Return of the Freak

Jadeveon Clowney's junior season dampened the ridiculous excitement surrounding the defensive end that started when he was a freshman in high school. At the combine, expect the South Carolina product to get the NFL drooling again

By
Andy Staples
· More from Andy·
Jadeveon Clowney averaged 10.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss in his first two seasons at South Carolina. In 2013, he had three sacks and 11.5 TFL. (Alex Menendez/AP)
Jadeveon Clowney averaged 10.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss in his first two seasons at South Carolina. In 2013, he had three sacks and 11.5 TFL. (Alex Menendez/AP)

Ellis Johnson noticed it right away. Two jobs ago, Auburn defensive coordinator Johnson was South Carolina defensive coordinator Johnson. And in the spring of 2008, Johnson visited the practice field at South Pointe High in Rock Hill, S.C., and saw a defensive end who projected off the charts.

“Even as a ninth-grader at spring practice, he just kind of jumped out at you,” Johnson said in February 2011. “I didn’t know how big he would get. He was really a long, rangy kid at that time, but he’s got a huge frame. Those kind of players, those guys who are that good, they stand out even at that age.”

The recruitniks noticed Jadeveon Clowney soon after. As early as anyone could be assigned stars, Clowney was assigned five of them. He was anointed the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2011, and despite the fact that the class contained future stars such as offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, receiver Sammy Watkins and defensive end Stephon Tuitt, no one really argued this point.

The hype grew as National Signing Day 2011 approached. When a site called AthleteVault.com uploaded a video of Clowney’s senior season highlights in December 2010, it was passed around via e-mail and social media by everyone who loves college football. The first four plays were all anyone needed to see. On the first, South Pointe’s opponent runs a perfectly executed draw. Clowney and his teammates are fooled, rushing hard upfield as the back grabs the ball and bursts through a huge hole. Against anyone else, this is a touchdown. Easy. But Clowney changes direction and gives chase. He seems to cover 10 yards with each stride. Forty-eight yards down the field, he grabs the ballcarrier and dumps him. On the second play, Clowney is being blocked by an offensive tackle when he intercepts a pass and returns it for a touchdown. The third play is a garden-variety—for Clowney in high school—toss-the-quarterback-like-a-rag-doll sack. The victim? Myrtle Beach’s Everett Golson, who two years later would lead Notre Dame to the BCS title game.

The fourth play is the clincher. South Pointe’s offense is backed up to its 2-yard line. Clowney is lined up as the lone back. The play is a fairly basic stretch. Clowney bursts through the hole, sidesteps a safety and runs for a 98-yard touchdown. At the time, he is 6-6 and 247 pounds.

After those four plays, it became obvious college football would be but a three-year obstacle standing between Clowney and the top of the NFL draft. This isn’t basketball. Not many players look ready to jump from high school to the pros. Clowney did.

We’re about to find out if Clowney can fulfill that vast promise he showed as early as ninth grade. At South Carolina, he was good as a freshman and great as a sophomore. So great, in fact, that the question of whether Clowney should sit out his junior season to preserve his health and draft position became a popular offseason talk-radio topic in 2013. That he was so underwhelming as a junior—while complaining of nagging injuries—only fed the notion that Clowney didn’t want to be playing for a scholarship when he knew he could be playing for much more.

Clowney had been the projected No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft for so long, but his play—and the positional needs of the teams at the top of the draft—caused other names to rise to the top of the mock drafts. The top spot was considered Clowney’s rightful place for four years, and then all of a sudden it wasn’t. His competitiveness kicked in. Clowney has resolved to convince the Texans—or some team willing to trade—that the past few months were an anomaly. He plans to participate fully at this week’s combine to ensure NFL coaches and executives don’t forget which guy was dropping jaws back when all the other guys in the draft were popping zits.

We know Clowney can play. His 2012 tape has demonstrates that. But his 2013 tape raises questions about his motivation. He can make everyone forget those questions with a successful trip to Indianapolis. He likely will put up adequate numbers on the 225-pound bench press (low-to-mid 20s). If he has trained well, he will blow away the decision-makers with his other measurables. He has been quoted in recent weeks saying he’d like to run in the mid-to-high 4.4-second range. That’s receiver/tailback speed. Clowney weighs 270 pounds. Meanwhile, his vertical jump (mid-to-high 30s) will look more at home at the NBA’s combine. Again, Clowney weighs 270 pounds.

Clowney should be able to take full advantage of the NFL’s love of measurables. The question is whether he can convince a team that desperately needs a quarterback—and already has a great defensive end—to choose him. Or can he be so impressive that another team is compelled to give up some valuable picks to the Texans in order to take him?

Clowney’s play as a junior at South Carolina introduced the first inkling of doubt that he might not be a dominant pro. He can erase much of that doubt this week if he shows up in Indianapolis looking like an older, wiser and stronger version of the guy Ellis Johnson saw on South Pointe’s practice field six years ago.

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17 comments
DanielEast
DanielEast

who ever passes on Clowney may lose their job

Sportsredo
Sportsredo

"They" said the same things about Julius Peppers and he did just fine in his NFL career. Here's another combine star that was a bust…….Mike Mamula DE - Eagles.  38.5" vertical, 10 1/2 foot broad jump.  4.58 sec 40 for a guy 6'4" 245 lbs.  He was one of the first ones to train for the measurement tests of the combine and he rocked it!!!   

glaser615
glaser615

If this was college basketball he would have left after his fresh or soph year and this wouldn't even be a story.  The kid is about to be a millionaire and didn't want to risk the injury.  


