By now, everyone is aware that the best player in all of college football, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, played last night. By now, everyone is aware that Clowney didn’t have his best game, leading to headlines nationwide. Two questions must be answered. Did he hurt his Heisman Trophy chances and did he hurt his draft stock?
The first question is easy to answer. Of course he hurt his Heisman chances. It was going to take a miracle for him to win it anyway as a purely defensive player (astonishing that the best player in the country is a long shot for the Player of the Year award, alas, he’s not a quarterback and practically isn’t allowed), and there aren’t enough games to afford a so-so one. Question asked, question answered.
But what about his draft stock? In my opinion, no, he didn’t hurt his draft stock. With three tackles and three quarterback hurries, he didn’t have the best game he’s ever had, but that didn’t change his impact. You see, even when Clowney isn’t in on the play, he’s still directly affecting it. Last night against Clowney, UNC limited their own offense to strictly short yardage passes and runs on the opposite side of him.
Teams all year long will be employing similar offensive strategies so they can avoid the rockstar defensive end. Offensive coordinators won’t be utilizing a lot of five and seven-step drops, instead opting for more three-steps. Why? The quicker you get the ball off, the less time Clowney has to decapitate you. Teams aren’t going to just let a tackle (even if it’s an All-American tackle like Taylor Lewan in last years Outback Bowl) try to block Clowney one on one. No, they’re going to help him out with chips and double-teams from tight ends, tailbacks and fullbacks. That’s also one less offensive player who can make a play. These are just a few examples, as you could go on all day with facts like this.
His conditioning and lollygagging is/was a little concerning. Clowney was supposed to be in the best shape of his life going into this season, and he was clearing dragging, even as early as the first quarter. Granted, going against a blitzkrieg-paced offensive scheme like the one UNC employs will tire out any and all defensive players, especially the linemen. But still, NFL teams keep hearing about this ridiculous work ethic Clowney has, and it was definitely discerning to see the potential No. 1 pick gassed after the first quarter of the season.
Taking plays off was another thing that was painfully evident last night. It’s been one of the few faults scouts can find in his game, and he did nothing to remedy that concern last night, taking a plethora of plays off or giving up on the play well before the whistle.
None of the above came close to hurting his draft stock. What almost really hurt his draft stock was the horrid cheap shot by North Carolina’s right tackle Kiaro Holts. Holts, who has successfully put his name in the news in one of the lowest ways possible, dove at Clowney’s knees from behind, about three seconds after Clowney had already given up on the play.
It was as bad as San Francisco 49ers scrub backup tackle Joe Looney taking out Minnesota Vikings six-time pro bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams from behind last Sunday. And the NCAA and NFL constantly preach ‘player safety’? Get serious. Looney and Holts should be and should’ve been suspended. What if Clowney tore up his knees like teammate Marcus Lattimore did last year? Then we’re really talking about hurt draft stock.
I personally have Clowney as the best player in the country, and I would absolutely take him with the first pick in the draft. Last nights game, though far from Clowney’s best, is just a drop in the bucket in terms of all the games he’s played, and clearly isn’t indicative of what kind of pro he’ll be. Still, the conditioning and taking plays off is worrisome, and if that’s not remedied, it really could hurt his draft stock.