CLEMSON — – Apparently, Da’Quan Bowers’ surgically repaired right knee was a concern after all.
Once thought to be a candidate for the NFL draft’s top overall pick, the former Clemson defensive end endured a freefall Thursday night all the way out of the first round.
All 32 teams passed on Bowers, and he must wait until Friday’s second and third rounds to learn his fate.
12 defensive linemen were selected, including eight defensive ends.
"1 down 6 more to go," Bowers tweeted after the first round concluded. "keep grinding it ain't over til it's over."
Bowers’ night continued an up-and-down odyssey that began last winter, when the former No.1 national recruit re-dedicated himself to football following two somewhat disappointing seasons.
Shortly before Gaines Adams’ sudden death from an enlarged heart, the two spoke, and Bowers assured him he’d put more effort into football and get in better shape.
He gave much the same message to his father, Dennis, who died suddenly during preseason practice.
And he lived up to it, too, making 15.5 sacks – second-most in Clemson history – while winning the Nagurski Award, given to college football’s top defensive player, and the Ted Hendricks Award, given to its top defensive end.
He was the first Tiger to win more than one national award in the same year. Bowers was also a unanimous All-American; his 26 tackles for loss were tied for most nationally and fifth-most in school history.
Several key draft analysts, including ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay pegged him as the No.1 or No.2 overall pick. But his stock plummeted following early January surgery to repair torn knee cartilage; Bowers hurt the knee making a sack in early November against N.C. State and gutted it out the rest of the way.
Bowers and his agent insisted the knee was healthy, but a subpar effort at his Clemson pro day April 1 raised questions instead of answering them.
Two weeks ago, agent Joe Flanagan sent out a lengthy email saying that there were no indications that his client would need another surgery (some analysts had suggested he could require a microfracture surgery, which would sideline him for a year) and that all 32 NFL teams had examined his client twice during the draft process.
The Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions were possibilities at No.12 and No.13. But the Vikings stunned many by picking Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder, and the Lions bolstered a nasty defensive line by snagging Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who started January rivaling Bowers for No.1.
Tampa Bay, which picked Adams at No.6 four years ago, was regarded as a strong threat at No.20. However, the Buccaneers went with Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn instead.
New Orleans was another strong possibility at No.24; the Saints needed a pass rusher. But they picked Cal defensive end Cameron Jordan, and Bowers falling out of the first round became a real possibility.
When the New York Jets picked Temple DE Muhammad Wilkerson and the Pittsburgh Steelers picked Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward at No.30-31, it became obvious Bowers would tumble out of the first round.
It will be a costly fall; last year's No.1 overall pick, St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford, signed a six-year, $78 million pick. The No.20 pick, Alabama cornerback Kareem Jackson, signed a five-year, $13.1 million deal with the Houston Texans. And the No.33 pick, Indiana offensive tackle Rodger Saffold, signed a four-year, $6.4 million contract.