It is not enough to call South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney only a "great" prospect.
Of course, Clowney has critics who could say this. They'll go so far as to admit his potential greatness but spend far more time pointing out all of the minutia that could stop him from achieving that potential.
They get caught up in the narrative rather than the evidence.
The evidence says that greatness is a goal too easily attained for Clowney, who may be one of the best pass-rushing prospects of our era—up there with the Green Bay Packers' Julius Peppers, Buffalo Bills' Mario Williams and Houston Texans' J.J. Watt.
Though the positions are vastly different, Clowney may be the best defensive line prospect we've seen since Detroit Lions tackle Ndamukong Suh, and that is saying a lot.
How we talk about Clowney can admit some of that narrative, but it must be centered around the player we've had the pleasure of watching for the past couple of seasons for the Gamecocks. That player we've watched has been a truly generational prospect—a singular type of athlete for whom any comparison falls short.
That isn't to say that Clowney is better than all of those other top players or that the Hall of Fame should start making room for his bust between Reggie White and Bruce Smith. Rather, it's that if we want to talk about him, we should be less interested in the easy ways to talk about him and actually dig in and see what's there.
Scouting Report Methodology
What follows is a write-up of my actual scouting report done on Clowney over the course of five games scouted. Although I've seen more of him live and have watched just about every cut-up or highlight reel there is, this report includes work from three games in 2013 (Georgia, Missouri, Wisconsin) and two in 2012 (Clemson, Michigan).
The three-two games methodology is used by most scouts for a first go-around on a player. At the team level, a second check will usually be made using another scout with three or four different games. This is markedly different depending on which team is doing the scouting and how high the pick is.
After putting in this work, the grade assigned to Clowney in my system was an 8.5, which translates into a career starter, multiple-time Pro Bowler and potential All-Pro with Hall of Fame potential. This is a rare grade that equates to Andrew Luck at quarterback or A.J. Green at wide receiver when they came out.
Though the system concerns itself with future performance and not draft selection, these are players you don't pass up for very long in the draft.
To arrive at this grade, there is both a general scouting sheet that applies to all positions and then position-specific criteria for defensive ends. Not to throw too many numbers at you, but each criteria is graded from one (best/elite) to five (poor). Each criteria is then averaged into a section grade .
Athletic Ability (Total Section Grade: 1)
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Split||Vertical Jump||Broad Jump|
|Bench Press||20-Yard Shuttle||3-Cone Drill|
- Quickness/Agility/Balance: 1
- Quick Feet: 1
- Change of Direction: 1
- Flexibility: 2
- Coordination: 1
Clowney excels when he is the most athletic player on the field. In college, that was almost always the case. It may happen less at the NFL level, but one look at those combine numbers should point out that he'll still be a man among boys for much of his professional career.
Clowney moved through bag M-drill like a defensive back. Feet look great.— James Starks (@JamesStarksWLTX) April 2, 2014
As Clowney accelerates around the edge, he doesn't quite have the same bend as the best-of-the-best prospects I've seen in the past decade. It isn't as if he hasn't ever showcased it in the past, but he doesn't do it often enough to put him in the "elite" category.
This is where Clowney makes his first signing bonus, as few are going to strongly dispute almost all ones here. He's a physical specimen. Anyone denying that is just reaching.
Competitiveness (Total Section Grade: 2)
- Toughness: 1
- Clutch Play: 2
- Production: 2
- Consistency: 3
- Team Player: 2
- Pride/"Quit": 2
Clowney was the focus of every single blocking scheme over the course of the past season at South Carolina. While plenty want to focus on the lack of production over that season, it's just as instructive to note the level of production he still managed.
Also, it was very telling that the Gamecocks used to take Clowney off the practice field just so their offense could get some worthwhile snaps in. That's the kind of player you want.
This is where nuance needs to win the day in regard to Clowney. While I gave him average and good marks for consistency and production, that's assessing both his sophomore and junior seasons. If I only scouted the past year, things might be a notch (or even two) lower here.
Still, you grade the player as a whole even if some of these marks are cautionary tales. That said, we're not talking about poor or atrocious production and consistency; we're talking about what one should expect for a player in Clowney's situation the past year.
Ask every coach and personnel worker in the NFL, and they would likely say that they would've loved Clowney to have as stellar a junior year as he did the year prior. He didn't, though, and while that's a mark against him, it shouldn't be construed as if he had a bad year.
Too many pundits and talking heads are doing that and showing that they're scouting from a box score rather than film.
Mental Alertness (Total Section Grade: 1)
- Learn/Retain: 1
- Instinct/Reaction: 1
- Concentration: 2
Clowney showcased a good grasp versus both zone- and man-blocking schemes against both the run and the pass. His instincts and reaction are probably ahead of his football IQ at this point, but on tape against collegiate competition, it's functionally the same thing.
