Sometimes fit is more important than anything when it comes to the chances a player will succeed in the NFL, and for several of the 2014 NFL draft's top defenders, it may make all the difference.
Of course, talent can overrule bad schematic fits and the like, but more often than not a prospect's best chance is to land in a favorable situation. Just as quarterbacks ideally need to land with a strong cast of weapons, defenders need quality pieces around them in tandem with proper usage from a coaching staff.
Here is a look at the top three defenders in the 2014 class and their absolute best fit based on a ballpark estimate as to where they will be selected.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE/OLB: Jacksonville Jaguars
While easily the best defender in the class, it's probably best if Jadeveon Clowney lands with a team that allows him to play with his hand in the dirt.
That said, Clowney stated at his pro day he would be more than willing to play linebacker, according to Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle:
Clowney said he's fully open to playing linebacker in NFL; actually looking forward to it if opportunity's there. pic.twitter.com/nLTcIJqE8E— Brian T. Smith (@ChronBrianSmith) April 2, 2014
NFL Network's Mike Mayock was impressed with Clowney as his athleticism hints that he can adapt quickly to a new position if need be:
Mayock on Clowney dropping into coverage in drills: There's some tightness there + that's OK.— CollegeFootball 24/7 (@NFL_CFB) April 2, 2014
Clowney's in play at No. 1 overall for Houston, but his fit in the scheme is not ideal. He fits much better in St. Louis, but the Rams already have two elite ends in Robert Quinn and Chris Long. However, the former's deal expires after the season, so don't count out a team like St. Louis with two picks in the opening round.
Jacksonville, at No. 3, is what makes the most sense for Clowney. There, he'll be an every-down starter right away at a natural position. As an added bonus, he'll be the face of the franchise for years to come, which simply wouldn't be the case in Houston or St. Louis.
Khalil Mack, DE/OLB: Cleveland Browns
Any time a defender gets mentioned in the same breath as Mario Williams, it's time to snap to attention.
What we did with Mario in Buffalo, he didn't line as up as the left defensive end all the time. He was on the left, he was on the right, he was standing up, he was inside as the three, he was on the nose sometimes. We actually stood him up a couple times, so I think when you have a special guy like that, his home base will be outside, but we'll look to move him all around to take advantage of his ability.
While most expect the Browns to hit the offensive side of the ball at No. 4 overall thanks to issues at quarterback, the team may find Mack too good of a value to pass up—especially because it has two picks in the first round.
ESPN's Tony Grossi put it best, via ESPN Cleveland:
Oh, and the only pro day Pettine has attended? Correct:
And so, the only documented pro day attended by #Browns HC Mike Pettine remains Buffalo LB Khalil Mack.— Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi) April 2, 2014
Mack can't ask for a better situation to go into as a rookie. Pettine is the type of defensive mind who will put him in the best position to succeed, and it helps he'll be surrounded by quality players like Phil Taylor, Desmond Bryant and more.
In fact, the fit is so perfect that Mack would easily find himself in the Defensive Rookie of the Year conversation.
Aaron Donald, DT: Chicago Bears
This makes too much sense.
With Henry Melton gone, the Chicago Bears need a new interior rusher. It just so happens that Aaron Donald is very comparable to Cincinnati's Geno Atkins and should be on the board when the Bears waltz to the podium at No. 14.
If he's not, the Chicago front office will panic, according to ESPN's Mel Kiper (via Rotoworld). Donald better hope he's still on the board, as the revamped defensive line in the Windy City is perfect for his skill set.
CBS Sports' Dane Brugler concurs:
Might add Aaron Donald too RT @JeffRisdon: Really have to like what Chicago has done with their inept DL. Houston, Allen, Young all upgrades— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) March 26, 2014
Flanked by quality ends Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen with Stephen Paea next to him on the inside, Donald would find himself in the perfect position to both rack up quality sack numbers and improve as a run defender.
Not many rookies can tout such a perfect fit anywhere on the board, so it's in the best interests of both parties if Donald lands in Chicago.