As it turns out, maybe South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney isn't 100 percent after all.
The junior standout had four tackles and a sack in the Gamecocks' 35-25 win over Vanderbilt in Columbia, S.C. on Saturday night, but that wasn't the big story.
Clowney told reporters following the game that he will undergo surgery after the season to remove bone spurs from his right foot.
"It's painful," Clowney said according to Chase Goodbread of NFL.com. "I'm out here playing on it, though, so I'm just trying to give everything I've got on it. Who knows what's going to happen out there? It doesn't really bother me when I am out there much. It's just builds up pain. The more I keep going on it, the more it bothers me."
Clowney's foot has caused him problems in the past, including last season when it forced him out of the Gamecocks' win over Wofford in November. But head coach Steve Spurrier had no idea it was this serious, according to Ryan Wood of the Charleston (S.C) Post and Courier.
Spurrier on Clowney's foot: "If we had known he needed surgery in the offseason, he would've gotten it."— Ryan Wood (@rwood_SC) September 15, 2013
So what should Clowney do?
Obviously he wants to help his team win and get back to the SEC Championship Game, which has eluded him during his first two seasons with the program. But the sure-fire No. 1 draft pick has to keep his future in mind.
According to Bleacher Report's lead sports medicine writer Will Carroll, it's a rather minor injury that shouldn't greatly concern Clowney, South Carolina coaches or its fans.
"There are two possibilities and both are relatively minor, as evidenced by him playing through them," Carroll said. "Basically, they are a small area of extra bone. They occur like a blister, in an area where there's been some irritation. They're easily removed. The surgeon scopes in, grinds it down, smooths down the bone with a small bore. The recovery is 8-10 weeks, maybe a bit less."
Good for South Carolina, because as long as he can play through it—which he has for a while—there's nothing to suggest this will threaten or even present a speed bump to this season or his NFL career.
But what about his draft stock?
Talk that Clowney should sit out the 2013 season to protect his draft stock and, ultimately, his bank account, permeated the offseason. With good reason. After all, we've never had a near-consensus No. 1 overall player be two years removed from high school and thus, ineligible for the draft.
Carroll—who writes the Under The Knife blog on B/R—doesn't think postseason surgery will impact his 2014 NFL season, assuming he declares early for the NFL draft as he's expected to do.
"The number and size of spurs is also going to be interesting," he said. "I'm not sure if Clowney will be able to recover in time to be comfortable participating at the (scouting) combine, but there's no reason to think it will affect his availability for the start of the 2014 season."
What should Jadeveon Clowney do?
Before we crank up the "Clowney should protect himself" talk, just stop.
The 6'6", 274-pounder has dealt with this since high school, so he's still going to be the same old Clowney for the Gamecocks this season despite a high-powered magnifying glass on the defensive end that apparently has indicated doom through the first three games.
If he misses the combine, so be it.
It's not like Clowney is some unknown commodity that is searching for a chance. Game tape doesn't lie, and whether an NFL scout accepts that he's the most dominant defensive college football player of a generation or thinks he's out of shape and doesn't care about his team won't make a difference. People's minds are already made up.
Clowney going through the three-cone drill or standing broad jump won't matter, because even if he's a combine (or pro day) flop, all it takes is one team to trade up to get him.
*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.