As the NFL's worst teams try to close out the season on a positive note with a feel-better victory or two, their positions for the 2014 NFL Draft are shuffling in the balance. And for the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday's 27-26 win over the also-awful Washington Redskins could have put South Carolina star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney out of reach.
That's how the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter sees it, noting that the game's outcome not only docked Atlanta to the No. 5 projected overall pick (two remaining games still stand to change the order again), but also bolstered the Redkins' projected draft position to No. 2 (although Washington's first-round pick will go to the Rams as part of the Robert Griffin III trade).
Of course, Ledbetter's assertion doesn't factor in the Falcons' willingness to trade up for Clowney if he is indeed the club's target. Atlanta showed a fearlessness for such a move as recently as 2011, when it packaged a handsome group of picks to trade up with the Cleveland Browns and draft wide receiver Julio Jones out of Alabama.
Quarterbacks, pass rushers and left tackles are frequently at the top of the wish list for clubs picking early in the first round, and Clowney, despite a disappointing junior season, figures to be one of the draft's earliest prizes. Of course, that hinges on Clowney, a junior, declaring for early NFL draft entry, though that is widely expected and something Clowney has hinted at himself.
According to NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah, clubs in need of a defensive end who project to pick early in the first round include the Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings, Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans.
Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.