After his second college football season, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was viewed as such a can’t-miss prospect that it was seen as a foregone conclusion that he would have been the first overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft, if only he had been eligible. But now Clowney is in the middle of his third college football season, and he’s no longer universally praised.
Throughout this season, Clowney has been met by criticism that he takes plays off, doesn’t hustle, and has generally bought his own hype. Some of the most thorough criticism yet comes from Bucky Brooks, the former NFL player who now works as an analyst for NFL Media. Brooks wrote a detailed profile of Clowney in which he lumps his concerns about Clowney under the heading of “football character.”
“I believe there are legitimate concerns about his football character,” Brooks writes. “He has appeared distracted by the limelight and attention that accompanies his reputation as a potential top pick; it appears to have affected his preparation for the season. Clowney has struggled with his conditioning throughout the season and has battled a handful of bumps and bruises that have impacted his play. Additionally, he has repeatedly taken plays off and appeared disinterested in the middle of games, which is a red flag for scouts looking for a potential difference-maker at the top of the draft.”
Like everyone who has seen Clowney play, Brooks is impressed with Clowney’s natural talent: “Clowney is a spectacular athlete with a rare combination of size, speed, strength and explosiveness,” Brooks writes. But Brooks questions whether Clowney will ever live up to his potential.
There may be a kernel of truth to the criticisms: Clowney has just two sacks this season and hasn’t always dominated on Saturdays the way you’d expect for a guy who has the talent to be starting on Sundays.
Still, even when Clowney isn’t getting to the quarterback, his presence is making a significant difference. It’s obvious from watching the way opposing teams double Clowney and run away from him that they still view him as a major threat. South Carolina defensive line coach Deke Adams told the Post and Courier that while Clowney isn’t making quite as many plays as he’d like, the talk that he doesn’t play hard is wrong.
“He knows as well as everybody that he’s missed a couple,” Adams said. “He’s left some out there, but it is what it is. He’s being blocked by two or three guys, and there are times when he’s had a chance to make a couple plays that he didn’t. He knows that. He’s playing hard. That’s all we can ask him to continue to do, is play hard and those things will happen.”
Clowney probably won’t be the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft because the Jaguars will probably take a quarterback with the first overall pick. But for all the criticism he’s taken, Clowney is still the favorite to be the first non-quarterback drafted.