Former South Carolina Gamecocks star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is the most hyped defensive prospect in quite some time, and he could very well be the best prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft. In terms of raw talent and physical tools, nobody tops Clowney, but the safety of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who doesn’t have a glaring hole in his game, could make him the better overall prospect. With the Houston Texans most likely set to take a QB at the top, it is possible that Clowney could fall outside the top five and into the Atlanta Falcons arms if the Oakland Raiders choose to pass up on him at pick No. 5 (the St. Louis Rams at No. 2 are the only team that don’t have a significant need at QB and are prepared to trade down, but it’s doubtful that a team looking to trade up would trade up for Clowney over a QB).
Even if Clowney falls out of the top five, there’s no doubt that he’s a top five prospect. He has the physical tools to dominate on any given play, and the work ethic concerns seem exaggerated. He does have some risk to him, but almost every prospect in the history of the draft carries risk with him. I mean, I remember back when Blaine Gabbert was a so-called safe pick. Clowney didn’t have the best stats last season, but they were still solid and his tape checked out fine.
But there seems to be one perfectly legitimate concern regarding Clowney’s game, and it has to do with his polish as a pass rusher. According to Sports on Earth’s excellent Russ Lande, NFL scouts (Lande used to be an NFL scout himself) believe that Clowney lacks “real pass-rush moves”, and Lande does an excellent job of outlining Clowney’s issues and rawness as a pass rusher. There’s no doubting his run defense, but there are holes in his game as a pass rusher due to a lack of polish. But of course, he has so much talent that he’ll get better once his technique is coached up and he learns those moves. That’s where the “character” concerns come in, as there are still some people who are worried that he isn’t coachable, even if, as Lande writes, people within the South Carolina program back him up.