The superstar Gamecocks defensive end is a big headliner, but Clowney is just one of a record 98 underclassmen to declare themselves eligible and take their games to the professional level.
A report from NFL.com on Sunday, Jan. 19, posted all the players who are hoping to have their names called between May 8 and 10 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
Ben Volin of the Boston Globe noted how much the numbers increased from last year's record of 73:
#NFL announces that 98 underclassmen have declared for this year's NFL Draft. Previous records were 73 last year, 65 in 2012— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) January 19, 2014
With increasing concern over player safety issues in football, it makes sense that promising prospects are attempting to capitalize on their physical primes and see how they stack up in the NFL.
Many of those choosing to cut their collegiate careers short have excellent chances to succeed. Clowney is the clear standout on defense in this class, and he feels confident he will wow scouts at the impending combine, per The State's Josh Kendall:
Jadeveon Clowney will participate in all drills at the combine, he says. "The numbers I am going to put up are going to be amazing."— Josh Kendall (@JoshatTheState) January 18, 2014
But there seems to be a breadth of talent on offense more than Clowney's side of the ball among these precocious players. Given the importance of the quarterback position, it's likely that the first three signal-callers chosen will be underclassmen.
|Johnny Manziel||Texas A&M|
Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, electrifying Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and the physically imposing Blake Bortles (6'4", 230 pounds) are great candidates to go within the first 10 overall picks.
|George Atkinson||Notre Dame|
|Kapri Bibbs||Colorado State|
|Isaiah Crowell||Alabama State|
|Devonta Freeman||Florida State|
|Adam Muema||San Diego State|
|James Wilder Jr.||Florida State|
Both running back and wide receiver are positions of incredible depth in the 2014 class, too. Clemson playmaker Sammy Watkins highlights the wideouts, while extremely productive backs such as Auburn's Tre Mason and Arizona star Ka'Deem Carey are chief notables in the backfield.
|Davante Adams||Fresno State|
|Kelvin Benjamin||Florida State|
|Brandin Cooks||Oregon State|
|Bruce Ellington||South Carolina|
|Mike Evans||Texas A&M|
|Austin Franklin||New Mexico State|
|Donte Moncrief||Ole Miss|
|Allen Robinson||Penn State|
|Willie Snead||Ball State|
|Josh Stewart||Oklahoma State|
The prominence of receiving tight ends allows even raw players at the position to make an impact in the passing game.
|Jace Amaro||Texas Tech|
|Eric Ebron||North Carolina|
|Nic Jacobs||McNeese State|
|A.C. Leonard||Tennessee State|
|Troy Niklas||Notre Dame|
But someone has to block for all these fascinating skill players and potential star QBs, and the list of offensive linemen also presents several surefire first-round picks, such as Auburn's Greg Robinson.
|Russell Bodine||North Carolina|
What will be interesting to see is how these quickly rising standouts handle the adversity that comes with adjusting to the league—and that could come in a variety of ways.
For quarterbacks, being the new face of a franchise is difficult to handle—especially when the expectation is an immediate turnaround and to be a savior.
Receivers aren't guaranteed to thrive right away. St. Louis Rams slot dynamo Tavon Austin had a rocky start to his rookie campaign after being the first receiver taken in last year's draft. There were no running backs chosen in last year's first round.
Meanwhile, Clowney was widely criticized for his effort throughout his final season at South Carolina, as he looked to be preserving his 6'6", 274-pound body for the bright future ahead—beyond Columbia.
|Carlos Gray||North Carolina State|
|Timmy Jernigan||Florida State|
|Louis Nix III||Notre Dame|
|Kelcy Quarles||South Carolina|
|Carl Bradford||Arizona State|
|Jadeveon Clowney||South Carolina|
|Scott Crichton||Oregon State|
|Demarcus Lawrence||Boise State|
|Stephon Tuitt||Notre Dame|
However, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair has praised Clowney, which could help his case for being the No. 1 overall pick.
The combine will be the first crack Clowney will have at proving his critics and detractors that he will capitalize on his immense physicality to be a force for years to come for one fortunate NFL franchise.
|Ryan Shazier||Ohio State|
Other than quarterbacks, the least number of underclassmen to declare for the draft by position is linebacker. That bunch is strengthened by speedy Ohio State product Ryan Shazier.
|Bradley Roby||Ohio State|
|Vic Hampton||South Carolina|
|Albert Louis-Jean||Boston College|
|Ha Ha Clinton-Dix||Alabama|
|Jonathan Dowling||Western Kentucky|
|Pierre Warren||Jacksonville State|
As for the secondary, Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix figures to come off the board in the first round, and a duo of Florida cornerbacks in Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy represent the Gators' solid defensive backfield.
This 2014 lot of underclassmen has once again broken new ground with their strength in numbers. It's too early to tell how their decisions will pan out, but their presence should create drama on draft day.