Jedeveon Clowney is widely considered the best athlete in this year’s draft pool. At the NFL Combine, Clowney was measured at 6-foot-5 ¼ inches and 266 pounds, slightly deflated numbers when compared to his official Gamecocks profile which gave him an extra ¾ of an inch in height and 8 pounds. Either way, Clowney has the physical measurements to be an elite player.
The Combine has been a mixed bag of tricks for Clowney. In the 40-yard dash, Clowney was officially clocked at 4.53, the best time of all defensive linemen. On the other hand, Clowney put up an uninspired 21 bench reps, something that may concern some executives in teams’ personnel departments.
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The NFL Comine is really just a way for scouts to evaluate players’ measureable qualities. Much more weight is given to game film, and that’s where Clowney has shined brightest in his college years. He has all the talent a defensive lineman could ever ask for, but for scouts, his perceived lack of work ethic may be troubling.
Clowney’s former coach at South Carolina recently said Clowney was just “OK” in his work ethic, but Steve Spurrier also noted that Clowney has natural talent that no one else has.
The problem, at least for Clowney and other physical specimens that enter into the draft every year, is that to be successful in the NFL, players really have to students of the game. Sure, some positions require less study than others, but as a general rule, a player willing to put extra hours into watching film and looking at notes will improve his own production on the field.
Clowney’s three sacks last season may be an indictment of his own work ethic. It’s entirely possible that he’s relying too much on his natural, physical talent and isn’t working hard enough to warrant a top pick in the draft. That’s just a nugget of speculation on my part, but it’s a postulate that may be under consideration by a number of teams drafting at the top end of the draft.
The interview process will be especially important for Clowney. His physical skillset would seem to demand a top pick in the draft, but intangibles can have a positive or negative impact on a player’s draft stock, and at this point, Clowney isn’t receiving any glowing reviews about his work ethic. In meetings with teams such as the Texans, Rams, Jaguars and Browns, Clowney will need to convince general managers and scouts that he’ll be a positive influence within those respective teams’ locker rooms.
Whether Clowney has the work ethic to make it big in the NFL is yet to be seen. He has the talent to be one of the best defensive ends in the NFL, but he has to put in the work to get there. Ultimately, it’s that work ethic that will decide how high Clowney can rise in the league. He has the physical skillset. Now, he just has to develop the right intangibles.