On Monday, Tom Sorenson of the Charlotte Observer printed an op-ed piece claiming that it would be in the best interests of South Carolina’s superstar defensive end, Jadeveon Clowney, to sit out his junior year in anticipation of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Clowney, at 6-foot-6, 257 pounds and strong and fast, most likely would have been the No. 1-overall selection in the upcoming 2013 Draft. However, the NFL has a longstanding (and rarely challenged) rule stating that a player must be at least three years removed from high school to play professionally. That does not mean said player must have played at least three years of college ball.
Quite the contrary. As long as a player who graduated high school at 18 years of age is now 21, that player can be selected in the NFL Draft. Literally anyone. Yours truly played high school football, and while I went on to play rugby in college, should an NFL team deem my playing attributes worthy of a selection, said organization could take me in the draft.
Which would be crazy on their part, for obvious reasons.
Taking Clowney, on the other hand, is going to make one general manager out there look like a genius. However, for the next year, all Clowney can do, in terms of looking at his situation from a business standpoint, is get hurt while still playing for free in the SEC. Because remember, nobody pays players in the SEC, wink wink.
In his opinion piece (and it definitely is an opinion that is about to be shredded) Sorenson brings up Clowney’s former Gamecocks teammate, running back Marcus Lattimore.
But Clowney is 6-foot-6 and 256 pounds. If you believe in free enterprise, on what grounds do you tell a player physically ready to compete that, for his own good, he won’t be allowed to?
Clowney had a teammate, tailback Marcus Lattimore, who was as good at his job as Clowney is at his. In his second start as a freshman, Lattimore rushed for 182 yards.
As a sophomore, Lattimore shredded his left knee against Mississippi State and as a junior he shredded his right knee against Tennessee. He will not return to South Carolina for his senior season. Lattimore, 21, is going pro.
Before the injuries, he was a first-round talent and a joy to watch, a tough runner who always seemed to have the wind at his back. Because of the injuries, he will not be a first-round pick and he might not be drafted. (But if I’m an NFL general manager, I gamble on him.)
Players aren’t dumb. Clowney has absolutely weighed the risks of playing, and dominating, his chosen sport. There is very little doubt that with his athletic ability he could be a star as a boxer or a Mixed Martial Artist, but the choice was his and he made it.
It is not in the competitive nature of a tenacious defensive superstar, the likes of which Clowney absolutely is, to sit on the sidelines and watch his teammates suffer all the bumps, bruises, sprains, strains and even breaks and tears that take place during a marathon of a football season. Perhaps Sorenson never played football. Perhaps he has simply been in the “business world” for far too long at this point.
Whatever the case may be, it is difficult to fault him on the ground of an injury because of what happened to Lattimore. However, even the star running back understands the risks he is taking. Lattimore was never going to lose his scholarship. Had he so chosen, he could have stayed in school and gotten his degree. He could have coached as a graduate assistant while going to law school or medical school or business school or wherever else. He could have gotten a great job that paid six figures without ever putting on the pads again.
But such was not the young man’s choice.
Despite tearing up his knee not once, but twice, Lattimore is rehabilitating in preparing for the Draft and a career in the NFL. Should he make it (and he will, by all indications) the life expectancy for a fully healthy running back is less than five years.
And yet, still, these young men fight, claw tooth and nail, to make their dreams a reality, despite fully understanding the inherent risks in a way that those who never played a sport at the elite level never will.
But, let’s just say, for curiosity’s sake, that Clowney does want to preserve his brain cells and his knees. Why then, should the young superstar play?
For the potential to become the first exclusively defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy, for one thing. Never discount the possibility of earning legendary status.
Who wouldn’t want to be known forever as the best defensive collegian who ever lived?
But beyond the selfish drive for hardware (which is how some, like Sorenson, might criticize that point in spite of the fact that he is imploring Clowney to sit for an entire year for the sake of a fat contract), South Carolina has the chance to make school history as well. The Gamecocks have won 11 games in each of the last two seasons, a first in school history. The program is this close to reaching an SEC title game and/or a BCS bowl berth.
If Clowney quit on his teammates now, would an NFL organization even want him?
Would any NFL players even want him on their team?
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is absolutely no substitute for live, in-game action. If anyone could simply just lift weights and run sprints for a few years and then break into the NFL, they would.
Robert Nkemdiche was the No. 1-rated high school recruit in 2013. He is already 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds and he is already garnering comparisons to Mr. Clowney. Obviously, the young man has heard all the hoopla surrounding his abilities.
So why doesn’t he just sit out for three years, work out like crazy, and then enter the NFL Draft when he finally reaches 21 years of age?
He has the size, and like Sorenson said, “If you believe in free enterprise, on what grounds do you tell a player physically ready to compete that, for his own good, he won’t be allowed to?”
Because the kid is not ready, that’s why.
And as great as Clowney is, neither is he. The best part of a guy like Clowney is the fact that he understands, as big and strong and fast as he is, he would struggle mightily in the NFL.
He still has issues in run support. He gets too anxious to rush the quarterback at times that he ends up playing himself out of position by rushing up-field too quickly. It sounds crazy, but the young man is going to be double- or even triple-teamed for the rest of his playing career. He needs to learn a little bit more about how to shed all of those would-be blockers.
He is not going to learn how to do that running cone drills, that’s for sure.
Could Clowney sit out the year, earning a draft spot and millions of dollars in the process? Yes.
Would it be a clownish (yup, pun intended), petulant, self-serving move that no athlete of his ilk should or would pull?
Absolutely, and that is why it will never happen.
Which is bad news, of course, for the rest of the SEC.