There is no question that Clowney has immense athletic ability, which was on full display during his highly impressive performance at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine. With all NFL decision-makers watching, Clowney ran a scorching 4.53-second 40-yard dash, the best for all down linemen at the 2014 event and the fifth-best for any player at his position during the last decade of combines.
His 37 1/2-inch vertical jump was second-best among all down linemen in Indianapolis, much like his broad jump of 10'04" that ranks 10th overall for the last 10 years of the league's universal testing program. With an explosive burst of 1.59 second in the 10-yard dash, the only area that Clowney finished in the "middle of the pack" was during the bench press test, where he lifted the 225-pound bar 21 times.
You have to wonder if the South Carolina coaching staff was just a case of "sour grapes" when the word out of Gamecock territory was that the junior was just "OK" with his work ethic and there were whispers that Clowney was simply going through the motions during the 2013 season. Never did one coach mention the player working hard to overcome ankle problems from the 2012 season that reappeared early in the 2013 season, nor that he was limited in fall camp by a shoulder injury.
When Clowney failed to record a sack in the 2013 season opener, you would have thought that "Chicken Little" was seeing the sky fall. One interesting quote from his head coach after the Gamecocks' season opener vs. North Carolina would begin a season-long back-and-forth between player and coach that filled the back pages of most newspapers: "We've all watched what happened out there. Obviously, Jadeveon was not up to par. I'm not going to give him any excuses. I think Jadeveon learned the camera is on his every play. We won us a ball game where we weren't extremely sharp in a lot of areas we can improve on. Maybe it will be a positive for us as we move forward that he knows the camera is on him every play this season." — South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier on what he expected from his defensive end the next game vs. Georgia.
Clowney had told the coaches about his foot issues ever since he returned to campus in August. It was not until two weeks later that his coach finally acknowledged the injury.
The defensive end said he's handled the pain off-and-on since high school and hoped that with some rest between games would reduce any discomfort.
He appeared his most "It's painful. I'm out here playing on it, though, so I'm just trying to give everything I've got on it," he said. "Who knows what's going to happen out there? It doesn't really bother me when I am out there much. It's just builds up pain. The more I keep going on it, the more it bothers me."
Clowney said he would likely have the foot "cleaned out" after the season. Spurrier said after the Vanderbilt game that he'd have had Clowney undergo the procedure this offseason if he had anticipated his lineman would be this bothered by the foot. "Just recently, I think, it started bothering him a little bit," Spurrier said. Clowney's foot problem has not kept him from practicing and he believes the down time will ease the pain. "I need it to get my foot back together," the junior said.
Things continued to get more heated between the coaches and their star player after Clowney also suffered a rib contusion. Spurrier promised to be more positive Clowney but it was hard for him to hide his displeasure.
The player came to the coaches before the Kentucky game and said that bruised ribs that kept him from practice during the week leading up to the contest were too sore for him to play. If Clowney "wants to play, we will welcome him to come play for the team if he wants," Spurrier said. "But he if doesn't want to play, he doesn't have to play. Simple as that."
There was speculation that Clowney was finished for the season to make sure he doesn't hurt his potential top overall pick status in the 2014 NFL Draft, but Clowney disputed that talk. "Regardless of what people say, I've been behind my team my whole life," he said. "I dedicate myself to this team and this university, that's why I chose to come here." He blamed the confusion over his unavailability for last week's game on a miscommunication. "I should have handled it differently instead of just telling (Spurrier) like that, you know," Clowney said.
Things would quiet down for awhile, as Clowney would record 26 of his 40 tackles for the season, along with tacking on 8.5 of his 2013 campaign total of 11 stops behind the line of scrimmage during his next five games. The defensive end would then limp off the field in the second quarter vs. Florida after he rolled around on the turf in pain as Gamecocks trainers rushed out to help. He got up after a few minutes and was helped to the sidelines, limping with a right leg injury. Clowney was then looked at by team doctors on the sidelines, sitting out the rest of the contest.
More bad news would follow right after the regular season finale, as Clowney was ticketed by state troopers in early December for traveling at 100-miles per hour in a 70-mile per hour speed zone, paying a $355 fine as a result.
