Every talking head in the nation chastised Jadeveon Clowney when he decided to sit out a game at the last minute this past weekend. But, the point isn’t whether it was right or wrong for him to sit out. Rather, the point is that it was the smart thing to do. And, more importantly, Clowney made himself a positive role model for young NFL-caliber football players.
The NCAA model of student athlete exploitation is a pointless joke at this point. Clowney doesn’t owe a single thing to the University of South Carolina. They, however, owe him a few millions things. Players like Clowney bring millions of dollars into a system that supports an embarrassing amount of coaches, assistant coaches, athletic directors, school presidents and agents. All of them make huge sums of money off the labor and celebrity of men like Clowney, and then act like he committed a crime by making a choice that was best for him and his family.
It makes no sense for him to play one more down of contact football in college. If he does, best-case scenario is that he continues to cement his status as a highly-paid top draft pick. Worst-case scenario, he blows out his knee and costs himself millions of dollars. All he has to do is ask his old teammate Marcus Lattimore how that feels.
Instead of putting himself at that risk, he stayed on the sidelines. That makes perfect sense for players with his kind of talent. He’s already put that talent on display for NFL teams. They know he has what it takes to be a difference maker at the next level. We’ve seen the top picks skip the NFL Combine for years because there’s no upside for them to work out. College football is basically a long-form combine for men like Clowney.
However, the exception to the rule. Most players use their college eligibility to either get an education they couldn’t otherwise afford, or to impress pro scouts and raise their draft stock. Those players deserve compensation for the value they bring the university, but they have an incentive to continue to play and give their best effort for their team. That incentive doesn’t exist for players in Clowney’s position.
If other players who have sure-fire NFL futures are taking notes, we’re going to see more and more of them watching from the sidelines with phantom injuries. And I would too if I was in their shoes.
There’s a reason why South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney made my preseason list of 10 SEC Football Players Who will Disappoint in 2013. Though I have to admit, I didn’t predict the then-projected No. 1 2014 NFL Draft pick would give us a complete lack of conditioning and motivation (allegedly). I simply said that as a defensive player favored to win the Heisman Trophy, Clowney would have a very tough time living up to that expectation.
At this point, it’s pretty clear he won’t win college football’s most prestigious individual award. Honestly, Clowney isn’t even on track to make the SEC all-conference team. His coach doesn’t even know, or apparently care, whether he will put his pads on week to week.
“He may not be able to play next week. I don’t know,” Steve Spurrier said following the Gamecocks’ 35-28 win over Kentucky. “But we’re not going to worry about it, I can assure you of that.”
And why should he? It’s not like Clowney has given him or anyone else any reason to want him on the field. After all, many are starting to wonder just how much he wants to be out there.
Before this season, few questioned Clowney’s desire to play – much less his ability to make plays – since he arrived on campus in 2011. He was the SEC freshman of the year that fall and followed that breakout year with 13 sacks and a school-record 23.5 tackles for loss in his sophomore season to become the league’s defensive player of the year.
But Clowney has not looked like that player through five games this year, contributing only 12 tackles and two sacks. He’s been slowed by a number of extenuating circumstances – dehydration and a flu bug against North Carolina, another virus against UCF and bone spurs in his right foot throughout the fall.
The last time anyone can remember Clowney being Clowney was when he stormed through two blockers and lit up Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl, sending his helmet hurdling through the air while forcing and recovering a fumble. And looking like a supernatural being in the process.
After that game, everyone assumed Clowney would get drafted No. 1 whether he entered the draft last April or following this season. Now, his toughness and motivation are being called into question, and the Gamecocks defense is struggling to close out games whether he’s on the field or the sideline.
Three games ago, South Carolina led Vanderbilt 28-0 before holding on 35-25. The following week, the Gamecocks were up 28-10 at UCF when the Knights posted two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and South Carolina needed to field an onside kick with under two minutes left to close out a 28-25 win. Last week, the Gamecocks blew a 21-0 lead against a Kentucky team that had previously scored more than 13 points in only one game.
If South Carolina is to have any shot at winning the SEC East, Clowney will need to get his act together, or get healthy, or get over whatever is holding him back. Either way, his coach and his team will go on competing with or without him.
