For nearly three years, Jadeveon Clowney couldn't wait to get to the NFL, and the league was just as eager to add the player some called the best defensive prospect in a decade.
No surprise: Clowney is the Texans' man.
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2014 NFL draft picks and thumbnailsThe players selected in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night.
No. 1 Houston Texans: JADEVEON CLOWNEY, DE, South Carolina. (6-foot-6, 266 pounds). He is first defender to go No. 1 overall since Mario Williams in 2006. Production fell off after spectacular sophomore season for defensive end. Finished last season with 11½ tackles for loss and three sacks after getting 23½ and 13 in 2012. Most talented and athletically gifted player in draft. Blazing fast for size. Moves fluidly. Plays with power, gets off line quickly and can chase down running backs from sideline to sideline. Some questions about playing with consistently high effort and he needs to develop more pass rushing technique.
No. 2 St. Louis Rams: GREG ROBINSON, OT, Auburn (6-5, 332). Two-year starter at left tackle who became dominant player as junior last year. Checks all boxes with size, athleticism and power.
No. 3 Jacksonville Jaguars: BLAKE BORTLES, QB, UCF (6-5, 232). Blossomed into one of college football's best quarterbacks last year, leading Central Florida to the most successful season in the history of the program. Has drawn comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger because of his combination of size and mobility. Some questions about his ability to throw deep accurately after playing in an offense that featured many short passes and quick throws.
No. 4 Buffalo Bills: The Bills traded up and grabbed SAMMY WATKINS, WR, Clemson (6-1, 211). Spectacular freshman and junior seasons, sandwiched around so-so sophomore year when he was hampered by suspension and injury. Clemson's career leader in receptions (240) and yards receiving (3,391). Big-time speed and good hands. Runs tough and with power after catch. There's not much to complain about, maybe better route running, but that goes for most receivers coming into NFL.
No. 5 Oakland Raiders: KHALIL MACK, LB, Buffalo (6-3, 251). Four-year starter who became one of best linebackers in country. Last season had 10½ sacks, three interceptions, five forced fumbles and scored two touchdowns. Potential every down linebacker with an ability to be fierce pass rusher and sideline-to-sideline force. Hard hitter and excellent athlete. Only knock was a few lackluster performances and at times he seemed to try too hard to make big plays.
No. 6 Atlanta Falcons: JAKE MATTHEWS, OT, Texas A&M (6-5, 308). Son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews. Became starter during freshman season. Played right tackle as sophomore and junior and moved to left as senior after Luke Joeckel moved on to NFL. Strong and technically sound. Only question: will be a top-notch pro or merely good?
No. 7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: MIKE EVANS, WR, Texas A&M (6-5, 231). In two seasons playing with Johnny Manziel, Evans had 151 catches, 2,499 yards and 17 touchdowns. Huge, Calvin Johnson-type receiver, though he doesn't quite have Megatron speed. Was nearly impossible for college cornerbacks to stop one-on-one on deep balls.
No. 8 Cleveland Browns: The Browns traded up one spot with Minnesota and got JUSTIN GILBERT, CB, Oklahoma State (6-0, 202). Had five interceptions as sophomore, none as junior and seven last season. Returned two interceptions for touchdowns in 2013. Cornerback finished career with six kickoff return touchdowns. Good size and closing speed. Playmaker when he gets ball. Could make immediate impact as return man. Tackling and run support need work and sometimes he makes mistakes trying to make big play, but he's got lock-down ability.
No. 9 Minnesota Vikings: ANTHONY BARR, LB, UCLA (6-5, 255). Moved from offense to defense after two years in college and finished with 23½ sacks in two seasons playing outside linebacker in 3-4 defense. Fast first step and explosive pass rusher. Speed and quickness player. Strength and power need improvement. Feel for game and ability to read plays is still developing.
No. 10. Detroit Lions: ERIC EBRON, TE, North Carolina (6-4, 250). Breakout junior season with 62 catches for 973 yards, breaking ACC record for yards by tight end held by Vernon Davis at Maryland. Exceptional athlete, combining size, speed, quickness and sticky hands. Blocking needs work and needs to play at his best more consistently, but could be next matchup nightmare tight end in NFL.
