Better bet: Dominant DE or top QB?

It's not hard to understand the logic there. "If you don't have that guy at quarterback, then you want to negate a great passer by having an elite pass-rusher," said Arizona Cardinals defensive line coach Brentson Buckner.

It's even easier to see why passing on Clowney could be the worst move a team could make with the first overall selection. As one AFC scout said, "If you don't have a stud left tackle to deal with him, then you don't have a chance. When he doesn't want to be blocked, there are few people who can block him."

Added ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay: "It's rare to see a player with his size, a true 4-3 end, who can bull-rush and also has great balance, body control and closing burst. I haven't seen many players in my 14 years of scouting who have Clowney's skill set."

It's comments like those that make Clowney a safer bet as the top overall choice.

"The No. 1 thing you have to do when you're deciding on the first pick in the draft is determine whether the player really is worthy of being the best player in the country," said Casserly, who now works as an analyst with NFL Network. "People can say that certain players wouldn't be the best players in certain years, but you don't have that luxury [as a general manager]. It's not like you have the option of picking multiple players with the selection."

It's not a popularity contest

Casserly's choices when he faced such a predicament in 2006 also weren't nearly as daunting as they'll be for a franchise next spring. When the Texans' personnel department was sifting through prospects, they quickly removed the most compelling player, Texas quarterback and Houston native Vince Young, from the conversation. Nobody on the Houston staff envisioned Young as a great NFL quarterback, and the Texans were still willing to give David Carr, the top pick in the 2002 draft, time to prove himself. When it came to choosing between USC's Bush, the Heisman Trophy winner (since vacated) in 2005, and Williams, Casserly relied mainly on the physical evidence.

At 6-foot-7 and 295 pounds, Williams had tested impressively in pre-draft workouts -- he posted a 4.7-second 40-yard dash and a 40.5-inch vertical leap -- and he had been coached by a defensive coordinator at North Carolina State, Reggie Herring, who had worked with the Texans. Casserly also was sold on his durability; there was little doubt that Williams could handle 60 plays a game if Houston invested $9 million a year in him. Bush -- 6 feet, 205 pounds -- was a different story. The Texans saw him more as a role player despite his college achievements and were especially concerned about his ability to withstand NFL punishment with a lower body that compared to that of a wide receiver.

Casserly also knew something else equally important about making such a potentially controversial pick: He had to prepare Williams for the scrutiny that would come with being selected over a national championship-winning quarterback and a rock-star runner with Hollywood charisma. "The whole world knew who Reggie Bush was, and hardly anybody knew Mario Williams," Casserly said. "And I remembered how Philadelphia Eagles fans booed [quarterback] Donovan McNabb when he was drafted [second overall] in 1999. So when we decided on Mario, I publicly said that if anybody didn't like the kid, they could boo me. And they booed the hell out of me."

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