+Ridiculous physical skill set
+Ideal height and length
+Good lateral agility
+Phenomenal swim move
+Really nice array of pass rush moves
+Tons of versatility
+Great against traps and guard pulls
-Mediocre stamina for his size
-Can be offside prone
-Doesn’t protect his side as a pass rusher
-Mediocre body control
-Plays a bit too high
Jadeveon Clowney is the best prospect in this draft class hands down. I could go on and on about his superhuman physical skill set. We all know about it. He’s the leanest 275lbs on the face of the earth. His speed and quickness are ridiculous. He’s the leanest 275lbs human on the planet. What really makes Clowney the number 1 prospect of this draft is his hand usage. Jadeveon Clowney’s swim move is what makes him the next J.J. Watt, not the next Mario Williams. Many of these freak athlete defensive ends are one dimensional speed rushers. That’s not very effective against the run, but perhaps more important, if the only thing a defensive end can do is speed rush, he won’t get pressure. The offensive tackle will expect it and adjust accordingly. If it was that simple, the Cardinals would use Patrick Peterson as a 5 technique periodically on third and long. But Clowney isn’t a one dimensional speed rusher. He really has a large arsenal of pass rush moves, an array of techniques to get to the quarterback. And that’s what makes him special.
Clowney has insane measurables. He has ideal height at 6’6, ideal bulk for a 4-3 end at 275lbs, ridiculous speed for his size with a 4.56 40 yard dash, according to NFLDraftScout.com, and a 38 inch vertical. Blah blah blah, we have heard all this before. Let’s move on.
Clowney is very good against the run. First of all evaluating his ability against the run can be very difficult, because no one ever runs toward his side of the field. Why would they? Still, against the run, Clowney is fairly dependent on his hand usage. Many people criticize Clowney for playing with his pads too high, namely against the run. Although this criticism has some merit, everyone neglects the fact that there is an advantage to keeping your pad level high: you see better. When you are engaged in a block with your head held high, you can see what’s happening in the backfield. As a result, you can read the play more easily. The fact that Clowney plays so high allows him to make a few more arm tackles. However, they say the low man wins in football. Playing with your pads too high gives you poor leverage, thus making penetration much more difficult. It’s a trade-off. Generally, it’s worth it if the player can penetrate or at least not get driven off the ball even if he doesn’t have good leverage. The only way to penetrate while playing high is with good hand usage. You don’t need to be low to the ground to execute a swim move. You need long, quick arms and the strength to move the arms of the opposing lineman. Clowney has these things, and he can create penetration without good leverage against the run. Again, that swim move of Clowney’s At the same time, like any 4-3 defensive end, if Clowney can’t create penetration with this move, he gets destroyed. There are times in which the trade off is worth it (Clemson), but there are also times he definitely needs to act more like a traditional one gap penetrator, e.g., against Antonio Richardson. Clowney’s instincts tend to be below average when he isn’t playing high. Clowney does create a lot of penetration with the swim move and is outstanding in pursuit of the ball, showcasing tremendous speed
Some people have questioned Clowney’s effort and dedication to South Carolina this season. I won’t comment on the injury controversy against Kentucky, but I will say that dedication concerns seem overblown to me. He can get casual with defensive line stunts, but his use of the wrong-shoulder technique, especially in the Clemson game, has me impressed. First of all, I’m not being sarcastic when I say “wrong-shoulder technique.” I’m not mocking Clowney by saying that he invented some sort of technique using the wrong shoulder. The wrong-shoulder technique is a means of defending against traps and counter treys as the unblocked defender. It’s called the wrong shoulder technique because it’s ridiculously counter-intuitive, and, to the untrained eye, looks wrong. Your typical sportswriter who thinks he’s a scout would say he has poor instincts whenever they seem him use the move (admittedly, I would have made the same mistake two years ago, but that’s why I read coaching books during the off-season) . But, the fact is, it works. It creates a pileup in the backfield, and, if the defensive player uses it knowing that the defensive play call is sound against an outside run, it forces the running back into the arms of teammates. I’m not telling you this because I plan on going over every technique that I ever see Clowney use against every imaginable situation. That’s not the point. The point is that the wrong-shoulder technique is one of the most selfless in all of football. The player completely eliminates any chance of him making a tackle on the play for the sake of his team. I’ve only seen one player ever make a tackle using the technique before in my life: Clowney, on this play. And the tackle he made was impossible. But even if he hadn’t made the tackle, he would have forced the running back into the arms of several teammates. The wrong shoulder technique is one of the most selfless things a defensive lineman can do, and there aren’t many guys who use it as willingly as Clowney. Often, as a run stopper, he sacrifices his own chance of making a tackle in order to help a teammate do so. And any NFL coach would love that.
Clowney is a great pass rusher. He’s an awesome athlete with tremendous straight line speed and quickness, and combined with his change of direction skills and outstanding hand usage, he can create pressure in a variety of ways. He has a great speed rush, although it would really help if he did a better job of protecting the side of his body, but he also isn’t predictable, and he can catch linemen off balance with nice inside counter moves. He can take one step outside than dart between the guard and the tackle, which is extremely effective due to his change of direction skills and quickness, plus he has a nice spin move. His swim move is outstanding, and he does a very good job of using it to catch opposing linemen leaning on their hands, although a rip move would be nice to since it does a better job of protecting his sides. But still, I love the swim move. I’ve seen freak athletes over the last few years at defensive end, but I really haven’t seen many that also use the fundamentals for plays like this. That’s what’s so unique. On the downside, he does seem to get a little predictable with his pass rush moves, despite the fact he has so many. This season, at times I saw him go almost 3 quarters without a spin move, and then use it on 3 consecutive drives. He needs to spread it out a little more, not let the offensive lineman get too complacent. He also doesn’t get consistent inside hand position when using the bull rush, nor does he get great leverage. He does a good job of disengaging from blocks, and did a better job of getting outside contain as a pass rusher against more athletic quarterbacks in 2013 than he did in 2012. Overall, he’s a great pass rusher.
Clowney deserves the number 1 pick. His talent is off the charts and his fundamentals are surprisingly sound. He has amazing potential at the NFL level.
NFL Comparison: A more athletic, less instinctive J.J. Watt.
Grade: 100 (worthy of the number 1 pick)
Projection: 99 (will be a top 3 pick)