The SEC is spoiled enough to have two of the top players in the country—Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel—suiting up each and every Saturday. Clowney is a candidate for the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, and Manziel is some guy who won last year’s Heisman Trophy as a freshman.
You could make a case that the Texas A&M quarterback is the best at his position, and I think it goes without saying that the South Carolina Gamecock is the best defensive end in the country.
But who is better between the two? Better yet, which player should SEC opponents fear most in the upcoming season?
If you want a short answer, I'm going with Manziel.
When being asked who you should fear most, I'm looking at the player that has the biggest impact on the game—somebody who can take over a game by himself and lead his team to victory. After all, this is a conference that is deep enough to where at least half the teams think they are talented enough to compete for a national title. So, with that being said, the player you should be afraid of is the one that decreases your chances of winning the most.
There is no question it is Manziel.
The Texas A&M Aggie is a quarterback, which obviously means he has the ball in his hands at all times. The offense runs through him, and he decides the majority of what happens on each and every play. The reason Texas A&M finished fourth in the country in scoring was in large part due to the Heisman Trophy winner. It was Manziel who finished third in the SEC with 285 passing yards per game and led the conference in rushing yards.
Manziel was also the primary reason the Aggies were the only team to beat the Alabama Crimson Tide last year. He completed 77.4 percent of his passes, had two touchdowns and then added 92 yards on the ground. With one remarkable and jaw-dropping play after another, Manziel not only made a Nick Saban-coached defense look foolish, he locked up the Heisman and made history.
Clowney is a once-in-a-generation player. Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report says he could play in the NFL right now, and he is absolutely right. I'm not sure college football has ever seen this kind of athleticism, explosion off the ball and ability to get into the backfield the way Clowney does on a consistent basis. His size, length and technique are way beyond his years—to the point that discussions about him taking a year off began to surface this offseason.
With hits like this, Clowney is somebody they make scary movies about. Forget about Jaws and The Exorcist, seeing Clowney lined up only a few feet across from you tops all of that. He is truly a man who is playing against little kids. Even in the SEC, where there are NFL players everywhere you turn, the South Carolina defensive player stands out among the rest. With 21 sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss in two short seasons, Clowney is like something we have never seen before.
According to reports, he clocked in a 4.5 40-yard dash time in winter workouts, which shouldn't be possible for a man his size. And then there was this hard-to-believe story that Chris Clark of Gamecock Central provided:
Clowney just blocked a field goal by kicking it out of the holder's hand. I'm serious.— Chris Clark (@GCChrisClark) March 21, 2013
There is little doubt that Clowney is the more polished player and the better pro prospect than Manziel. I also have a hard time believing that is going to change anytime soon. If you are an NFL general manager, you may want to consider tanking this entire upcoming season just so you end up with the first overall pick to select this kid.
Who scares you the most?
However, if we are talking about the scariest player in college football, it is Manziel. He has control of an entire unit and was still able to lead his team to 11 victories despite having a defense finishing ninth in the SEC. It didn't matter how many touchdowns Texas A&M allowed, you knew Johnny Football was going to come to the rescue and bail the team out yet again.
We can't say the same for Clowney. Sure, he is as close to Superman as we will probably ever see on the gridiron, but he can only do so much at his position. While he can play linebacker in certain packages, he can't blanket every receiver. He can't make every tackle when the running game is purposelessly avoiding his side of the field. Clowney also can't make up for the fact South Carolina lost all of its starting linebackers from last year.
Defense is more of a collective group that needs to play well together, while an offense can drastically improve with a simple upgrade at the quarterback position. No matter how scary and freakish Clowney is, it is impossible for somebody to have complete control of a defense and cover all of the bases. Other players must step up in order for the Gamecocks defense to remain one of the best in the country.
The toughest thing to defend at any level of football is a dual-threat quarterback, and we witnessed Manziel play the position almost flawlessly a year ago. You can beat South Carolina with Clowney on the field. In order to beat Texas A&M, you must find a way to stop Manziel.
That is why the reigning Heisman Trophy winner is the guy every SEC team should fear the most this season.