Beyond Clowney though, what likely first-round pick could wind up challenging for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year? NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah thinks it could be a linebacker that goes toward the end, not the beginning, of the first round.
"I'm going to say Ryan Shazier from Ohio State is a player that could have an immediate impact from this draft class," Jeremiah said on NFL.com's "Mock Draft Weekly". "If he were to land at a place like Denver, where he'll be playing against the pass, his ability to run, blitz, cover will have an immediate impact."
The 6-foot-1, 237-pound Shazier is fellow analyst Mike Mayock's third-ranked outside linebacker in the class after a fantastic final season in Columbus that saw him lead the Big Ten in tackles. While he doesn't have the size of some of the other linebackers in the draft, his sub-4.4 40-yard dash at his pro day turned heads among scouts who are looking for a linebacker who has the coverage skills to succeed in today's pass-happy NFL.
Recent NFL.com mock drafts have him firmly in the mix to be taken on the first night of the draft, likely behind Buffalo's Khalil Mack, UCLA's Anthony Barr and Alabama's C.J. Mosley at the linebacker position. Jeremiah slotted him to the Broncos in his most recent mock draft, while a few others think he could be long gone by the time Denver picks. No matter what defense he winds up playing in though, the former scout believes Shazier's skills and mental makeup will translate quickly to the field as a rookie.
"I think you're talking about him from 20 to 32," Jeremiah added about Shazier's draft position. "As the NFL game has evolved into a passing game, Shazier can blitz and he can cover. That's what he does really well and he'll be successful.
"A team that plays with the lead like Denver, he'd be outstanding."
Considering how much the team was exposed in the Super Bowl by the Seattle Seahawks and how John Elway has retooled the defense this offseason, it's not hard to see Shazier getting on the field early for Denver and finding success when opponents focus on stopping DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. The only problem might be that the team isn't in position to grab the Ohio State product when the draft rolls around in May as the highly coveted playmaker could be off the board by pick 31.