When a guy is presumed to be the first overall pick in the 2014 draft, there’s only one direction he can go.
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who appeared gassed and overwhelmed and anything but the best player on the planet during the Gamecocks’ first game of the 2013 season, could be heading in that direction.
On Saturday, Clowney has been hobbling around the field with a foot injury he aggravated against Georgia. It originally happened this week at practice, when a teammate stepped on Clowney.
The situation demonstrates the reality that Clowney had nothing to gain and everything to lose by playing another year of football for no compensation other than an education Clowney could have paid for on his own (a few hundred times over) after his NFL career ends. Many, including the head coach who gets paid millions for the effort expended and risk accepted by college football players, scoffed at the notion of Clowney heading to the clubhouse for his third season after graduating high school. But it would have been better to step aside from play-for-no-pay and remain at the top of the draft than to emerge from the new football season on the wrong end of a Barkley-Brohm board slide.
The millionaire coaches who have no incentive to advise a player like Clowney to quit are only part of the problem. The NFL rule that keeps kids from joining the leagye until they are three years removed from high school isn’t about ensuring boys have become men. It’s about protecting the interests of the curators of the NFL’s free farm system, a balance aimed at giving guys like Steve Spurrier at least three years with everyone — including any man-children who could thrive immediately in the NFL.
In this case, there’s an added benefit to the team that will have the top pick in the 2014. Whoever “earns” that pick will be making the decision only after seeing what Clowney does, or doesn’t do, as the man supposedly running alone at the front of the pack.
For now, he’s running with a limp.