COLUMBIA – What’s wrong with Jadeveon Clowney?
Seems like everyone wants to know.
I’m not sure exactly what was expected from South Carolina’s junior defensive end this season, but it involved walking on water and leaping tall buildings with a single bound. Heck, he’s got a turkey avocado wrap named after him in Charleston. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) In the offseason, a superhuman reputation developed. In kind, superhuman feats were demanded.
That’s what happens when you receive more Heisman Trophy hype than any defensive player in modern history.
Through two games, it hasn’t turned out that way. Clowney has looked good – great, even. He’s influenced games unlike any defensive player in the country, taking away half the field from the defensive end position. (You often hear of cornerbacks taking away half the field, but for a defensive end to do it is something else.)
Technicalities, like influence on an opposing team’s offense, do not matter. Not in this stats-obsessed society. We care about cold, hard numbers, and Clowney’s won’t wow anyone. Against North Carolina and Georgia, Clowney had six tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack. Never mind that he had six tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack in his first two games last season.
(What about the symmetrical stats? We can safely say Clowney is behind Heisman pace. He didn’t win it last year, so it’s only a logical conclusion. That said, he’s still the best defensive player in America.)
Now, the knee-jerk questions arise. Mel Kiper Jr. was asked Thursday on ESPNU how these first two games affected Clowney’s draft stock. You know, as if the most talented defensive player in a generation should actually slip out of the top spot based on two hours of football.
“He’s still No. 1,” Kiper Jr. said. “I think what he’s got to do is forget about all that stuff. Dominate a game, and take over a game, and play to your ability every snap. You can’t control all those other things, don’t worry about it. Play your position. Chaz Sutton, (Kelcy) Quarles, they’ve got other guys on that defense that can make plays. Don’t get involved in all that.”
Naturally, Kiper Jr. used the question as a springboard to make a broader point.
“The problem I think here is, you’ve got a kid who was talked about being the third pick overall in his freshman year behind (Andrew) Luck and RGIII, would’ve been No. 3 on the board. Last year he would’ve been No. 1,” Kiper Jr. said. “He says, ‘Boy, I’ve got to go back.’ I don’t think you should force kids to do that. If they want to go to the NFL, let them go.
“Clowney, I’m not going to say he doesn’t want to be there, but he’s got to be concerned about injury. Remember, insurance policies only protect a kid from a career-ending injury – not against an injury that moves him from a late 1 to a second- or third-round pick. It doesn’t protect you against that. So, for Jadeveon Clowney, he’s got to forget all that stuff, go out and play football, and just let everything fall into place. He probably will, and if he doesn’t go No. 1, it’s because somebody needs a quarterback and there’s Teddy Bridgewater from Louisville is sitting there to take.”
I’m sure there’s something to that. It’s only natural for a player of Clowney’s caliber to be wondering about what’s next. Sorry, but Clowney has thought of playing in the NFL since he was in high school, if not earlier.
Maybe there’s something to all the other excuses, too. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said Clowney has bone spurs in his foot, which won’t prevent him from playing but did cause him to limp on the Sanford Stadium sideline Saturday. Quarles said he and his fellow defensive line mates must play better so offenses can’t play keep-away, the No. 1 reason Clowney’s numbers are underwhelming.
But, of course, those numbers are not diminished. They’re the exact same as two years ago. Maybe you expected Clowney’s stats to improve from his sophomore to junior season. I say doing something against North Carolina and Georgia is much more impressive than doing it against Vanderbilt and Eastern Carolina.
At the end of last year, nobody remembered Clowney’s season began with just six tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack in his first two games. At the end of this year, nobody will remember again.