Dave Caldwell said exactly what everyone agrees on when it comes to Jadeveon Clowney.
“Very talented,” said the Jacksonville Jaguars general manager, whose team holds the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, which kicks off Thursday with the first round. “Extremely talented.”
There isn’t much debate about that among NFL personnel people, as the South Carolina defensive end’s athletic ability and natural talent are evident. What’s not as clear is whether Clowney will maximize that talent with the requisite effort level and work ethic
“Is he supremely talented? Yes. Do people wonder about different pieces of his game? Sure,” said Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer, whose team holds the No. 4 pick. “We could shoot holes in all these guys. Every single guy in the draft you could shoot him full of holes and say, ‘This is wrong with him. This is wrong with him. This is wrong,’ but the reality is you want to take the time to really unearth, what can this guy do? How can he help your program? And can this guy be a difference maker? And I think Jadeveon Clowney can do those things.”
It appeared Clowney spent much of last season, his true junior year, coasting through his final college season to get to the NFL Draft healthy, since players must be three years removed from high school to be draft-eligible. He had just three sacks, and in February, his coach, Steve Spurrier, didn’t exactly help put the issue of his effort level to rest.
“He was OK,” Spurrier said of Clowney’s effort level on NFL Network, “Every player is a little different. His work habits are pretty good, they're not quite like [Marcus] Lattimore, a Stephon Gilmore, Melvin Ingram, some of those guys. But when the ball is snapped he's got something no one else has.”
And that’s talent. A little more than a week ago, Spurrier said the Houston Texans, who hold the No. 1 pick, “have to” take Clowney, telling Dan Patrick, ““He's a really good football player, and obviously pass rushing is what he does best. He's a pass rusher like nobody I think I've ever seen in college football.”
Asked what he saw from Clowney during last season, when his effort level came into question, Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, a former defensive coordinator, replied, “Everybody is different. One thing we look at is, sometimes as a coaching staff, you may choose to attack a player, but we choose to look at the positives and say, 'What traits do we like?' Maybe his junior year didn't completely go the way he wanted. Everybody is going to have struggles at times; it's about how they adjust to those and how they capture them and get better from those times.”
Those struggles have led to questions, however. For all his natural ability and production before last season – he had 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore, including the SportsCenter highlight hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl – the Texans reportedly aren’t sold on taking Clowney with the top pick, and they’re contemplating dealing the pick. The Atlanta Falcons are the team most frequently mentioned as being interested in trading up.
“I'm not going to comment on what Coach Spurrier said. I've watched Jadeveon on film. He's obviously a very good player and I think he played very well this year,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “But there are a lot of good players in this draft. When I sit down and evaluate the players in this draft, I see a lot of talent, a lot of exciting players, guys that bring different skillsets to the table. Jadeveon's one of those guys.”
Said Texans GM Rick Smith: “If we take the first pick, we know who we want. What I’m saying is I don’t know (what we’ll do). We are obviously open to moving out of the first pick, if in fact there is an opportunity for us to do so and if we think that is in the best interest of the organization.”
On Sunday, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the Texans aren’t sold on taking Clowney first overall. On Thursday night, we’ll see whether the concerns about Clowney prevent him from being the top pick – whomever exercises it.
“Whenever a guy is blessed with as much ability as he's blessed with – and I've made the statement that he woke up this morning with more physical ability than any defensive lineman on the planet, and I believe that, anywhere on the planet – with that ability comes certain responsibilities. Or perhaps expectations,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “There are times when he just kind of disappears. The Clemson tape, the left tackle from Clemson, Brandon Thomas, I thought got the best of [Clowney] the entire game. If you're that good, why do you disappear for a full game? It's not as much technique, double-teaming or triple-teaming. It's just sometimes he gets blocked and he stays blocked. What I'd like to see is a little bit more of an edge about him.
“When he was pissed off at Tennessee, their left tackle was chirping last year, he killed Tennessee's entire offensive line for the whole game. I think when the kid is motivated, he's special. The downside to it is coaches are looking at each other saying, ‘Are we going to have manage that every day for four or five years?’ You'd like to see a self-starter and not somebody you have to start.”
