Fear of Wasted Pick Should Prevent Falcons from Trading Up for Jadeveon Clowney

Knox BardeenNFC South Lead WriterFebruary 25, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 24: Former South Carolina defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney runs the 40-yard dash during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 24, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Former South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney wants to be drafted by the Atlanta Falcons. The problem is that Atlanta owns the sixth overall pick in the draft and Clowney will likely be selected prior to that in the 2014 draft. The even bigger problem is that Clowney might not ever materialize into a top-of-the-draft talent, and the Falcons can’t afford that kind of draft bust.

"I wish they could trade up for me," Clowney told Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com, "but I hope I don’t fall to No. 6. I like Atlanta – a lot. They’re pretty good. They’ve got some guys from South Carolina on the team, also. And it’s close to home."  

Clowney wowed at the NFL combine Monday when he posted a time of 4.53 seconds on his 40-yard dash. At 6’5” and 266 pounds, that feat is truly remarkable. He also posted a vertical jump of 37.5 inches and a broad jump of 10’4” (124 inches).

It’s obvious that Clowney has freakish speed and jumping ability for a man his size. But he did disappoint in one combine drill.

When it came time for the bench press, Clowney didn’t show off rare feats of strength. In fact, when he only pushed up the 225-pound bench press 21 times, his strength came into question.

Clowney’s reps on the bench press ranked him tied for 33rd among defensive linemen. Cody Latimer, a 215-pound wide receiver from Indiana, pushed the same weight up 23 times. Pat O’Donnell, a 220-pound punter from Miami, also did 23 reps.

The difference between Clowney’s jaw-dropping speed and jumping drills compared to the disappointment of his bench press is a similar dichotomy to the wonderful college season in 2012 that put Clowney on the map compared to his disappointing 2013 campaign.

After setting South Carolina’s single-season record for sacks (13) and tackles for loss (23.5) during his sophomore season of 2012, Clowney finished sixth in the Heisman balloting and won the Hendricks Award for the nation’s outstanding defensive end. He entered the 2013 season as the Heisman front-runner and a shoo-in to be taken first overall in the NFL draft that followed the 2013 season.

Then disappointment set in.

Facing double-teams and offenses that game-planned seemingly strictly for him, Clowney was rendered somewhat ineffective. He posted only three sacks in 11 games and had 11.5 tackles for loss. The sack total drop off was almost a 76 percent decrease while he fell off just more than 50 percent in tackles for loss.

Jadeveon Clowney: 2012 vs. 2013
University of South Carolina

The fact that teams were doing everything in their power to stop Clowney showed in the letdown in his 2013 numbers. But South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier also questioned Clowney’s desire and work ethic.

After playing through sickness and bone spurs in his foot during the first four games of the season, Clowney sat out South Carolina’s fifth game of the season against Kentucky because of a new ailment: bruised ribs. Spurrier was taken aback.

Spurrier then hinted that a lack of desire might be the bigger reason Clowney didn’t play.

Spurrier, with months to calm down, went on NFL AM on Feb 19 and expounded on his comments about Clowney’s work ethic, as reported by ProFootballTalk.

He was OK. It wasn’t like Marcus Lattimore, you know, every player is a little different.. His work habits are pretty good, they’re not quite like Lattimore, maybe Stephon Gilmore, Melvin Ingram, some of those guys, but when the ball is snapped he’s got something no one else has.

Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp, now an analyst for NFL Network, had some comments during the broadcast of the combine, as reported by Mike Huguenin of NFL.com.

Sapp was equally adamant that there are issues. He said he had watched Clowney on tape and "I'm ashamed to look at it" and "He ought to be ashamed it's even out there" because of inconsistent play. Sapp said the tape made him question whether Clowney truly "wanted to play this game." Sapp said there was "no aggressiveness, no hunt" from Clowney in a lot of the tape he had seen.

Sapp was piggybacking off NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock’s comments that there might be defensive players drafted ahead of Clowney because of “red flags about Clowney’s work ethic.”

Which Clowney is going to show up on Sunday’s in the NFL, the unstoppable 2012 version or the 2013 guy who didn’t practice or play hard and was taken out of games by college-level athletes?

It will cost the Falcons too much to find out.

The general consensus is that if Atlanta wants Clowney, it will have to trade up from its sixth spot to grab him. There is a chart that places numeric values on draft picks that a lot of general managers use when it comes to trading draft picks.

The value of Atlanta’s sixth pick in the draft is 1,600 points. One of Atlanta’s likely trade partners would be the St. Louis Rams, who hold the second pick in the draft. Rams general manager Les Snead used to work for Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, and the Rams are the first team in the draft that doesn't need a quarterback.

The value of St. Louis’ No. 2 pick is 2,600 points, a difference of 1,000 points from the Rams at No. 2 and Falcons at No. 6. To move up, Atlanta would have to make up those 1,000 points somehow.

The Falcons could swap first-round picks in 2014 and give the Rams their first-round pick in 2015 with a conditional later-round pick depending on where Atlanta finished the 2014 season. If Atlanta finished in the bottom half of the league they would owe St. Louis nothing. But if this trade worked out and Atlanta moved back into the upper echelon of the NFL, the Falcons would have to make up the remainder of those 1,000 points with a later-round pick because picks below No. 16 in the first round aren’t worth 1,000 points.

This isn’t advanced math by any stretch of the imagination, but this can tend to get painstakingly confusing.

Another option could be for Atlanta to package more picks later in the draft (after swapping first-round picks this year, of course) to make up the 1,000-point difference.

The deal could look like Atlanta’s No. 6 and its second- and third-round picks this year plus its third-round pick next year for St. Louis’ No. 2 this year. That four-picks-for-one deal would work in regard to the math, but it once again—remember Atlanta gave up multiple picks in 2011 to move up and draft Julio Jones and multiple picks in 2013 to move up and draft Desmond Trufant—would take valuable picks away from Dimitroff.

The Atlanta roster is in a top-heavy situation. There is a lot of talent at the top of the depth chart, but not much depth below. When this happens, injuries can derail a season (see: Atlanta Falcons 2013 season). To keep this from happening again, the Falcons need to keep all the picks they have, and possibly even gain a few by trading down a few times.

The 2014 NFL Draft is a very deep and talented draft, chock-full of starters, even on Day 2. This is the year for the Falcons to pick as many players as it can, not give away picks in another move-up-to-grab-the-stud trade.

Remember too, this stud has question marks. No one is sure whether Clowney will star in the NFL or continue his lackadaisical 2013 ways. And while no one is ever sure what will happen in the future, Dimitroff’s move to go up and draft Jones in 2011 was safer than a move he might make this year for Clowney.

If Atlanta gave up picks and moved up to grab Clowney and he turned out to be a bust, it could not only derail the Falcons as a franchise, but Dimitroff as a general manager.

The risk is too high and the cost too great for the Falcons to move up and select Clowney in the 2014 draft.


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.

Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.