Jadeveon Clowney entered the 2013 season as the Heisman Trophy frontrunner and the consensus No. 1-overall selection for the 2014 NFL Draft. Then the games began. Clowney played himself out of the Heisman while also putting doubts into the heads of general managers regarding his motivation.
It was never a realistic shot for him to win the Heisman, but being the No. 1 pick was. He may very well still be the best player heading to the pros, but according to Todd McShay’s first NFL mock draft, he won’t be the top player taken. McShay currently has Clowney projected as the fifth-overall selection by the Atlanta Hawks.
Clowney’s slip out of the top spot likely has more to do with the teams’ needs choosing ahead of Atlanta than his play in 2013. Houston (No. 1 selection), Oakland (No. 3) and Jacksonville (No. 4) all need quarterbacks, and there is plenty of top talent available. St. Louis, on the other hand, drafted Chris Long and Robert Quinn not too long ago. The two form a formidable pass rush, meaning the team doesn’t need another defensive end.
Atlanta, however, does need a pass rusher – badly. McShay notes that in his analysis of why Clowney is slotted at No. 5:
“The Falcons are in dire need of an edge rusher, and in this scenario they’ll get one in the form of our No. 1-ranked prospect in the draft. There’s something of a gamble involved with Clowney in that his motor ran hot and cold toward the end of the season, but he isn’t a bad kid and he has the potential to develop into a double-digit sack guy, a three-down lineman and a dominant player overall. I see a lot of Julius Peppers in him; Peppers hasn’t always given the best effort, but I don’t know of many teams that wouldn’t want him. Clowney’s a tremendous value if he drops this far; if it weren’t for the number of QB-needy teams picking ahead of Atlanta, he’d go earlier.”
With his freakish athletic ability, Clowney still has the potential to blow the doors off of the 2014 NFL Combine. If he does that, the team in the top spot may have no choice but to take him first overall.