South Carolina defense end Jadeveon Clowney will likely be the first player taken in next year’s NFL draft, and is widely considered to be a "once-in-a-decade" talent. However, his diminished production during the 2013 college football season has critics questioning his work ethic, as well as his stock in the 2014 NFL Draft.
For Clowney, the 2013 season has been full of ups and downs. The defensive, who was so dominant a year ago, has dealt with a slew of nagging injuries, leading some to question his passion for the game and desire to help the team. The criticisms of Clowney were compounded by comments made by South Carolina’s head coach, Steve Spurrier, whose demeanor concerning his star player has ranged from resignation to outright frustration.
Spurrier was reportedly angry that Clowney had decided to sit out of South Carolina’s game against the Kentucky Wildcats with a rip injury, the New York Times reports. When asked about the situation, Spurrier said, “If [Clowney] never plays another snap here, we all should be thankful and appreciative that he came to South Carolina.”
Despite rumors of a rift between the two, Clowney told the New York Times that he and his coach are on the same page. “I feel like he said a lot out of frustration,” Clowney told the newspaper.
The future first-round draft pick also insisted that he’s working hard this year, despite diminished on-field production. “My practice habits have picked up way more than they did last year,” he said. “Last year, I really didn’t practice real hard. This year, I came in with a different mind-set, like I want to be that guy, I want to have no flaws in my game.”
Clowney’s reduced statistical effort can partially be explained by the injuries he’s suffered this year. For example, his ribs are still causing him a considerable amount of discomfort. “It still bothers me a lot, but I keep that to myself,” he said.
The college football star may be under the microscope right now, but the increased scrutiny speaks to the esteem in which he’s held by college and NFL scouts. Regardless of his output during the remainder of this season or the questions about his work ethic, Clowney's status as one of the top prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft doesn't appear to be in any doubt. Look for Clowney to be the NFL’s most buzzworthy rookie come next April.