For the past two seasons at South Carolina, Jadeveon Clowney has been the most dominant defensive player in the nation. The immensely talented defensive end is a game changer and even when he is not racking up stats, he is having a major impact on what opponents do offensively, forcing them to adjust to him and having to plan on his presence on every play of the game.
Projecting to the NFL, Clowney is an incredible example of form meeting function. He has immense physical gifts but combines them with technique that allows him to be a disruptive force. Clowney knows how to win with speed, power, and quickness, giving opponents fits on trying to predict what he is going to do on a given play. He is a dominant pass rusher and a terrific run defender and has the ability to terrorize opponents with all he brings to the table. The areas he can work to improve are his stamina and working to make sure he stays consistently low with his pad level. Clowney is the player in this draft when it comes to the defensive side of the ball and warrants the #1 overall pick. Not only is Clowney an elite prospect but he is a once in a generation type player and he can be as good as he wants to be in the NFL.
Vitals & Build
Clowney is listed at 6’6” 274lbs and he is the prototype defensive end. He has remarkable strength, speed and agility for the position. Physically, there does not appear to be anything he cannot do. He has great feet and impressive body control that allows him to make others look like they are in slow motion. His acceleration is excellent and there is little to suggest he will not continue to get bigger and stronger as he keeps progressing in his career. The focus for Clowney in addition to just continue to develop his body is working on his overall stamina just so he can increase the number of plays he can execute at an incredibly high level. With all he can do already, the best use of his time is just making it so opponents have to deal with him more often.
Snap Anticipation & First Step
Clowney does a great job anticipating the snap and can beat opponents off of the ball when he is ready to go and engaged. He is always trying to get a jump on the snap as he starts from that four-point stance. Occasionally, he will end up being about half a beat late or get caught jumping early, but he is extremely dangerous right from the get go.
His first step is impressive and he covers a lot of ground, is extremely confident in his step and dictates what is going to happen immediately. Clowney can step right at the opponent, attack up the field or immediately shoot inside. He does not care what the opponent has planned and will make them adjust to what he is doing, because even if he is wrong, he is athletic enough where he can make it right.
When Clowney gets tired, he tends to stand up more out of his stance, which can get him in trouble. Because he is so tall, when he gets too tall, he makes for a huge target for opponents to block. If they are running the ball, they have the ability to catch him under his pads and drive him back. On pass plays, he just gives them a big target to punch and slow down when he is trying to go up the field.
Clowney is able to win defeat opponents with speed, quickness, and power. He has quick, heavy hands that allow him to use violent moves to defeat opponents, can beat them with raw athleticism or speed. Clowney is able to win in a number of different ways confidently and that sheer fact alone may play into why he is able to win so often. Opponents are unable to get a beat on what Clowney is going to do in a given play and if they guess and guess wrong, he will get by them and blow up the play.
Clowney plays within the scheme, but he is going to make the opponent adjust to what he is doing. He is going to execute his job within the scheme, but makes the game of football look so simple. Clowney sees where the ball is and goes after it.
For example, on a play where he is crashing inside, he will crash inside even if the opponent is running behind where he is going to go. Clowney just works to beat the opponent to their spot, slips inside and chases the ball carrier down.
Clowney can hold up at the point of attack, but will get himself in trouble in situations where he plays too high. He makes it easy for opponents to get into his body, under his pads and able to drive him off of the ball when he is at a disadvantage. Beyond that, he can stack and shed, crash the play and make an impact tackle. As big as he is, he is quick enough where he can slip inside before the opponent is able to get a hand on him and blow up the back in the backfield, hitting with a ton of power and potentially causing a fumble.
Clowney is a tremendous pass rusher, because of the sheer number of ways he can impact a play. This year, he was less productive on the stat sheet but a lot of that was simply teams working their offense to try to eliminate him from the game, which was a frustration for him.