One day after South Carolina beat Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl, in a move that shouldn't shock anyone, Clowney announced that he would skip his senior season and enter the 2014 NFL Draft. His critics lurked in the shadows, with few placing their names next to some downgraded assaults on his character.
One NFL executive called him "lazy" and one scout, who wished to remain anonymous, compared Clowney to Randy Moss.
"He's a modern day Randy Moss," said an AFC East scout on Clowney. "J.C. doesn't have the same type of criminal background as Randy did when he was his age, but the dependence on natural talent and problematic effort concerns are very similar. Difference is, Clowney won't fall out of the top-seven like Randy did."
The "effort" concerns don't exist because his statistics dipped in 2013 compared to last season, but rather because he appeared tentative and fatigued too often during his junior year. Was he playing not to get hurt or are there legitimate effort concerns?
"In high school, he was the best player on the field. Same in the SEC," the scout added. "But he needs to realize that won't be the case in the league. If he wants to have a career longer than a few seasons, the kid needs to wake up, add some glass to his diet and understand that it'll take a lot more work during the week."
Clowney's Pro Day workout in early April seemed to have eased any concerns teams had about his foot injury and his stellar performance thrust him right back into the picture for the top pick in the draft. With every team represented at the workout, including Houston, which owns the first overall selection, Clowney sparkled.
His workout displayed his outstanding quickness and explosive burst. He had everyone in awe when he showed off his incredible balance by leaping seven bags during a test administered by St. Louis Rams' defensive line coach Jim Washburn. The defensive end lined up in front of four horizontally placed blocking bags.
Leaping flat-footed, he jumped over the bags, landing on both feet before taking a few steps and then reaching down to pick up tennis balls. According to the contingent of NFL Network announcers covering the Pro Day, no one has ever successfully made the seven- bag leap.
University of South Carolina Gamecocks
Clowney has a solid structure with excellent bulk, muscle tone, long arms (34 1/2-inch length; 83-inch wing span) and quick feet. Some teams might consider his frame to be more suited for a stand-up rush end position, but he has that quick burst off the snap and very strong hands needed to pull and jerk down offensive linemen working from the edge or operating in-line. He has a V-shaped frame with good bubble, tight waist and hips and thick thighs and calves, reminding some scouts of Green Bay's Julius Pepper. But with his good arm length and reach, along with his tight abdomen, "old-time" evaluators liken him to former Chicago standout, Richard Dent. Even at 266 pounds, he has the frame that can carry at least another 10 pounds of bulk with no loss in quickness.
Clowney is a physical specimen. He combines the frame of a defensive rush end with the quickness and agility of a quality edge rushing outside linebacker, making him ideal for the "hybrid" most 3-4 defensive-schemed teams are looking for. You can see on film that he has the balance, speed and agility to stunt across the line (see 2012 Clemson, UAB and Michigan; 2013 Georgia and Tennessee games). For a player his size, he impresses evaluators with his ease of movement when changing direction, along with the ability to stay low in his pads and come off the blocks with explosion and urgency. One of his better attributes is his speed to chase from the backside (see 2013 Outback Bowl hit vs. Michigan). He plays with a solid base and demonstrates above average body control, knowing how to "get skinny" when taking an inside gap. With his agility, the Gamecocks have had very good success jumping him around the line (plays more like former Bears great Richard Dent in that factor). Clowney has that rare speed that lets him consistently explode past a lethargic offensive tackle. He can be sudden in his initial movement and has the lateral range to give a good chase in long pursuit. He shows good knee bend and loose hips to redirect. When he stays low in his pads, he generates leverage and keeps his balance on the move. He shows a good flow to the ball working down the line and has made very good strides in improving his footwork (in his first year on defense in 2011, he would take a wide angle to the quarterback at times). He is very efficient at using his arms in defeating reach blocks, but must develop more consistency with his hand thrust to jolt offensive linemen coming out of their stance. His lateral agility allows him to play faster than his timed speed and when he keeps his pads down, his low center of gravity prevents blockers from locking on and dragging him to the ground.
