Long before all of his six feet six inches and 270 pounds met Vincent Smith in the backfield in the fourth quarter of the Outback Bowl, creating a buzz that has launched an entire Heisman Trophy campaign, Jadeveon Clowney was a star. The hit itself made him a superstar, but if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, he was likely on that path to begin with.He was the consensus No. 1 recruit in the nation in 2011, and after pledging to Steve Spurrier and South Carolina, he led SEC freshman in sacks with eight. Last year, he was —despite Manti Te’o’s fantastic season— arguably the most dominant defensive player in the country long before he made his presence known in Michigan’s backfield.
NFL Scouts looked at him and saw a generational prospect. They saw a kid with a combination of size, speed and raw ability coming off the edge that makes quarterbacks sleep with a night light.
That’s right, before Jadeveon Clowney ever sent Vincent Smith’s helmet flying, single-handedly reversing the course of an entire football game on one play, the Gamecocks star had already been tabbed as the greatest defensive end prospect since Bruce Smith.
Then, it happened.
He was a 45-time “Best of the Best” champion on SportsCenter, he won an ESPY for “Best Play” and, basically, the entire process for Jadeveon Clowney going from certain Top Three pick in the 2014 NFL Draft to household name was accelerated by about 12 months.
In two years, Jadeveon Clowney went from being a high school senior—albeit a high school senior with a man’s body and a penchant for hurting quarterbacks—to bonafide star. On PTI, they debated whether or not Clowney should sit out the season to avoid injury given his certain status as a top draft pick.
The conversation eventually led Clowney to take out an insurance policy protecting future earnings loss against injury for up to $5 million. The policy not only insured that Clowney’s future was taken care of, it also assured that we’d get to see the game’s most dynamic player (sorry, Johnny Manziel) on the field in 2013.
I don’t know that there’s much left for Jadeveon Clowney to prove. At least not in the eyes of NFL scouts.
Clowney is a once-in-a-generation player at defensive end, and while some of us have the temerity to use such an audacious phrase several times in a generation, I don’t think it’s ever been more applicable than it is now. Jadeveon Clowney is to rushing quarterbacks as Peyton Manning was to being one.
When you’re 6-6 and you weigh 270 lbs., you’re not supposed to be able to run a legit 4.5 second 40-yard dash. When you can, you’re not supposed to be freakishly strong.
Jadeveon Clowney is all those things, and so many more that can’t be measurably defined. He’s the combine freak, the guy with the stats and the man who pops out on tape all bundled into one.
Because of what we saw in January—because of what he did and how he did—we all know how to spell Jadeveon Clowney’s name. He went from recognizable to unforgettable in the instant that he sent that winged helmet flying.
However, don’t for a second think that Jadeveon Clowney is a highlight clip.
Jadeveon Clowney is the whole damn reel.