Tuesday, March 25, 2014

2014 NFL Draft Prospect: DE Jadeveon Clowney - South Carolina

Jadeveon Clowney
South Carolina
Defensive End
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 266 lbs.
40 Time: 4.53s
Vert Jump: 37.5"
Broad Jump: 10'4"


2011 Freshman Season: Starting 12 games as a true freshman, Clowney made an instant impact, credited with 36 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 8 sacks, 6 QB hurries and 5 forced fumbles.  Clowney was named SEC Freshman of the Year and 2nd Team All-SEC.  He also made numerous freshman All-American teams.

2012 Sophomore Season: Clowney emerged as one of the best defenders in all of college football in his second year.  Clowney set South Carolina single season records in sacks (13) and tackles for loss (23.5).  He also had 54 tackles, 5 QB hurries and 3 forced fumbles.  Clowney was voted a unanimous First Team All-American, along with winning the Ted Hendricks Award on top of being a finalist for the Benarik, Lombardi and Nagurski awards.

2013 Junior Season: After a stellar sophomore campaign and the media hyping him up as a potential Heisman candidate, Clowney had a down year dogged by nagging injuries and questionable work ethic.  Clowney finished the season with 40 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 9 QB hurries, 4 deflected passes and 1 forced fumble.

+ Elite athlete; genuine freak
+ Rare speed and explosiveness for his size
+ Blends speed with power
+ Vast arsenal of rush moves
+ Dips and bends effortlessly turning the corner
+ Great hand use, extending and keeping OL off his pads
+ Gets his arms up to disrupt passing lanes
+ Very fluid and agile
+ Versatile lining up and down the LOS

- Effort and work ethic came into question junior year
- Inconsistent effort; disappears for long stretches in games
- Needs to fully grasp how to impact the game in other ways besides rushing

NFL Player Comparison:  DE Julius Peppers - Packers
There are two players in the NFL currently that Clowney gets compared to the most: Julius Peppers and Mario Williams.  Like both players, he's the type of player that opposing teams have to account for at all times.  Clowney shares their rare athletic ability with elite size, speed and strength to be a franchise defender and a fixture to the Pro Bowl.  I give the nod to Peppers when comparing Clowney because of his suddenness and explosion as a quick twitch athlete at the position.  

The comparison is even deeper when you look at Clowney's heavy reliance on his natural talent.  At this point in development, Clowney is ahead of many of his fellow draft prospects.  He has an extremely quick get off the line of scrimmage and closes in pursuit instantly.  He has a variety of rush moves that he combines with that speed to keep opposing linemen off balance.  One minute he's using a rip move, then follows it up with a juke and spin on the next play.  

The biggest issue with Clowney when watching him play is.....Clowney.  Like Julius Peppers, Clowney needs to focus mentally on keeping his head in the game and giving consistent effort snap after snap.  If he's not involved often and early, it seems like that's when Clowney's overall impact on the game wanes.  Clowney needs to develop into a leader and has the ability to do so.  Sky's the limit.

Raiders Draft Analysis
There was a time early last season when the very thought of Jadeveon Clowney in Oakland gave Raiders fans the chills.  He was everyone's favorite as the top pick in the 2014 draft.  After the lackluster junior season (depending on how you look at it) and questions about his effort and intensity in games, there aren't as many Raiders fans on the Clowney wagon.  To be clear, I'm not on that wagon.

Currently the 3 teams that are the most in play for Jadeveon Clowney ahead of the Raiders are Houston, Atlanta (if they trade up with the Rams) and Jacksonville.  Houston looks more and more like they're going to draft a QB with the 1st pick, either it be Blake Bortles or Teddy Bridgewater.  The Jaguars are also on the market for a QB, even before they traded away former 1st round pick Blaine Gabbert to the Niners.  They do have a defensive minded coach in Gus Bradley and are eager to hit big on this year's draft choice.  The Falcons are the true wildcard, considering that they've come out and openly said they are open to trading up.  Whether its just talk or posturing, its interesting to take note nonetheless.

It most likely won't happen, but its also not far-fetched to say that there could be a potential scenario for Clowney to be available with the #5 pick overall.  After trading Schaub to Oakland, the Texans need a top notch QB to ring in the new Bill O'Brien era.  If the Rams stay put, WR Sammy Watkins could be the answer since both Robert Quinn and Chris Long are already on their roster.  If Jacksonville and/or Cleveland go QB, Clowney could realistically be in play with Oakland's pick.

Jadeveon Clowney, solely from a talent standpoint, is the most athletically gifted and potentially dominant prospect in the entire draft.  Guys who are that big, explosive and fast don't come along every year....more like once in a decade.  The scary part about Clowney is that he's got the talent and the potential to get even better.  His biggest knocks are all correctable since it all has to do with consistency and effort.

Clowney recently came out in an interview and said the criticism about his work ethic is the same as spitting in his face:

"When they say that, I take that as spit in the face, really," Clowney said. "I wouldn't question that about me personally. I love the game and don't think I take plays off. And I wouldn't question how much I love it because I wouldn't be playing this game if I didn't love it."

Whether or not the criticism fuels Clowney to be a better player remains to be seen.  What has been overlooked during this draft prospect by a large chunk of the media is that Clowney's exposure and success following his sophomore year had something to do with his down 3rd year.  Teams were gameplanning around Clowney and he was constantly being doubled and even triple teamed.  One could argue that the emergence of a prospect like Kelcy Quarles has a direct correlation to the attention Clowney received this past season.  Inconsistent effort aside, it becomes that much more difficult to make plays when that happens, but his presence does change things.  Don't get me wrong, its still an issue, but one that can be corrected.

To that end, now that Reggie McKenzie has added some much needed veteran leadership, especially at defensive line.  It makes the possible addition of Clowney that much more appealing compared to pre-free agency.  One of the things said about Clowney is that he's more of a follower than a leader.  Guys like Justin Tuck, Antonio Smith and Lamarr Woodley could all be a good influence on how to be a pro and teach him some tricks of the trade.  The knowledge they can impart on Clowney would be invaluable.  Having a dominant foundation player like Clowney would give the Raiders a sorely lacking face of the franchise moving forward.

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