Jadeveon Clowney was the man in 2014.
The defensive end out of South Carolina was the No. 1 prospect in the nation out of high school and all but cemented himself as the No. 1 pick when he de-helmeted Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl during his collegiate career.
Sure enough, he was selected No. 1. But on Saturday, NFL analyst Michael Lombardi reported he believed Clowney would be traded within the next 24 to 48 hours. Few would have thought this would have happened when the Texans took him as the top pick in 2014.
But looking back to that draft there was a debate as to whether Clowney was actually the best defensive player. There was even a question as to whether Houston should even take him. Those were just two storylines in what proved to be one of the most interesting drafts we have seen in recent memory.
We look back at the 2014 NFL Draft, the good picks, the bad ones, the revisionist history and the what-might-have been.
Looking back at the 2014 NFL Draft
Texans draft Khalil Mack No. 1, not Jadeveon Clowney: It doesn’t sound completely crazy now, but back then it might have been insane to take Khalil Mack over Clowney. But there were legitimate debates as to whether Mack was actually the better player. Mack was the better in coverage, possibly a better pass rusher and just a pure football player. As it has panned out, Mack has been the better player as he has a Defensive Player of the Year honor to his name and a massive contract to go with it while Clowney is still looking for his.
Browns select Teddy Bridgewater at No. 22, not Johnny Manziel: You forgot Johnny “Football” Manziel went in this draft didn’t you? Well he did and this was the draft where Manziel reportedly texted every team trying to get them to take him. The Browns ultimately bit and what they got was a player constantly in trouble off the field and just OK on it. Meanwhile, Teddy Bridgewater suffered a terrible injury in his career which altered it entirely, but he was good for the Vikings and would have been a selection who could have started the Browns’ turnaround sooner. Now, would Cleveland still have selected Baker Mayfield then? Maybe. But it still would have been the better move.
Jake Matthews, OL, Falcons, No. 6 overall: The Falcons needed an offensive lineman and a good one. While Jake Matthews hasn’t been an all-world player, he made a Pro Bowl and has played every game but one in his career in Atlanta. This is what a good selection looks like.
Aaron Donald, DT, Rams, No. 13 overall: The best defensive player in the world went 13th. Think about that for a minute. Do we really need to explain why Aaron Donald is in “the good”?
Blake Bortles, QB, Jaguars, No. 3 overall: Blake Bortles was a late riser in the draft as Bridgewater and Manziel were the talk for most of the previous two years in regards to this event. But a great season at UCF as a junior and a Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor got Bortles into the top five. The sad thing is the only way to truly demonstrate how disappointing Bortles was in Jacksonville is with a question: Which pick was worse? Blake Bortles or Blaine Gabbert? We’ll leave it at that.
Cleveland Browns, Justin Gilbert, No. 8 overall: We’ve already discussed Manziel so we won’t go crazy on him here, but in a draft with Kyle Fuller (All-Pro 2018) and Bradley Roby (seven career interceptions, one Super Bowl title), the Browns took Justin Gilbert No. 8 overall. He made a total of five tackles in his final two years with the team and hasn’t played in the NFL since 2016. That’s a miss.
What might have been?
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Vikings, No. 32 overall: The Louisville quarterback suffered a devastating leg injury in 2016. Over the previous two seasons he went 17-11 as the Vikings starting quarterback with 28 touchdown passes and more than 6,000 passing yards — and he did that with small hands while the Vikings were playing outdoors. He had nowhere to go but up. Now he is just happy to be in the league and at this point a perennial backup. We would have loved to see what he could have been if he stayed healthy.
Ryan Shazier, LB, Steelers, No. 15 overall: We all know his story. Ryan Shazier was the leader of an improved Steelers defense and was hoping to lead Pittsburgh to the Super Bowl but a neck injury has all but ended his career. We hope he’s able to come back and we know he has made amazing strides, but we doubt he’ll play in the NFL again. His loss altered the last two years for the Steelers and very well could have been as important to the team missing the playoffs in 2018 as Le’Veon Bell’s absence was. This one makes us sad and there’s no other way to say it.