No. 11 Tennessee Titans: TAYLOR LEWAN, OT, Michigan (6-7, 309). Started 39 games at left tackle in final three seasons at Michigan and was team captain. Good balance, speed and quickness. Needs to fill out in lower body. Not an overpowering blocker.
No. 12 New York Giants: ODELL BECKHAM, WR, LSU (5-11, 198). Broke LSU's single-season record with 2,315 all-purpose yards last season. Tough and skilled receiver and excellent return man. Reliable hands. Strong and quick after the catch. Tough to tackle. Plays bigger than 5-11. Doesn't have blazing speed or great size, but if you watched him play you might have a hard time noticing that.
No. 13 St. Louis Rams: With their second first-round pick, the Rams get help with on defense with AARON DONALD, DT, Pittsburgh (6-1, 285). As productive as any college defensive player last season, and has hardware to back it up. Defensive tackle won Bronko Nagurski Award as national defensive player of year, and Outland and Lombardi trophies as top lineman after leading country in tackles for loss with 28½. A bit undersized and there are some complaints about ability to anchor down against double-teams, but instincts, quickness, technique and tenacity have more than made up for any physical shortcomings.
No. 14 Chicago Bears: KYLE FULLER, CB, Virginia Tech (6-0, 190). Sports hernia cost the cornerback a chunk of last season, but was excellent when full speed. Broke up 10 passes and made two interceptions. Not an elite athlete but very solid and makes up for some speed and strength shortcomings with good technique and instincts.
No. 15 Pittsburgh Steelers: RYAN SHAZIER, LB, Ohio State (6-1, 237). Led Big Ten with 134 tackles and 22½ stops for loss from weak side linebacker spot last year. Fast and finds way into backfield, using athleticism to avoid blockers. Could be used as pass rusher and has tools to be good in coverage. On thin side, so he can be knocked around at point of attack.
No. 16 Dallas Cowboys: ZACK MARTIN, OT, Notre Dame (6-4, 308). Started 39 games and was two-time team captain. Reliable, tough, sound and consistent blocker. Might be better suited to playing guard because of size.
No. 17. Baltimore Ravens: C.J. MOSLEY, LB, Alabama (6-2, 234). SEC defensive player of year and Butkus Award winner as the nation's top linebacker in 2013. Made 215 tackles in final two seasons. Leader of one of best defenses in nation. Always around the ball. Great instincts and fundamentally sound tackler. Not used much as pass rusher and coverage skills need work. Improve those two a bit and he's an every-down star.
No. 18 New York Jets: CALVIN PRYOR, Safety, Louisville (5-11, 207). Became starter at safety midway through freshman season and quickly became leader of defense. Finished with seven career interceptions. Made 175 tackles in final two seasons. Big hitter who finds ball quickly and excels at taking it away. A bit undersized, though he plays big. Can be overly aggressive and undisciplined.
No. 19 Miami Dolphins: JA'WAUN JAMES, OT, Tennessee (6-6, 311). Started all 49 games he played in for the Volunteers. Held down the right tackle position. Not projected to be a first-rounder, but not a major reach either. Excellent size and solid in pass protection. Shows good smarts and has been a dependable team leader. Technique needs some work. Needs to play more light on his feet.
No. 20 New Orleans Saints: The Saints traded up with Arizona and took BRANDIN COOKS, WR, Oregon State (5-10, 170). Won Biletnikoff Award as nation's best receiver last year, when he set Pac-12 records with 128 catches for 1,730 yards. Very fast (4.4 in 40-yard dash), but not just undersized deep threat. Has good quickness to separate from defenders in middle of field and make tacklers miss. Plays physical despite size, but that size is still far from ideal.
No. 21 Green Bay Packers: HA HA CLINTON-DIX, Safety, Alabama (6-1, 208). Missed couple of games last season because of suspension for breaking NCAA rule. Otherwise his first season as full-time starter at safety was excellent, with 51 tackles and two interceptions. Rangy and hard hitter, with good ball skills. Plays with discipline, though is not especially fast or athletic.
