Vincent Smith can probably still feel the impact that Jadeveon Clowney unleashed on him on New Year’s Day in 2013. It was the Outback Bowl; Michigan had the ball near midfield with 8:22 remaining, and they were clinging to a 1 point lead. The ball was snapped, and Smith seized the handoff and squinted up the field to assess his blocking on a standard power play to the left side. But instead of blocking, Smith was hailed by a flash of crimson and white; the sun gleaming off of the helmet of Jadeveon Clowney as Smith was catapulted backwards like he was shot out of a cannon. Smith’s helmet was dislodged, the ball was in Clowney’s arms, and South Carolina went on to win the Outback Bowl to the tune of 33-28.
Plays like these are why NFL scouts are salivating over Jadeveon Clowney’s potential. His physical gifts are incomparable – at 6’6 and 274 pounds (with room to grow), Clowney has the prototypical size to be a force off the edge of any NFL defensive line. His agility, acceleration, and sheer athleticism have scouts touting him as a surefire top five pick, if not the top overall selection when the Houston Texans approach the podium.
But Clowney is not without his detractors. Questions abound regarding Clowney’s work ethic, his professionalism, and his coachability. At South Carolina, Clowney would appear to take plays, series, or even games off, and even his coach is on the record as describing Clowney’s work ethic as simply “ok.” Missing with a top five pick could cost a general manager his job, so any doubts or risks regarding a player’s ability to succeed at the next level could be enough to send them tumbling down the draft boards. Clowney has worked hard to try and shed his label as a lazy player, but could these doubts keep teams away come draft day?
At the end of the day, Clowney’s transcendent talent will overshadow whatever doubts linger regarding his intangibles. Seattle’s dominant defensive showing at the Super Bowl reminded the NFL of the importance of defense in this ‘offensive’ era, and teams must rush the passer and stop the run in order to assemble a dominant defense. Truly elite pass rushers are nearly impossible to come by, and NFL teams simply cannot pass up the opportunity to draft one regardless of doubts around work ethic or demeanor. If Clowney doesn’t go to the Texans with the first overall pick (which he very well could), I would expect the phones in St. Louis to ring off the hook with trade scenarios to grab Clowney with the second pick. As the Rams are set at the edge with Chris Long and Robert Quinn, I expect Jadeveon Clowney to be drafted with the second pick to a team like the Falcons or even the Browns.