South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney would have been the first overall pick in this year’s NFL draft if he had been eligible to be drafted. Next year, when he’ll finally be the requisite three years out of high school, he’s expected to go first overall. But Clowney is more than just the best prospect to come out in the last couple years.
Clowney is the best defensive prospect to come out of college football in at least the last 10 years, according to a survey of NFL personnel people conducted by Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com. Jeremiah asked five executives, each with more than 10 years of experience, if Clowney is the best defensive draft prospect in the last 10 years, and all five said he was. The only differences of opinion were about how big the margin between Clowney and everyone else is, and who was the second-best prospect of the last 10 years.
One executive said Clowney is the best “hands down,” while another said Clowney is an easy choice with only Ndamukong Suh, drafted by the Lions with the No. 2 overall pick in 2010, even close. One executive said he’d give Clowney a “slight edge” over Mario Williams, drafted by the Texans first overall in 2006, one said Clowney is first in a group of top defensive prospects that also includes Suh, Williams, Darrelle Revis and Von Miller, and one said that while Clowney is not “perfect,” he’s probably the best in the last decade.
It’s still possible that something could happen to make Clowney drop on draft boards, and it’s also still possible that a quarterback like Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville could have such a spectacular 2013 season that the team with the first pick in the draft considers him too good to pass up in 2014. But at the moment, Clowney looks like not just the best player in next year’s draft, but the most coveted non-quarterback prospect in many years.