Georgia coach Mark Richt said on Monday that South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney "might be the very best player who exists today at any level." Is Richt out of his mind or could he be on to something?
Clowney might not even be college football's bestJadeveon Clowney is one of the most talented prospects I've seen in my 19-plus years around the NFL, but he is not the best player in all levels of football. In fact, I'm not convinced he is the best player in college football based on the remarkable impact others like Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Marqise Lee make for their respective teams.
Now, I certainly understand the hype surrounding Clowney's game (I added to it with my column last week comparing him to Julius Peppers and a handful of Pro Football Hall of Famers), but let's keep things in perspective. Although he totaled 13 sacks a year ago, he didn't lead the nation, much less the SEC, in that category.
Of course, I'm not trying to dismiss Clowney's talent and potential, but a lot of the conversation surrounding his game is strictly off his potential. Until he gets to the NFL and fully realizes the potential many are projecting, we should keep our proclamations about his greatness tied to the college game.
Richt was pulling our legsFor any sanity to join a discussion of Mark Richt's comment that Jadeveon Clowney might be the best football player on Earth, regardless of level, we must begin with this premise: Richt was kidding. As I mentioned in a post about the topic Monday, coaches are just as famous for loose praise of opponents as they are for downplaying how strong their own teams are.
This is a classic example, albeit one with the praise spread thick enough to nauseate. More so than any defensive lineman in recent college football memory, Clowney enters a season with a reputation as being so utterly unblockable that he is, frankly, out of place in the college game. It is as if he has passed the SEC test with an A-plus, is being told to re-take it as a junior, and won't be challenged until he reaches the NFL. All that might be true, but comparisons to other NFL players don't fit yet, either. And Richt knows it.
Praise is wildly prematureHmmm, why do I think that if Georgia and South Carolina weren't annual rivals Richt wouldn't comment at all on Jadeveon Clowney? And Mark Richt certainly isn't going to badmouth an imposing opponent, not with South Carolina as the second game on the Bulldogs' schedule. There's no question Clowney potentially is an NFL star, but having potential and living up to it are two vastly different things. Let's see how Clowney does this season, against Georgia and the Gamecocks' other opponents, and then in the NFL for a few years before we start talking about him being the best player "at any level."
Richt has alterior motivesSorry, Mark Richt, but even if Jadeveon Clowney records 50 sacks this season and rips Tajh Boyd's heart out of his chest and shows it to him in a loving tribute to Mola Ram, it is way too soon to declare the awesome South Carolina defensive end the best of anything. I know why Richt did it, to make a Georgia win over the Gamecocks on Sept. 7 seem that much more impressive or to excuse a loss (the Bulldogs got stomped, 35-7, last season), but that doesn't mean anyone else has to take the bait. In an age of instant debate -- Twitter, news cycles that burn through a story in five minutes, and the rest -- a little patience and reflection isn't going to hurt Clowney's reputation. In fact, it might even make us all appreciate him that much more.