How Jadeveon Clowney Fits with First 5 Teams Up in NFL Draft
Despite that, it is very likely that come pick No. 6 in the draft, Clowney will not be available. His size, speed and playmaking upside will move one team to pick him early.
Of course, that's assuming someone doesn’t trade up to get him (the Atlanta Falcons seem to be the one most talked about in mock drafts, as CBSSports.com's Pat Kirwan and Pete Prisco projected in their recent mocks).
Let’s take a look at the first five teams and how Clowney would be a good fit.
No. 1: Houston Texans
While I walked away from my trip to the combine believing that the Houston Texans are leaning toward UCF quarterback Blake Bortles, the potential of pairing Clowney with J.J. Watt on the defensive line is too good to ignore.
Houston plays a 3-4 (although it isn't shy about bringing the linebackers up to the line of scrimmage). While Watt is very efficient on the left side, the Texans have yet to find anyone to match him on the right, settling for a rotation of Jared Crick and Antonio Smith.
Clowney could come in and immediately blow up the other side of an offensive line that already has to contend with Watt. And when Clowney starts to draw the double-teams he saw throughout his last year in South Carolina, Watt could dominate the right side again.
I love his game. He can help me, and I can help him, hopefully. I've watched his game, in situations he gets double teams, triple teams on him, too. That could help me be a bigger factor on that defense. I feel like I have a lot to offer a team. I've got the size, the ability, I'm a great teammate. I'm bringing a lot to help a team out, and I feel like I should be that guy, hopefully.
And if teams focused on stopping both Watt and Clowney, then they would have to contend with guys like Brian Cushing from the inside or Whitney Mercilus around the edge.
This kind of setup feels like the sort of thing Defensive Rookie of the Year awards are made of.
No. 2: St. Louis Rams
Especially with Robert Quinn in the final year of his rookie contract, per Spotrac.com. Quinn could be franchised, or the team could sign him to an extension, but given his production, he could cost a lot.
Meanwhile, Chris Long is in the middle of a four-year, $48.2 million contract. At age 28 and counting almost $15 million against the cap, the team might feel it isn't getting enough bang for its buck.
The Rams could have Clowney across from Quinn and cut or trade Long, or they could keep Long and be ready for Quinn to leave the next year.
Either way, Clowney would find himself across from another player bound to attract attention and should be able to free himself up to get in the backfield often.
The third option is to have all three players under contract.
Last season, South Carolina spent some time moving Clowney around the defensive line. While the results were mixed at best, it’s conceivable that you could line up Long and Quinn outside and have Clowney pressuring from the middle.
Adding Clowney to an already potent pass rush gives the Rams a ton of options.
No. 3: Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars had fewer sacks than any other team in the NFL save the Chicago Bears, who had the same amount (31) the Jaguars had.
The three main defensive ends Jacksonville uses—Tyson Alualu, Andre Branch and Jason Babin—were all ranked in the bottom half of the 4-3 defensive ends ranked by Pro Football Focus (subscription link). Alualu and Babin were in the bottom 15 out of 52 players ranked on the list.
Suffice to say, anything would be an improvement.
Clowney would instantly step into a starting gig, likely replacing Alualu first and foremost. Since being selected 10th overall and shifting over from tackle to end, Alualu has struggled, and Clowney would allow him to move back inside.
With Clowney on the left side in place of Alualu, Branch and Babin could continue to rotate on the right, or one could switch off with Clowney as well.
Also, keep in mind that Babin is 33 yards old and is two years away from a new contract. Clowney could also be the long-term replacement for Babin.
Instead of having to decide whether or not to re-sign Babin at the same time Branch’s contract comes up, the Jaguars would have Clowney already locked down and could then just concentrate on Branch.
While he might struggle a bit as teams would have an easier time focusing on him here as opposed to some of the other teams around this spot, Clowney has the talent to overcome that in short order.
No. 4: Cleveland Browns
Of the teams in the top five, the Cleveland Browns seem the least likely to select Clowney if he is around at No. 4 and a quarterback they love or Sammy Watkins isn’t. If that’s the case, I believe this team will trade out to one of a number of teams who will want Clowney.
It’s not to say that the Browns are without fault along the defensive front. They could certainly use Clowney (more on that in a minute), but they had a solid pass rush in 2013 and have more holes on the offensive side of the ball going into this offseason.
However, if the unlikely happens (and it always does), the Browns have more than enough room to work Clowney into the rotation.
Most of the pressure their 3-4 brings comes from the outside linebackers, not the defensive ends. Adding Clowney into the mix—a guy who can absolutely get at the quarterback—means that the outside linebackers would have more freedom to do the same.
While the offensive line might be able to stymie Clowney, it can’t do that and block out Jabaal Sheard, Barkevious Mingo and Paul Kruger as well.
Again, chances are the Browns go another direction, but there would be worse things than Clowney in this defense.
No. 5: Oakland Raiders
Jason Hunter and Lamarr Houston are both unrestricted free agents this offseason, and it’s hard to imagine Oakland bringing them both back, so Clowney falling to No. 5 is a “best-case scenario” for the Raiders.
The way any Raiders fan would like it to break out would be for Houston to come back and Clowney to line up across from him in the base 4-3 defense. In 2013, Houston was rated as the No. 11 best 4-3 defensive end by Pro Football Focus (subscription link), and he has steadily improved over the course of the first four years of his career.
While not commanding the attention of defenses that more well-known ends like J.J. Watt, Michael Johnson or Michael Bennett might, Houston will soon enough. If teams focused instead on Clowney, Houston would see a significant increase in his pressures and sacks.
Of course, the worst-case scenario is neither Houston nor Hunter is retained, in which case Clowney will be on his own.
I would expect some decent but not huge numbers from him. We saw this past season that double-teams can contain Clowney, and he would face an awful lot of them if he were the lone pass-rush threat.
It might take a year or two for him to truly be able to take over a game on his own. Still, he'd be worth the pick for the Raiders.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.