We’re at the halfway mark of the 2013 season, so The MMQB is pressing pause to take a look back at the storylines, teams and players that made an impact or headlines in the first half of the season. Here, Andy Staples looks at the teams most in the running for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, and prescribes the perfect player to take with that selection.
During our all-Jags-all-losses-all-the-time feature last month, we just handed Jacksonville the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft and then concocted a draft scenario that would help the Jaguars get back on their paws. Now, that seems premature. There is plenty of futility to go around in the NFL, and as it turns out, the Jags might not even be the worst team in Florida.
Today, we’ll examine potential No. 1 overall pick options for the seven teams that still haven’t cracked the three-win mark. Sure, the actual first pick is probably going to a team in the Sunshine State, but stranger things have happened. (OK, maybe not stranger than the Steelers choosing first.)
Current record: 0-8 | The pick: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
I realize I had Jacksonville picking Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in this spot a month ago, but the play of another quarterback has changed my mind. The Jaguars are awful. Even with the first pick in the draft and a favorable schedule, they might be awful next year. So maybe they should grab Clowney—a dream pass rusher—clear the decks of veterans and go with a youth movement next year in the hopes of landing a second consecutive No. 1 pick.
If this sounds like I’m suggesting an NBA-style tank, you’re correct. The NFL doesn’t even have a draft lottery. All a team must do to get the No. 1 pick is be terrible. And since the Jags probably weren’t going to be much better next year, why not stockpile Clowney, tank and get in position to grab a prize potentially bigger than any available in this draft? Who is this prize, you ask? Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. Winston is 6-4 and 227 pounds. He has an arm and a football IQ reminiscent of Andrew Luck. He’s a born leader playing in an NFL-style offense that just produced a first-round quarterback whom Winston is currently outperforming in his first year as the starter. The only problem? He’s a redshirt freshman. He can’t enter the draft until 2015. So tank, Jags, tank. A few years of suffering will seem a pittance when Winston is carving up defenses and Clowney is harassing quarterbacks.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Current record: 0-8 | The pick: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
I might suggest the same tank-for-Jameis scheme here, but the Bucs have better pieces than the Jags, and if they choose to fire Greg Schiano, the coaching change probably will be good for a bounceback of enough wins to take Tampa Bay out of the running for Mr. Winston. So they should draft Bridgewater, a tough, smart leader with a huge arm. Bridgewater would instantly upgrade the offense, and he would provide a centerpiece to build around.
Current record: 1-7 | The pick: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
The Vikings need to choose a quarterback, and Bridgewater would be a fine choice. But just for a moment, picture Mariota running the read-option with Adrian Peterson. Mariota takes the snap and puts the ball in Peterson’s belly. Because Mariota is adept at hiding the exchange—or lack thereof—from his days at Oregon, the defense has no clue which player has the ball.
So who is it? The 6-4, 211-pound quarterback with sprinter’s speed? Or one of the best backs in NFL history? That thought would haunt the dreams of defensive coordinators.
New York Giants
Current record: 2-6 | The pick: Clowney
The Giants seem to have pulled out of their dive. They’ve won their past two, so it’s highly doubtful they’ll be able to surpass the futility of the Jaguars and Bucs. But let’s just imagine everything goes to pot and somehow the Jags and Bucs manage a few wins. What should the Giants do?
Eli Manning is 32, so it’s probably too soon to worry about the next franchise quarterback. Offensive tackle is a possibility, but none of the players in this crop is as enticing a prospect as Clowney. The idea of Clowney rushing from one side with a healthy Jason Pierre-Paul rushing from the other should terrify quarterbacks.
Current record: 2-6 | The pick: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Obviously, the Steelers are probably not going to be picking first. But a down year by a well-run franchise could result in said franchise drafting a player that helps push that franchise back into the elite ranks quickly. That player is Barr, a perfect 3-4 outside linebacker who can rush the quarterback, play the run or cover receivers. Barr, a converted running back, is only in his second year as a defensive player. Bruins coordinator Lou Spanos uses him all over the field, and Barr is only going to get better.
Why should the Steelers spend another first-round pick on an outside linebacker whose best trait is his ability to rush the quarterback? Because a team can never have enough players capable of sacking the opposing QB. Jarvis Jones has struggled to pick up Pittsburgh’s defense, but he’ll get it in time. Now add Barr, who has proven himself to be a fast learner, and watch the hurries and sacks pile up.
Current record: 2-6 | The pick: Bridgewater
This is another purely hypothetical scenario, but it’s an easy one. The Texans need a quarterback. Bridgewater could start from day one and give Houston the quality signal-caller that would allow the Texans to reach the heights they believe they should reach.
Current record: 2-6 | The pick: Barr
The Falcons don’t need a quarterback. Assuming Sam Baker is healthy, they don’t need a left tackle. If defensive coordinator Mike Nolan wants to continue toggling between odd and even fronts, Barr’s versatility will give him options.