Mike Crocker

Next In Line: Replacing Jadeveon Clowney

Created on Apr. 25, 2014 5:31 AM EST

He's been called a freak, a "once in a decade talent," and potentially the No. 1 overall pick in this year's 2014 NFL Draft according to ESPN's draft expert Mel Kiper. That's right, this week's edition of "Next In Line" focuses on the who will replace South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

Many people became familiar with Clowney's ability during his sophomore season with the Gamecocks, when Clowney helped lead South Carolina to a solid 11-2 record and became arguably the best defensive college football player in the country. If making hits on the field wasn't enough for critics, he sure was accumulating even more hits on the internet when his smash-mouth defensive tackle on Michigan running back Vincent Smith went viral, collecting almost five million views on YouTube.

Everything seemingly was on the rise for Clowney heading into his junior season, and some even think he would have been a top draft pick if he had been eligible to declare for the NFL Draft after his sophomore year. Surprisingly that following year his statistics were considerably lower in each category. He dealt with many minor injuries that caused him to miss a few games, but those same critics who praised him one year earlier were now drawing concerns over his work ethic and commitment to the game of football. So far Clowney has declared for the NFL Draft, shown us his potentially game changing athletic ability is for real, and that his work ethic on the field might be a concern as well. NFL general managers will be scratching their heads all the way to the draft, and we will just have to see which version of Clowney's game he will bring to the NFL.

Given that resume, and a name like Clowney's that might even be a household name at this point, who in their right mind would want to fill the shoes left by arguably one of South Carolina's most memorable players?

Well, a 6-foot-2, 267-pound defensive lineman named Gerald Dixon, who went to South Pointe High School with Clowney, might have to carry out that responsibility for the Gamecocks in the 2014 season.

Dixon showed a lot of progress at the end of 2013. Even though he only started one game, he appeared in all 13 in some capacity and that playing time increased as the season went on. He accumulated 17 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss, and an impressive fumble recovery against Blake Bortles and UCF. His low center of gravity might be an asset for Dixon penetrating the offensive line, but I’m sure if he does earn the starting position when the Gamecocks open their 2014 campaign against the Johnny Manziel-less Texas A&M Aggies (August 28), he'll need a couple of games to adjust to taking on a full-time load.

The only competition I can see that would take away playing time or starts from Dixon is Darius English, who was Clowney's direct backup last season. His 6-foot-6 frame is favorable, but he lacks the sufficient weight to bring it all together, which has critics and coaches alike a bit skeptical. There have been reports that English has put on weight to dismiss those worries, but according to early reports Dixon is still the man listed No. 1 on the depth chart.

Whoever takes on Clowney's role as the impact defensive player for the Gamecocks, he'll have a lot to live up to and a constant onslaught of comparisons. Some might see this as a disadvantage, but for other players that might just be the motivation needed to become even better.

The motivation for Dixon? After both Clowney and him left the same high school, Clowney was the top overall prospect in the entire country with plenty of scholarship opportunities. Dixon, however, ranked way down the list and only received one FBS offer. Maybe all Gerald Dixon needs now is to get another one of those chances, and if it can get him out of Clowney's shadow, it might make for some added incentive.

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