Michael Sam Having the Year of His Life but Jadeveon Clowney Still SEC's Best DE

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Michael Sam Having the Year of His Life but Jadeveon Clowney Still SEC's Best DE
(Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)

In a game that saw Missouri lose a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter, it was the South Carolina Gamecocks emerging with the victory, 27-24, in double overtime.

There was plenty of drama involved, right up to the final missed field goal by Mizzou that gave South Carolina the win. This contest featured the most discussed defensive end in the country, South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, and the guy who should be better known, Missouri's Michael Sam.

Both guys went out and reminded people of a simple fact, while Clowney is the best defensive end in college football, it is Sam who is having the best year at the position.

Clowney's numbers are not there this season, and while the stat-heavy culture of today's college football neglects his macro-level impact on the game, scouts and coaches understand that point. That's why Bleacher Report's Matt Miller had Clowney as the first non-quarterback off the board in his most recent mock draft.

More importantly, that is why opposing coaches continue to shape their game plan around avoiding Clowney. Quick passes. Runs to the right. Screens. All devices used to specifically neutralize Clowney's impact on the game. It is not just sliding protection to his side or chipping him with a tight end or back; teams are looking to avoid the Clowney problem altogether.

When teams get bold, and challenge the end, he shows up, as Butch Jones and Tennessee learned. Thus, the stats are not there, but the impact is very real for the Gamecocks defensive end.

On the opposite side of the Clowney coin is Michael Sam. Sam is putting up the numbers Jadeveon Clowney was expected to produce entering 2013. As Comcast Sports Southeast's Ashley Zavala pointed out following Sam's fourth-quarter sack, the senior entered double digits in just the eighth game of the season.

Sam is having a 2013 season for the ages. The senior entered his final year at Mizzou with 9.5 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss in his previous three seasons combined. Entering the game against South Carolina, Sam had already posted 13 TFL's and nine sacks on the season. He added to those totals Saturday night, including the fourth-quarter sack to get to double digits. 

As an edge-rusher, Sam is a disruptive force. A guy who commands the attention of the extra blocker in max-protect situations and shows high-quality pass-rush skills. Alex Brown of Optimum Scouting points out some of what has made Sam so effective coming off the edge this season. 

For Sam, it is not just sacks, his tackle for loss in overtime showed what he can do working in the run game, as well. Sam, on an inside move, shot the gap and then tracked quarterback Connor Shaw. Sam does not just run the hump, he can also shoot gaps and is capable of running down plays from the backside.

Sam has shown growth and development as a player, and the payoff is this monstrous 2013 season. He is a kid who's going out with a bang, putting it all together and firing every bullet in his gun. In a conference stocked with future first-rounders at the defensive end position, Michael Sam is having the best year of them all.

Sam will be an All-SEC player. Sam will be an All-American. And, for his future, Sam has put himself squarely on the radar for the next level, and his production in the SEC will not go unnoticed. While Sam, and his big numbers, are a shoo-in for those lists and the accolades, odds are, Clowney makes an appearance as well.

Not because of the hype, but because coaches understand that even without the numbers, Clowney's been impacting games most of the year, starting with how coaches game-plan. Clowney's the elite defensive end, but all praise goes to Sam, who is having the type of year many folks were hoping to get, numbers-wise, out of South Carolina's No. 7.

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