The NFL season may not be over for fans, but it is over for nearly two-thirds of the league. Thus, with offseason operations in full swing throughout most of the league, the majority of teams are already thinking about the 2014 NFL draft.
The entire draft order is not yet set, as the playoffs will determine slots 21-32. But for now, here's a look at the top 20 at the end of the regular season, as well as a look at where a few top prospects might land (note that the Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys will have a coin flip to determine their draft slot):
|2014 NFL Draft Order, Top 20|
|2||St. Louis Rams (via WAS)||3-13||0.516|
|7||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||4-12||0.574|
|12||New York Giants||7-9||0.520|
|13||St. Louis Rams||7-9||0.551|
|18||New York Jets||8-8||0.488|
|via CBS Sports.com|
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Any doubts about whether or not Louisville's junior quarterback would declare were quashed on Wednesday, when Bridgewater finally announced his intention to enter the draft:
At this point, it seems exceedingly likely that Bridgewater will end up with the Houston Texans as the first overall pick. However, as Houston is a veteran team having come off two straight division titles, the Texans may not be willing to rebuild with a young quarterback.
There are signs that a turnaround may be imminent. Houston went a putrid 2-9 in one-score games this season and had a Pythagorean win expectation of 4.2 based on their point differential. Consequently, per SI.com's Chris Burke, there's at least a reasonable chance that the Texans might seek a quick-fix at the quarterback position, like Jay Cutler:
Smith is known as a defensive mind, and the Texans could use some help there after slipping into the bottom third of the league in points allowed. An interesting subplot should the Texans go this route: Would potential soon-to-be free agent Jay Cutler consider following his ex-coach to Houston, where a new franchise QB is desperately needed?
Bridgewater will not fall far—heck, if the Rams decide to move on from Sam Bradford's exorbitant rookie contract, he may only fall one spot—but such a plan might allow Houston to take the next player on this list.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Since his vicious hit nearly one year ago to the day, it has almost seemed preordained that Jadeveon Clowney would be a future No. 1 overall pick. That seems much less likely now, after a season where the public picked apart his play-to-play effort, despite his obvious physical gifts.
Clowney's maturity is a legitimate question, though one could make that statement about virtually every 20-year-old who has ever lived. Nevertheless, Clowney's great talent comes with responsibility, and a pair of speeding arrests haven't helped. Clowney is understandably defiant, but based on his quotes to David Whitley of Fox Sports, that attitude may not play well in the eyes of NFL front-office personnel:
Everybody agrees he is physically ready for the NFL. They’ve been saying that since Clowney showed up at South Pointe High in Rock Hill, S.C. But is he mentally prepared to join the real world of working professionals, where you can’t float by on talent alone?
That’s what NFL GMs want to know. What’s Clowney going to tell them when the job interviews begin?
“I'm a great guy,” he said. “I like to work when it's time to work and play when it's time to play.”
"Work when it's time to work?" You can practically see the frowns forming on faces of scouts and general managers around the league.
Nevertheless, Clowney is far too talented, and there is no shortage of players who have had attitude or legal problems and still thrived. It's hard to imagine him falling lower than fifth to Oakland or sixth to Atlanta, as both squads are in desperate need of defensive game-changers. But Clowney will come into the league with much to prove, both on and off the field.
Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Of course, Clowney may not even be the best defensive prospect in the draft. UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr has terrorized Pac-12 offenses this season, compiling 10 sacks, five forced fumbles and 20 tackles for a loss. For teams scared off by Clowney's allegedly whimsical motor, the relentless Barr might provide a worthy alternative:
Unlike Clowney, Barr is not a total polished product (there is a reason he returned to school for his senior season). What's astounding is that Barr has spent just two seasons playing linebacker, as he was a running back and wide receiver for his first two seasons in college. With more development, Barr might have the highest ceiling of any player in the draft, per NFL.com's Dan Greenspan:
Bruins linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich, who spent 10 years in the NFL playing linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers, expects Barr to more than live up to that lofty status.
"He's nowhere near a finished product," Ulbrich says. "I think he's a guy who will continue to get better and will become a perennial All-Pro in the NFL. I tell NFL people looking at him, 'If you like what you see, you'll love what you get.'"
Consequently, it's hard to imagine him falling lower than the same range as Clowney: fifth or sixth. Barr would be a tremendous fit at three in Jacksonville, who finished with the third-lowest sack percentage in the league, or four in Cleveland, which forced the fewest fumbles in the league.
Barr's rawness does make him riskier of course, and there's no guarantee that his combination of athleticism and effort can overpower NFL-csliber offensive linemen who bring the same qualities. But while he's not the long-time sure bet that Clowney is, Barr is likely an equally excellent prospect.