The 2013 NFL draft is in the rearview mirror, so now it's time to look into our crystal ball one year into the future at all the tantalizing possibilities for the 2014 NFL draft.
The most tantalizing thought of all: South Carolina behemoth defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater both declare as underclassmen and therefore produce one of the biggest debates in recent memory. Do you take a game-changing defensive end with the No. 1 overall pick or a franchise quarterback?
They are already rated as the top two players available for 2014 in several mock drafts. So Edward Aschoff in SEC land and Andrea Adelson in Big East/AAC land decided to let the debate begin!
AA: The first thing I want to say is I love Clowney. I love watching him play. I love his demeanor. I love his personality. I had a front-row seat for the Outback Bowl and chronicled his demolition of Michigan running back Vincent Smith, the best play I have ever seen in person. Now, having said that, is there really a debate here? Honestly? To build an NFL team, you build at quarterback. That is why the overwhelming majority of No. 1 overall picks have been quarterbacks. Let's just go back to 2000 to make things easy. Do you know how many No. 1 overall picks were quarterbacks in that time span? Ten. Do you know how many No. 1 overall picks were defensive ends in that same span? Two. Teddy Bridgewater has every single measurable tool every single NFL team wants. He has a great arm, great physical size and can make plays with his legs. And he has every single intangible every NFL team wants. He is a gritty leader, plays through pain, is a student of the game, obsesses about every detail and has absolutely no character issues. Bridgewater is the clear choice.
EA: I love Bridgewater. He can sling it with the best of them and has the toughness that any coach at either the college or pro level would want. I'd start a franchise around him, if Jadeveon Clowney wasn't sitting there. Yes, the NFL has turned into more of an offensive league, but let's just look at the most recent Super Bowl. Defense wins championships, and Clowney will make an immediate impact with whichever team wins his sweepstakes. Were scouts and talking heads clamoring for Bridgewater to skip the 2013 season so that he could guarantee his spot as the first player taken in next year's draft? In the words of Kevin McCallister: I don't think so. Clowney is more than just a man-child. I'm not sure he's even human. He runs a 4.5 40-yard dash at 6-6, 272 pounds. He's a physical specimen and could play in the NFL right now. He would have been the unquestioned first pick in this year's draft if he could have left early. "The Hit" was only the beginning. Also, he's going up against the best offensive lines in the country and still has 21 sacks, 33.5 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles during his two-year career. How is Bridgewater's stock going to go any higher playing in the Big East?
AA: His stock is not going to go up any higher because he already is listed either No. 1 or No. 2 on just about every early 2014 mock NFL draft. Where do you want him to go, infinity and beyond? The competition will be bland this year, but forget that. Bridgewater will always have Florida. Clowney? Not so much. Scoreboard says Louisville > Florida > South Carolina in 2012. And yes, if the Gamecocks had Bridgewater under center, they would have been playing for another SEC title last year. One more point on the schedule. Whom did Eric Fisher play against in the MAC that warranted his selection as the No. 1 overall pick? Fisher was selected over a player at his position from the SEC. So throw conference affiliation out. Now, let's look at what value a quarterback brings to a team versus what value a defensive end brings to a team. For my millions upon millions, I want a player who touches the ball every single play he is no the field. There is no doubt that Clowney is a once-in-a-lifetime player. But it is much more difficult for a once-in-a-lifetime defensive player to change the fortunes of a pro team without a strong quarterback behind center. Defense may win championships, but the last time I checked, No. 1 overall picks John Elway, Troy Aikman, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning all won Super Bowls. Mario Williams, Courtney Brown and Bruce Smith? Nada.
EA: Wow! So you're putting Teddy Heisman in the same boat as Elway and the Mannings? My goodness. I mean he's good, but his shinning moment was beating a Florida squad that barely made it off the bus in New Orleans. Here's the thing about Clowney: He still has a lot of room to grow. He's admitted to taking plays off last year, and he was still arguably the best defensive player in the country. Imagine if he had played to his full potential last year. And everyone in Columbia seems to think that he's ready to become a complete player. Think about that for a second. He's even more motivated going into his final year. He wants to prove something and he might just prove that he's the best player in the country, regardless of position. You don't find athletes like Clowney every day. There are plenty of quarterbacks out there who could be franchise players. There's no one in next year's draft who comes close to measuring up to the kind of defender Clowney is -- and will be. Sure, he won't throw any touchdowns and he won't have the ball in his hands every play, but he'll change games for his future team. He'll figure out a way to get the ball back to his offense and he'll figure out a way to get points on the scoreboard. He might even do it himself sometimes. The bottom line is that Clowney is a rare breed, and passing on him with the first pick would be foolish.