NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Jadeveon Clowney will finally be playing in the NFL this year. Former South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said Friday it could have happened four years ago and no one would have blinked twice.
Johnson was with the Gamecocks from 2008-11 and helped bring the mammoth defensive end to Columbia, S.C., where he racked up 24 career sacks and 47 tackles for loss to help lead the program to three consecutive 11-win seasons.
"You could have taken him his senior year, could have taken him up to Charlotte and put a Panthers uniform on him, slipped him in the ballgame on a third-and-10 about three times and nobody would have known he didn't belong out there," said Johnson, now the defensive coordinator at Auburn.
But before some enterprising attorney uses Johnson's remarks as Exhibit A to challenge the rule that players must be three years removed from high school to be eligible for the NFL draft, Johnson did add one major caveat.
"Could he have played a full game? I doubt it," Johnson said.
(Watch Clowney's high school senior highlights below and let us know in the comments section below if you agree with Johnson.)
The Tigers have their own phenom defensive end in freshman Carl Lawson (6-2, 258), a key piece of the defensive line rotation with 7.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and two forced fumbles.
Count Johnson, who has been coaching in the Southeastern Conference for 17 years, among those blown away by the number of impact players contributing right out of high school.
"It amazes me, too, it really does, because I was there when they changed the rule and everybody thought it would be stupid, and look at what's happening now," Johnson said.
Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.