No. 22 Cleveland Browns: The Browns traded up again to get their franchise quarterback in JOHNNY MANZIEL, QB, Texas A&M (5-foot-11¾, 207 pounds). 2012 Heisman Trophy winner was one of most exciting and productive players in college football history. How well his game, which featured plenty of spectacular but unscripted plays out of the pocket, translates to NFL is big question. Mechanics and recognition of defenses need work and size is not ideal, but athleticism and competitiveness are enticing.
No. 23 Kansas City Chiefs: DEE FORD, DE, Auburn (6-2, 252). Highly touted recruit who played at Auburn as a freshmen and blossomed into a star by his senior season. Was the best defensive player on a team that played for a national championship and had 10½ sacks. Quick off the line and a relentless pass rusher. Unquestioned team leader and workout manic who keeps himself in impeccable condition, though he has had some injury issues with his back. Can get engulfed by big tackles.
No. 24 Cincinnati Bengals: DARQUEZE DENNARD, CB, Michigan State (5-11, 199). Won Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back last season to cap stellar career at cornerback. Had four interceptions, 62 tackles and 10 passes defended in 2013. Played plenty of man to man in college and excelled at it. Good though not elite speed. Not much zone experience and needs to get stronger against run.
No. 25 San Diego Chargers: JASON VERRETT, CB, TCU (5-9, 189). Played much of last season with a shoulder injury but was still good enough to share Big 12 defensive player of the year honors. Had 14 passes defended and two interceptions. Fast and quick, but undersized which could lead to a career as a slot corner.
No. 26 Philadelphia Eagles: MARCUS SMITH, DE, Louisville (6-3, 251). Some teams project this pass-rushing specialist to move from end to linebacker. For Cardinals, he had 14½ sacks last year. Long arms to block passes and maybe even kicks. Can be overpowered by stronger blockers.
No. 27 Arizona Cardinals: DEONE BUCANNON, Strong safety, Washington State (6-1, 211). Four-year starter at safety who had a huge senior season, playing on poor defense. Led the Pac-12 in tackles (114) and interceptions (six). Imposing athlete. Big and fast. Crushing hitter. Coverage skills need work and can miss tackles going for big hits.
No. 28 Carolina Panthers: KELVIN BENJAMIN, WR, Florida State (6-5, 240). Blossomed last season with 54 catches for 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns, including winning score in BCS championship game against Auburn. Huge and an irresistible red zone weapon. Hands fall into needs-improvement category and he is not a burner. But fast enough considering his size.
No. 29 New England Patriots: DOMINIQUE EASLEY, DE, Florida (6-2, 288). Tore his right ACL and medial meniscus in a non-contact injury last season. Easley tore the ACL in his left knee in November 2011, but worked his way back to become a disruptive defender in 2012. He considered leaving school after his junior season, but ultimately decided to come back in hopes of improving his draft stock. Easley had 72 tackles, including 18 for loss, and 5½ sacks.
No. 30 San Francisco 49ers: Jimmie Ward, Safety, Northern Illinois (5-11, 193). Led Northern Illinois in tackles in 2012. Seen as active and energetic, but size could be an issue.
No. 31 Denver Broncos: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State (5-11, 194). Was suspended for last season's opener by Urban Meyer. Has good size and is physical and aggressive, but was inconsistent as a junior.
No. 32 Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings traded with the Super Bowl champion Seahawks to get into the final spot of the round and took TEDDY BRIDGEWATER, QB, Louisville (6-2, 214). Three-year starter who took over as a freshman and helped Louisville to consecutive double-digit win seasons in his final two years. Solid mechanics, reads field well, stays disciplined under pressure and has shown willingness to play hurt.
But Thursday's first pick of the 2014 NFL draft didn't come without some intrigue about how it would all turn out. There had been criticism of Clowney's work ethic last season and questions about whether the Texans would hold or trade the No. 1 slot.
"I just been proving a lot of people wrong throughout my life," Clowney said. "Growing up, I grew up hard. I always said I'm going to do something great. Hopefully, I'm going to be a Hall of Famer one day."
Houston will take that.
