believe that drafting Clowney with the first pick provides more value to the team going forward. Clowney would be set to replace 32 year old Antonio Smith, playing opposite J.J. Watt on the defensive line. The Texans can then flip Antonio Smith for a late draft pick, which can be used to fill other needs. In 2012, J.J. Watt was without a doubt the best Defensive End in the NFL. He failed to replicate is performance in 2013, with substantial decline in tackles, sacks, passes deflected, and forced fumbles. Adding Clowney into the mix is a win-win situation for both players. Clowney was double teamed non-stop at South Carolina, and the attention to Watt will give Jadeveon every opportunity to flourish. With the addition of Clowney on the other end of the line, less pressure is put on Watt. Teams won’t be able to create a game plan to single out Clowney, or Watt because you can’t double team both of them without greatly compromising your offense. Other top defensive ends include Is Clowney worth more than passing on 31 other first rounders to take a defensive end in the second round. I strongly believe so.
St. Louis Rams (#2 Overall)
I love the Rams’ management. I love the Rams’ management. I love the Rams’ management. The Rams held the #2 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, and the Redskins owned #6. Both sides came together for a trade to swap their first round picks. In addition, the Rams received The Redskins’ 2012 2nd round pick (#39, Janoris Jenkins), their 2013 1st round pick (#22) *Which was sent to Atlanta along with the Rams’ own 2015 7th round pick, for three picks in the 2013 draft*, and their 2014 1st round pick(#2, Jadeveon Clowney?). All to move down just four spots in the draft order. The Rams eventually flipped the Redskins’ former 2012 6th overall selection to the Cowboys for their 2012 1st (#14, Michael Brockers) and 2nd (#45) round picks. The Rams then traded the Cowboys’ former 2nd round pick to the Chicago Bears for their 2nd round pick (#50, Isaiah Pead), and 5th round pick(#150, Rokevious Watkins) I love it so much. I would feel like an evil genius for orchestrating those moves.
The Rams have Sam Bradford at QB, so no need to draft one here. The decision will most likely fall between OT Jake Matthews from Texas A&M or Clowney. However, the Rams are reported to be looking to move out of the #2 spot. This would continue the long string of moves stemming from receiving three extra top picks from the Redskins to move down just four spots. The Rams are loaded on both ends with Chris Long and Robert Quinn. Drafting Clowney would allow one of the two to be expendable. The Rams have LT Jake Long holding down the O-Line, so the Rams could take Matthews and play him opposite of Long, making Sam Bradford a very happy man. Unfortunately for the overarching theme of the article, the best move for the Rams here is to either grab Matthews, or trade down, acquire more top picks, and take an offensive skill player or a defensive back.
If the draft goes Clowney #1, Matthews #2, we could see the emergence of two dynamic duos on the line.
Jacksonville Jaguars (#3 Overall)
Over the past few years, the Jaguars have consistently been one of the worst teams in the league, winning 5, 2, and 4 games in the last 3 years respectively. In 2012, the Jaguars drafted WR Justin Blackmon from Oklahoma St. Blackmon’s off the field troubles leading to suspensions have been a detriment to the team as Blackmon only played 2 games in 2013 after his standout rookie season in which he led all rookies with 865 receiving yards. In 2013, the team took OT Luke Joeckel from Texas A&M suffered a season ending injury in October, but looks to be a lock on the Jags’ O-Line.
The Jaguars currently have Jason Babin and Tyson Alualu on each defensive end. But, draft Clowney could allow Alualu, who is listed as a Defensive Tackle, to return to his natural position. Clowney provides an impact on the defensive front which would alleviate the pressure put on the Jaguars’ young DBs.
The Jaguars’ will be very tempted to draft a Quarterback with this selection. With Chad Henne as their current QB1, and 2011 draft bust Blaine Gabbert at #2, there is definitely opportunity for a rookie to step in and take over. However, as mentioned with the Texans, the value isn’t there if guys like Clowney or Matthews are still on the board. If the Jags feel like there’s enough depth in the draft in other positions, they can select OT Jake Matthews for a Texas A&M reunion with Joeckel. This actually presents a great situation for a young QB to excel. With Joeckel and Matthews providing good protection, and the ability to throw the ball to Blackmon, Cecil Shorts III, Mike Brown, and Mercedes Lewis, there is a huge amount of talent. However, the Jags are reported to be letting RB Maurice Jones-Drew test free agency in order to release a large amount of cap space to pursue other players. The Jaguars could pick up a late round RB to fill the void, sign a free agent, or let Denard Robinson do what Offensive Weapons do. I believe going Matthews in round 1, then selecting a successful college starting QB like Aaron Murray, or Tajh Boyd is the most effective plan of action to set the Jaguars up for success.
In the event that both Clowney and Matthews are off the board, things get interesting for Jacksonville. The value in taking a QB will be as high as ever, so it depends on how the team evaluates the top QBs (Bridgewater, Bortles, Carr, Manziel), and well as the other players at the top of the board (OLBs Anthony Barr, Khalil Mack, and C.J. Mosley). The Jaguars currently have Paul Posluszny at the Middle Linebacker position, and Geno Hayes as one of their Outside Linebackers. The addition of Mack or Barr could solidify their Linebacking core to improve a defense that was one of the NFL’s worst in 2012 and alleviate the struggling offense.
My ideal option is to trade down for the next OT on the board, Cyrus Kouandjio from Alabama. This keep my ideal situation of shoring up the offensive line in round 1, then taking a QB, RB, and defensive players with the following few picks. My trading down about 5-6 spots, the Jaguars can pull in a haul of draft picks (possibly from a team desperate for a top QB). Look at what the Rams recieved from the Redskins in 2012. It seems unlikely that a team would give up that much again, but receiving additional top picks can only help a Jacksonville team that needs so much.
If I Had Picks #1-3
Houston Texans – Jadeveon Clowney – DE, South Carolina
Team X* (From WAS via STL) – Teddy Bridgewater – QB, Louisville
Jacksonville Jaguars – Jake Matthews – OT, Texas A&M
*Team X is a mystery team trading up to get Bridgewater, in fear that the Jaguars will be selecting a Quarterback.