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Clowney demonstrated in 2012 that he learns and retains plays well. He has that natural feel for the flow of the play, along with good awareness and instincts to recognize blocking schemes. He might still chase a few play fakes every once in awhile, but you can see with each passing game that the experience picked up makes him feel more comfortable in recognizing and reacting to the action in front of him. He shows a very good nose for the ball, evident by the high amount of pressures he generates (see 2012 Clemson and Missouri; 2013 Florida, Georgia and Tennessee games). He has a good understanding of pass rush technique and once he becomes more comfortable in being more active with his hands, blockers will have a hard time containing him in one-on-one match-ups.
Do not listen to his coaches and critics — Clowney has that intensity that other players feed off of. He is not reckless in his play, but is a load for any blocker to handle one-on-one, as he uses his natural quickness to escape any lineman on the way to get to the quarterback. He might play like a "bull in a china shop" at times, but you will never see him make the same mistake twice, and when he does flub on the field, he is quick to forget and go on and concentrate on the next play. He is the type that will consistently get his pressures and sacks on second effort. He is very good handling stunts because of his determination to make the play. You can see he might not make the big play all the time, but that is not due to a lack of effort on his part (injuries to his shoulder, ankle, foot and ribs played a big part in Clowney's less than stellar statistics for the 2013 season, and not a lack of effort).
Clowney has that "special" burst off the snap that allows him to consistently put the offensive tackle back on his heels. He is sudden at the X's and shows the natural burst and twist moves to get off blocks and escape when the opponent tries to latch on. He has more quickness than one would expect from a player with his size, sort of like the Chargers' Dwight Freeney in his prime. When he uses his hands to get off blocks, he is explosive moving upfield to pressure and collapse the pocket. In 2012, you can see that he has learned the proper technique of opening his hips and dipping his shoulders to get a strong push in his initial thrust. He has the sudden initial step off the ball to beat the offensive tackle off the edge, but will sometimes take a wide angle around the corner, leaving him susceptible to screen and draw plays to his side. When he keeps his pads down, he gets good leverage and that allows him to get penetration. Once he becomes comfortable shooting his hands more, he will be very effective at beating double teams. Still, he excels at timing his jumps and anticipating the flow of the ball.
Strength at Point
Clowney is a load to handle in isolated situations. He is very tough on offensive tackles and tight ends when they try to combo block him and he has shown in that he knows how to use his quick initial strength, upper-body power and size to handle most blockers that try to impede his charge into the backfield (see 2012 Clemson and UAB; 2013 Georgia and Tennessee games). For a player of his height, you would expect him to lose leverage, but he has shown marked improvement in splitting and stacking vs. double teams. Despite a linebacker-like V-shaped frame, he has become very stout at the point of attack, doing a nice job of locking out and finding the ball. He has developed a decent array of rush moves (better rip, swim and club moves). He also possesses the change-of-direction flexibility to drop his weight and redirect when the gaps are plugged. When he keeps his hands active, his long arm reach allows him to defeat the combo block and reroute in back-side pursuit, but he needs to use those hands with more consistency.
Use of Hands
Clowney is still a "work in progress" in trying to keep blockers off his jersey. He has become more confident in using his natural strength to generate the hand usage needed to jerk and pull down blockers. He has the ability to excel at being a disruptive force vs. the short passing games, using his leaping ability, reach and timing to be an elite pass deflector at the line of scrimmage (nine QB pressures and four passes batted down in 2013). I am very confident that with additional reps, that Clowney will be able to use his hands to protect, disengage, shed, lock out and two-gap at the next level. He has the ability to dip his shoulder to reach, grab and jerk the blocker off his stance. He has also become better at using his hands to guard his legs vs. the chop block (opponents only had one knockdown in his last six games vs. him. He does a solid job with his body lean and ability to slip off the offensive tackle's inside shoulder. You can see on 2013 film his improvement of using his hands to gain inside position (see Florida and Clemson games).
Clowney is used on stunts often, thanks to his ability to keep his pad level low and show ease of movement when going laterally down the line. He has very good diagnostic skills and along with his high motor and excellent range, it is like having a 265-pound linebacker give chase on long pursuits. He consistently makes plays away from the ball and flashes an explosive burst to close. You can see on film that he knows how to take on blocks and play laterally down the line. He can keep outside containment and force running plays back inside and is an all-out total effort guy who simply wants to make the play. Clowney is a disruptive force in the Leonard Little (ex-Rams) mold when he is utilized on stunts. He has the nimble feet and lateral range to flow to the ball with ease and can close in the short area with good explosion. He is usually relentless in pursuit and does a good job of opening his hips. He also has the quickness and balance to move through traffic and make plays laterally. His in-line quickness allows him to close almost immediately in the short area.
