South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney is the main topic of conversation when anyone talks about the 2014 NFL draft. Mainstream draft analysts like ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller have him ranked as their top-rated player. Below is what Kiper had to say about Clowney on his initial Big Board:
"He’s destined to lead off a Big Board since he was a senior in high school. Clowney marries extraordinary physical talent with an effective and still-growing arsenal of pass-rushing skills. Sure, he can occasionally play a little high, which allows to teams to run at him, but he's going to continue to get stronger and improve technique. Let's not call him a prospect -- he's a highly productive player."
However, South Florida’s Aaron Lynch deserves to be in the discussion as the top prospect available for the 2014 draft. In fact, it’s entirely possible that Lynch could develop into a better pro player. He isn’t getting the same type of attention as Clowney because he had to sit out last year after deciding to transfer from Notre Dame.
Lynch and Clowney have more in common than most might realize. Both players were highly regarded high school recruits who display elite athleticism and good measurables. In fact, they each are listed at 6’6” and around 260 pounds, according to ESPN.
These two players also have found a way to be very productive during the beginning part of their careers.
The main difference between the two, and why Lynch is a better overall prospect, comes in the effort department. Lynch is one of those players who gives 100 percent of himself on every play. He’ll pursue the quarterback until he releases the ball, chase running backs way down the field and work hard until the whistle.
Below is a clip where Clowney isn’t showing the same type of tenacity. He is content just hand-fighting with the offensive lineman because the play is going to the opposite side of the field. This type of play is how NFL running backs produce big plays.
Clowney’s lack of effort opens up a nice cutback lane for the running back. He only needs to make a linebacker miss and he’s off to the races.
This isn’t to say that Clowney won’t be a dominant force at the next level. He has all of the tools and ability needed to produce. However, it’s important to remember that the projected No. 1 overall pick in June doesn’t always finish at that spot in April.
This is a good example of why it’s way too early to write off someone like Aaron Lynch. He absolutely has the physical talent to develop into this class’s top pass-rusher. He combines his nonstop motor with an elite first step and good length.
Lynch knows how to use his long arms to keep clean as he pursues the quarterback. He is also willing to employ a bull rush if the blocker happens to beat him to the edge. His combination of size and athleticism makes him a versatile player.
The clip below shows Lynch using his quickness to get upfield, his arms to slip past the blocker and closing burst to bring down the quarterback.
Notre Dame lined him up all over the defensive line, which created a ton of great pass-rushing opportunities.
To me, a pass-rusher needs to have a very strong motor to reach his full potential. There are so many situations where a stalemate occurs immediately after the snap where the one who works the hardest will prevail.
Again, Clowney is still an elite prospect and should have a very successful NFL career. Lynch just isn’t getting the attention and love he deserves.
Everyone should take in one or two South Florida games this season, as Lynch will show everyone why he could give Clowney a run for his money.