One of the more talked about stories in college football since the 2012 season ended has been the status of Jadeveon Clowney. The South Carolina Gamecocks‘ defensive end is not yet eligible for the NFL draft, needing one more year in college to become so. Yet that necessary one more year is what has brought his status on the field into question. The notion is out there that Clowney should simply sit out the 2013 season and enter the 2014 draft with the last memory he made as a collegiate athlete being his hit on Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl.
While that’s all nice and everything, it would be a disastrous choice in many ways in my opinion. Clowney sitting out the 2013 season likely wouldn’t hurt his draft stock, but for every positive there is to this potential choice, there’s a greater negative. For example, sitting out the season would be the best way for Clowney to avoid injury, but he would also then be entering the pros with rust. No player wants that word even close to being associated with them, but Clowney would have the word branded onto him if he were to sit out this coming season. There is no substitute for actual competition as practices and training can only get an athlete so prepared for competition. You know who knows this better than anyone: NFL scouts. These are the men who are responsible not only for finding the best talent, but also finding the best talent that they believe will last. Taking a year off does pose a real threat of putting off NFL scouts because they will be looking at a tremendous talent, but one that may need more work than otherwise thought because it will have been so long since that talent last stepped onto a field in a game.
Some have even been calling for the NFL to make it so football players can leave college after their sophomore year and go pro. I don’t think this would be a good idea, but I may be willing to live with it if it were to happen.
The main reason I’d be willing to live with this is that I don’t see a swarm of sophomore football players leaving for the pros the way freshmen in college basketball are one and done. You can say it’s the same principle, but it isn’t because these are two different sports we’re talking about. In the NFL, teams want a grown young man, not a young man who is still growing. Clowney is a rare example of someone that is so talented at their position at the college level that they are ready to go pro earlier than the norm. I think Clowney would have set a precedent if he had been allowed to go pro after this season, but only a precedent that it could be done, not that it should be done.
Taking the safe route and sitting out a season would keep his draft stock where it is, but taking the gamble that every football player takes every time he walks onto the field (hint, hint) is what pays off more often in this game. If Clowney has a better season than this past year and the Gamecocks make it to a BCS game, then Clowney will enter the pros as a phenom instead of just a phenomenal talent. Remember, this is a country where fans can be swayed by perception at the snap of a finger. Part of that perception is that individual and team accomplishments are the same. I don’t believe this, but a successful year from Clowney and the Gamecocks would increase the attention, fanfare, and hype that Clowney will receive when he enters the NFL. In other words, tons of cash. And probably more than Clowney would’ve gotten if he had been able to come out after this past season.