The 2014 NFL draft is quickly approaching, and rumors are swirling about some of the top prospects in what is considered one of the deepest crop of prospects in history.
As much talk as there is about the top quarterbacks and where they will land, there are two elite defenders who figure to go in the top five. Former South Carolina star Jadeveon Clowney is among the most intriguing talents ever, yet he's been called into question repeatedly for his work ethic and passion for football.
That can't be said for Khalil Mack, whose stock seems to be perpetually rising despite playing a lower level of competition at Buffalo in the MAC.
As mentioned before, there is a lot of attention being paid to the top QBs, who figure to be Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater. However, another signal-caller from a smaller school in Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo is flying a bit under the radar and is reportedly drawing the attention of many front offices.
It's borderline impossible to predict precisely how the draft will unfold, but here is a closer look at some of the latest buzz surrounding the aforementioned trio of top players.
Jadeveon Clowney Criticized as 'Spoiled' and 'Lazy'
The process of private workouts has gotten underway, where Clowney and others are able to sit down with teams and give them an idea of who they really are. Apparently, in the eyes of one NFC personnel man, the same red flags surrounding Clowney persist.
Mark Eckel of NJ.com cites this personnel expert as the source for the latest chatter regarding Clowney, acknowledging that the star defensive end would be a high pick but that he can't ultimately be reliable:
He’s spoiled, and he’s lazy. He’s never worked hard a day in his life, now all of a sudden you’re going to give him a bunch of money and expect him to work hard. I don’t see it. [...] Oh, he’s going to be a high pick. Some team will fall in love with him. But wait and see, just wait and see. I just don’t think you can count on him. I’m betting the under on him.
Clowney could very well be the first overall pick of the Houston Texans, joining the likes of J.J. Watt to make for a terrifying defensive line on paper. In his latest mock draft, ESPN's Todd McShay has Clowney landing in Houston, per SportsCenter's official Twitter account:
There is no doubting Clowney's freakish athleticism, especially for his size at 6'6" and 266 pounds from the NFL Scouting Combine.
Lack of production in his junior season, when Clowney had just three sacks, may have been part of his efforts to preserve himself for the pros, but it is nevertheless a big concern considering his ability.
Ryan Wilson of CBSSports.com provided his take on the recent comments in Eckel's report, implying that the personnel man was trying to scare others away with a predraft smokescreen:
Uh-huh. And you, mysterious talent evaluator, have no ulterior motives. Like, say, hoping your very public observations play some role in Clowney's draft-day slide in the hopes that the team you work for might be in position to take him. Or perhaps it's just coincidental.
With the upside Clowney still has to explore and the potential that teams have of looking foolish not to select him if he does live up to the hype will force someone's hand to take the gamble.
If Clowney can dispel the negativity about his work habits, prove he isn't spoiled and earn his spot as a starter in his rookie campaign, he has all the making of a perennial All-Pro. Landing in Houston to be mentored by Watt would be a most ideal situation.
Khalil Mack Reportedly May Not Fall Outside of Top 3
There's a chance that Clowney and Mack could go first and second overall despite the premium placed on the quarterback position. That is just how exceptional this duo is.
According to Fox Sports' Peter Schrager, Mack has bolstered his status so much that he's unlikely to fall past the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 3 overall:
Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller feels that the Jaguars, with defensive-minded head coach Gus Bradley at the helm, is a great fit even with a severe need under center:
But Mack could go even sooner to the St. Louis Rams (No. 2 overall), which would further bolster their defense as they seek to get out of the cellar in the competitive NFC West division:
The Rams are so loaded in the front seven that they could devastate opponents with the addition of Mack or Clowney, but they also have the No. 13 overall pick and could trade out of the top spot to acquire further assets. With a need at offensive tackle, though, St. Louis has its own dilemma with the second pick.
Mack ran a 4.65 40-yard dash, had a 40" vertical leap and registered a 4.18-second time in the 20-yard shuttle at the combine. That gives an idea of the sideline-to-sideline range Mack boasts in addition to his uncanny football instincts and versatility, which he discussed with Cleveland.com's Tom Reed:
...I don't want to limit myself to just playing one specific thing. I feel like that's the biggest thing for me. I try to workout, when I workout with the defensive ends, I work out with the linebackers, I also go over and workout with the defensive backs just to stay fresh. I work hard, and I want to stay loose and don't want to put a limit on myself.
His testimony and combine numbers also confirm that the Buffalo product is indeed an elite athlete to go along with his impressive game film. As a senior, he racked up 100 total tackles (19 for loss) with 10.5 sacks, five forced fumbles and three interceptions, per CFBStats.com.
Taking all those factors into account, Mack indeed appears deserving to be drafted in the top three.
Jimmy Garoppolo 'Quietly A Very Coveted Player'
Eastern Illinois has produced the likes of undrafted Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo, but Garoppolo is generating far more attention in the predraft process than Romo did.
Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com made calls recently and found out that many teams are taking a hard look at the promising prospect:
Brugler then added that he could definitely see Garoppolo going somewhere in the first round:
With the number of franchises needing a quarterback at the top of the draft, it's conceivable that one of them could trade back into the latter part of Round 1 to select Garoppolo. Even the Cleveland Browns at No. 26 overall could take him with their second first-round choice.
Another interesting possibility is Jacksonville, who evaluated Garoppolo in addition to two members of the aforementioned "big three" in Manziel and Bridgewater on the same day recently:
The Minnesota Vikings have the eighth overall pick, but that seems too early. However, they have reportedly worked out Garoppolo, perhaps seeking to take him either in the early second round or late in the first, per the NFL on ESPN's official Twitter account:
NFL Network's Bucky Brooks isn't sold on Garoppolo, asserting that he lived on a lot of short completions and spread college concepts in throwing for an FCS-best 5,050 yards in 2013 (h/t NFL.com):
Playing in a pro-style offense at the college level is an advantage that Garoppolo may not have had, but he does have a quick release and adequate arm strength to make all the throws in the NFL. If he can just pick up concepts as fast as he can get rid of the football—easier said than done—Garoppolo could start as a rookie in the right situation.
It will be fascinating to monitor how the quarterbacks' stocks fluctuate as the draft gets closer, because that is the most important position. At the same time, depending on how high front offices are on Clowney or Mack, all the QBs have a chance of sliding on May 8, since none of them are surefire long-term options in the mold of Andrew Luck.
While having the right quarterback can turn around a franchise instantly—look no further than Luck—adding an impact defender such as Clowney or Mack who can change the way opponents game-plan can make just as much of a difference in some cases. The Seattle Seahawks proved that defense still can win championships in Super Bowl XLVIII, so teams near the beginning of the order concerned about the caliber of quarterbacks may be more inclined to gravitate towards that side of the ball.