South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is in a unique spot.
Unlike other top prospects—like former USC quarterbacks Matt Barkley and Matt Leinart, who passed up millions of NFL dollars to return to college—Clowney isn't yet eligible for the pro draft.
Only two seasons removed from high school, Clowney currently is the unquestioned No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Just how set in stone is Clowney's spot? ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. told the Chattanooga Times Free Press in April that he's the sure-fire pick next year, would have been No. 1 overall this year and a top-five pick after his freshman season in Columbia.
Clowney's unique situation has brought up questions on whether or not he should sit out the 2013 season to protect his 2014 draft status. Tom Sorensen of the The Charlotte Observer brought it up in February, and Ross Tucker did the same earlier this month for Sporting News.
Clowney's much-publicized shoulder injury and miscommunication with head coach Steve Spurrier last week made it abundantly clear that the Rock Hill, South Carolina native can only hurt himself and his wallet by playing this season.
After all, he's not going forget how to be a monster up front, and all the 2013 season is going to do for him is provide more time for scouts to dissect (or invent) whatever shortcomings his game might have.
It's time to not only pump the brakes on the talk that Clowney should sit out the season, but to slam on them, get out of the car, lock the doors and throw the keys into a river.
It's simply ridiculous.
Let's say, for instance, it wasn't a miscommunication with the Head Ball Coach, and Clowney willingly disregarded the wishes of his coaches and faked a shoulder injury for the specific purpose of skipping a Gamecock practice. Is that worse than bailing on your team—which just so happens to be a conference and national title contender—in order to protect yourself?
Of course not.
Sure, financially and physically, skipping the 2013 season in order to protect his body and preserve his draft status makes sense. But the pre-draft process is all about over-analysis on the field and off, and skipping the season wouldn't solve anything.
It'd make matters worse.
It'd show selfishness, arrogance and would serve to turn off NFL teams much more than would simple disagreements—or miscommunications—with the coaching staff.
Simply put, it would present many more questions about Clowney's character.
The only way skipping the season makes sense is if Clowney suffers a career-threatening injury or worse, but you can't play football in a state of fear. It doesn't help his team, and such a mindset would specifically hurt Clowney, even if he were to stay healthy, since part of his high draft stock is predicated on his aggressive play.
Clowney's circumstances are a bit unique because, even if the NFL team that earns the No. 1 pick doesn't need him, another team will—and will almost certainly trade an entire draft in order to select a potential superstar. But while the hit on Michigan's Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl elevated him to the status of comic-book superhero, Clowney struggled for the majority of that game against Michigan's offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, himself a likely high first-round pick in next spring's draft.
Clowney may be the top player in the college game, but he still has some fine-tuning to do in order to meet the lofty expectations NFL teams have for him.
Luckily for college football fans, Clowney didn't give into the NFL pressure and will be on the field when his Gamecocks host North Carolina on opening night. Hopefully when another player is faced with a similar decision, he will follow suit.
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