As former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney prepares to enter the NFL draft as a high first-round pick, another former South Carolina player who was a high first-round pick is helping Clowney out.
(No, it’s not Troy Williamson.)
Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore tells the team’s official website that the 2012 first-round selection has been giving advice to Clowney.
“We went to the same high school and played two years in college together,” Gilmore said. (Actually, it was only one.) “In my hometown we stay like five minutes away from each other. So he’s always hitting me up and asking me what the pre-draft process is about.”
Gilmore explained that the criticism of Clowney isn’t affecting him.
“He’s the type of player where people can talk, but he’s still going to do his thing and have fun,” Gilmore said. “He’s a great dude and keeps a level head. Like I tell him just keep working hard and everything else will take care of itself. He doesn’t really like to listen to negative talk. Just go out and play. That’s his approach.”
Gilmore wasn’t surprised by Clowney’s speed at the Scouting Combine. Gilmore saw it in high school, regularly.
“I knew he was going to work out well because he was the last leg of our 4×100 relay team,” Gilmore said. “I knew he was going to run fast.”
Gilmore, or someone else, also should have known that Clowney had nowhere to go but down after he emerged a year ago as the consensus top pick in the 2014 draft. Barred from entering the 2013 draft due to an unfair rule that requires all football players to wait three years after high school before joining the NFL, the questions about Clowney’s work ethic wouldn’t have emerged quite so strongly — or possibly at all — if he’d merely decided to take the season off and spend his time working out privately and without undue injury risk in preparation for his pro football career.
Would there be questions about his desire to play football if he’d taken the year off? Sure, but only because teams hoping that a guy will slide into their clutches will cling to anything that could cause the teams at the very top of the draft to pass on a great prospect. The reality is that Clowney would have been thinking not like an athlete but a student if he’d opted to recognize that, as NFLPA executive director candidate Sean Gilbert says, football is a game but the NFL is a business.
College football is a business, too. And playing another year of college football for no financial compensation did nothing to help Clowney’s draft stock. If anything, another year of college football damaged it.
One of these days, a college football player who believes his NFL standing can’t get any better will drop the mic and walk away.
He’ll be criticized and vilified. He’ll also be praised by at least one NFL media outlet (this one) for treating a supposed game precisely like the thing that it actually is.