The 1st pick of the draft, for the first time since the Texans picked Mario Williams in the 2006 draft, was a defensive player. This time the Texans, who had a 2-14 record last year, picked Jadeveon Clowney, a monster defensive end from South Carolina. Clowney was the consensus top pick, but there was still some suspense before the pick was announced last Thursday. There will be even more suspense come September, when the NFL regular season starts. Clowney, who will pair with former Ddefensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, is expected to be the best defensive rookie in the NFL in 2014, but there will be stiff competition for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Here are a few other notable defenders that could give Clowney a run for his money this year and for years to come.
1. Khalil Mack, Linebacker, Oakland Raiders- Some experts thought that the Texans could opt to get Mack. The former Buffalo linebacker, who was projected to go as high as the 3 spot to Jacksonville, fell to the 5 spot. The Raiders took Mack off the board in what some say was the best pick of the draft. Mack is a complete player who can be the leader of the Oakland defense for the next 10 years if he pans out. He will also have support during his first few years in the league- Justin Tuck and Charles Woodson are accomplished veterans that could mentor Mack.
2. Aaron Donald, Defensive Tackle, St. Louis Rams- Chris Long, Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn, and now Aaron Donald? This could be the best defensive line in football since the Panthers in 2003. Donald, former Pitt Panther, is the best interior lineman in the draft class and is a solid run blocker. He will be able to learn from the current Rams starters and could fight his way into the starting rotation. If Donald is able to start, he could rack up big numbers and challenge Clowney as the best rookie next season.
3. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Cincinnati Bengals- Cincinnati lost a lot of great defenders in free agency, but the addition of Dennard should make the secondary changes an upgrade. Dennard is the best corner in the draft and should start immediately. Few cornerbacks are as aggressive as the former Michigan State Spartan and that skill will translate to the NFL. Dennard is also massively underrated after falling to the 24 spot in the first round.
Verdict: All four players should be excellent in their first year, but Clowney's freakish talent that was shown two years ago should translate to the NFL and make him the best defensive player in this class for years to come.