The year of nitpicking Jadeveon Clowney has almost come to a close. Have you had your fun? Any last shots you want to take? Don't be shy, everyone is doing it.
Sure, Clowney has generated so much hype as a football player that there's no way he could possibly live up to it. He's also been guilty of lapses in effort on the field and suffered through some injuries. But let's not lose sight of the fact that Clowney is arguably the best defensive prospect since Julius Peppers. He's gotten bigger every year in college and has somehow managed to get more explosive the bigger he gets.
Is Clowney perfect? No, but he doesn't have to be to become a dominant NFL player. Players with his skill set don't come around often, and that's worth appreciating.
Pass rush: Clowney will be drafted in the top five of the 2014 NFL Draft because of his ability to get after the passer. He has the best first step in this class and gives offensive tackles fits as a result. He's routinely the first player off the line of scrimmage and demonstrates a variety of pass rush moves. He has a dangerous swim move to the outside and is at his best when he sets up his inside move with his first step to the outside. For as much credit as Clowney gets for his explosiveness, his strength is just as impressive. Check out this sack against Clemson.
The only thing Clowney lacks as a pass rusher is elite ability to bend the edge. He's impressive for his size, but it's not where he wins most consistently. Against Tennessee, Clowney dominated Tiny Richardson, but the Vols slowed him down a bit at times by forcing him to bend the corner. Here's one play where he was knocked off balance:
And another where he couldn't close with a tight enough angle around the corner. It was still a good play by Clowney, but he just missed the sack:
Pursuit/Quickness: Teams often ran away from Clowney in 2013, and for good reason. However, Clowney was still able to get in on a number of plays due to his speed in the open field and ability to close on ball carriers. While his effort was called into question at times, when Clowney is going 100-percent, he's never out of a play.
Run defense: Defending the run might be the strongest aspect of Clowney's game. He is hardly ever pushed back off the line on impact, instead dominating the point of attack on a consistent basis. He sheds blocks with ease due to his superior hand use and incredible strength. His first step and inside moves come in handy in this area as well. The only way teams were able to avoid Clowney in the run game was by running away from him or throwing cut blocks at him. Even so, he was in the backfield more often than not. Here's an example of Clowney's devastating inside move.
Strength/Tackling: As seen above and in the 2013 Outback Bowl against Michigan, Clowney can flat out destroy ball carriers once he's in the backfield. He doesn't have a 100-percent success rate when breaking down and making tackles in space, but he's a strong player who is reliable as a tackler. His ability to hit has value in the intimidation department.
Technique: Clowney gets praise for his physical tools, but he's also a technically sound player in most aspects of his game. His hand use is advanced for a college player, he gets excellent pad level in the running game, and he demonstrates both variety and strategy in his pass rush moves.
Pro comparison, Julius Peppers, Defensive End, Chicago Bears: Julius Peppers is one of the only prospects in the last decade to demonstrate a similar blend of size and explosiveness to what Clowney has shown throughout his college career. Clowney may even be a bit more versatile than Peppers.
Final word: No, Clowney is not the perfect prospect, but he is the best one available in the 2014 NFL Draft. Not many defensive ends are involved in as many plays as Clowney is, whether he is getting pressure on the quarterback or disrupting a running play. Every team, regardless of scheme, would be better with Clowney on its roster. He's best suited for the 4-3 defense, in which he can cause havoc on the edge and move inside to play tackle in certain situations. However, that's not to say he couldn't plan end in a 3-4 defense or even stand up as a pass rushing linebacker. He's one of those prospects who transcends scheme.