Today Jadeveon Clowney finished his pro day workout, sat in front of the ESPN cameras, and said he should be the number one pick in the 2014 draft. The junior defensive end out of the University of South Carolina made his case and listening to the buzz out of Columbia, he might be right. All that remains is to see if the Houston Texans will bite.
Jadeveon Clowney was as 5-star recruit coming out of high school and immediately moved into the Gamecocks’ starting lineup, playing in all 13 games of the 2011, season including a win over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. Along with other recognition, he earned SEC Freshman of the Year and All-SEC Second Team honors.
As a sophomore, Clowney began to dominate the game. His South Carolina records started stacking up and by the end of season he was in the conversation for all the top awards: Hendricks, Nagurski, Lombardi and Heisman. Playing against Clemson, and the unfortunate Tajh Boyd, he recorded 4.5 sacks, and by the end of the season was a unanimous All-American and voted the 2012 AT& T All American Player of the Year.
Then, as if things could not get any better, came The Hit. Late in the game against the Michigan Wolverines in the Outback Bowl, Clowney burst into the backfield and flattened the running back in the blink of the eye. The team went wild, the announcers were ecstatic, and the stadium did not stop buzzing for half an hour. It might have been the 2012’s signature play.
Jadeveon Clowney had made his case as the best player in college football and were it not for rules prohibiting players declaring after a non-redshirted sophomore season, he would have been the number one pick in the 2013 draft. The Houston Texans should be thrilled Jadeveon was not allowed to leave college that year. The Jacksonville Jaguars had the number one pick and would have been chomping at the bit to get him.
But the 2013 season came ugly for Clowney and is the reason he has had to work his way back into top draft conversations. Clowney missed a number of games due to injury and often seemed a step slower than the year before. He had started the year as a Heisman favorite but by the end was out of the conversation entirely, and although he still received numerous awards it didn’t measure up to his sophomore season.
Clowney acknowledges he comes into the 2014 draft with questions to answer. “I think my work ethic is pretty good. I think I proved that today, but I’ve still got a lot of proving to do,” he told reporters. Last year he clashed with coach Steve Spurrier after pulling himself out of a game, his overall work ethic was criticized, and NFL teams began to wonder if he had the physical ability and desire to be among the elite.
The pro day workout seems to have answered some of those question, at least for many NFL observers. Adam Schefter tweeted that he thought the buzz around Clowney was going to start intensifying. Ex-Colts coach and analyst Tony Dungy said he is the best player in the draft and suddenly the defensive end has become the top story on ESPN.
Looking forward to the draft on May 8, a number of quarterbacks have, at least before today, been predicted to go first. Texas A&M’s precocious Johnny Maziel has seen his stock rise but questions remain about his about his size and personality. Blake Bortles, coming from mid-major Central Florida, impressed as a tough quarterback with excellent scrambling abilities; CBS Sports has projected him as number one. Other players such as Auburn’s Greg Robinson and Clemson’s Sammy Watkins have been mentioned. But the feeling now is that Clowney has taken over the conversation.
The Houston Texas need a quarterback. With Jadeveon Clowney in top form the debate might be best player vs. biggest need, and a good case can be made either way. The team probably can not lose biting on a quarterback or going with Clowney at number one. As long as he has regained his 2012 form, it looks like a no-lose proposition either way.
By Andrew Elfenbein
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyelf