Jadeveon Clowney told Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com Saturday that he hopes the Atlanta Falcons will move to draft him. I’m on record as believing the Falcons need a great defensive lineman more than they need a great offensive lineman. (Though it is, I’ll concede, a tough call.) Since Thomas Dimitroff has said he’s open to the possibility of trading up — it would have been big news if the general manager had said he wasn’t — we ask:
Could Clowney-to-the-Falcons actually happen?
Yes, it could. Yes, it might. Were I an oddsmaker, I’d assess the chances at 51-49 that he’ll land in the A-T-L. But there’s a reason I’m no oddsmaker.
The Falcons hold the sixth pick in Round 1. Of the five teams that will choose ahead of them, four — Houston at No. 1, Jacksonville at No. 3, Cleveland at No. 4 and Oakland at No. 5 — have need of a quarterback. There’s a chance the Texans could take Clowney No. 1 overall. (They famously took defensive lineman Mario Williams No. 1 ahead of Reggie Bush in 2006.) There’s also the chance that St. Louis, which has a quarterback in Sam Bradford, could take Clowney with the No. 2 pick. But the Rams already have a pretty good defense.
Conventional wisdom, at least at the moment, is that the Texans will take a quarterback, leaving the Clowney decision to St. Louis. The Rams’ general manager is Les Snead, who worked 15 years for the Falcons and was the director of player personnel under Dimitroff. In his latest mock draft, Pat Kirwan of CBS Sports has the Falcons taking Clowney after a trade with St. Louis.
Some point to Clowney’s indifferent junior season at South Carolina as cause to believe he’ll be another Aundray Bruce, the flameout taken No. 1 overall by the Falcons in 1988. But I believe in Dimitroff in a way I never have in any Falcons GM, and I believe he can sift through the data and differentiate between what’s probable, as opposed to possible.
Does Clowney’s tepid 2013 give me pause? Yes. Even Steve Spurrier, his coach, told the NFL Network that Clowney’s work ethic “was OK,” which nobody construed as a rave. But Spurrier also said: “When the ball is snapped, he’s got something going nobody else did.”
Fun with numbers: According to Football Outsiders‘ DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) ratings, the Falcons’ defense ranked 25th among NFL teams in 2008, 22nd in 2009, 14th in 2010, eighth in 2011, 12th in 2012 and 29th in 2013. Put another way, the Falcons under Dimitroff and Mike Smith have compiled a top 10 defense only once in six tries, and the slippage from 2012 to 2013 — 17 spots — was alarming.
The offense has Matt Ryan, Steven Jackson, Julio Jones and Roddy White. The defense is in much worse shape than the offense, which even in a down year ranked 14th in FO’s DVOA. I believe the Falcons can find good offensive linemen later in this draft or in free agency. I believe there’s but one Jadeveon Clowney available.