National Football League

Clowney’s Pro Day Makes Rams’ Choice Much Tougher

After South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney’s sensational pro day workout at Williams-Brice Stadium on Wednesday, he enhanced what already was an enviable draft position for the Rams. Going into the workout, people wondered if Clowney would be in shape and be able to maintain the excellent skills displayed at the combine.

Under the watch of Rams defensive line coach Mike Waufle and Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennell, Clowney aced every drill. He showed great flexibility in the figure-eight drill, showed the dexterity to get low and the hand-eye coordination to pick tennis balls off the ground, ran well and physically outlasted his teammates in a long session.

Most questions about Clowney have been answered. Sure, he opted out of a game during the season with an injury that his coach, Steve Spurrier, didn’t know about, and he wasn’t in great shape for South Carolina’s opener. But the reason he didn’t put up astounding sack numbers wasn’t as much about him as it was opponents planning for him, and then executing with double-and-triple teams. His workout answered any questions about his ability, and most questions about his effort. That being said, Spurrier did question Clowney’s work ethic while meeting with reporters at the combine.

Most observers think that Houston, with the top pick in the draft, should take Clowney in a no-brainer move. And if the Texans take a quarterback, it would seem an easy decision for the Rams to take the guy regarded as far and away the best player available. Every scenario should play out in the Rams’ favor.

If Houston falls in love with one of the three quarterbacks at the top of this draft – Blake Bortles of Central Florida, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M or Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville – Clowney falls into the Rams’ lap. While he would be the logical choice as the best player in the draft, he would also be a luxury pick. The Rams have two standout defensive ends with Pro Bowl potential, and their defensive line has more sacks over the last two seasons than any other team. Clowney would be a great choice as a situational performer as a rookie and a superstar in the future, but he wouldn’t fill an immediate need for the Rams.

If he’s available and the Rams side with Spurrier’s feelings about his work ethic, there’s now going to be an array of teams lined up that do believe in him. Jacksonville, while needing a quarterback, has had one of the worst pass rushes in the league the last couple of years. The Jaguars added former Seattle defensive end Chris Clemons in free agency, but he’s no Clowney. Atlanta would seem a logical team to trade down with, but the Rams probably shouldn’t trade Clowney to move down below the sixth pick.

If Houston, as expected, takes Clowney, the Rams can fill a need by using the second pick on Clemson’s dynamic wide receiver, Sammy Watkins, or one of two promising offensive tackles, Greg Robinson of Auburn or Jake Matthews of Texas A&M. None of those choices would be bad, and in the long run would benefit the franchise. But a team desiring its top quarterback choice – whether it be Jacksonville, Cleveland or Minnesota – might be willing to trade up to get that guy, and it may benefit the Rams to trade down.

Let’s look at the lowest I’d trade down, to number eight with Minnesota. The Vikings would get their favorite quarterback, Bortles. Jacksonville may take Watkins third, but I know the Jags aren’t going to take a tackle because they took Luke Joekel with last year’s first-rounder. The pressing needs at quarterback and pass rusher make it more likely they take the QB or linebacker Khalil Mack of Buffalo. I’d guess Mack. At No. 4, Cleveland has one of the three best left tackles in the league in Joe Thomas, and I think they’ll take Watkins if he’s available, or a quarterback. One story has the Browns liking Fresno State QB Derek Carr with their second first-rounder, No. 26. At No. 5, Oakland has been quite busy during the offseason, but needs to develop a quarterback behind Matt Schaub. The Raiders seem locked in on that position and spent lots of money on their offensive line this offseason. I’m guessing GM Reggie McKenzie goes with a guy with many of the same skills as a guy he drafted in Green Bay in Aaron Rodgers. I think the Raiders take Manziel.

Right now, my top five picks have been Clowney, Bortles, Mack, Watkins and Manzeil. Atlanta would probably take Robinson at this point, which brings us to Tampa Bay at No. 7. The Bucs have filled their roster nicely this offseason and don’t have any glaring needs. They need a receiver opposite Vincent Jackson and to upgrade over the often-injured Mike Williams, so they take Mike Evans out of A&M.

That leaves, at worst, Matthews or Michigan’s Taylor Lewan at No. 8 for the Rams, and they’ve received a second-round pick and another choice for their trouble. And that’s a worst-case scenario. If Jacksonville is worried about someone else trading up, it may make a deal to move up one spot, allowing the Rams to still get Watkins or deal down again and accumulate more picks. Cleveland could want to jump Jacksonville to get its favorite QB, as could Oakland.

Whether it’s Clowney, Watkins, Robinson or a trade down for a later first-rounder and more picks, the Rams can’t go wrong. That workout has put them in control of the draft, and that’s without even considering what might happen with their own 13th pick in the first round.

I’ve been a fan of a couple of teams that have messed up a lot of first round draft picks.  It’s nice to know the Rams almost can’t mess this one up.