Without a doubt, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is the best-looking defender in the 2014 NFL draft. Athletically, he has the ability to take over a game when he shows up.
But that’s the concern—when does he show up?
The concern all goes back to him asking out of playing in a game against Kentucky. His coach, Steve Spurrier had an issue with it, and then folks like ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit and radio personality Paul Finebaum jumped in as well.
And before we knew it, the narrative was set. Does Clowney work only when he wants to? Is he committed to football or himself?
This is the issue facing teams and no analyst can fully grasp the answer because no matter who we talk to, we aren’t in the film room, weight room or defensive meeting room with Clowney.
Interviews will have to be the critical phase for teams looking at Clowney, particularly at the combine and the South Carolina pro day. How he comes off to teams will go a long way towards determining if he is focused enough.
Clowney does have some on-field concerns as well. Despite a mostly dominating year, Clowney didn’t play as well as we expected on a consistent basis and his motor sometimes seems to come and go when you focus just on him during games.
Even his signature hit—the one that trashed Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl last season—took place later in the game. Sometimes he just disappears.
It could be that he doesn’t have a huge array of pass-rush moves, or it could be that (at least this season) his bone-spur issue sapped him a bit. It was certainly enough of a factor for offseason surgery, as reported by Yahoo.com’s Nick Bromberg.
Of course, the big question is whether the hype built around him prior to the season has warped everybody’s judgment.
That, more than anything else, might feed into whether people see him as a boom or bust in the NFL. It’s clear to me that—like virtually every prospect, ever—he has a bit of both in him.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.