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Saturday, February 22, 2014
Clowney could give Rams much to ponder

By Nick Wagoner


INDIANAPOLIS -- South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is widely regarded as the best player in the 2014 NFL draft.

But that might not be enough to make him the first player drafted come May solely because he doesn't play quarterback.

On Saturday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium, Clowney began pleading his case for Houston or some team moving up in a trade to select him with the No. 1 overall choice. He didn't have to reach too far into the past to present his reason.

"The Super Bowl, defense won that game, shut them down, shut them out,” Clowney said. “It takes defense to win championships hands down. You had a great quarterback in Peyton Manning, hats off to him also, but defense wins the Super Bowl."

Defense wins championships is just one of the many clichés Clowney can use to make his case for going No. 1. There’d be a different one in play at No. 2 should Clowney not go first.

It’s long been said that a team can never have too many pass-rushers. The aforementioned Seahawks feasted on Denver’s offense on the strength of a deep rotation of defensive linemen. The New York Giants won two Super Bowls in recent years following a similar blueprint.

But is it possible to reach a point of diminishing returns when deciding whether to use an extremely high pick at a position where you already appear to be fully stocked?

That’s the question the Rams will have to answer if Clowney is staring them in the face with the second pick.

“We've proven in the last (two) years we can get pressure on the quarterback specifically with a four-man rush,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “And we've gotten pressure and effective rush from our backups. You can't get enough guys that can (rush).”

The Rams' current situation should provide a strong litmus test for that belief. End Robert Quinn is the team’s best player, posting 19 sacks on his way to first team All Pro honors in 2013.

Opposite Quinn, the Rams have Chris Long, whose sack numbers dipped a bit last year but still creates plenty of pressure on the quarterback. Perhaps no team in the league has a better pair of backups than William Hayes and Eugene Sims.

All four are under the team's control through at least the 2015 season so long as the Rams exercise the fifth-year option on Quinn.

The Rams carried a fifth end in 2013 with undrafted rookies Gerald Rivers and Sammy Brown alternately holding that spot.

So it’s not out of the question that the Rams would bring on another defensive end. That’s not what this is about. It’s about whether it’s worth it to spend such a lofty pick on a player that would be part of a rotation rather than an every down player.

Given the difference a defensive end can make, it just might be.

“For example, we lost Will for a couple weeks with an MCL and our numbers went down because Chris was playing more plays,” Fisher said. “So the more guys you've got up front, the better you are.”

By all accounts, the Rams don’t need to draft a defensive end at No. 2 or anywhere else in the draft. They could enter next season with the quartet of Quinn, Long, Hayes and Sims and still have perhaps the best group in the league. They've also invested heavily in the line as a whole, spending first-round picks on Long, Quinn and defensive tackle Michael Brockers and giving tackle Kendall Langford a sizable free agent contract.

Early information concludes Clowney has at least drawn the attention of the Rams. Clowney said Saturday he was unsure if he had a formal interview lined up with the team but confirmed that the Rams sent representatives to his hometown of Rock Hill, S.C. recently to do some homework.

Doing diligence is all part of the process, but it’s worth monitoring the team’s interest even if it would prefer a trade down to a team such as Atlanta wanting to move up for Clowney.

As with most players, determining how Clowney can fit into the scheme is one of the biggest pieces of the evaluation. For what it’s worth, Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is known as one of the most innovative defensive minds in the league.

“The No. 1 thing is if you are already loaded and that’s one of our strongest positions, you need to have a plan if we do go this route because you don’t want one of them inactive on game day,” Snead said. “How are we going to use that to help us further the cause here? I think that’s step one. I always say in the draft don’t reach, you know who is talented, who is not but if you have got some guys on the board of similar talent, you think what is the best use for them going forward for us.”

NFL teams, the Rams included, don't draft solely based on immediate return. The bigger picture will be accounted for. It's entirely possible for a first-round pick to be a situation player in Year 1 and make a difference. San Francisco pass-rusher Aldon Smith is a good recent example.

For St. Louis, the possible Clowney conundrum looms as one of the biggest factors in shaping its 2014 draft.