2014 NFL Draft: Jadeveon Clowney's Fall from Grace Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

Garrett BakerSenior Analyst IOctober 17, 2013

COLUMBIA, SC - SEPTEMBER 14:  Jadeveon Clowney #7 of the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on September 14, 2013 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Jadeveon Clowney is the nation's clear top prospect for the 2014 NFL draft. Anyone who disagrees has either never seen him play or puts too much stock into the news of sports mass media. 

People seem to forget at times that the media have their own agenda; they want to draw attention and promote their brand so they can expand and make more money. 

Clowney has become the perfect microcosm for the media's influence and how they use stories to generate buzz and hype. 

Just months ago, ESPN was jumping on board to help power the Clowney hype train, glorifying his past accomplishments on the football field and highlighting his rise to stardom.

After that article, the network went on to produce and release its notorious "The Freak" video segment, which was pretty weird but served to further hype up Clowney as a player.

The New York Times did its part with the article, "The Legend of Jadeveon Clowney," this August. Aside from the headline, the word "legend" was used eight times throughout the article. 

The article is full of outlandish stories and contains subheadings like "Outsize Descriptions" and "'No Athletic Weakness.'" The author discusses the overstated and draining hype, as well as humanizing the "freak," while ironically contributing to the "legend" of Clowney. 

He was atop every single big board to start the season. Pundits, reporters, coaches and just about everyone in the nation considered him the absolute best player in college football. Heisman potential was even discussed.

Yet here we stand in October, six games into South Carolina's season, and the media have now spent weeks tearing Clowney down from the pedestal they created for him in the first place.

He has two sacks and missed a game due to a ribcage injury. Steve Spurrier was critical in his postgame remarks about Clowney, but later apologized to his star player. 

This great article from Business Insider exposes the baseless claims that have been made because everyone assumed that Clowney was fine and was just being lazy by sitting out the game.

Media hype and everything aside, these are the facts. He missed a game, has been banged up a little, has only tackled the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage twice and has not produced an earth-shattering hit like the one that dominated YouTube for awhile

And because of that, suddenly people are questioning whether NFL teams can "trust" Clowney. I even saw him get knocked out of the top spot on a prominent writer's big board a couple weeks ago.

Paul Finebaum, who is mostly known around the nation for his absurd comments on an ESPN segment about Hank Williams in 2011, tried to bring a little more attention to his neck of the woods by calling Clowney "The biggest joke in college football." 

South Carolina's athletic director came to the defense of his student-athlete, as he rightfully should have. But the comments still stung and added to the growing anti-Clowney sentiment in the media.

Before the Arkansas game last weekend, the scrutiny rose to a laughable level when Clowney's mode of transportation to the game was questioned.

Bruce Feldman of CBS cleared the air afterwards. But, as is typically the case, the correction and apology got less coverage than the initial blowup story.

Articles like this on USA Today have tried to portray Clowney as a mystery and a "frustrated" player, which is vague, unquantifiable and frankly just lazy.

But the author, Dan Wolken, also points out that teams are game-planning completely around Clowney, which brings me to an analysis of the only thing that really matters: what Clowney has done on the field in five games.

Clowney may not be putting up stats like he did last year, but he has been extremely effective every time he has stepped on the field.

In our hypocritical "what have you done for me lately?" culture of sports today, Clowney's lack of monster numbers means unfair criticism. 

But if you really dig into some microanalysis of his play, or just listen to the right people, then you will see that Clowney is still the same top prospect he was a few months ago.

Plays like this one mentioned by ESPN draft analyst Kevin Weidl have been happening all the time because of the incredible amounts of attention that offenses give Clowney.

Weidl also wrote a really informative article on ESPN that highlighted Clowney's performance in the North Carolina and Georgia games.

In that article, Weidl points out that Clowney had 36 pass-rush attempts against UNC. He was double-teamed on 10 of those, and the Tar Heels used screen passes or the quick game on another 12. Even with those two big numbers, Clowney still had 10 quarterback pressures.

UNC also ran 20 times with Clowney on the field, and they ran away from him 12 of those times. Of the eight times to Clowney's side, he had two tackles and made "a positive impact on the play on two others."

Watch the scouting tape against UNC below, and it's easy to see how big of an impact Clowney has on the game. He's explosive off the line, shows great bend around the edge, and is constantly driving the linemen backwards. 

It's quite clear from the tape that UNC is doing everything they can to neutralize Clowney. But watch the play (and subsequent replay) of Clowney breaking a double-team at 1:01 of the tape.

Another notable play is at 2:29, when he blows up the left tackle and then knocks aside the running back to break up the play and bring down quarterback Bryn Renner.

Both plays are unbelievably impressive, to say the least. 

There was also the infamous play where Clowney started with his hands on his hips and ended up making a great effort at the quarterback. People criticized the bad look before the play, but conveniently left out the phenomenal play Clowney actually made afterwards. 

Against Georgia, Clowney was on the field for 39 rushing plays, 27 of which were run away from Clowney. He still ended up with a tackle and "impacted the play in a positive way on five plays".

Clowney was double teamed on 25 percent of his 20 pass-rush attempts, and the Bulldogs dialed up a quick screen or throw seven times. He still ended up with a sack, a deflected pass and five quarterback pressures.

Against Arkansas this past Saturday, Clowney had a demonstrable impact on the game, as measured by ESPN's Stats and Info.

He also had this ridiculous play where he took on THREE Arkansas blockers, yet still got enough of a push into the backfield to force the running back to scamper back around and get stopped for almost no gain.

Against the University of Central Florida, South Carolina beat writer Josh Kendall pointed out an interesting fact that showed Clowney's impact:

A great play to analyze is his sack and forced fumble against Vanderbilt, because it shows his athleticism, as he simply jukes and gives right tackle Andrew Bridges a little push for good measure as he blows by him.

But don't just take my word for it; look around, you will find that the people whose opinions matter feel that the Clowney is just fine.

Two NFL executives told USA Today they did not care about the injury saga (which Dan Rubenstein of SB Nation seconded).

Clowney's own position coach graded him very positively despite not having a single tackle against Arkansas, citing many of the same things that I have explained already.

There are some concerns about Clowney, as he does need to get into better shape, and there is always a little risk with a young prospect who has dealt with so much publicity already.

But Clowney is still the top prospect in the country, and it is not even really that close. Unfortunately, he has just fallen victim to the relentless sports media cycle that have their own agenda for covering sports.

So you can guess my reaction when I read this ESPN story a few days ago about Florida State freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, who is off to a tremendous start with the Seminoles and faces off against Clemson this Saturday.

It lauds heaps and heaps of praise on "famous" Jameis, going so far as to say that at "Every turn, Winston has exceeded even the most absurd expectations to a degree that setting limits on what might come next seems pointless."

Wonder what the only thing I can think is after reading that quote?

Here we go again.


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