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Could Clowney Not Go No. 1?

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Is there anything that could get in the way of Jadeveon Clowney being the first player chosen in the 2014 NFL Draft? Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images.
Is there anything that could get in the way of Jadeveon Clowney being the first player chosen in the 2014 NFL Draft? Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images.

With the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft . . .

Wait a minute. Think you have it all figured out already, do you?

You already know which teams are going to be facing off for BCS crystal, who’s going to be handling the Heisman. Why even bother kicking off the 2013 season when you know how it ends, right?

Ah, but football season never does go as expected. Preseason No. 1 rarely winds up facing Preseason No. 2 for all the marbles. Heisman summer frontrunners often fade into autumn afterthoughts, and wind up watching the ceremony not from the front row among fellow finalists but alone on their couch on the receiving side of the camera feed.

You really just don’t know. Nobody was asking for Johnny Manziel’s autograph last year at this time, let alone buying it. And yet, here we are, one week away from Game Week One, and you are claiming with supreme confidence that you know who the first pick in next year’s draft is going to be. Well, let me remind you . . .

Okay. You got me there. Maybe there are a few sure things in football after all.

We can all project with GretzkypointGretzky percent certainty that the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft is going to be South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. He would seem to be as much a mortal lock as Andrew Luck was two drafts ago.

But isn’t there even the slightest chance that Clowney won’t be the first name read when commissioner Goodell first steps to the Radio City podium next May? If Lawrence Taylor, LaVar Arrington and Ndamukong Suh – the three second-to-none defensive prospects his dominance is most often compared to – all went second in the draft, why couldn’t Clowney?

I guess it could happen. We all must recognize that there are certain circumstances that could conspire to keep Clowney from the top spot. Here are four scenarios (pretty much the only four conceivable scenarios) in which Clowney would not go No. 1 overall:

SCENARIO 1: He gets hurt.

There was the neck injury that sidelined him in the spring. Then there was the bruised shoulder that put him on the shelf for two summer practices. That’s hardly a trend, and certainly nothing that would concern an NFL medical staff. Now, if he suffers some sort of typical football injury – something that threatens his ridiculous speed – then it might cause someone to hesitate. Maybe it takes them 30 seconds to turn in their card to the commissioner instead of five seconds. He reportedly has taken out a $5 million insurance policy, but that’s simply good business, not an indication that Clowney acknowledges he’s not bulletproof.

SCENARIO 2: A quarterback emerges.

This is shaping up to be a far deeper draft class of quarterbacks than last year’s. If someone were to separate himself from the pack and distinguish himself as franchise QB material, then a quarterback-needy team picking first (potentially Jacksonville or Oakland) would have to look in that direction. Then again, there’s enough depth for a team picking high in Round One to take a quarterback high in Round Two and wind up with potential gamechangers on both sides of the ball.

SCENARIO 3: A tackle steps up.

Before announcing their decisions to return to college, both Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan were considered among the best offensive tackles available in the 2013 draft. That was some lofty company, as you may recall – Eric Fisher went first overall, Luke Joeckel second and Lane Johnson fourth. It’s possible that Matthews, Lewan or even Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio will blossom into the kind of left tackle that teams don’t mind spending the No. 1 pick on. Plenty of NFL decision makers would argue that the only thing more important than getting to the other team’s quarterback is protecting your own. That could give a tackle prospect the rare chance to one-up Clowney.

SCENARIO 4: The unthinkable.

The hints Clowney has dropped about leaving Columbia after this season are about as subtle as the hits he lays on opponents with the ball. It is almost impossible to imagine a situation in which Clowney would return for his senior season. But then Peyton Manning did just that, and he would have been the No. 1 pick if he’d come out after his junior season. Clowney’s chances of climbing back aboard the Cockaboose Railroad after this season are about the same as Manziel’s likelihood of remaining in the College Station zip code. In other words . . . see ya.

That’s about it. Even diminished production wouldn’t turn away most coaches and GMs. Unless the Mayans turn out to be a year off on their prediction, there appears to be virtually nothing to stand in the way of Jadeveon Clowney being claimed as the top pick in next year’s draft. 

The 2013 college football season may now commence. Even if you know how it all turns out.