Will Clowney go No. 1? Many analysts say he will; others not so sure

jkendall@thestate.comMay 6, 2014 

South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (7)

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com

  • WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

    “This is a guy you can see getting double-digit sacks the next seven years.” – NFL.com’s Charles Davis

    “It was a hard situation for him (last season) being the projected No. 1 pick. He had nowhere to go but down. Of course, he didn’t have to play this year. He could have sat out and probably still been the No. 1 pick so it was sort of a delicate situation we had to handle around here.” – South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier

    “If you’re going to try to make him a multi-dimensional outside linebacker/defensive end, I think that’s not utilizing him properly. It just depends on how they are going to scheme fit him.” – ESPN’s Mel Kiper

    “First and foremost, (the Texans) have to evaluate all the quarterbacks and make sure if they fall in love with a quarterback, you got to believe in him, you got to take him at one. That trumps everything else.” – NFL Network’s Mike Mayock

    “(The Texans) want a quarterback, and they need a quarterback. They should just trade that pick away to the Falcons. The Falcons can trade up, get Clowney, which they need, and everybody is happy.” – Former Atlanta and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez, now a CBS Sports Network analyst

    “(Clowney) is very, very rare. He is a rare talent at 6-foot-6, 276 pounds. He’s a difference-maker. He’s a game-changer. There’s been some talk that he takes a play off here and there. But I’ll tell you what, when he wants to play, he’s like a jet coming off the edge.” – Former Arkansas and Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt

— Steve Spurrier can’t imagine anyone other than Jadeveon Clowney being the No. 1 selection in the NFL Draft.

“But only time will tell,” South Carolina’s football coach said.

Thankfully, that time is very short. The first round of the draft will be held Thursday night in Radio City Music Hall, and the first selection is expected to be announced shortly after 8 p.m. Most prognosticators expect it to be Clowney, but the opinion is not unanimous.

NFL.com analyst and longtime Dallas Cowboys player personnel manager Gil Brandt believes Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel should be the No. 1 pick and lists Clowney as the third best player in this year’s class, behind Manziel and Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack. The ESPN duo of Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, meanwhile, each are on record saying Clowney should be the top selection.

“You have the first pick, it’s hard to screw that up,” Kiper said. “Some people have in the past, but it’s hard when you have a player like Clowney staring you in the face.”

Clowney, a Rock Hill native, was a two-time All-America at defensive end and set South Carolina’s single-season record with 13 sacks as a sophomore. The Houston Texans, who are owned by South Carolina graduate Bob McNair, have the first selection in the draft.

“If they want to take the best player available, they’re going to take Jadeveon Clowney,” said former NFL linebacker and CBS Sports Network analyst Bart Scott. “When you talk about playing within that division and stopping (Indianapolis quarterback) Andrew Luck – Batman needs a Robin. (Texans defensive lineman) J.J. Watt needs somebody opposite him who is going to take the double teams off of him.”

Clowney would become the only Gamecock other than George Rogers (1981, New Orleans Saints) to be selected first.

“The Houston Texans, I guess, have been pretty secretive about what they are going to do, but there is nobody who can pass rush like (Clowney) coming out of college ball, that’s for sure,” Spurrier said. “He might be the best in a long time.”

Mack, Manziel or even Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles could knock Clowney from the top perch if they have persuaded first-year Texans coach Bill O’Brien and general manager Rick Smith they are a better fit or a better player.

“I have a hard time believing that Houston is going to be so in love with a quarterback, any quarterback, that they pull the trigger on him,” NFL.com analyst Charles Davis said. “If Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were in this draft, I think Jadeveon would be the third pick because when you have those type of quarterbacks, that wins. But if you have question marks about these quarterbacks, that shouldn’t beat out a guy like Clowney.”

Clowney would become the first defensive end since Mario Williams in 2006 to be drafted first. There’s a lesson to be learned from that, says Davis, who pointed out that a hot shot quarterback (and Houston native to boot) was available that year in Texas product Vince Young.

“They have been down this road before, different GM, but the same owner,” Davis said. “If he didn’t do it with Vince Young, the hometown kid …”

Four defensive ends – Williams, Penn State’s Courtney Brown (2000), Virginia Tech’s Bruce Smith (1985), Texas’s Kenneth Sims (1982) – have gone No. 1 since 1976.

This is the third time in 13 drafts the Texans have had the top pick. In 2002, they selected Fresno State quarterback David Carr, who lasted five seasons in Houston after being sacked an NFL-record 76 times as a rookie. The Panthers selected defensive end Julius Peppers with the second pick.

If the Texans again decide they would rather have a quarterback than Clowney, they could trade the No. 1 selection. In fact, that’s what NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock believes Houston should do. Mayock listed Mack as the draft’s top prospect in his final pre-draft list.

“To me, that would be the best thing for the Houston franchise, if they were able to trade down to four, five, six, get an impact player and extra picks,” Mayock said. “If you can’t do that, I think they’re going to take Clowney.”

The Atlanta Falcons, who met with Clowney in Atlanta and in Columbia after South Carolina’s Pro Day, are considered the most likely candidate to trade up to the top spot for Clowney.

“If (the Texans) want to trade down, they could do that,” Kiper said. “Clowney deserves to be the No. 1 pick.”

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