South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney finished his college career on a high note in Wednesday's Capital One Bowl.
He produced several quarterback pressures despite facing consistent double-teams/chip blocks and he also made a handful of plays against the run. I attended two South Carolina games this season -- the first and the last. There was a noticeable improvement in Clowney's conditioning and effort. He was gassed in that opening game and he was a complete non-factor in the second half. On Wednesday, he did the majority of his damage late in the game, collecting at least three pressures to go along with two tipped balls (one of which led to an interception) in the fourth quarter.
He made a couple of freaky plays that won't show up in the box score. In the first half, he had an explosive inside counter move and split two blockers to force a quick throw. In the second half, he utilized a stutter/bull rush to knock the Badgers' left tackle right back to the quarterback. He also showed off his burst/range by tracking down ball carriers from the backside.
While this was one of Clowney's best games of the season, there is still plenty of room for improvement. As a front-side run defender, he continually tries to swim (arm-over move) over the top of blockers instead of shooting his hands and holding the point of attack. Also, his awareness vs. down blocks is poor and he gets washed down the line of scrimmage too often. As a pass rusher, he doesn't really have much of a gameplan. He doesn't set up moves and he plays too high at times. He relies solely on his raw speed and power.
For those wondering if Clowney could play outside linebacker, I don't believe that would be a good fit. He has very stiff ankles and he struggles to change direction in space. He was matched up with the Wisconsin tight end in the red zone and he looked like a fish out of water. He was called for a holding penalty and still gave up the touchdown.
I do believe Clowney has the most potential of any player in this draft class. He has a rare combination of size, length and explosiveness. He is just scratching the surface of what he could ultimately become as a player. His overall performance this season might have failed to meet the expectations of NFL scouts and personnel executives, but I do believe he achieved the main goal he set for himself during his junior campaign -- stay healthy. Mission accomplished.
Now the debate will begin about where he lands in the upcoming NFL draft. I don't know if he'll go No. 1 overall (Houston is desperate for a quarterback), but I will be very surprised if he isn't the first defender to be picked.
Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.