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Franchise quarterback or the next great defensive end? Next year’s draft debate could be fascinating

Frank Schwab
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Potential No. 1 picks next year, Jadeveon Clowney (left) and Teddy Bridgewater (USA Today Sports Images)

If you've spent any time looking at the 2014 NFL draft (and why not, there's still three weeks of dead time until training camp), there's a potentially fascinating storyline brewing.

If a team that needs a quarterback gets the first pick of the draft (and that's usually the case), and there is a franchise quarterback available, do you take what looks like a sure thing in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, or the quarterback?

It's a debate that I've been wondering about for a while, and former NFL scout Bucky Brooks of NFL.com has his answer:

Next year's NFL draft class has a chance to be really, really deep and good. The most likely player to rise to the top of the quarterback class is the aforementioned Bridgewater, a terrific pocket passer for Louisville. But, it wouldn't be a huge shock if the top quarterback ends up being Clemson's Tajh Boyd, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel or someone else.

The thing is, if you've paid the slightest attention to college football you know that Clowney isn't simply a very good defensive prospect. If he plays like he did as a sophomore, he will probably be the highest rated defensive draft prospect in at least 15 years (I think he'll get more buzz than Ndamukong Suh). He ran a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash at 272 pounds this spring, faster than Montee Ball and Giovani Bernard clocked at the combine. He also has a tremendous feel for the game. Nobody ever knows for sure if a draft pick will pan out, but it's hard to find someone who doesn't believe Clowney will be a NFL star. He could be a once-in-a-generation defensive player.

But, there's the quarterback issue.

Having a truly elite quarterback changes your entire franchise's outlook. You can win without an elite quarterback, but it's tough. There's a great moment in the Jimmy Johnson "A Football Life," episode where he is talking to Bill Belichick about how it used to be the most important thing to have a good quarterback.

"Now, the only thing that matters is if you get a great quarterback," Johnson said.

That should be the motto of the modern-day NFL.

You do not want to be the team to pass up the next Reggie White. You also don't want to be the team that passed on a quarterback when your top guy is someone like Blaine Gabbert. A trade could draw a huge return, but a good way to get fired is to be the guy who passed on Clowney and an elite quarterback in the draft. In a way it's a no-lose scenario for whoever gets the first pick, but it's also going to be a stressful few months for some front office.

So what's the right move? Franchise quarterback or Clowney? By next May, that could be the question everyone is debating.

 

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