Clowney is able to generate pressure in a number of different ways. His quickness and speed make him viable to attack both inside and outside while doing a nice job of using his arm to keep the opponent out of his body. Clowney can try to continue to get more flexibility in his ankles and be able to bend around the edge and flatten out to the quarterback more efficiently. Nevertheless, his acceleration, body control and closing speed make him a force that can get to the passer quickly.
Clowney will use a bull rush and it can be effective, but he can work to make it better. The biggest issue he will run into is when he stands up and plays too tall, so he is not generating as much power as he would if he were delivering a rising blow. It still ends up being effective and between his strength, leg drive and arm length, he is able to walk opponents backward and collapse the pocket.
Clowney does a nice job of using his hands and has two versions of a swim move he really loves to use. He has the traditional swim move where he presses the open shoulder and swings his arm over the top while shifting his body in a violent maneuver. Clowney will also use a more subtle version, where he still presses the shoulder, but he just lifts his arm and elbow over the head while pressing up the field. There is much less movement involved, so it ends up being quicker and more efficient.
The fact that Clowney will use so many moves makes him so difficult to predict and there was an element of terror when it came to opponent he was playing against the past two years in college. Offensive linemen were extremely concerned with all he could do and too often would guess in hopes of getting it right and neutralize him as they were not confident enough in what they could do to stop him. Too often, they would miss and he would be free to make a play. This will not be there for him in the NFL at least initially. He will have to show he can have that type of effect on more confident and competent opponents.
The element he has on opposing passers is not going away. There have been quarterbacks who have come out and admit the fact they were worried about Clowney and it shows in their play. They rush reads, force throws and look to get rid of the ball quickly in hopes of avoiding him and trying to take him out of the game. That can put the ball at risk and potentially lead to turnovers.
That fear factor will have to be earned again in the NFL, but with all he can do, it should not be long before he establishes that reputation again. With his size, strength and ability to hit opponents, he is everything that opponents fear coming from the blind side. Once he is in the head of opposing quarterbacks, he and his team have a huge advantage.
Clowney is a great fit as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme and has shown he can attack from both sides, but appears to be more comfortable on the right. He steps in immediately as the guy and is looking to make an immediate impact both against the pass and the run.
While it looks unlikely he will end up in that system, Clowney could certainly play as a 5-technique defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Ultimately, he would far better off playing in a one gap scheme as opposed to a two gap scheme, but he could play in either one. His length, strength and athleticism makes him a terrific fit on the edge there and if it is a one gap scheme, he still gets to attack on the edge.
And like he has done for the Gamecocks, he can kick inside and play a rush tackle in certain situations. He is comfortable attacking inside and if a team wants to load up on pass rushers, he can play inside and let them put smaller, more athletic edge rushers into the game.
The best comparison for Clowney might be Bruce Smith of the Buffalo Bills and a small stint with Washington. Smith came out and was the #1 overall pick in the 1985 draft out of Virginia Tech and dominated the league for the better part of two decades. Smith was not quite as tall as Clowney but was about the same in terms of his weight and his ability to dominate the game. Smith was a dominant edge rusher for the Bills for 14 years as a 4-3 end, but he was still able to record 10 sacks in his first season in Washington in a 3-4 scheme as a 5-technique end. The key for Clowney in addition to staying healthy is just how bad he wants to be great, because he has the ability to be an all-time great player.
Jadeveon Clowney has been the apex predator in college football for the past two seasons and now he looks to carry that over into the NFL. Physically, he is incredibly special with his speed, strength, quickness and body control, but he is as dominant as he is because he comes that with technical prowess and working to maximize that physical ability. He can work on staying lower with his pad level, improving his stamina and getting better with how well he can bend around the edge, but Clowney looks read to make a huge impact right out of the gate. Clowney warrants the #1 pick in the draft, but should be the first defensive player off of the board and has the ability to be as good as he wants to be in the NFL.
Some of the film used for this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com