Clowney's numbers low, but NFL stock still high

South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney on the sidelines during the game against Arkansas Saturday October 12, 2013 in Fayetteville.
South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney on the sidelines during the game against Arkansas Saturday October 12, 2013 in Fayetteville. Special to GoGamecocks.com

The staggering statistics are a thing of Jadeveon Clowney’s past, but it’s not going to have much effect on the staggering NFL contract he will receive next year.

That’s the prevailing opinion as Clowney’s South Carolina career nears its close. The junior defensive end has seen a dramatic drop in his production this season, but ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said Thursday, “He’s still No. 1” as a professional draft prospect.

“My attitude would be, unless you need a quarterback or a great left tackle, you take Jadeveon Clowney,” Kiper said.

Clowney, who set school records with 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles-for-loss last season, has two sacks and 6.5 tackles-for-loss this season. The school’s career sack record of 29, set by Eric Norwood between 2006-2009, was considered an inevitability at the beginning of the season but remains six sacks away.

“He’s still there,” Kiper said when asked if Clowney is regarded as the draft’s top prospect. “He’s right there. It’s hard to go through a brick wall, and that’s what teams are doing to him this year. They are walling him off. All the great players are targets. You can scheme to try to neutralize what they are doing.”

UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr and Texas A&M left tackle Jake Matthews are the other players in the mix for the top spot, Kiper said.

Clowney leads the Gamecocks with seven quarterback hurries.

“He knows he has left (sacks) on the field,” South Carolina defensive line coach Deke Adams said. “Everybody can see that, but at the same time, nobody would have thought people would put two and three people on him on a consistent basis. That has a lot to do with it.”

Five NFL executives were asked anonymously by NFL.com this week if Clowney’s dramatic statistical drop off is a minor or major issue in his draft evaluation. All five agreed it was a minor concern.

“He’s proven his ability to get to the quarterback,” one person said. “He’s, maybe, not as clean of a prospect as he was before the season, but I still think he’s going to be a stud in the NFL.”

However, more than one of the executives suggested Clowney should expect questions about the subject and about his motivation this season.

“Ignore the dip in production. He impacts the game in a drastic way. My only concern is his makeup,” one said. “We’ll get more answers in that area after we meet with him and do all of our background work.”

Clowney is coming off a particularly quiet game against Mississippi State, in which he totaled three tackles.

“He could have played better, and he knows that. He admitted it right after the game,” Adams said.

Clowney still is playing hard, Adams said.

“Sometimes, playing hard gets him in trouble in certain situations when he tries to make extra plays,” Adams said. “He’s playing hard, and we are winning. That’s the thing that he’s worried about right now.”

Florida’s offensive line has surrendered 26 sacks, the third-highest total in the SEC this season.

“We’re going to have to do a lot of things with (Clowney) in the pass pro(tection) game, whether it’s double-teaming him or stuff like that,” Gators offensive guard Jon Halapio said. “The tackles are ready to go against him this week. They have a chance to establish themselves as a football player against a future first-rounder.”