Leading up to the NFL draft on May 8-10, Shutdown Corner will examine some of the most interesting prospects in the class, breaking down their strengths and weaknesses.
6-6, 266 pounds
2013 stats: 40 tackles, 3 sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble
40-yard dash: 4.53 seconds
The good: Clowney has been in the spotlight since high school, when he was Rivals' No. 1-ranked recruit coming out in 2011. Locally, he had been a legend since grade school — no joke. And when this born-to-be-great freak of an athlete notched eight sacks, including two in the bowl win over Nebraska, and was named SEC Freshman of the Year, the hype grew even further. When Clowney capped off his sophomore season with the hit heard around the world, this helmet popper against Michigan, his stock went supersonic.
But Clowney had to return to school because of the NFL's three-year waiting period for underclassmen, and he had only one place to go. But even in an underwhelming junior season, production-wise, the elements of dominance are clearly on display. Forget the talk of triple teams last season — didn't happen. But other things did: Doubles, slanted protections, offenses going quick game, running away from Clowney (see especially Georgia and Missouri games), chips from backs and tight ends and Clowney perhaps caving slightly from the enormous pressure bestowed on him. Which, of course, only would magnify if he's the No. 1 pick. But we're talking about a rare horse here.
The bad: Clowney has his backers, yes, but it's concerning when his head coach Steve Spurrier — caricature as the old ballcoach might be — gives his player tepid support publicly much of the time. Clowney missed some time with injuries that some have deemed to be minor ones; we'll likely never know how hurt he was, or wasn't. On the field in 2013, Clowney wasn't a finisher, and he too often was blocked effectively one on one by prospects below the elite level, such as Clemson's Brandon Thomas (a second- or third-rounder before tearing his ACL) and Mizzou's Justin Britt (a late-rounder). Clowney is the definition of a spurt player, so his production could be sporadic on the next level — three sacks one game, then three games without one. But box-score scouting is and always will be a dangerous and incomplete game.
The verdict: Some have whispered that Clowney is entitled and selfish, although there's no real tangible proof of this. And really, if he was thinking about himself last season, can you completely blame him? It's a double-edged sword: Scouts want players who give every ounce of effort, but if Clowney was — even subconsciously — playing with some reservation or hedge in his game last season in order to protect himself, can you blame him? Some will.
Clowney is an elite height-weight-speed prospect, a once-or-twice-a-decade physical specimen who could use a little grit under his fingernails. He might not be a 12-sack producer from the instant he steps onto an NFL field. But he will be a type to impact games, and teams will be well aware of his run-and-chase ability as well as his versatility and disruption. Clowney causes quarterbacks to speed up their throws, flush the pocket and alter their deliveries, and that alone gives him tremendous value to a defensive coordinator. He can be lined up on either side, in multiple techniques, and we saw with his blistering combine and pro day workouts that he has the hips, quickness, speed and fluidity to be used as a linebacker, if a team so desires. This is a special player who, with the right guidance and pushing, could be truly special.
Previously Under the Microscope
USC WR Marqise Lee
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