Clowney is still learning how to be more consistent as a wrap-up tackler, as he still relies more on his size to collision with ball-carriers. He chases hard and hits with force, but when he gets his hands outside his frame, some bigger backs will slip off his tackles. Clowney is a good collision tackler, but will sometimes revert to grabbing and making arm tackles. He is just starting to develop a better concept of gaining position, staying low in his pads and maintaining leverage in order to make the wrap-up tackle. He will sometimes take too wide of a loop, causing him to over-pursue the play, but he has the vision to sift through traffic and quickly see the play develop. He is flexible when attempting to make body adjustments to slip through trash and has the valid foot speed to bounce to the outside in order to string out and make plays along the sidelines.
Clowney relies on both quickness and brute strength to penetrate inside. He plays with good leverage and strength, but they will be negated when he fails to use his arms to combat blocks. He is very determined coming off the snap and with his recently improved hand technique (see 2013 Tennessee, Florida and Clemson games), he can generate the explosiveness needed coming off the snap to get good penetration and disrupt the play. When he drops his weight and plays with leverage, he can prevent the blockers from washing him out when working in-line. His low center of gravity lets him get into the rush lane and push back the lead blocker to clog the holes. You can see on film that he has a good feel for blocking schemes.
Despite recording just three sacks (mostly limited by injuries) in 2013, after posting 13 as a sophomore and eight as a freshman, Clowney has well-developed edge rush technique, getting good penetration on stunts and taking inside gaps, along with having very good success when looping around from the outside. He has shown the ability to get upfield and press the corners, but it is his size and outstanding speed that allows him to escape the linemen and pressure the pocket. He has the quickness to bend and push with leverage, along with vastly improved "up-and-under" and spin moves. He is generally a load in pursuit, especially when shooting the gaps. He might take wide angles at times, but he has the flexibility and balance to come back down under. He sees the field well and is quick to spot even the slightest of creases in order to shoot the gaps. He is effective with his counter moves working to the inside. His spin moves and quickness lets him easily defeat the slower offensive tackles when working off the edge. He has very good ability to play off blocks and consistently pressures the quarterback (see 2012 UAB and Clemson; 2013 Georgia, Florida and Clemson games). He has the enough functional strength to bull rush and push the pocket. His flexibility has also improved as he does a better job of opening his hips (used to be a little stiff and took false steps when changing direction in 2011).
Closing on the Quarterback
Clowney can wreak havoc in the backfield, more so when coming off the edge than as a bull rusher. He moves very well for a player his size and flashes the explosive burst needed to close in the short area. He has the speed to chase from the back side, where he is much more successful than when penetrating in line. He knows how to generate a second gear to be disruptive, as his short-area burst lets him close on the quarterback. He shows good urgency chasing from the backside and has the balance needed to stop, plant and redirect. He needs to use his hand jolt with force to rock the blockers back on their heels, but you can see that he is becoming more comfortable with his hand placement each and every game.
Clowney plays with a good head on his shoulders. He is quick to digest a play and has seldom been fooled or out of position. He has that natural feel for finding the ball, especially when on the move, along with the size and good vision to locate the small backs hiding behind big blockers. He has developed a good feel for blocking schemes. He is quick to find the ball in a crowd and is alert to most offensive adjustments at the pre-snap. He can still be fooled a bit by play action or misdirection, but he generally has a natural feel for the flow of the ball. He is effective shooting the gaps in passing situations, especially when given a clear lane, and he has the leverage and body control to consistently make plays vs. the run.
Mario Williams, Buffalo: Williams, Jevon Kearse, Julius Peppers — they all have lots in common with Clowney — blessed with incredible rare speed, athleticism and power. They move like linebackers and hit with force. No matter what his critics say about work ethic, Clowney will mature and play the way he is destined — to be a complete and totally disruptive force. Even with pressing needs at quarterback, a Houston Texans defense built around Clowney, J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing and Whitney Mercilus would more than compensate for whatever the Texans line up in their offensive backfield.
Dave-Te' Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.