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NFL Draft Under The Microscope: South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney

Leading up to the NFL draft on May 8-10, Shutdown Corner will examine some of the most interesting prospects in the class, breaking down their strengths and weaknesses.

Jadeveon Clowney
Defensive end
South Carolina
6-6, 266 pounds
2013 stats: 40 tackles, 3 sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble
40-yard dash: 4.53 seconds

The good: Clowney has been in the spotlight since high school, when he was Rivals’ No. 1-ranked recruit coming out in 2011. Locally, he had been a legend since grade school — no joke. And when this born-to-be-great freak of an athlete notched eight sacks, including two in the bowl win over Nebraska, and was named SEC Freshman of the Year, the hype grew even further. When Clowney capped off his sophomore season with the hit heard around the world, this helmet popper against Michigan, his stock went supersonic.

But Clowney had to return to school because of the NFL’s three-year waiting period for underclassmen, and he had only one place to go. But even in an underwhelming junior season, production-wise, the elements of dominance are clearly on display. Forget the talk of triple teams last season — didn’t happen. But other things did: Doubles, slanted protections, offenses going quick game, running away from Clowney (see especially Georgia and Missouri games), chips from backs and tight ends and Clowney perhaps caving slightly from the enormous pressure bestowed on him. Which, of course, only would magnify if he’s the No. 1 pick. But we’re talking about a rare horse here.

The bad: Clowney has his backers, yes, but it’s concerning when his head coach Steve Spurrier — caricature as the old ballcoach might be — gives his player tepid support publicly much of the time. Clowney missed some time with injuries that some have deemed to be minor ones; we’ll likely never know how hurt he was, or wasn’t. On the field in 2013, Clowney wasn’t a finisher, and he too often was blocked effectively one on one by prospects below the elite level, such as Clemson’s Brandon Thomas (a second- or third-rounder before tearing his ACL) and Mizzou’s Justin Britt (a late-rounder). Clowney is the definition of a spurt player, so his production could be sporadic on the next level — three sacks one game, then three games without one. But box-score scouting is and always will be a dangerous and incomplete game.

The verdict: Some have whispered that Clowney is entitled and selfish, although there’s no real tangible proof of this. And really, if he was thinking about himself last season, can you completely blame him? It’s a double-edged sword: Scouts want players who give every ounce of effort, but if Clowney was — even subconsciously — playing with some reservation or hedge in his game last season in order to protect himself, can you blame him? Some will.

Clowney is an elite height-weight-speed prospect, a once-or-twice-a-decade physical specimen who could use a little grit under his fingernails. He might not be a 12-sack producer from the instant he steps onto an NFL field. But he will be a type to impact games, and teams will be well aware of his run-and-chase ability as well as his versatility and disruption. Clowney causes quarterbacks to speed up their throws, flush the pocket and alter their deliveries, and that alone gives him tremendous value to a defensive coordinator. He can be lined up on either side, in multiple techniques, and we saw with his blistering combine and pro day workouts that he has the hips, quickness, speed and fluidity to be used as a linebacker, if a team so desires. This is a special player who, with the right guidance and pushing, could be truly special.


Previously Under the Microscope
USC WR Marqise Lee

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Jadeveon Clowney turns in another impressive workout at South Carolina pro day

South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney might be doing enough to convince the Houston Texans that he should be the No. 1 overall pick.

After stellar NFL combine workout, Clowney shined again on Wednesday at his pro day with his tempting blend of speed, power, agility and versatility.

One of the notable things on display at the workout, which was heavily attended by NFL heavyweights — including Texans head coach Bill O’Brien and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel — was his movement skills in linebacker drills. Scouts asked Clowney to stand up, and he moved very well up as well as down in the D-line portion of the workout. That might be enough to convince the Texans to make him the top pick.

As for the specifics, Clowney weighed in at 266 pounds — the same as he did six weeks ago at the NFL combine. His Wednesday workout didn’t include the 40-yard dash or the bench press, but those were not needed. Instead, he ran a battery of drills that wowed scouts and coaches alike, including Crennel and Jim Washburn, both of whom worked him out on the field.

One drill involved Clowney standing broad jumping over seven bags. Another involved him running the horn and picking up tennis balls along the way, showing off his edge-bending skills, agility and balance. Impressive stuff. Check it out:

Even after that, though, the Texans were not surprisingly keeping their future plans close to the vest.

A pro day workout won’t, and shouldn’t, be a deciding factor in a vacuum of whether a team should draft a player. But if this was the icing, the Texans just might have a cake waiting for Clowney on May 8. (Or something like that.)

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Carolina Panthers have been gutted at wide receiver, so where do they turn now?

We have chronicled what the larger significance of cutting Steve Smith means to the Carolina Panthers in an earlier post, and we stand by the notion that Smith was let go — and paid handsomely while being shuttled out the door — for non-football reasons primarily. 

But we now can sit back and try to make sense of what the Panthers’ vision is for the immediate future. It’s difficult to process as things stand currently.

