NFL Draft 2014 Risers/Fallers: In defense of Gamecocks’ Jadeveon Clowney
Here’s what you do, as an offense, when the opposition has one dominant player across the line: avoid him.
The method is one that we often hear about in relation to great cornerbacks — teams mostly stopped throwing at Charles Woodson during his Heisman run at Michigan, and did the same with Nnamdi Asomugha during his Raiders glory days and Darrelle Revis in New York.
Through two games of the college football season, that’s been the preferred approach for North Carolina and Georgia with Jadeveon Clowney. SI’s Andy Staples wrote about that very phenomenon following Clowney’s tough opener against the Tar Heels, which left plenty of critics questioning Clowney’s effort level.
“If Clowney is going to beat two players anyway, as he regularly did against the Tar Heels, why leave the other players at a disadvantage?” Staples wrote. “That’s why North Carolina left Clowney unblocked on the backside of 11 plays, and only blocked him with one player on 11 other runs that went away from him. It may also help explain why South Carolina began using Clowney as a three-technique defensive tackle on occasion. It’s much more difficult to run away from someone who is positioned in the middle of the line.”
Clowney had to deal with similar frustrations in the Gamecocks’ loss to Georgia on Saturday.
“I told the coaches you got to put me somewhere else — in the middle if you want to — somewhere I can make some plays [to] help my team get in position to win,” he said afterward, via ajc.com. “But [Georgia] took me right out of the game.”
As Staples pointed out following the clash with North Carolina, though, the stats — and even, at times, the tape — did not do Clowney justice. ESPN’s Kevin Weidl circled back to find that Clowney was his normal disruptive self on many occasions, with six QB hurries, a sack and a pass deflection on 20 pass-rush attempts. According to Weidl, Georgia also sent 27-of-39 run plays directly away from Clowney, choosing to cut the field in half rather than go at the dominant DE.
Clowney’s somewhat disappointing early season has not been all smoke and mirrors — Weidl pointed out that Clowney lost contain on a pair of Georgia touchdowns, and Clowney continues to deal with fatigue issues.
Still, this has not been a total collapse from the potential No. 1 overall pick. Far from it.
The Clowney-for-Heisman campaign may have stopped dead in its tracks after South Carolina’s first two games. There may even be more, legitimate questions about Clowney’s ability to stay on the field as an every-down NFL lineman. What is not up for debate, at least at the moment, is that Clowney remains a high-impact player — even if we’re only talking about how teams game plan for South Carolina.
• Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU: The 6-foot-5 Mettenberger appears to have cleaned up his mechanics over the summer, turning him (for now) into an even more legit draft prospect. Mettenberger threw for 251 yards and a touchdown in LSU’s season-opening win over TCU, then followed it up with a five-TD throttling of UAB.
The difference thus far in Mettenberger’s pocket awareness is noticeable. He has been able to get through his progressions and find open receivers, even when faced with some pressure. Combine that with the arm ability Mettenberg has, and it is becoming easier to see him as a player who interests QB-needy teams.
• Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado: The nation’s leading receiver through two weeks, with a whopping 417 yards. Richardson is averaging 19.9 yards per grab and has found the end zone four times (the latter also tying him for the FBS lead). Richardson played with current USC star Marqise Lee at Junipera Serra (Calif.) High School, which also produced Robert Woods, now with the Buffalo Bills.
Richardson sat out the 2012 season after tearing his ACL, so this is a redshirt junior year for him — that injury experience might make it hard for Richardson to turn down the NFL for another season in Boulder. At 6-1 and with the ability to stretch the field, Richardson has the qualities of a No. 1 pro receiver.
• Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford: The Cardinal defense absolutely overwhelmed San Jose State on Saturday, making for a tough night for promising QB David Fales. Reynolds cleaned up just about everything on the backend, accounting for 12 tackles. He also picked off a Fales pass early in the fourth quarter, breaking on a misfired strike near the sideline. Reynolds often sits in the center-field role for Stanford, and he continues to show the ability to come up and make plays.
• Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech: Amaro is another of those pass-catching tight ends who can force matchup problems when he’s on the field. The competition level was far from stout Saturday against Stephen F. Austin, but Amaro still dominated to the tune of eight catches, 142 yards and a touchdown.
