High stakes, lots of cash, but little risk-taking explains much about NFL draft

Bowers & McDaniel suffer, Jenkins & Gilchrist benefit, Panthers' choice could have implications for other QBs

Clemson safety DeAndre McDaniel, a Talahasse native, runs after intercepting a pass from Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder.  Ponder threw five interceptions.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson safety DeAndre McDaniel, a Talahasse native, runs after intercepting a pass from Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder. Ponder threw five interceptions.

National Football League executives play a high-stakes game with lots of cash, but they’re apparently not so big on risk-taking.

If that’s true, it explains a lot about how the nation’s defensive player of the year became a second-rounder, why DeAndre McDaniel went undrafted, and why Jarvis Jenkins and Marcus Gilchrist were the first two Clemson players selected in the NFL draft.

Da’Quan Bowers – the Bronko Nagurski Award winner and unanimous All-American who led the nation in sacks and just a few months ago was prematurely crowned by guru after guru as the No. 1 overall selection in this year’s draft – tumbled to the second round because of concerns about an ill-timed knee injury.

If you’re an NFL team about to lay out three-score million dollars or more, it’s not hard to end up leaning on worst-case scenarios.

Bowers’ knee injury may or may not turn out to be a big deal when it comes to his ability to play the game at the highest level; but the timing of his injury couldn’t have been worse, and with the financial damage already done, when the NFL gets back to business after the lockout, Bowers will sign with the Tampa Bay Bucs for a still-considerable sum and will go about the business of proving his doubters wrong.

However things play out over time, anyone who knows anything about Bowers-the-man will expect the Bucs to get his best shot, and I’m betting he’ll end up as the screaming bargain of this year’s draft.

Unless, of course, that honor ends up going to McDaniel, who will sign with somebody as a free agent. Once projected as a second or third-rounder, McDaniel – like Bowers – went undrafted because of injury concerns.

No NFL team was willing to take a gamble, so 254 picks came and went without McDaniel having his name called.

He’s in good company. Boston College’s Mark Herzlich wasn’t taken, either. It’s not far-fetched to think that both McDaniel and Herzlich will end up making two NFL teams very happy, and the rest wondering ‘what were we thinking?’

Jenkins and Gilchrist, meanwhile, were the first two Clemson players selected precisely because their NFL teams felt relatively secure in what they were getting.

In Jenkins, the Washington Redskins are getting a 300-pound-plus pocket mover who they believe can further refine his pass-rushing and run-stopping skills.

In Gilchrist, the San Diego Chargers know they’re getting a versatile, multiple-position player who can fill in gaps in their secondary and contribute on special teams.

If there was a noteworthy gamble taken last week, it might have been the Carolina Panthers’ choice of Cam Newton with their No. 1 overall pick.

They could have played it safer by looking in a different direction. Instead they made a pick that could, if it works out long-term, change the face of what NFL teams look for when they scout for quarterbacks.

A change in the weather on the quarterback front could end up having implications for players like Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, who has some of the same size and skill-set attributes as Newton, and will play the rest of his college career in an offense that wants the quarterback to be a weapon as a runner.

Nobody expects Boyd to rush for nearly 1,500 yards like Newton did last season for Auburn’s Gus Malzahn. But if you look at Chad Morris’ record over the past three seasons – one at Tulsa and two at Lake Travis High School in Austin, TX – you’ll find that his quarterbacks have averaged nearly 650 yards rushing per season.

On more than one occasion the last two seasons, Dabo Swinney and then-offensive coordinator Billy Napier encouraged Kyle Parker to tuck the ball and run when opportunities presented themselves.

And when it game time for interview candidates for the coordinator’s position, Swinney quickly zeroed in on Morris and TCU’s Justin Fuente, whose quarterback – Andy Dalton – averaged about 500 yards per season and 10 carries per game in his two years as a starter.

Swinney and Morris want Boyd to run. It will be interesting to see where that gets him when his draft day comes.

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