South Carolina Gamecocks star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has been billed as a future No. 1 pick for quite some time, and the hype train on Clowney left the station with his monster 2012 campaign. Clowney was all over the place, showing off his freakish athleticism, speed, and strength. More importantly, though, Clowney was showing up big-time on the stat sheet with 13 sacks and an insane 23.5 tackles for loss. His stats were simply off the charts, and he was viewed by most as the 2014 NFL Draft’s top prospect upon the conclusion of the 2012 college football season.
As a junior, though, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Clowney, and that’s mostly thanks to a low sack total. Clowney has recorded just two sacks this season, leading some to question the legitimacy of his No. 1 pick-hood. Production isn’t as nearly as important as evaluating game tape, especially when it comes to draft prospects, but there are still those who are mightily concerned with the fact that Clowney has recorded just two sacks.
You can put the NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks on the list of those who are worried about Clowney’s drop in production, “You’d like to see more production. When we’re talking about someone who possibly could be the No. 1 overall pick, I expect to see a dominant force, a guy who makes a presence week after week. It doesn’t always have to be in the numbers, but certainly he has to deliver more production than he has, for me, to solidify himself as the No. 1 player in the game.”
But Clowney has still been a “dominant force” despite not having gaudy sack totals. As I like to say when it comes to players in the pros, putting consistent pressure on the quarterback is the most important thing. Sacks are honestly overrated, because they only give a look at part of the picture. There is so much out of a pass rusher’s hands when it comes to putting up stats, because you have to account for the quarterback getting rid of the ball and how the offense is blocking the pass rusher. Here are three examples from the pros.
When you watch Jadeveon Clowney on tape, you’ll see that nothing has changed when it comes to his elite speed, strength, and all those physical tools we gush over when it comes to Clowney. He still has the full package, and his motor is still excellent when he wants to play with a high intensity. He can still shed blocks, split doubles, disengage at a high rate with his violent hand usage, and he can single-handedly blow up plays with his speed and strength. It’s all there, and the stats aren’t even bad. I mean, he has seven quarterback hurries (that’s really good) and still has 6.5 tackles for loss. The TFL totals aren’t as grand as they were last season, but the QB hurries show that Clowney is still disrupting plays.
More importantly, Clowney is opening things up big-time for the other talented players on the South Carolina defense. Now that offenses are keying in on him more with their blockers, he is finding it more difficult to put up high sack totals. However, the South Carolina defense is having an easier time of making plays, because other players are freed up due to the focus placed on Clowney. Partially thanks to Clowney’s disruptive plays and the focus he takes (teams are game-planning against him so much these days), junior DT Kelcy Quarles has seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss in a big year and fellow DE Chaz Sutton is also making more plays.
So look at the whole picture when it comes to Jadeveon Clowney instead of just the sack totals. He’s still putting a lot of pressure on the QB, he’s still disrupting plays in the running game and passing game, his physical tools are obviously still elite, and the attention he commands makes life a whole lot easier for the rest of the defense. Don’t be concerned about Clowney’s lack of sacks or numbers that aren’t nearly as good as they were last season, because he’s still getting it done.
If you have any concerns with Clowney, then they should be focused on how motivated he is. But those concerns can also just be chalked up to the fact that Clowney feels no pressure to play at a consistently high level anymore since he already feels he proved himself to evaluators last year. That logic might be flawed, but it also could dispel any concerns that Clowney won’t be motivated once he’s draft. To me, the concerns about his motivation are legitimate, but they are exaggerated by some. He’s still the best draft prospect around, and the only way he isn’t the No. 1 pick is if the team picking first needs a QB.
Clowney is fine, and it looks like NFL executives agree that his lack of production isn’t of concern.