South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
With apologies to former Central Michigan and current Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Eric Fisher—who was drafted No. 1 overall in the 2013 NFL draft—the best is yet to come.
Consider the first round of the 2013 NFL draft the opening act to the 2014 version, which will likely feature South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney being the first player selected.
It won't be filled with intrigue. Clowney's walk across the stage in New York will be more like a coronation that's been three years in the making, rather than the culmination of the four-month pre-draft process.
Just how much of a certainty is it that Clowney will be selected No. 1 overall?
ESPN's Mel Kiper told the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press that the Rock Hill, S.C., native would have been the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft had he been eligible as a true sophomore and the No. 3 or 4 pick last season after his true freshman campaign.
It's not just draft experts who are high on Clowney, SEC head coaches are as well.
"He's just a great player," Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said during the SEC's post-spring coaches' teleconference on Wednesday. "There are a lot of great players in this league, but he's playing at a very, very high level. He's quite an impact player."
That's high praise for Clowney, who and finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy vote.
But a lot has changed since then.
Clowney already had his "Heisman Moment" when he destroyed Michigan's Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl, forcing and recovering a fumble after the Wolverines were awarded a first down despite coming up short on 4th-and-4.
That highlight won ESPN SportsCenter's "Best of the Best" competition for 45 straight nights, before Jack Hoffman—the 7-year-old Nebraska fan who is recovering from brain surgery to remove a tumor—ran 69 yards for a touchdown in the Cornhuskers' spring game.
Clowney's hit being shown repeatedly during the offseason to a football-crazed country worked wonders for his exposure, which is unmatched in the SEC, aside from some guy named Johnny Manziel.
What are the chances Jadeveon Clowney is the top pick in the 2014 NFL draft?
Perhaps you've heard of him?
But the difference between Manziel and Clowney is that Clowney's skills translate immediately to the next level. In the pass-happy NFL, defenses are looking for that disruptive force who the rest of the defense can feed off.
Was the first round of the 2013 NFL draft short on star power? Perhaps.
But one of college football's brightest stars will be the focal point of the draft process next season. Until then, it's going to be a lot of fun to watch the junior play his final season at South Carolina.
Will Clowney be the subject of a campaign similar to "suck for Luck," which was playfully used as the 2011 NFL season wound to a close in the fight to secure the No. 1 overall draft pick in the 2012 NFL draft?
Officially, no. But it would be a good strategy.
The 6'6", 272-pounder who reportedly ran a 4.5 40-yard dash has everything it takes to be a superstar at the next level and will be the talk of the town next season when he takes the next step and becomes a professional football player.