Some of the best college players turn out to be busts in the NFL, that's just the way of the world.  You're looking at a 6'6" 270 lbs freak of nature that can run in the 4.4s.  I don't care if he can't spell his own name, put that kid on the field and let him play.

bkw423
bkw423

Clowney is a good kid and all the naysayers don't know what they're talking about. Why does everyone want to analyze the heck out of a 20 year old kid who just likes to play football? There are plenty of other players who may be taken in the 1st "5" of the NFL draft but no one takes the time to elaborately critique and defame them?? Why is that?


The poor kid got a couple of speeding tickets and everyone acted as if he were a criminal? As a 20 year old I had my share of tickets and I was not a football star, just an average 20 year old-


For the enormous pressure this kid has lived under for the past 4-5 years and the fact that he is subjected to a microscopic analysis when he sneezes I think he's done great to handle it as well as he has.


Steve Spurrier's comments are honest and nothing wrong with what he said. He knows what a heck of a player Clowney is and how Clowney has been double and triple teamed on most all his plays.


Just lay off Clowney and find some other poor kid that you folks can negate!



thatmanstu
thatmanstu

No player with heart will stand for hearing that he has no heart...Clowney heard it plenty and could care less...He will get paid and he knows it....no motor,no heart.Bust.Period. Unless everyone just woke up one morning and decided to pick this guy out to bust his butt....or more likely,they saw him play and listened to him talk...When he opened his mouth about Saban being short,it was clear he was an idiot....soon to be a rich one....

FerdBerfel
FerdBerfel

Jadaveon Clowney is All-World from the neck down.  It's the head that would keep me from drafting him.

dbum
dbum

dude is an athletic freak. still all he could muster in college last season was 3.5 sacks? since early hs people have probably been "drooling" after this dude, maybe his head finally got bigger than his play. 

steginkt
steginkt

 I might get some crap for this, but his high school tackles don't look that much different than some of the vicious hits that Suh delivers in the NFL.

TiderollsinVA
TiderollsinVA

In the immortal words of Coach Belichick, " your ability determines your floor, your character determines your ceiling."  Be wary Texans.

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

They already KNOW he's an athletic freak.  Even if he blows the combine away, that means nothing as far as his mental make up.  Jamarcus Russell could make ALL the throws with his arm, put it anywhere, fast... How'd that work out?


There have been and will be many more "workout wonders" of the combine.  


It takes a lot more to succeed in the than just pure physical talent.  Same in basketball and the big leagues...


Yes, it helps a GREAT deal.  Ideally they'd be super athletic with a great makeup, work ethic etc...


He showed A LOT this past season and not in the good way...  Of course damn near every team drools over potential and they think their coaches, their trainers will be the ONES to get through to such and such player...


I guess if you're gonna try and strike out, it's better to do it with one of Clowney's potential than a 5' 8" 182 lb kid...

Cool
Cool

For the last month I keep asking the same question and no one seems to want to answer it.  Sept of 2013 is when Clowney was being grilled by sportswriters and fans for his appearing to be out of shape and not ready to play.  Mid Sept he (Clowney) made the announcement that he had suffered with spurs in his feet since high school and they were so bad that he would be having surgery immediately when the season ended.   Has he had that surgery or was it all smoke and mirrors?   I don't see him putting up the numbers he is striving for if he still has the spurs.  This all comes back to the question of his will to play the game.  There is no doubt in my mind the kid will practice and perform well in the combines.. because he is seeing a big paycheck.. and then I also can see him reporting to his new team... out of shape and full of excuses.

TanzimAhmed
TanzimAhmed

Hey football fans , come check out my site   thepigskincolumn.wordpress.com  . Leading up to the draft I'll be evaluating most of the NFL prospects. This week I'm focusing on QB's. So far I've evaluated Teddy Bridgewater , Johnny Manziel , Jimmy Garoppolo , and Derek Carr. Please be sure to comment or like the posts. Thanks.

Cool
Cool

@bkw423  Sad that you have believed the hype and the excuses put forth by Clowney and Spurrier.  How in the world did all those early ailments that afflicted him at the beginning of the season suddenly disappear?  What happened to those spurs that made it almost impossible for him to play?   Come on, he is 20 years old and still being pampered like the little boy you see him as.

donald5
donald5

@dbum  I din't get to watch too many SC games but the ones I did watch I made sure to watch the offensive play calling when he was on the field.  Maybe he didn't give it 100% or was injured but I saw a large number of offensive calls that seemed to get as far away from Clowney as possible.  Teams rarely ran in his direction and rolled away from him a lot.  Almost every blocking scheme was designed for him in mind.  Being double teamed every play takes a physical toll and having to chase down plays that are specifically run away from you does too. 

bkw423
bkw423

@TiderollsinVA  What exactly does this mean? Clowney is a good kid with nothing wrong with his character, so what do you actually mean? Oh, the four Bama players that were arrested must be the ones you're referring to as having no character??

tonytank7777
tonytank7777

@donald5 @dbum Watching at least 6 of his games and he dogged it this year. Not only that I TiVo some of his games and watched some undersize tight ends block him one on one. Damn, his own coach threw him under the bus. He may have all the talent but you can't play on my team if your effort is not going  all out due to contract or any other problems.  

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