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:
In most war rooms, a franchise QB trumps a pass rusher. If Teddy Bridgewater (or another QB) balls out, they will be the pick over Clowney
— Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) July 5, 2013
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.