In the weeks leading up the 2006 NFL draft, with fans and media debating what Houston should do with the first overall pick, then-Texans general manager Charley Casserly placed a call to Mike Tannenbaum, the New York Jets' new general manager at the time. Casserly was preparing to make a critical selection for a floundering franchise and wanted to explore the possibility of a trade. But when Casserly asked Tannenbaum what he was willing to give up for the pick, he was struck by the reply. "I think you've got it backwards, Charley," Tannenbaum said. "I'm wondering what you'll give me to take that pick off your hands."
Casserly can chuckle about that moment today because he no longer has to fret over the difficult decision of deciding on the first pick in the draft. He can relate to the general manager who will find himself in the position next spring to make a choice similar to the one he faced seven years ago. Casserly ultimately chose defensive end Mario Williams over running back Reggie Bush. In May, another GM may have to decide between a dominant defender and a talented offensive player, both of whom could be early entrants in the 2014 draft: South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Even with all the predictable shifting that will occur over the next few months, those two underclassmen dominate the conversation as the potential top pick in this upcoming draft. Clowney, a 6-foot-5, 258-pound junior, has been the undisputed leader of the pack ever since producing a jaw-dropping, highlight-reel hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in last season's Outback Bowl. Bridgewater, also a junior, has been incredibly efficient (25 touchdown passes and only three interceptions) and surely will benefit from Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, whom scouts regarded as the top signal-caller in the country, deciding to stay in school next fall.
The problem is that although Bridgewater is the best quarterback right now, Clowney is the better prospect.
That means some team could face the daunting task of deciding between a once-in-a-lifetime talent or a quarterback who isn't guaranteed to be elite.
"That will be a very tough choice if that scenario ends up playing out that way," said ESPN NFL analyst Billy Devaney, who was the St. Louis Rams general manager from 2008 to 2011. "When you're picking first, you don't want to hear about a player's upside. That's a general manager's nightmare."
The popular thinking is that Bridgewater would be the obvious selection for any team picking at No. 1. A franchise in that position is likely to need a quarterback, and that position has dominated the top of the draft for nearly two decades. In the past 16 drafts, 12 quarterbacks have been selected first overall. Only two defensive players have been chosen No. 1 during that same period, and both played the same position as Clowney: Williams and former Cleveland Browns defensive end Courtney Brown, the top choice in the 2000 draft and one of the biggest busts in recent memory.