With the College Football season a matter of weeks away, we begin a weekly preview of the college athletes that will have a huge impact on the season.
#1. Jadeveon Clowney:
Position: Defensive End.
University: South Carolina.
Height: 6 ft, 6 inches.
Weight: 272 lbs.
Draft Projection: 1st overall (1st round) 2014 Draft.
For those of you unaware of Jadeveon Clowney, where have you been? The Junior is already ready for the NFL and had it not been for the rules forbidding early entry into the draft, Clowney would have been a top 5 pick in this years draft. Some even suggested Clowney was ready to be drafted coming straight out of High School.
A consensus All-American and SEC Defensive player of the year in 2012, Clowney is a once in a lifetime prospect who could change the face of the Defensive End position forever. He is a one-man wrecking crew who has been destined for greatness from an early age.
Clowney was considered the top prospect in America as a senior in high school and had every top-ranked team in the country vying for his services. After an aggressive recruiting process, he opted to stay in the state he grew up in and committed to South Carolina, where he was a day one starter as a true freshman. Clowney has emerged as the leader of an intimidating defense and at just 20 years of age he's only going to get better as his body and knowledge of the game develops.
Barring injury and Teddy Bridgewater turning into Peyton Manning, Clowney will be the number one pick in next years draft. At 6'6 and 272 pounds, he is an imposing physical specimen and he has the potential to have more scope once he is fully developed (expected to be around 290-295 when he's fully matured). Clowney has elite speed that most wide receivers would kill for, especially off the snap, where he is absolutely astonishing. Watching film of Clowney, he blows past tackles like they're not even there, sometimes they don't even graze him, he's that good. He already has a vast array of pass-rushing moves and he is impossible to guard one-on-one. His natural strength shreds blocks and he is relentless in the pursuit of the Quarterback. At the end of some games, tackles are so intimidated by Clowney's presence that they literally freeze, leaving him with a free pass to create havoc in the backfield.
Not that he needs one, during his exceptional 2012 season, Clowney had an incredible 23.5 tackles for loss, demonstrating his ability to get into the backfield almost at will. He also totalled 13 sacks and had opposing Quarterbacks living in fear for every minute they were on the field. While this isn't the NFL, if Clowney can continue this destructive form then he will be an overwhelming presence in the pro ranks from the moment he steps on the field as a rookie.
What it most evident on film is Clowney's violence when he is on the field. When he hits you with every inch of his huge frame and add to that the speed he possesses, you will feel it for the foreseeable future. He has an appetite for destruction and has a nasty streak to his game that separates him from other lineman. His aggression is controlled, he is very focused and seems to stay calm in any situation. Clowney likes to let his play on the field do the talking, if he is angry, then anybody infront of him is going to know about it.
A prime example of this just so happens to be Clowney's most impressive bit of film to date. The now famous 'Michigan Hit' in the 2013 Outback Bowl. Having witnessed Michigan receive a fortuitous first down, Clowney decided to take matters into his own hands. Playing against left tackle Taylor Lewan, himself a projected first-round pick, Clowney exploded off the line and Quarterback Dunta Robinson had barely handed the ball to Vincent Smith before he was levelled with a bone-crushing hit that caused his helmet to fly off and the ball to come loose. In almost the same motion, the ever-aware Clowney scooped up the ball with his left hand and retained possession. This turnover resulted in a touchdown for the Gamecocks and will live in infamy as one of the most vicious hits in College Bowl history. The hit is now a YouTube sensation and really does have to be seen to be believed.
If you didn't know who Jadeveon Clowney was before that hit, you did after it. A simply staggering display of strength, speed, agility and violence we hadn't seen the likes of before.
NFL Scouts have been raving about Clowney for a long time now. They will get a good chance to evaluate Clowney's growth this year as he should see some good left tackles in his junior season. First up will be North Carolina tackle James Hurst, who is a projected late first round pick next year. This matchup will tell us a lot about how Clowney has approached this off-season. If he has taken his ability for granted, he will get found out against one of the better tackles in the college ranks. How Clowney performs in the season opener will tell us a lot about the mindset of the player.
Clowney will also have a re-match with Tennessee left tackle Antonio Richardson. The two had a sensational battle last season, which Clowney narrowly won, despite numerous wins for Richardson during the game. There's no doubt that Richardson has early-round potential, and scouts will no doubt use this game to determine how high he will be drafted. Given those factors, this will be another stern test for the phenom Clowney.
The most intriguing person Clowney will face is Florida's D.J Humphries. He is only a sophmore, but his potential is limitless and he will be the first tackle picked in 2015 or 2016, depending on when he chooses to declare. He is very heavy handed and if anyone can deal with Clowney's power and speed, it's the former five-star high school recruit.
How Clowney uses his experience in this situation will tell us a lot about how much he has picked up during the off-season.
Unless injury prevents it, Clowney is once again expected to be a consensus All-American, Defensive player of the year and he is a serious candidate to be the first defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy since Michigan's Charles Woodson in 1997. There is a chance his numbers will decrease, with all the double and perhaps triple teams he will be seeing, but going into the 2013 season, Clowney is far and away the best college player in the country and should have another stellar year in the red of South Carolina.
As for Clowney's draft prospects, expectations couldn't be higher. He has been compared to Reggie White and it the most talked about defensive prospect in 20 years. Whoever is the worst team in the NFL this year is about to receive a huge slice of luck. While teams normally look for franchise Quarterbacks at the top of the draft, talent like Clowney's comes around once in a generation and there's no doubt he should be selected as the number one pick next spring.
If his play wasn't good enough, he is set to startle at the combine and during testing. His athleticism for a man his size simply beggars belief and cannot be understated. The team picking number one will have to be very brave to pass on the most gifted end we may have ever seen at his age.
It's safe to say the Hell-Beast from SC is going to be a superstar and will no doubt be a thrill to watch on every play this season.
As fans, all we can do is sit back and appreciate the greatness in-front of our eyes.
Dean Jones: Follow me on Twitter @DeanJones_