The time between the conclusion of pro days and the NFL draft has long been known as "silly season," and for good reason.
Agents spread rumors and disinformation in an effort to bolster the stock of their clients. NFL teams do the same in reverse, taking subtle (and anonymous) digs at players in hopes that those players (whom said teams actually covet) will fall into their laps.
Then there are the 19 bajillion mock drafts, which examine the draft from every conceivable angle and yet manage to be almost universally wrong.
However, there's also a dark side to the silly season, where draft analysts so attack a player that one has to wonder whether the attack is really about that player at all.
ESPN's Merril Hoge has apparently decided to specialize in that.
Just one month after opining that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel "has bust written all over him," according to Pat McManamon of ESPN, Hoge went full-on thermonuclear on the presumptive favorite to be the first overall pick in 2014, according to Rotoworld's Evan Silva:
ESPN's Merril Hoge called Jadeveon Clowney's fundamentals "atrocious." "Not a very good football player .. Gets controlled & trucked a lot."— Evan Silva (@evansilva) April 21, 2014
Of course, this latest shot across Jadeveon Clowney's brow is hardly the first that Hoge has fired.
Back in March, as a guest on ESPN's First Take, Hoge said he would rather have Missouri defensive end Michael Sam—viewed by most as a Day 3 pick—than Clowney (via Yahoo Sports' Anwar Richardson):
If I’m building a team … First of all, I wouldn’t draft Clowney. Let’s just say we’re talking about the Houston Texans. He will be there when I pick, but I don’t pick him in the first round. Somebody else takes him, so I get around the second round, and I take [Zach] Mettenberger [LSU quarterback] because I took Khalil Mack. Then maybe in the fifth or sixth round, guess what? I get Michael Sam. I got a guy who gives me effort, and will play every down, and will be where he needs to be for my defense, and that’s very important.
His refrain during a subsequent edition of First Take was much the same: Clowney is a great athlete but, at best, a so-so football player.
Now, before we go any further, it's worth noting that in many circles, Hoge is a respected analyst. Watching Hoge and Ron Jaworski break down film on NFL Matchup is a weekly ritual for many die-hard football fans.
With that said, when it comes to analyzing Clowney (and other draft prospects), the shine wears off with Hoge pretty quickly.
For starters, it's safe to say that the vast majority of scouts, draftniks and even NFL teams think Hoge is way off base with Clowney.
You can count Bleacher Report's own NFL draft lead writer among them:
Merril Hoge calls Jadeveon Clowney an atrocious football player. In related news, day drinking is a thing at ESPN.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 21, 2014
Yes, there are questions with Clowney, and those questions carry with them more than a little risk. Clowney's technique is far from textbook. His head coach at South Carolina told NFL Network (per Jeff Reynolds of CBS Sports) that Clowney's work ethic with the Gamecocks was "OK."
However, there's also a reason why Bleacher Report's Ryan Riddle called Clowney a "once in a generation" prospect.
The shortfalls in Clowney's technique that Hoge has been prattling on about for a month? The pad level? The footwork?
Well, see, they have these guys in the NFL called coaches. They get paid (quite well) to help players improve in all those areas, especially since college players needing polish at the NFL level is far from a recent development.
However, there are some things you just can't teach.
As Riddle wrote, "...at the end of the day, you have to consider that nobody in the NFL is quite like Jadeveon Clowney. His potential is nearly unlimited as a prospect, and his instincts are nearly on par with his remarkable physical gifts."
It's called upside. If you continually draft more refined players who are closer to their ceiling than their floor, you're going to end up with a lot of players with great technique whose opponents run circles around them.
You know, like Merril Hoge.
Of course, Hoge is entitled to his opinion. ESPN pays him (once again, quite well) to offer it, after all.
Still, it's fair to question the zeal with which Hoge chooses to lay into prospects, something he's been doing for some time now.
Expressing the same misgivings others have about Clowney's technique and motor is one thing. Throwing around words like "atrocious" and "not a very good football player" is another.
You're right, Merril. That was awful.
It's an unfortunate fact of the information age, but there are far too many modern sports journalists who subscribe to the "say and/or do anything to elicit a response, any response" school of thought.
And in that regard (if that was Hoge's intent), he's succeeded. Granted, he's being eviscerated on social media, but he's also trending there.
In the end, it will probably be Clowney who has the last laugh. He's going to be drafted in the top five. If he moonwalks through his career, he's probably Julius Peppers. If he goes all out, all the time, he could end up a Hall of Famer.
That we won't know for some time. But we do know this after Hoge's latest jaw-dropping proclamation.
They don't call it silly season for nothing.