There’s currently a line in the sand after the top tight ends — Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Colt Lyerla and, increasingly, North Carolina’s Eric Ebron. The 6-5 Amaro has a chance to nuzzle up behind them.
• Jeremy Gallon, WR, Michigan: Despite his size (5-8, 185), resist the urge to lump Gallon in with Wes Welker. My colleague, Doug Farrar, actually brought up a Victor Cruz comparison during Cruz’s Sunday night show. It makes sense, because Gallon can line up outside and stretch the field, despite his size limitations.
He put the full arsenal on display against Notre Dame with eight catches, 184 yards and three TDs. On top of a great pair of hands, Gallon shows an innate ability to adjust to the play — on more than one occasion vs. the Irish, he found open space as Devin Gardner broke the pocket.
• Casey Pachall, QB, TCU: This one is hardly his fault, but Pachall suffered a fractured arm against SE Louisiana, which will knock him out of commission for about two months. It’s a setback Pachall did not need, after a suspension in 2012 and subsequent entrance into a substance-abuse program.
Pachall has the arm strength to be an NFL quarterback, but teams are going to have a tough time justifying using a draft pick on him if he cannot show it soon — especially with those off-field issues. He was rusty at best against LSU (9-of-16, 75 yards, one INT) and completed less than 60 percent of his passes against the lowly Lions before exiting with his injury.
• Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas: It’s hard to pin Texas’ struggles Saturday vs. BYU on just one player — the Longhorns allowed 550 yards of rushing, in a performance that led to defensive coordinator Manny Diaz being fired. And Jeffcoat did finish with eight tackles (though just two solos). Unfortunately for the Longhorns, though, neither Jeffcoat nor any of his other teammates up front were able to generate any push against the BYU line.
Jeffcoat’s shaky showing (no sacks) also came one week after Virginia’s Eli Harold roasted the BYU front for 3.5 sacks, in a 19-16 Cavaliers win. The 6-5, 245-pound Jeffcoat is sort of stuck in that in-between range for the NFL — is he a DE or an OLB? Getting pushed around off the line by the Cougars on Saturday won’t help his standing at either spot.
• Adam Muema, RB, San Diego State: Another injury-related drop — and it’s starting to get harder and harder to see Muema leaving college after this season. The junior rushed for nearly 1,500 yards last season, but a nagging ankle injury has stunted his 2013 start. He left the Aztecs’ meeting with Ohio State Saturday following a mere three carries for five yards. That was one of very few chances Muema will have this season to open eyes nationally, so sitting out the majority of the game won’t help.
• Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee: The Vols’ defense was a wrecking ball during a 52-20 win over Western Kentucky, forcing five first-quarter turnovers. McCullers did not do anything all that poorly, per se, though the monstrous (6-8, 351) lineman finished with only two tackles.
He continued to leave the field on third downs, in favor of Trevarris Saulsberry, and Tennessee head coach Butch Jones said Monday that McCullers has lots of work to do.
“Dan continues to be a work in progress,” Jones said. “He’s one of those individuals who needs to learn that your practice habits are critical to carry over to your game-day performance.
“He’s going through the same learning curve that John Hughes, the same maturation process that Derek Wolfe went through. They had great, great, great senior years, and we expect and demand a lot from Dan.”
It’s not unusual for a run-stuffing lineman to depart on passing situations. Still, NFL teams will have to make sure that McCullers — who lost 25 pounds this offseason — can hold up in the trenches for 16 games. So far, we haven’t seen it.
• Anyone associated with Southern Cal’s offense: WR Marqise Lee is plenty talented enough to justify a high pick based on his 2011 and ’12 seasons, plus what he’ll do at the combine and pre-draft workouts. There may not be much more tape to draw from, because Lee has been lost in the USC offensive wasteland so far in 2013.
Lee did manage to haul in eight passes in the opener at Hawaii, but regressed to seven grabs and a putrid 3.9 yards-per-catch average in a loss to Washington State.
The Trojans also have yet to use RB Silas Reed, who’s been dealing with an injury; and intriguing TE Xavier Grimble has all of 26 yards receiving thus far. USC may kick it into gear eventually, allowing some of these weapons to show off. But the results have been brutal to this point.