Tom Sorenson of the Charlotte Observer rustled some Gamecock feathers when he suggested that stud defensive end Jadeveon Clowney should sit out the 2013 season. My colleague at the SEC Blog, Barrett Sallee, called it flat out ridiculous.
My reaction was a little less visceral. Quite honestly, it's his career and his choice, and I'm good with however it plays out. But, "what if" is fun, so let's play it. Let's look at some "what if" scenarios, because, contrary to popular opinion, there certainly is more than one.
The most boring and most likely scenario is that Clowney goes out and does exactly what we expect of him, while being serious injury free. Huge sack numbers, big tackles for loss stats, big time highlights, possible Heisman finalist and an All-American. The kid is the clear first pick overall, as he would be in this current draft, and all is well with the universe.
But, what if? What if Clowney does not have that stellar season we've come to expect from him in his two short years in the collegiate game? What if he has a nagging, not devastating injury, that causes his production to lag behind where we expect it to be? Where would Clowney end up after a less-than-stellar season? Probably still in the top spot, provided that injury heals as he gets ready for the combine.
On the flip side, what if exceeds expectations? The kid has all of the potential to have one of the greatest defensive end seasons of all time AND the stage is set for a player of his ilk to take home the Heisman. Thanks to Ndamukong Suh, Tyrann Mathieu and Manti Te'o, Clowney's place at the Heisman table is laid out; all he has to do is fill in the stat sheet. Win a Heisman, be the first overall pick in the draft, plus ink a few very solid endorsements as the face of the class heading into 2014.
Let's run out Sorenson's ideal now, that Clowney doesn't play. Instead he signs with an agent immediately, heads down to Florida or Arizona to one of those athlete training complexes and gets his work out on. He spends his days lifting, running, working to get even bigger, faster and stronger. He's taking less cut blocks to his knees, he's absorbing fewer 320-pound linemen at the point of attack. He has one year less of football on his body.
Some folks would argue that doing this would hurt his stock. Eh, I don't particularly see it hurting him. Do you want to be the team that passes on the elite defensive end at the top of the draft? Or do you want to be the team that picks Mario Williams ahead of Reggie Bush and Vince Young?
After looking at a couple different scenarios, it's pretty clear it will take something drastic to sink the big kid's draft stock. That "something" is most notably a late injury that stops him from being healthy at the combine and heading into pro day.
While everyone worries about that happening on the field, they ignore the fact that in training, with all of the side-to-side and straining drills, injuries happen there, as well. Is the threat of injury the same? Absolutely not; contact adds an element of uncertainty that working out in a controlled environment eliminates. However, the ultimate point is injuries happen and it would certainly take that sort of a injury to drop Clowney down the board.
Outside of injury, the only thing that would move Clowney down boards would be a quarterback need and a quarterback worth taking. On the current landscape, it doesn't seem like any of the existing quarterbacks would be worthy of the first pick. But, we know the NFL is a quarterback-thirsty league and GMs are willing to take players before they should because they play the quarterback position.
To clarify, some quarterback need and a decent prospect won't drop Clowney's stock, but it will move him down the board.
Ultimately, expect Clowney to play. He's built his place on that team through hard work and determination and the Gamecocks have a shot to get into a BCS bowl game with a great 2013. Going to the NFL means a lot, but so too does just getting out there and playing football with your friends.
It would be different if Jadeveon Clowney was debating whether a serious surgery could sideline him in 2013. Instead we're merely talking about an elite player deciding to sit out because he's clearly the nation's best. Don't expect to see that anytime soon.
However, it does raise a good discussion, not about sitting out a year, but rather around the NFL's age policy, GMs protecting themselves from themselves and the NFL's system.