If Clowney “wants to play, we will welcome him to come play for the team if he wants,” Spurrier said. “But he if doesn’t want to play, he doesn’t have to play. Simple as that.”
Whether the criticism is fair or unfair, it’s unlikely the questions about whether Clowney is more committed to the South Carolina team or to protecting his draft status will end unless he returns to his previous beastly form. Asked Saturday about Clowney’s commitment to the Gamecocks, Spurrier said, “You’ll have to ask him that.”
To be fair, if Clowney is protecting his NFL future, his apprehension is understandable, considering he watched Marcus Lattimore suffer a major knee injury last year and drop from a first-round lock to a fourth-round selection by the San Francisco 49ers.
I can’t say he hasn’t had legitimate health issues holding him back this year. What I can say is that at some point the 6-foot-6, 274-pound sleeping giant will awaken. When he does, woe be unto the opposing offense.
Somewhere in Fayetteville, Bret Bielema and Arkansas are praying Clowney’s breakout performance doesn’t happen this week – that’s assuming he plays, of course.
The controversy surrounding Jadeveon Clowney, the standout defensive end for the South Carolina Gamecocks, could turn out to be something significant. Or, it could just be smoke with absolutely no fire.
Clowney declared himself unable to play in Saturday’s 35-28 win over the Kentucky Wildcats. Clowney did not dress for the game. He wore his jersey with no pads and talked with his teammates on the sideline, as the Gamecocks built an early lead then held off a feisty, young Kentucky team in the end. His toughness and dedication to the team were openly questioned after the game.
If Clowney was injured and unable to play, which is what he told head coach Steve Spurrier, then by all means, he should have stayed on the sidelines for the game against perhaps the worst team in the Southeastern Conference. South Carolina figured to have an easy time with Kentucky, which they did for three quarters, so this was the perfect time for Clowney to take a week off to heal, before the games get harder.
The belief here is that if South Carolina had been facing the Florida Gators or the Georgia Bulldogs, or an opponent of that magnitude, Clowney would have fought through the pain to play. But since it was Kentucky, he decided to heal on Saturday and to prepare for tougher opponents down the line.
Clowney’s junior season has not gone as he would have hoped. He has been sick and injured, and has not performed up to the level of play that was expected of him this season. While fighting through double-teams on nearly every play, he has made only 12 tackles in four games. Three of those have been tackles for loss, including two sacks, but those are not the numbers most were expecting from Clowney in 2013.
The best way to put all of this behind him is to come out in Saturday’s game against the Arkansas Razorbacks and have his best performance of the year. If Clowney does not do that, the questions about his commitment to the team will continue to persist.
Tim Letcher is a contributing writer for RantSports.com and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter @TimLetcher , on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.
For Jadeveon Clowney, the 2013 season was supposed to be a season unlike any other, filled with bone shattering hits, endless sacks and ultimately ending in a Heisman Trophy.
These were the type of unrealistic expectations placed upon Clowney after he had an All-American type season in 2012 and “The Hit” against Michigan in the Gamecocks’ bowl game. A level of hype that could never be reached has been placed on Clowney, and for him that isn’t fair.
But fairness aside, Clowney hasn’t done much to help his case against the critics of his lackluster 2013 season. He only has two sacks on the season, has been slowed by fatigue and sickness in multiple games and didn’t play last week vs. Kentucky due to sore ribs.
Even head coach Steve Spurrier has openly questioned the dedication and work ethic of the freakish Clowney, which just confirms what many people already believe: Clowney is tanking it for the draft.
In Clowney’s defense, why wouldn’t you? He will get drafted in the first round off his freakish talents alone. After watching an injury like the one to former Gamecock running back Marcus Lattimore, it would be difficult to give it your all knowing it can all be gone in a second.
But if you’re a team and you hold the first overall pick in this year’s draft, Jadeveon Clowney isn’t worth your first pick. That’s not to say Clowney isn’t a first round talent because he most certainly is, but the first pick in the draft is far too risky for Clowney.
He has shown that he struggles with double and triple teams and has limited versatility. The biggest knock on Clowney has always been his play against the run game, and teams have planned the same against him all year by using quick throws and running away from him.
