NFL decision makers are not much interested in talking about players who aren’t on their rosters, and certainly not about players who aren’t participants at this year’s NFL Combine.
Still, the specter of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is here this week if only in the background of the main fray at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The question of whether Clowney might be better served by sitting out his junior season has been a national topic since an out-of-state columnist suggested there is little practical reason for a player who is widely expected to be the top pick in next year’s NFL draft to risk an injury while playing as an amateur.
Two NFL general managers asked this week about the Clowney conundrum declined to address the player but address the theory.
“Any player that you are evaluating, I think from a competitive standpoint, you want to see the guy participate,” Arizona Cardinals GM Steve Keim said. “That’s as simple as it is. Obviously, everybody has different circumstances, but I think you want to see the guy compete.”
Even so, Keim would not go so far as to say he would downgrade a player simply because he chose to sit out a season. First-year Carolina Panthers GM Dave Gettleman agreed.
“I learned a long time ago, you don’t judge people unless you have all the facts,” he said.
Clowney has tweeted that he plans to play and posed this past week in his Gamecocks uniform for pictures made by several publications.
The question itself angers Gil Brandt, the longtime player personnel director for the Dallas Cowboys and now an analyst for NFL.com.
“I think it’s the stupidest thing that I have ever heard of in my life,” Brandt said. “First of all, in modern medicine, I don’t care what happens to the guy, if he gets hurt, he’s going to be back playing. I just think it’s stupid, I really do.”
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay felt obliged to investigate the question in the leadup to the draft, he said.
“The consensus is it would be looked upon unfavorably,” McShay said. “Everyone keeps asking me, ‘What’s the advantage of him playing?’ The motivation should be just competing and going out and trying to win every week. To me, you have to finish what you set out to do and, least of all, show NFL scouts you are a competitor. I know I would start to have a lot of questions about him if he didn’t play this year.”
Clowney was named a consensus All-American this year after setting the school’s single-season sack record with 13.
“I’m sure it’s hard,” former South Carolina center T.J. Johnson said. “I’m not in that situation so that’s all on him. I’m sure it is a difficult situation. Can Clowney play in the NFL (right now)? Yes. Does he have things he needs to work on? Yes.”
Devin Taylor, who played opposite Clowney last year on the defensive line, hasn’t talked to his former teammate, he said, but would try to talk him out of sitting out if he heard that was being considered, he said.
“I think he’ll play this year,” Taylor said. “I would tell him, ‘This is a team sport. You could help us win possibly a national championship.’ Not playing would be a selfish act.”
Marcus Lattimore’s draft stock was hurt this year when he suffered a significant knee injury against Tennessee, but he doesn’t believe that incident should give Clowney any pause about returning to college football.
“He can’t miss a season of football because of the way he is. He loves football,” Lattimore said. “He loves the game. He’s not going to do his team like that. I know he’s going to play this year. He could do it, but I feel like it’s not a good move for him. “
Tennessee offensive lineman Dallas Thomas, part of a group that had relative success stopping Clowney this season, tore his labrum during practice for a college all-star game and was not able to work out here this week. Still, like Lattimore, he thinks Clowney should play.
“I think he should play because it’s college; you don’t get college back,” said Thomas, his right arm in a sling. “I am glad I went to Tennessee and I stayed. You don’t get those days back and those are the best. He’s a freak. He’s got everything, just got to stay healthy.”