- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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Which player should the Jacksonville Jaguars take with the No. 3 pick in the NFL draft? That's a question that general manager David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley are trying to answer before the first round on May 8. Not that they're asking, but I'm here to offer some help. Every day until the first round I'll argue for a certain player. We're going to go with the caveat that each of the players are available when the Jaguars make their selection.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The best argument for the Jaguars to draft defensive end Clowney came on Feb. 2, 2014.
Russell Wilson played well. Marshawn Lynch was effective. Percy Harvin delivered the knockout blow. But the reason the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl was its pass rush. They sacked Peyton Manning only once but they were in his face all day. They disrupted the rhythm of a record-setting offense and the Denver Broncos could only manage eight points.
If quarterback is the most important building block, then finding someone who can disrupt the quarterback is 1A. There is no better pass-rusher in the draft than Clowney.
There may not have been a better pass rusher in any of the past 10-15 drafts, either.
Clowney is 6-foot-5, 266 pounds and he ran an official 4.53 second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. More impressive was the fact that he covered the first 10 yards in 1.56 seconds. That's a faster burst than running backs Montee Ball and Zac Stacy had in 2013.
It's another example of Clowney's explosiveness and athleticism, which is off the charts for someone of his size. He's got long arms (83-inch wingspan) and his vertical jump of 37 ½ inches was a half-inch higher than Mike Evans and more than 3 inches higher than Sammy Watkins. So you can make the argument that he's the best pure athlete in the draft regardless of position.
Forget the questions about Clowney's work ethic. We, the media, are more to blame for that criticism. In the days after the 2012 college football season ended, there were countless columns and stories and experts saying that Clowney should sit out the 2013 season so he wouldn't risk his status as the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft. That went on for months. Clowney only turned 21 in February. How many 20-year-olds would not have been impacted by reading that he was potentially jeopardizing millions of dollars by playing -- especially after seeing South Carolina teammate Marcus Lattimore rip up his knee twice and end up becoming a fourth-round pick?
Clowney has the potential to be a double-digit sack guy immediately and it may only take him a year or two to become one of the league's best pass-rushers.
And if he doesn't work hard consistently? Well, the Jaguars have already proved they can fix that. Second-year defensive end Andre Branch looked like a bust because of the same issue, but Bradley, defensive line coach Todd Wash, and defensive coordinator Bob Babich worked with him and got him to give consistent effort. The result was five of his six sacks last in the last seven games.
The Jaguars certainly need to get more pressure on the quarterback. They've been last in sacks in each of the past two seasons (20 in 2012 and 31 in 2013) and haven't had a player with double digit sacks since Bobby McCray had 10 in 2006.
Another reason to take Clowney: Andrew Luck. To win the AFC South the Jaguars are going to have to beat the Indianapolis Colts. Sending one of the league's top pass-rushers after him twice a year would certainly make things tough for Luck.