Athleticism can only get you so far at the NFL level. You need to have the intangibles from the shoulders up, and you need to have intense work ethic and want to get better each and every day, things that Clowney has never been known for.
With all the available quarterbacks that are top-tier players eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft, it makes it hard to take Clowney especially considering if you’re that bad, your problem is probably offense. Clowney would take time to develop to the NFL game and offensive coordinators spend hours and hours planning against players just like him.
What do Jadeveon Clowney and Dwight Howard have in common? Both have acted like divas at some point in the past year. While Clowney was once considered the best player in college football — and still might be — the South Carolina Gamecocks star is no longer as feared as he was to begin the season and all of last year.
What else do the two superstars have in common? Both have listened to people tell them just how great they are, leading to a feel a sense of entitlement. They feel like they don’t have to give it their all and everything will just be handed down to them.
A season ago, Clowney was one of the top performers in the nation. He recorded 54 tackles and 13 sacks in 12 games last season, leading people to believe that he was the next big thing in college football. His 2013 stats? How about just 12 tackles and two sacks through four games and sitting out the fifth game with a “rib injury”. We have yet to see the real Clowney in 2013. He has heard people talking about just how talented he is and how he is the lock for the No. 1 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft.
I guess he decided to take the year off.
Head coach Steve Spurrier even took a shot at the superstar defensive end:
If he wants to play, we’ll welcome him to come play for the team if he wants to. If he doesn’t want to play, he doesn’t have to. Usually, the doctor or the trainer comes and tells you a guy will be out. That did not happen last night.
You know it’s bad when your own head coach is calling you out. Time to step up to the plate and start taking some swings rather than sit back and taking a free pass, Jadeveon.
Sometimes legends are true.
That appears to be the case with folk hero Jameis Winston of Florida State. The redshirt freshman quarterback entered the season with high expectations, even though he’d never thrown a pass in college. Instead, fans had to watch YouTube videos of him throwing balls over fraternity houses, and throwing out runners as an outfielder on the baseball team to get an idea of what type of talent he was.
Sure, we got a glimpse of his prodigious talents in the Seminoles’ Spring game, but play callers never show everything they have in April.
So we waited, patiently. And now, our collective patience is being rewarded.
In Florida State’s 63-0 trouncing of the Maryland Terrapins on Saturday, Winston once again showed his brilliant play making abilities. All told, he was 23-32 for 393 yards and five touchdowns, but even those absurd numbers don’t do him justice. It was the manner in which Winston compiled those stats that was so eye-popping. All day long, he showed an innate ability to feel the rush, keep his eyes downfield, move in the pocket, and then find receivers in the secondary.
Normally, I hate the phrase “it factor,” because it seems intellectually lazy. Surely, there has to be a better way to describe players who have a quality that transcends X’s and O’s. But in this case, it’s easiest to just say that Winston has “it.”
It’s hard to sift through the number of jaw-dropping plays he had against the Terps Saturday, but one certainly did jump off the screen. With the game firmly in hand late in the third quarter, Winston dropped back to pass and was swarmed by a Terp defensive lineman. Somehow, he was not only able to shrug off the inevitable sack, but scramble away and deliver a strike to tight end Nick O’Leary for a 12 yard touchdown.
While the Houdini-like escape was impressive, the throw was even better. After emerging from the heap of players, he rolled right, threw the ball on the roll (almost falling down), and lofted it perfectly over a defender’s hands into the waiting arms of O’Leary. It was Heisman-worthy.
That’s where the Winston conversation has to head at this point. He’s the best player in the country, there’s no doubt about it.
While Johnny Manziel gets more attention, he has a noodle arm compared to Winston, who throws 95+ mph on the mound as a pitcher. A.J. McCarron is a winner, but doesn’t have one attribute better than Winston as a quarterback. Jadeveon Clowney is a physical freak, but he sometimes goes dormant for extended periods of time.
So, for my money, Winston is the best player in the country. He can do it all on a football field.
The Seminoles will be in the national spotlight for the first time this year, when they travel to Death Valley in two weeks to take on the No. 3 ranked Clemson Tigers.
If Winston can pull off the upset, you can start engraving the trophy now.
B.L. is an ACC football writer for Rant Sports and can be followed on Twitter @coachlip or on Google.