There are times when Clowney seems disinterested in the game. While it can't be said for sure that he is or that it's what affects consistency or performance, it is a body language issue that many have pointed out.
Combine this section with the one above, and it's clear that there's a good chance Clowney is a multiple All-Pro before someone makes him a captain in the NFL. This just isn't where I worry about him, however, and absorbing a playbook and reacting to plays aren't going to be a weakness.
Strength/Explosion (Total Section Grade: 1)
|Jadeveon Clowney||6'6"||266||34 1/2"||10"|
|Robert Quinn (St. Louis Rams)||6'4"||265||34"||10 1/8"|
|Chris Long (St. Louis Rams)||6'3"||273||32 1/2"||10 1/8"|
|J.J. Watt (Houston Texans)||6'5"||290||34||11 1/8"|
|Mario Williams (Buffalo Bills)||6"7"||295||34 1/8"||10"|
NFL.com (all measurements from combine).
- Body Type: 1
- Durability: 2
- Explosion: 1
- Play Strength: 1
We focus on the athleticism—and rightly so—but body type is probably the deciding factor for scouts across the NFL. If you took the ideal defensive end body and crossed it with a Greek god, Clowney would still be drafted above the result.
Play strength is also a big positive for Clowney, even above and beyond his measurables. "Converts speed to power" better be in every scouting report you read on this guy, or you're reading the wrong scout.
Clowney's only red flag here, and it's a tiny one, is some bone spurs he had last season. Yet, it's a minor concern, and the durability grade is just as much a reflection of some slow-downs he had last season with a heavy workload.
Clowney may need a transitional period of six games to a full season with a minor rotation before he's ready for a full NFL workload/season...just like almost every other prospect.
The lower body flexibility and overall agility Clowney shows for his measureables (6055,266) are rare. Making it look easy out here.— Kevin Weidl (@KevinW_ESPN) April 2, 2014
If it seems that this category is simply belaboring the points of some of the above sections—ding, ding, ding—you're a winner. Not every prospect is like this, and it's not a weakness of the scouting report as much as it is a testament to Clowney's incredible physical skills across the board.
- Read and React: 1
Similar to "instinct/reaction" above, this is an incredibly strong point in Clowney's game where he showcases better footwork, balance and agility than many running backs.
- Initial Quicks: 1
The irony here is that Clowney isn't usually the first person off the snap in terms of reaction, yet it's the speed of his first and all-important second step that allow him to consistently get into the backfield before his blocker is out of his stance.
This bodes well for the NFL in terms of avoiding potential offsides/encroachment penalties.
- Use of Hands: 3
Clowney leaves a lot to be desired here, and it's a maddening point for scouts but a beacon of light for coaches. While the former group wants to see more, the latter group looks at this as room for growth.
- Shed Blockers: 2
Joined with above, this is a section where Clowney can improve with coaching. Typically, he wins here with brute strength, but it's possible to tie him up and stick with him if the blocker has heavy enough hands and gets them on Clowney's frame—which will likely happen more at the NFL level than it did in college.
- Run at Him: 2
Clowney's performance here actually outperformed my preconceived notions about him. When run directly at, he was often strong enough to hold at the point of attack and quick enough to peel off.
- Pursuit/Range: 1
While running at Clowney was rarely successful, running away from him was just as much a fool's errand. His aforementioned instincts and reaction came into play here, and he went sideline to sideline as much as he'll ever need to in the NFL.
Though I see him as a defensive end, if he ends up as an outside linebacker in a 3-4, this is one reason he could be successful there.
- Tackling: 3
Lunges more often than he exhibits proper form, Clowney will miss the easy tackles more than one would like from an elite player. Yet, he also has a chance at many tackles a lesser player wouldn't even factor in to.
- Closing Burst: 1
- Power Rush: 1
Again, speed to power. When Clowney needs to bull-rush the passer, he's rarely a non-factor.
- Speed Rush: 2
Athletically, he's there. In terms of technique, the hand placement and flexibility could use some polish.
- Errors: 2
Missed tackles and a lack of polish—all things that can be easily fixed.
Overall Grade: 8.5
Clowney is a bona fide superstar and a foundational prospect. While I abhor Hall of Fame comparisons for young players, it's almost impossible to have a conversation about Clowney's upside without bringing one of the all-time greats into the conversation.
While every player has a bust possibility, Clowney's downside has been overstated at almost every turn.
He should be the top player on the board for every 4-3-dominant team and should make even the most staunch 3-4 teams consider a hybrid scheme. Clowney would have a tougher transition to 3-4 outside linebacker, but he has the physical tools.
Clowney is the top player on my top 100 and should go in the first two or three picks.