There's no denying the talent that South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has showcased the past two seasons.
An astonishing physical specimen at 6'6" and 256 pounds, the Rock Hill, South Carolina native has become an All-American in only two years, and his superb pass-rushing ability has been the catalyst for South Carolina's defense.
But after the unfortunate injury suffered by former teammate Marcus Lattimore, Fox Sports reported that Clowney has been considering taking out an insurance policy in case of injury. And for an athlete of his caliber, that is very understandable.
But what is not understandable is suddenly considering sitting out in 2013 simply because he does not want to risk injury en route to the NFL, where many general managers have him pegged as a top-five draft pick in 2014 and even in 2013 were he eligible to do so.
NFL columnist Michael Silver of Yahoo!, as well as several other journalists, wrote that Clowney should challenge the three-year rule in court, which states that high school players wait at least three years before declaring for the NFL. Tom Sorenson of the Charlotte Observer wrote that Clowney should consider sitting out the 2013 season to avoid the risk of injury.
Both ideas are unnecessary, and should fall on deaf ears to many, including Clowney himself.
While many will first argue that sports like baseball and tennis can have players younger than Clowney playing for them, and that basketball, even with their one-year rule—which has its own upcoming debate as a result of the recent ACL injury to Kentucky forward Noel Nerlens—can have young players earning top dollars quickly, the NFL is a different monster.
As physical a specimen as Clowney is and was out of high school, he is still growing into his body and would be a boy in the NFL. Clowney and many collegiate athletes get by in high school, because the competition is often smaller and less physical than in college and the NFL. Clowney got by with this and his speed off the edge. But in college, as good as he is, even he realized his speed rush is not a 100 percent guarantee.
Take, for instance, the hit he had against Michigan that forced this fumble:
As big a game-changer as this hit was, notice how he came free and unblocked. This takes nothing away from Clowney, but any football player with a head of steam could have made a hit like that unblocked. And when he was matched up with a competent offensive tackle like Michigan's Taylor Lewan, who is an All-American in his own right, Clowney had no answers. He came away from the Gamecocks' last-second win over an inferior 8-5 team with only five tackles and a forced fumble while notching zero sacks.
And the tackles in the NFL only get meaner, stronger, tougher and smarter. And Clowney is not always smart with his pursuits in pass rushing, and against LSU, a game where stopping the run was essential, he was a non-factor, and got out-manned against three freshmen who started on LSU's line that night in Baton Rouge. He needs to improve his repertoire of moves outside of his speed rush.
What would sitting out a year prove? It would not only make his skills as a defensive end rusty, but it would put doubt into the scouts' head with an empty year. The NFL is a "what have you done for me lately?" league. Sure, Clowney could show up in great physical shape, but would he properly utilize those tools after a year off?
In the NFL, Clowney could get hurt in preseason games and be lost for extended periods. With the care that NFL players have today, Clowney won't be missing the field too much, and unlike Lattimore, he's shown he can hold up for a full season.
So why take a break now? He's only hurting himself if he does so. Siting out a year is a difference of a few million dollars he could have in that signing bonus, which is really the most money guaranteed in an NFL contract next to guaranteed money.
And as for challenging the three-year rule, one of the last to do so, including USC receiver Mike Williams and Maurice Clarett, tried to challenge this rule and were unsuccessful. Have we heard of them since? Some big splash they made, as they thought themselves to be good enough to enter so soon.
And there's no guarantee Clowney could make the kind of transition expected of him. What if he's drafted by a team that plays the 3-4 and has to make the transition to outside linebacker? It's a move that many defensive ends find it takes time to adjust to, especially with the expanded responsibilities that come with the position, and it would be a transition for Clowney who has played with his hands in the dirt for all of his playing career.
This kind of debate is much better suited for why NCAA athletes aren't paid. Now that argument fits much better here as opposed to why Clowney should hire lawyers or sit out a year. Clowney will save himself the unnecessary drama by just dealing with his possible insurance policy and training to play in 2013 and keep his stock up for 2014.