BEST OF THE BEST
1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (6-foot-5 1/4, 266 pounds, 4.52 seconds in the 40-yard dash): Breathtaking athlete who played three seasons at South Carolina, totaling 24 sacks, 47 tackles-for-loss, nine forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. … Was SEC Freshman of the Year in 2011, when he had eight sacks and 12 tackles for loss. … Was sixth in Heisman Trophy balloting as a sophomore in 2012, when he was SEC Defensive Player of the Year with 13 sacks and 23.5 TFLs. … Had quiet junior year while biding his time to go to NFL, finishing with only 11.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. … Stunning athlete with huge wingspan, length and explosiveness but must improve technique and questions about his dedication linger.
BEST OF THE REST
2. Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh (6-0 3/4, 285, 4.67): Had 59 tackles, including 28.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks, as a senior last year. … Quick leverage player who was very productive and disruptive. … Had strong performance at Senior Bowl and had the best 40-yard dash time of any defensive tackle at the NFL Scouting Combine. … Lacks ideal height and size but should overcome that shortcoming.
3. Stephon Tuitt, DT, Notre Dame (6-5 1/2, 304, N/A: Had 50 tackles, including nine for loss and 7.5 sacks, as a third-year junior last year. ... Has excellent size and length, as well as very good strength, but doesn’t always play with ideal intensity. … Shows versatility to play multiple defensive line positions.
4. Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State (6-2 7/8, 251, 4.83): Had 72 tackles, including 20.5 for loss and 10.5 sacks, last season as a fourth-year junior. … Spent two years at Butler (Kan.) Community College before going to Boise State. … Fluid athlete with very good pass-rush ability. … Could play end in 4-3 or outside linebacker in a 3-4 as a pass-rusher.
5. Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota (6-5 7/8, 310, 5.00): Had 38 tackles, including 13 for loss and two sacks, last season as a fifth-year senior. … Looks the part with impressive size, length and athleticism. … High-school tight end who moved to defensive end as a redshirt freshman in 2009. … Was team MVP last season. …
OTHERS TO WATCH
Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame, Timmy Jernigan, NT, Florida State; Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri; Dee Ford, DE, Auburn; Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina; DE Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville; Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU; Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State.
“I love the way he plays. I watched him a lot, watched him a lot my junior year in college. Explosive, fun to watch, he just makes a ton of plays. What he's doing in the NFL is amazing, it's an honor to even be compared to a guy like that.” – Donald, on being compared to his favorite NFL player, Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
Position analysis: When the 2013 season ended, most of the Packers defensive line was headed into unrestricted free agency. When the primary signing period was over, B.J. Raji returned on a prove-it one-year, $4 million deal; C.J. Wilson had departed to join the Oakland Raiders, and two more starters – aging veteran Ryan Pickett, and veteran Johnny Jolly, coming off neck surgery – remained unsigned. With young players they like – 2013 first-round pick Datone Jones, 2013 fifth-round pick Josh Boyd and emerging Mike Daniels, who had 6.5 regular-season sacks and another in the playoffs – and the addition of Julius Peppers, who’ll play a hybrid role, the position is in some flux. Raji is moving back to nose tackle, which could resurrect his career or may just be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. And while Packers coach Mike McCarthy said the team would monitor Pickett and Jolly, neither is a sure thing to return – Pickett because of his age (34), Jolly because of the spinal fusion surgery he underwent.
The one player who could have an impact after basically missing all of last season while coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee suffered in the 2012 season finale is Jerel Worthy, a second-round pick in 2012 who was up-and-down as a rookie before his injury. Should he become a significant contributor, the position has better depth than it appears.
Draft strategy: General manager Ted Thompson is fond of saying that the “Good Lord only made so many big guys.” The Packers have drafted plenty of those big guys, with mixed results. Since 1997, the team has taken 26 defensive linemen, including first-round picks Vonnie Holliday (No. 19 overall, 1998), Jamal Reynolds (No. 10 overall, 2001), Justin Harrell (No. 16 overall, 2007), Raji (No. 9 overall, 2009), and Jones (No. 26 overall, 2013). It’s entirely possible that the Packers will go back-to-back on the defensive line with their first-round pick this year, at No. 26, just as they went with offensive tackles in 2010 (Bryan Bulaga) and 2011 (Derek Sherrod). Thompson enters the draft with nine overall selections, and while he says he avoids drafting for need, don’t be surprised if by draft’s end he’s added two more big guys for the defensive front.
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.