In my NFL career, I was fortunate enough to play on the same teams as three Hall of Fame defensive ends (Derrick Thomas, Reggie White and Bruce Smith), but I've never seen a young edge rusher with the talent and potential of South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney.
Measuring 6-foot-6, 270 pounds with speed he claims to be sub-4.5, Clowney is an athletic marvel with phenomenal rush skills. He blows past offensive tackles with explosive first-step quickness, while also displaying rare balance, body control and burst around the corner. Most impressively, Clowney complements his dynamic agility and movement skills with a reckless style built on sheer strength and brutality.
With few pass protectors capable of handling such a remarkable combination of speed, athleticism and power, Clowney has collected 21 sacks over two seasons, including 13 in 2012. Additionally, he has forced eight fumbles in his brief career. Those numbers speak to the dominance and destruction Clowney has exhibited on the way to becoming the premier defender in college football.
Looking for a comparison to a current pro, I spent a lot of time consulting my notes on eight-time Pro Bowler Julius Peppers. As a scout with the Carolina Panthers from 2003-07, I watched the No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 draft develop into one of the most dominant pass rushers in NFL history with a game built on the things that make Clowney great: speed, athleticism and agility. Peppers routinely eluded and outmaneuvered offensive tackles with an assortment of finesse moves that left evaluators around the NFL in awe. Most importantly, he put up the kind of disruptive production (111.5 sacks, 37 forced fumbles and eight interceptions in 11 seasons) that transformed the defenses of the Panthers and later the Chicago Bears into dominant units.
In Clowney, several NFL scouts I've spoken to see a meaner, nastier version of Peppers. An NFC personnel executive told me that Clowney is "stronger and more combative" than the Bears Pro Bowl defensive end. An AFC scout familiar with both players described Clowney as "more natural and relentless" than Peppers at this stage in his career, and couldn't stop raving about his disruptive potential as an edge rusher.
When teams are drafting players at the top of the board, the goal is to land a difference-maker capable of turning around the fortunes of the franchise. Based on Clowney's size, talent and disruptive potential, there is little doubt the junior defensive end will be in the discussion for the No. 1 player taken, no matter when he decides to enter the draft.
Word on the Street
SEC tackles setting standard: Teams looking for quality offensive tackles should spend the bulk of their time scouring the talent-laden SEC. According to an NFC college scouting director, the conference boasts several offensive tackles with first-round potential, including Alabama's Cyrus Kouandijo, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Tennessee's Antonio "Tiny" Richardson. He described Matthews as "nasty, technician" capable of starting possibly four positions along the offensive line as a pro, while also raving about Kouandijo's potential as a "franchise-caliber" left tackle. However, it was the scout's effusive praise of Richardson that stood out most in my mind.
The veteran personnel man gushed about Richardson's massive size and strength, and how he overpowers defenders on the edge. He pointed to Richardson's performance against Clowney as a glimpse of his potential to develop into a premier offensive tackle at the next level. Although the scout expressed some concerns about Richardson's feet and lateral quickness as a potential left tackle, he believes the Tennessee star could be a difference-maker on the right side.
Seferian-Jenkins a 'bigger, more athletic' Gronk: The DUI arrest and conviction of Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins will lead scouts to dig deeper into his background, but it shouldn't drastically alter his draft grade heading into the season. An NFC personnel executive familiar with Seferian-Jenkins views the incident as one that merits serious research but not one that would prevent the junior tight end from retaining his high status as an elite prospect, especially if he shows contrition and takes steps to avoid similar missteps in the future.
Of course, part of that evaluation stems from the fact Seferian-Jenkins is a big-bodied pass-catcher with remarkable ball skills. He rewrote the Huskies' single-season record for receptions and receiving yards for a tight end with 66 grabs for 850 yards and seven touchdowns. Those marks speak to his dominance on the field, while also highlighting the potential that has scouts intrigued about his prospects at the next level. When I asked an NFC scout to compare Seferian-Jenkins to a current pro, the scout called him a "bigger, more athletic Rob Gronkowski." He went on to tell me that Seferian-Jenkins' imposing frame will create problems for defenders in the passing game, while his "gritty" demeanor could make him a force on the edge as a run blocker. Given the lack of headliners in the 2014 tight end class, Seferian-Jenkins -- ranked No. 41 on Daniel Jeremiah's Talented Top 50 -- could retain his spot at the top of the charts despite a troubling off-field incident.
Fales' stock on rise after summer camps: The growing buzz surrounding San Jose State QB David Fales will continue to grow as scouts begin to hear about his strong performance at quarterback camps over the summer. Fales won the accuracy challenge at the renowned Elite 11 camp a few weeks ago over a talented crew of quarterbacks that included Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Tahj Boyd. While those tricked quarterback competitions are drastically different than game competition, the fact that Fales didn't look out of place making "pro" throws under the watchful eyes of his more heralded peers says a lot about his poise under pressure. Additionally, I had several coaches associated with the camp, including free agent NFL QB Jordan Palmer, rave about Fales' arm strength, accuracy and ball placement.
When I relayed that information to an NFC scout familiar with Fales, he described the San Jose State star's arm strength as "average on tape," but went on to praise his accuracy, awareness and ball placement based on his evaluation from the film. He told me that he believes Fales would be an ideal fit in a West Coast offense that places a premium on accuracy and timing. Although height remains a possible concern (Fales is listed at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, but I would estimate him a notch above 6-foot-1 based on standing next to him a few times at the Elite 11 event), the fact that Fales might possess all of the tools as a thrower could make him a viable option as a potential franchise quarterback.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.