In terms of defensive players available for the NFL Draft in May, there’s South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and the rest of the field.
The powerful 6-foot-6, 274-pound draft-eligible junior has been ranked a top pro prospect for the last two years, and whether it’s for the bigger payday, the recognition that comes with being the top pick, or a desire to team back up with former Gamecocks teammate D.J. Swearinger, Clowney reportedly wants to go No. 1.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Clowney and Swearinger speak on a regular basis with the former often asking the latter about what the Texans might do with the top overall selection. In three seasons under head coach Steve Spurrier, Clowney notched 24 sacks, 130 total tackles, and another 47 tackles for a loss, making him a near lock as an early first-round pick.
Should the Texans pass on Clowney for a quarterback, most likely Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater or Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, he won’t fall very far down the board.
It’s more than likely Clowney will be the first pass rusher off the board, followed by Missouri’s Kony Ealy and UCLA’s Anthony Barr in some order.
But there are lots of talented pass rushers in this year’s draft who could make a big impact from Day One.
A few sleepers include North Carolina defensive end Kareem Martin, Louisville’s Marcus Smith, Stanford outside linebacker Trent Murphy, and Michigan State inside linebacker Max Bullough.
Murphy and Smith were No. 1 and 2 in the country in sacks last season, and while most draft analysts have them off the board no earlier than the second round, their prototypical size should be enough to keep them on an NFL roster for years to come.
Martin ranks just behind those two, and is probably hurt by the ACC’s down year, but he was third overall in sacks (11.5) and tackles for a loss (21.5) in the conference and could be an excellent addition for either Jacksonville or Chicago, the two teams tied for an NFL-worst 31 sacks last season.
Bullough didn’t lead the Spartans in any of the major defensive categories, but he’s four inches taller with more bulk that teammate and leader Denicos Allen. Bullough was also named a third-team All-American and first-team All-Big-Ten in his senior year with 76 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, 10 quarterback hits, and two pass break ups.
All four should be on every general manager’s radar this spring.
The below is a quick breakdown of the first round, starting with Houston selecting Clowney.
1)Houston Texans, DE, Jadeveon Clowney
2)St. Louis Rams (via Washington), OT Greg Robinson
3)Jacksonville Jaguars, QB, Johnny Manziel
4)Cleveland Browns, QB, Teddy Bridgewater
5)Oakland Raiders, OLB, Khalil Mack
6)Atlanta Falcons, DE, Kony Ealy
7)Tampa Bay Buccaneers, S, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
8)Minnesota Vikings, QB, Blake Bortles
9)Buffalo Bills, CB, Justin Gilbert
10)Detroit Lions, OLB, Anthony Barr
11)Tennessee Titans, WR, Sammy Watkins
12)New York Giants, DE, Stephon Tuitt
13)St. Louis, DT, Timmy Jernigan
14)Chicago Bears, DE, Dee Ford
15)Pittsburgh Steelers, OG, Trai Turner
16)Baltimore Ravens (Coin Toss), ILB, C.J. Mosley
17)Dallas Cowboys (Coin Toss), OT, Jake Matthews
18)New York Jets, WR, Mike Evans
19)Miami Dolphins, WR, Marqise Lee
20)Arizona Cardinals, OT, Taylor Lewan
21)Green Bay Packers, CB, Darqueze Dennard
22)Philadelphia Eagles, S, Terrence Brooks
23)Kansas City Chiefs, C, Marcus Martin
24)Cincinnati Bengals, DT, Louis Nix III
25)San Diego Chargers, S, Calvin Pryor
26)Cleveland (via Indianapolis), DT, Aaron Donald
27)New Orleans Saints, CB, Lamarcus Joyner
28)Carolina Panthers, OT, Zack Martin
29)New England Patriots, DT, Ra’Shede Hageman
30)San Francisco 49ers, WR, Davante Adams
31)Denver Broncos, CB, Loucheiz Purifoy
32)Seattle Seahawks, DE, Dominique Easley