There probably won't be booing if Bridgewater becomes the top pick over Clowney. But there will be reasonable speculation about what kind of quarterback he will become in the immediate future. There's little doubt he looks the part: 6-foot-2½, 220 pounds, 4.67 speed in the 40-yard dash and stats that jump off the page (6,986 passing yards, 69.6 completion percentage, 52 passing touchdowns and just 11 interceptions over the past two seasons). But nobody in scouting circles is putting Bridgewater in the same class as Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, the first pick in the 2012 draft and a player widely hailed as one of the best quarterback prospects in the past 20 years.
One AFC scout said Bridgewater "is a really good athlete with a nice arm, but from what I saw, Mariota was the better prospect." An AFC general manager added that Bridgewater "has dropped off some [since his sophomore year]. He does have that quick release, but he's as thin as can be. All his weight is in his ass and he has skinny ankles and wrists. This is the big-boy league, and you have to be able to absorb pounding. He's a great kid, and he'll get drafted high, but is he a sure thing? I can't say that."
Still, Bridgewater remains talented enough to excite a quarterback-needy team selecting first overall. When the St. Louis Rams held the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft, they had to choose between Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford and Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. The former was a Heisman Trophy winner who played only three games during his junior season because of an injured throwing shoulder. The latter was a dominant interior lineman who could terrorize an entire offensive line nearly single-handedly.
But when Devaney flew to Los Angeles to discuss the draft with his owners after the 2009 season ended, he told them he was taking Bradford as long as the quarterback was healthy. Despite Suh's significant talent, the Rams' need at the game's most important position made the choice an easy one. That allowed Devaney to avoid the pressure that comes with making such a pick, even though he sympathizes with teams that don't have a surefire prospect awaiting them with that selection. "There are teams right now where it's obvious they can't win with the quarterback they drafted," Devaney said. "But you have to play it out at that point, and it takes about three years for some teams to admit they made a mistake. It's the worst position you can find yourself in when you need a quarterback and you feel that temptation to force one. Those decisions cost people jobs."
The instant appeal of Clowney is that a team probably wouldn't have to wait for an immediate return. When Casserly chose Carr with the first pick in 2002, the team selecting right after Houston -- the Carolina Panthers -- took defensive end Julius Peppers, a player who was as hyped as Clowney is today. All Peppers did in his first season was produce 12 sacks and win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors despite missing four games for violating the league's policy on banned substances. The Panthers made the Super Bowl in his second year.