To say that South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was the best player on the field today at the Outback Bowl against Michigan is accurate, but it doesn’t quite capture just how dominant a force Clowney is. So let’s put it this way: Clowney looks like he might be the best player on the field in some NFL games, too.
But Clowney, who led the SEC in sacks in 2012, won’t be playing on Sundays in 2013. Instead, Clowney — who is only two years out of high school — will have to return to South Carolina for another year because of the NFL rule that requires all players to be at least three years out of high school before they can play in the league.
That’s a rule that has been agreed to by the owners and the NFL Players Association, and it survived a court challenge from Maurice Clarett, so the rule isn’t going anywhere. But it’s a raw deal for players like Clowney, who has to risk an injury in his junior year before he can enter the 2014 NFL draft.
Based on his on-field production at South Carolina and his stunning athleticism, it’s highly likely that Clowney would be the first overall pick of the Kansas City Chiefs if he were able to enter the 2013 NFL draft. Clowney made some jaw-dropping plays against Michigan, most notably a shocking hit and forced fumble behind the line of scrimmage on which he initially appeared to have decapitated Michigan running back Vincent Smith, but fortunately just knocked his helmet off. At 6-foot-6 and 256 pounds, Clowney already has an NFL body. And he’s already good enough to be a top overall NFL draft pick.
Instead, Clowney has to risk injury for another year (and he can ask his teammate Marcus Lattimore how that can work out). Here’s hoping that Clowney stays healthy during a 2013 season in which he’ll be contending for a Heisman Trophy, instead of contending for a rookie of the year award.