While the 2014 NFL draft is still roughly 10 months away, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has quickly become one of the most hyped non-quarterbacks in the history of the process.
So far, all indications point to the hype matching the talent level Clowney brings to the football field. The likely top pick had he come out in April, Clowney will now be the overwhelming favorite to go No. 1 overall in next year's draft.
His unrivaled athleticism remains the driving force for his hype campaign.
On Tuesday, reports surfaced at the SEC Media Days (via Sporting News) that the 6'6", 256-pound Clowney recently ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.46 seconds. Those claims were confirmed by both head coach Steve Spurrier and Clowney himself.
To put such a time in perspective, let's track back to the 2013 NFL Combine. Zero defensive linemen ran the 40-yard dash in under 4.5 seconds (Trevardo Williams was the fastest at 4.57), while no linebackers beat Clowney's unofficial time of 4.46 seconds (Zaviar Gooden clocked in at 4.47).
Keep in mind, Williams stands 6'1" and weighs 241 pounds. Gooden comes in at 6'1" and 234. Clowney is 6'6" and a rock-solid 250 (or more) pounds.
Among defensive linemen, Clowney's time of 4.46 seconds would finish as the fourth-best 40-yard dash time in the history of the scouting combine. The three players who have run faster (Manny Lawson, Dontay Moch, Marcus Howard) weighed an average of just under 250 pounds.
Of course, this isn't the first (or the last) we've heard of Clowney's out-of-this-world athleticism.
Back in March, ESPN's Tom Rinaldi reported (via Sporting News) that Clowney had run the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds during spring workouts.
Two months later, Clowney topped Bruce Feldman's annual list of top college football "freaks," a term he uses to describe athletic marvels. The numbers presented by Feldman in the piece were almost hard to believe.
According to Feldman, Clowney has produced numbers on the Tendo—a machine designed to quantify the power and speed of an athlete—that are unrivaled at South Carolina, both in max rep and rep endurance. While even the best athletes at the school top out in the 6,000-watt range, Clowney routinely sustains numbers in excess of 8,500.
Adding weight also hasn't affected Clowney's athleticism, as Feldman learned that, even after putting on 17 pounds, Clowney posted a vertical leap of 38 inches and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds. Both numbers were better than when Clowney previously weighed 257 pounds.
But certainly, you've heard stories like this before. Unfortunately, there's a laundry list of former college football players who were big and fast but couldn't play the game.
According to a near consensus of college football analysts, that isn't the case with Clowney.
Here's a run down of recent tweets from respected college scouts and observers:
Studied 6 SEC DL in past wk, all of which could be 1st/2nd day picks. 10 plays into S. Car. DE Clowney tape... he's from a diff planet!— Todd McShay (@McShay13) June 19, 2013
1.) Jadaveon Clowney/DE - South Carolina - Hands-down the top 2014 prospect at this point. A once in a decade talent with elite attributes.— Ryan Lownes (@ryanlownes) June 29, 2013
I don't care how bad a team might need a QB after this season. I can't trust any 2014 mock draft that doesn't have Jadeveon Clowney No. 1.— Aaron Schatz (@FO_ASchatz) June 18, 2013
I'd take UCLA OLB Anthony Barr over any of the edge rushers in this past draft but Jadeveon Clowney is on another planet.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) June 17, 2013
So much. RT @JeffJezewski13: How much better is Clowney than everyone else?— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) June 3, 2013
I had fun studying Jadeveon Clowney. Better version of Mario Williams and JPP. He's better than advertised. Rare, rare dude.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) May 31, 2013
Jadeveon Clowney: First college tape I've watched since Suh where I'm thinking, "Okay, that didn't just happen. Not physically possible."— SI_DougFarrar (@SI_DougFarrar) April 30, 2013
Few have anything negative to say about Clowney's game. In fact, most struggle to find a suitable comparison to the complete package he brings as a football player. When combined with his freakish athleticism, Clowney becomes arguably the most talented defensive prospect since Lawrence Taylor.
And such a statement isn't an affront to the likes of Mario Williams, Julius Peppers, Von Miller or Ndamukong Suh. Each was a dominant, aptly hyped college prospect who landed at the top of their respective drafts.
But there simply isn't a player who has combined the size, speed, strength, collegiate production and potential that Clowney currently possesses ahead of his junior season.
Through just two seasons at South Carolina—after arriving as the top high school prospect in 2010—Clowney had used his athletic gifts to terrorize college offenses.
As a true freshman, he tallied 12 tackles for losses, eight sacks and five forced fumbles. Only six SEC pass-rushers had more sacks and only four had more forced fumbles. Remember, this was Clowney's first year out of high school.
Last season, Clowney was even more dominant, as he produced 24 tackles for losses (second in NCAA), 13 sacks (third in NCAA, second in SEC) and three forced fumbles (fifth in SEC). He finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting with 61 points and four first place votes.
Anyone who wasn't aware of Clowney found out who he was during the ensuing bowl season.
In the 2012 Outback Bowl against Michigan, Clowney made his name nationally known with one of the top hits in football history. Bursting into the backfield, he lit up Michigan running back Vincent Smith before recovering his own forced fumble with one hand. The impressive clip was a 45-time winner as the top play on ESPN's SportsCenter.
Jadeveon Clowney is the top defensive prospect since...?
With his brand now easily recognizable by the average football fan, Clowney can set his sights higher during his junior campaign.
Any kind of improvement during next season would put Clowney on track to be a serious contender to actually win the Heisman Trophy in 2013. No defensive player has won the award since Charles Woodson in 1997.
But even if Clowney doesn't hoist the iconic trophy by the end of next season, it appears only a significant injury could keep him from being a top-two pick during the 2014 NFL draft.
His rare combination of physical attributes and football talent is without many rivals in terms of defensive players entering the draft.
Such hype is unwarranted and mostly hyperbole for most prospects, but not for Clowney.
He's the real deal.