This draft's other big name, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, sat with a sullen look on his face until Cleveland made its third trade of the round and grabbed the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner at No. 22. To rousing cheers and chants of "Johnny, Johnny," Manziel smiled widely as he walked onto the Radio City Music Hall stage.
Manziel's wait added plenty of suspense nearly three hours after the Texans took their time selecting Clowney. Rarely does a team not reveal the top overall choice until it is announced, and there was wide speculation the Texans had soured on the defensive end, whose junior season at South Carolina was accompanied by criticism he played it safe to stay healthy for the pros.
After Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the pick, fans filling Radio City Music Hall to capacity applauded Clowney as he held up his index finger, his eyes moist, a relieved look on his face. Just like the 30 prospects on hand, the fans were extra eager to see who would wind up where after the draft was pushed back from late April because the theater was unavailable.
"It's been a long time. It just kicked in at the end there, man, I've been drafted," he said.
Clowney, 21, brings size, speed and power to a lineup that already has 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. His diligence had been questioned after he slipped from 13 sacks to just three in 2013. Critics said he was protecting himself from injury in his junior year before declaring early for the draft.
He is the first defensive player taken first overall since Houston selected another end, Mario Williams, in 2006. Williams now is with Buffalo. Houston also made the top pick in its first season, 2002, taking quarterback David Carr. He never lived up to that billing; the Texans hope Clowney has more of an impact.
Tackle Greg Robinson, whose blocking helped high-powered Auburn make the national championship game last season, went second to St. Louis. The Rams owned the pick as the final payment for a 2012 trade with Washington that allowed the Redskins to draft quarterback Robert Griffin III.
St. Louis is concerned about the health of starting left tackle Jake Long, who is coming off knee surgery.
The first quarterback to go went to Jacksonville in the third slot, but it wasn't Johnny Football. Blake Bortles of Central Florida, whose stock shot up last season and in subsequent workouts. At 6-5, 232, Bortles drew comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger because of his combination of size and mobility. Jacksonville missed the last time it took a QB in the first round, Blaine Gabbert in 2011. The Jaguars gave up on the inconsistent Gabbert, who struggled to read defenses and was benched for journeyman Chad Henne. Gabbert is now a backup in San Francisco.
"He's a down-to-earth guy, a self-made guy, a blue-collar guy and he wants to be the best he can be," said Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell, who added a word of caution: "He just needs a little bit of time."
Seeing a chance to grab playmaking receiver Sammy Watkins of Clemson, Buffalo swapped spots with Cleveland, also sending a first- and fourth-round selection next year to move up from ninth to fourth.
"Dynamic playmaker, and that's what this game is all about," Bills GM Doug Whaley said of Watkins. "He's automatically going to make our quarterback (EJ Manuel) better."
Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews, the son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, went to Atlanta with the sixth overall pick. The Falcons leaked so badly on the offensive line in 2013 as they plummeted from NFC South champion to 4-12 that Matt Ryan was sacked 44 times.
Another Aggies star was chosen next, receiver Mike Evans to Tampa Bay. The 6-4, 231-pound Evans is durable, versatile -- and quite emotional. He also couldn't hold back the tears when Goodell called his name.
The crowd thought Manziel might go eighth when Cleveland traded up one spot to get Minnesota's pick. So when the Browns took cornerback Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State, there was a loud groan from the fans. Gilbert smiled wryly as he shook Goodell's hand.
Minnesota grabbed UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, Detroit selected North Carolina's Eric Ebron, by far the best tight end in this crop, and Tennessee filled a need on the offensive line with Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan.
Finally, a local team was on the clock and the audience approved lustily when the Giants chose LSU receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham was followed by Pitt DT Aaron Donald to St. Louis, Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller to Chicago, Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier to Ohio State, Notre Dame G Zack Martin to Dallas, Alabama LB C.J. Mosley to Baltimore and, as fans chanted "J-E-T-S," Louisville safety Calvin Pryor is New York-bound.
Minnesota finished off the opening round by trading with Seattle to select Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, the third quarterback taken. Bridgewater was an early entrant into the draft, but already had graduated college.
Fourteen underclassmen were chosen, including the first four picks. The SEC led all conferences with 11 players taken.