By Jim Weber
After the “Hit Heard Around The World,” there was plenty of talk about NFL teams tanking in order to draft South Carolina star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney first overall in next year’s draft. Just over a month later, it’s pretty clear to me that Clowney is the one tanking for the NFL by giving up on his 2013 season.
And quite frankly, I don’t really blame him.
First of all, Clowney’s junior season was set up to be a disappointment by the media. We built him up to be a superhero. Anything less than five sack games with at least one highlight that went viral on the internet per contest was going to be deemed a failure. That was the standard set after “The Hit” was replayed a million times this offseason and people called him the greatest defensive end prospect ever.
The Charlotte Observer’s Tom Sorensen even floated the idea that Clowney sit out his junior year because he was such a lock to be the first overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Then the season started and Clowney came crashing down to earth.
In the opener against North Carolina, Clowney looked heavily fatigued and said afterward that he was sick. Then came Georgia, when Clowney had little impact with a hurt foot from practice and then openly questioned the Head Ball Coach’s use of his talents. After the Vanderbilt game a week later, Clowney said that bone spurs which have nagged him since high school were a problem and would require surgery in the offseason. Clowney claimed he was sick again for the UCF game a week ago in which he had little impact.
Through four games, Clowney had just 12 tackles and two sacks after a 2012 season in which he collected 23.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks.
Then things finally came to a head on Saturday when Clowney didn’t even suit up against Kentucky because of bruised ribs, leading Spurrier to call out his star over not playing hurt with this gem:
“I will just say he told me he couldn’t play. That his ribs hurt, couldn’t run. Said ‘I can’t play.’ I said, that’s fine, you don’t have to play. We’ll move on. He may not be able to play next week, I don’t know. We’re not going to worry about it, I can assure you that if he wants to play, we’ll welcome him to come play for the team if he wants to. If he doesn’t want to play, he doesn’t have to play, simple as that.”
I don’t normally question player injuries but it doesn’t get any more matter-of-fact than that from Spurrier. He clearly thinks Clowney is just hurt, not injured, and should be playing. And the fact Clowney was announced as a starter on Saturday just to walk out of the tunnel in street clothes further proves there is a clear disconnect between player and coach in Columbia.
As a result, the question now has to be asked: Is Clowney tanking for the NFL draft by giving up on the 2013 season?
I think he is.
This is what I think is going on in Clowney’s head at the moment:
“I’m a lock to be a top five NFL draft pick based on my talent alone. When I give 100% effort, I’m still not having an impact because I’m getting double and triple teamed and my coaches aren’t using me in different ways. Then the media says I’m overhyped. So what’s the point of playing hurt just so people can rip me?”
It’s hard to argue with that logic or blame him. Clowney has to be regretting his decision to play this season at all. Most people wouldn’t have begrudged him if he sat out his junior season to prepare for the NFL draft – especially after watching the gruesome injury to teammate Marcus Lattimore last fall.
But now Clowney’s in a no-win situation when he’s on the football field as a victim of his own success. He appears to have realized he’s better off having his toughness questioned by his head coach than his ability questioned by the media and NFL scouts with just three months left before his college career ends and just a couple more months until he’s an instant multi-millionaire.
This season was supposed to end for Clowney with a million sacks, endless highlights and potentially the first full-time defensive player winning the Heisman Trophy.
Now it’s just a season that can’t end soon enough.
Photo: Daniel Shirey/USA Today Sports