Looking Ahead: A Few Thoughts On Jadeveon Clowney

Embrace the Clowney, folks - Streeter Lecka

Because it's not like we have a good Monday Night Football game coming in the near future.

It seems like they do these things earlier and earlier every year.

You could almost call mock drafts the Christmas commercials of the NFL world: there are way too many, they generally follow the same patterns and by the end of the "season" everyone is pretty much sick of them.

Well, almost everyone. I guess I'm guilty of checking a couple here or there. But free agency is still about four months off. The NFL Combine and all of the college pro days have yet to take place. Heck, the 2013 season - dreadful as it's been - is not even through the regular season yet. Feels like it's been about 2.5 seasons.

Even so, I found it interesting that Todd McShay has the Falcons taking Jadeveon Clowney with the fifth overall pick. Going ahead of South Carolina's sack-master: Teddy Bridgewater, Jake Matthews, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel. Yep.

A little excerpt, since this is an Insiders only article:

There's something of a gamble involved with Clowney in that his motor ran hot and cold toward the end of the season, but he isn't a bad kid and he has the potential to develop into a double-digit sack guy, a three-down lineman and a dominant player overall. I see a lot of Julius Peppers in him; Peppers hasn't always given the best effort, but I don't know of many teams that wouldn't want him.

Before I delve any further, I'd encourage you all to read this excellent post on Battle Red Blog, SB Nation's Texans site. There's plenty of sharp analysis and some good points made.

Having said that, I take issue with the "hasn't always given the best effort" narrative that McShay keeps alive here becuase I think a lot of it has been overblown. He even follows the remark up with the "but teams still like him" qualifier; obviously this is of little concern to general managers if they still want to draft him with their first picks.

I covered the Georgia-South Carolina game back in September. Here are my notes from UGA's opening drive of the game:

1. Run right. Clowney with great first step.

2. Run right. Clowney in the backfield.

3. Deep throw left, big gain. Clowney 1-on-1 against Kenarious Gates, nearly sacked Murray.

4. Run outside left.

5. Run right, no gain.

6. 1-yd TD to Arthur Lynch off play-action. Clowney had hands in Murray's face.

It's a small excerpt, but I believe it reflects the type of season Clowney had.

The media has focused on the stats: 35 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, 3.0 sacks and 8 QB hurries, compared to a 2012 campaign that saw Clowney record 13.0 sacks and 23.5 TFLs. Not once during the aforementioned drive would he have shown up on the stat sheet, but his presence was felt on just about every play. The Bulldogs doubled or chipped with a tight end a number of times. They ran to the opposite side of the field and the rest of South Carolina's front seven couldn't stop the run. It was a game plan specifically tailored for Clowney.

And, while we're on the subject of stats, there were plenty of times when Clowney forced the play into the waiting arms of another Gamecock defender. One of the guys who benefited most was defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles, who finished the season with 9.5 sacks and 13.5 TFLs. I doubt his production is that high without Clowney's presence.

It should be added that all of this came with Clowney nursing a handful of nagging injuries, including damage to the cartilage around his ribs and a stomach bug heading into the UNC game where this whole "Clowney effort" story line first cropped up.

If you have a camera on a defensive end for four quarters, as was the case with Clowney, you're bound to see times where he isn't going at 100 percent. This is understandable: it is an incredibly taxing position. It's why so many teams (Atlanta included) employ rotations on the defensive line. And if your team doesn't normally sub you out, then isn't it in fact smart not to go 100 percent every play? Would you want to be gassed by the second quarter?

The other main concern plaguing Clowney as his junior season winds down would be "character," as some call it. I'm not talking about a speeding ticket; I mean how he handles himself on a daily basis. And from the public perspective, there isn't much to suggest that he doesn't have his life in order.

There was perhaps a little bit of friction between Clowney and the 'Ole Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier. The Falcons will certainly talk to his college coaches when they conduct their evaluations, and maybe what they say turns them off. Maybe it doesn't. I can't speak to the type of person he is.

But amid some of this controversy, whether real or contrived, there aren't many draft folks that have Clowney any lower than the top-ranked defensive player in the 2014 class. I think the Falcons would be incredibly lucky to land him with even the fifth overall pick considering how important pass rushers have become. We all know Atlanta could use one, and especially a player as stout against the run as Clowney.

It will be interesting to see how he fares against that Wisconsin rushing attack in the Capital One Bowl.

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