No Room For Clowns On Atlanta's Improved Defense
Fans of the Atlanta Falcons should not think for one second that the team will either use the sixth overall pick or trade up to draft South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney in May. He would be a wasted pick, and I don’t think the Falcons front office would bring a potential headache into the organization.
During the 2014 NFL Combine, Clowney expressed his desire to play for the Falcons.
"I wish they could trade up for me," Clowney told ESPN.com after the Combine. "But I hope I don’t fall to No. 6. I like Atlanta – a lot. They’re pretty good. They’ve got some guys from South Carolina on the team, also. And it’s close to home."
I shouldn’t dismiss Clowney completely. After all, he is the man who jarred the ball – and the helmet – loose from Michigan RB Vincent Smith during the 2013 Outback Bowl. He also put on an great performance at the Combine in Indianapolis, minus his pedestrian 21 bench press reps. The former Gamecock ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds (official time), which makes him as fast as 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick. Clowney also jumped 37.5 feet high and dominated the broad jump with a length of 10-4. Now that’s a freak of nature.
From an athletic standpoint, I don’t see the problem with Atlanta trading up to grab him. Clowney had a great junior year and was awarded for his play by joining the All-American team in 2012. He recorded 54 tackles, 13 sacks and three forced fumbles. Should he miraculously fall to the Falcons at six, Clowney would be a steal.
Unfortunately, five other teams are slated to pick ahead of Atlanta. Out of the first five teams to choose in draft, the Texans, Jaguars, Browns and Raiders can all use a marquee pass rusher. I strongly believe that unless the Falcons trade up into the Top 5, Clowney will be out of reach. Even if Atlanta does trade up, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the team will take him. The Falcons need more offensive linemen as well and by trading up, they’ll have a better shot at landing either Greg Robinson or Jake Matthews. They'd be better off choosing a lineman anyway.
Clowney is not a good fit in defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s scheme. He is more of a 4-3 DE where his primary job is to disrupt the backfield. I don’t recall Clowney dropping back to cover the flats or receiving tight ends. Atlanta may not convert to the 3-4 base defense after all, but Nolan will still add more looks to the multiple defense, where the unit can shift between at least those two formations. DEs and LBs in that type of scheme must be able to drop back into coverage, learn the terminology behind the different schemes, stop the run and rush the passer. It takes brain, athleticism and manpower to succeed in the multiple defense, or as Nolan would call it, the “amoeba defense.” The only thing Clowney would be able to do well in that system is penetrate the offensive line and get to the backfield. I don’t know if he’ll grasp most of the responsibilities and terminology. Thus, he should not be a Falcon because he won’t be a good fit personnel-wise. Someone like Khalil Mack or Anthony Barr is more likely to adapt and flourish in that scheme than Clowney.
Also, Clowney’s lackluster senior season can drive teams away. He only had three sacks in 2013 and missed time due to minor ailments. The sporting world began to question his desire to give his all afterwards, but legal trouble didn’t make things any better. Clowney got slapped with two speeding tickets in December, and he started his collegiate career by being accused of robbery. To top it all off, South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier is not impressed with Clowney’s work ethic.
“It [Clowney's work ethic] was OK,” Spurrier said to NFL Network. “It wasn’t like Marcus Lattimore, you know, every player is a little different. But when the ball’s snapped, he’s got an explosion like you’ve never seen before.”
That statement alone indicates that Clowney plays when he wants to play and seems to not care about putting in the time to grow as a player. When your own coach questions your work ethic in practice, teams should think twice before signing you. I’m sorry, but Spurrier pretty much told the world that Clowney is not worth the top pick. I don’t blame him either. The quote, along with the speeding tickets and poor 2013 season, are enough to make the Falcons want to look the other way. Atlanta has been built on hard work and great citizenship, so drafting Clowney just doesn't make sense.
With that being said, I hope the Falcons spend more time beefing up the offensive line or add a key piece to the multiple defense on Day 1 of the draft. Let the other five teams fight over who gets to sign Clowney and see whether or not he ends up becoming a bust.