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NFL Draft 2014: The defensive linemen
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Will the real Jadeveon Clowney please stand up, and remain standing.
A year ago, the defensive end from the University of South Carolina already was being touted as the best player in the 2014 NFL Draft after he registered 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for losses during the 2012 season. Then came the 2013 season, when his numbers dipped to three and 11.5, putting Clowney on the defensive as he prepares for the May 8-10 selection process.
He didn’t play hard last season. He wasn’t in good enough shape. He was not motivated enough, a situation that will only be exacerbated once a NFL team gives him millions of dollars.
Clowney continues to hear about it from draft pundits, in questions from reporters and even his former coach – Steve Spurrier, who when asked about Clowney’s work ethic offered, “He was OK.”
Clowney’s response? He let his action speak for him at the NFL Scouting Combine last month by turning in one head-turning performance, especially for a 6-foot-5, 266-pounder: a time of 4.53 seconds in the 40-yard dash; a 37½-inch vertical jump; a 10-3 broad jump.
Before the Combine, NFL Network and NFL analyst Mike Mayock offered, “I know that he’s got the physical makeup to be the best player in the draft. If you want to compare him to Mario Williams (the first pick overall in the 2006 NFL Draft), I think he’s a better football player with more upside than when Mario came out of college. So from a physical skill set, this kid is as freaky as they come.
“My biggest concern is, just what’s his mental makeup and how important is it to him when he gets a big paycheck to become the best player in football, or is he just going to be happy to be a millionaire?”
After the Combine, Mayock said, “I already think I know what he is: He’s the scariest, freakiest, physical specimen I’ve seen since I’ve been doing this as a potential upside defensive lineman. However, that doesn’t mean I’m saying he’s the best defensive lineman in the draft or the best player in the draft because he worries me with some of the red flags.”
If only Clowney was as consistent as Mayock.
The first team that has to sort through the questions about Clowney’s mental makeup and his unquestioned physical skills is the Houston Texans. They hold the first pick on May 8, just as they did in 2006 when they went for Williams over quarterback Vince Young and running back Reggie Bush.
“He’s a remarkable player. He’s one of these players that is really a once-in-every-10-years kind of physical specimen that comes along,” owner Bob McNair told HoustonTexans.com. “Like many of these fellows who have these great physical attributes, they didn’t have to work as hard in junior high school, in high school, and in college, to be a superlative athlete, because they had this natural ability.”
Here’s a closer look at Clowney, as well as the other Top 5 defensive linemen in this draft class – according to Mayock’s rankings – as well as thoughts from NFLDraftScout.com senior analyst Rob Rang and the players at the Combine:
DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
Mayock’s ranking: No. 1 among the ends
Rang’s take: “Typically, the team selecting No. 1 is in full rebuild mode. I don’t believe that applies to the Texans, who obviously finished with the league’s worst record but possess a roster largely intact from the (successful 2012 team). As such, the right ‘guy’ for the Texans is a pass rusher. The road to the AFC South title now travels through Indianapolis due to Andrew Luck. Attacking the line of scrimmage with J.J. Watt and either Clowney or (Khalil) Mack gives Bill O’Brien his chance at reversing the fortunes of the Texans in his first season.”
Clowney’s take: “I believe that once I get to the NFL, I just want to be the best; one of the greatest of all-time. The NFL is just the next level, stepping stone in my way. Coming out of high school, I said I wanted to be one of the best in college and I think I proved that. Going to the NFL, I want to be one of the best in the NFL, go down in history as one of the best, so I have another stepping stone in my way and hopefully I’ll take care of business and accomplish that in the NFL.”
DE Kony Ealy, Missouri
Mayock’s ranking: No. 2 among the ends
Rang’s take: “Ealy’s length and burst off the edge are his most exciting traits but don’t overlook his instincts against the pass. In two seasons as a starter, Ealy defended 13 passes, showing the instincts and athleticism to wreak havoc against quarterbacks in more ways than one. Proponents of the 4-3 and 3-4 schemes alike will appreciate that ability to generate turnovers.”
Ealy’s take: “To be honest with you, and it might sound a little cocky, but I believed that I could be a first-round pick when I first got to Mizzou. My strength coach will tell you, I was in his ear every day and he told me things I needed to hear and things I didn't want to hear and it helped mold me into the young man that I am today.”
DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
Mayock’s ranking: No. 1 among the tackles
Rang’s take: “Comes off the snap like he's shot out of a cannon. His first step routinely beats opponents for immediate pressures. Has an effective arm-over swim move, though he doesn't use this often enough. His stature gives Donald the leverage advantage which he uses well to get under the pads of opponents and drive them into the backfield on bull-rushes.”
Donald’s take: “You never know (how high I can go in the draft). All I can do is do my part and keep trying to open up eyes with what I did on the football field, what I did in my career on film. Just go out there and try to compete and shock a couple more people.” Donald did just that at the Combine, where the 285-pounder ran the 40 in 4.68 seconds and did 35 reps with 225 pounds in the bench press.
DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
Mayock’s ranking: No. 2 among the tackles
Rang’s take (he ranks Jernigan No. 3 among the tackles): “Jernigan entered the 2013 season with just two career starts, but was widely regarded as one of the most talented players on the roster. The big question was how Jernigan would fare after pass-rushers Bjoern Werner, Cornelius Carradine and Brandon Jenkins all departed for the NFL. The answer? Quite well. Jernigan took over as a dominating force in the middle of one of the nation’s top defenses and earned first-team All-ACC accolades from the league’s coaches.”
Jernigan’s take: “I definitely don’t feel like (my stamina) is an issue. I played on a team where I only played three full games – no, actually four full games – the entire season and I just did what I could with the opportunity. There weren’t times where I had to play the whole game. Like I said, I only played in four full games the entire season, every game I was out by the third quarter. But when my number was called, when they needed Jernigan to be in the game, when I knew that I had to be in the game in order for us to win, I was there. I played 73 plays."
DT Louis Nix, Notre Dame
Mayock’s ranking: No. 3 among the tackles
Rang’s take (he ranks Nix No. 2 among the tackles): “Built like a full-grown man with a large frame and strong muscle definition throughout his body. (He has) nimble feet with the lateral quickness to explode in any direction and chase down the action in pursuit. (He also) carries his weight so naturally for a 340-plus pounder, shifting his weight well with the agile footwork to quickly change directions.”
Nix’s take: “My stomach doesn’t stick out as much (after losing 23 pounds). That’s kind of nice. I like that part. My thighs got a little smaller. I just feel sexier, man.”