What Is It About Him That Inspires Such Extreme Opinions?
Jadeveon Clowney has to be one of the most polarizing NFL prospects in recent memory. Either he's the next Reggie White or the next Derrick Harvey, depending on which side of the line you fall on. I find both viewpoints ridiculous. In a media landscape filled with knee jerk reactions and snap decisions, there have been very few measured commentaries. Let's start by picking apart some of the more ludicrous statements being bandied about.
- He's lazy.
Considering that Deion Sanders, Donovan McNabb, Robert Griffin III, and Randy Moss were all tagged with this label at different points in their careers, perhaps Clowney finds himself in good company. This is an example of people regurgitating points they hear elsewhere in an attempt to sound ahead of the curve. As an avid college football watcher, I saw very little evidence of him "taking plays off", to use the common parlance. Don't believe me? CBS' Pete Prisco analyzed his game film and says the laziness concerns are "overblown". Every year, the elongated draft process allows scouts to nitpick guys to death and over analyze. Remember when the scouting community decided that Cam Newton was a "selfish phony"? Doubtful.
- He relies on his freak athleticism.
Now we're truly picking nits. Call me crazy, but I'd rather have the freak of nature who "relies" on his natural ability over the man with "heart" or whatever your chosen intangible might be. Clowney seems to have received very little credit from his critics for the effort he has put in. He's put on 40 pounds of muscle since enrolling and played through a painful foot injury that required surgery after the season. Coming off his performance in South Carolina's bowl game and the infamous "helmet hit", he could have easily sat the season out and still been a top 5 draft selection.
- His stats dipped last season
Clowney had the benefit of playing alongside future NFL draft picks DJ Swearinger, Devin Taylor, DeVonte Holloman, Melvin Ingram, Stephon Gilmore, Antonio Allen, and Travian Robinson during his first two seasons with the Gamecocks. This allowed him to see single coverage and wreak havoc. His personal statistics were bound to take a hit this season, as he was the focal point of the defense. All opponents double teamed him, some ran the majority of their plays in the opposite direction, and others threw quick passes to mitigate his impact. He affected other teams' game plans just by stepping on the field. If Clowney could accomplish this on the college level, imagine what he could do with, say, JJ Watt and Brian Cushing alongside him?
- He doesn't have a "love for the game"
This is the hardest pill for many of us who follow the game to swallow. We'd all like to believe that these guys care about the game as much as we do. Fans live in a universe where players like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, who live and breathe the sport, are revered. Passion and greatness are mutually exclusive properties, no matter what we may think. If the reverse were true, we'd all be playing sports, being rock stars, starring in James Bond movies, or whatever it is we'd like to do most but had to put aside to pay the bills. For all we know, Jadeveon Clowney's true love is antiquing or perhaps he loves to knit. On the other side of the token, he may be a fanatical competitor who is dying to prove everyone wrong. The reality is that trying to guess someone's internal motivators is a fool's errand and scouts have been proven wrong time and time again.
Houston has shown themselves to be a franchise willing to buck conventional wisdom. Another defensive end who scouts picked apart, Mario Williams, was up against two seemingly tantalizing prospects. It would have been easy for the Texans to sell their fans on the electrifying Heisman running back Reggie Bush or the local hero Vince Young, who also happened to be a national championship winning QB. Houston was not swayed by public opinion and made the unpopular, yet correct decision in selecting Williams.
The Clowney conundrum bears many parallels to the 2006 draft. It's a sign of how the NFL draft process works in this day and age that we have scouts trying to talk teams out of taking a player whose potential ceiling has been described as Lawrence Taylor, or a faster Robert Quinn. Some even believe there is no comparable talent to him. While I do not believe he's the next LT, I don't view him as a bust in the making, either. In a draft devoid of can't miss QB prospects, the Texans should not outfox themselves and make the simple choice.