[Be sure to check out Shutdown Corner's NFL free-agent rankings. Click here for the list of offensive players, and click here for the list of defensive and special teams players]

The Panthers now have watched their top four receivers from a year ago walk away this offseason. Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn and Domenik Hixon all have new teams. That’s a combined 156 receptions, 1,983 yards and 15 touchdowns. That represents 53.4 percent (receptions), 58.7 percent (receiving yards) and 62.5 percent (TD passes) of Cam Newton’s 2013 production. Those receivers also combined for all but 55 yards and four catches of the receiving production in the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

Greg Olsen is back. He was the Panthers’ leading receiver at tight end a year ago. Running backs Mike Tolbert and DeAngelo Williams combined for 53 catches and 517 yards and three TDs receiving a year ago. After that, it’s scraps. Not another receiver still on the roster caught a pass last season.

Here’s what’s left at wideout: Marvin McNutt, Kealoha Pilares, Toney Clemons, Tavarres King, R.J. Webb, Brenton Bersin. Combined career NFL statistics of the six men: 29 games played, five catches, 83 yards, one touchdown.

Hakeem Nicks got away for one year, $ 3.5 million. He said the Panthers’ offer didn’t stack up to that.

Is GM Dave Gettleman planning on running the ball every play?

There remain some options out there:

• Free agents such as James Jones, Miles Austin, Sidney Rice, Santonio Holmes and others remain unemployed. The Panthers can be thrifty and perhaps sign one or two, hoping one of them goes for a “prove it” deal and can step in as one of Newton’s first or second options. That approach landed the Panthers safety Mike Mitchell a year ago (oh yeah, he also got away this offseason … for $ 5 million guaranteed, replacing him with aged Roman Harper) and might be the way they go here.

• The draft clearly will be focused on wideouts, and thankfully for them, it’s one of the deeper classes in memory. There should be a good player for them at No. 28 overall, and there might be starting-caliber talent lasting into Round 4. But the Panthers also need major support in the secondary, where they lost Mitchell and Captain Munnerlyn, and on the offensive line, where three players retired, including Jordan Gross.

• The Panthers also will be on the lookout for veteran help, we assume, through the preseason. That depends on what they are able to do in the draft and how the group shapes up in training camp, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if they add to this position as late as after final cutdowns.

What must Newton be thinking right now?

We believe he was fine with Smith going. Their relationship had run its course. Smith challenged Newton to be a better leader, and Newton occasionally rankled at that. But to lose so much receiving talent and blocking depth threatens to throw off the cohesion of the offense.

Gettleman tied his own hands when Hardy was tagged and immediately signed his one-year tender. That was a $ 13 million road block. But Gettleman also botched the Smith departure on several levels, let Mitchell walk for fairly cheap and also watched several free agents the Panthers liked (such as Nicks and offensive tackle Anthony Collins) get away for reasonable dollars. 

Tough pill to swallow so far for Panthers fans, who were just getting used to the idea of their team being a contender after a 12-4 season.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Carolina Panthers trying to trade Steve Smith, could end up releasing him

It might be the end of an era for the best player in Carolina Panthers history.

Shutdown Corner can confirm the report of NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport that the Panthers are trying to trade wide receiver Steve Smith, the franchise leader in receiving yards and playoff touchdowns, who has played with the team since it made him a third-round pick in 2001.

[Be sure to check out Shutdown Corner's NFL free-agent rankings. Click here for the list of offensive players, and click here for the list of defensive and special teams players]

Smith is due to make $ 7 million next season on a contract he signed (under former GM Marty Hurney) believing it would keep him a Panther for life. That isn’t likely now.

The Panthers likely will release Smith if they can’t trade him. Hurney has been replaced by Dave Gettleman, who was wishy washy at the scouting combine about Smith’s future, as was head coach Ron Rivera. Smith has said he is not ready to stop playing.

At 34, Smith is coming off a season in which he caught 64 passes for 745 yards and four touchdowns. For his career, he ranks 25th in NFL history with 836 catches and 19th all-time with 12,197 receiving yards. His entire career has been with the Panthers.

On Monday, the Panthers removed the sale of Smith’s jersey from their website.

In what might have been his final game as a Panther, Smith returned early from a strained PCL injury a few weeks earlier to score a first-half touchdown and gain 74 yards in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

If Smith were to be released, keep in mind the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots as possible landing spots. Smith is close with Chargers head coach Mike McCoy and WR coach Fred Graves, and the Patriots are famous for reviving veterans’ careers. Smith also might not pass on the chance to play within the division with a chance at retribution twice per season, if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons or New Orleans Saints came calling.

Smith has been upset with the lack of communication between the Panthers’ front office and his agent. He has not heard what the team’s plans for him have been, only getting news of his future through media reports.

Although Smith and Gettleman met last week to “clear the air,” according to people familiar with the meeting, little was accomplished in that brief session.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Carolina Panthers place franchise tag on pass rusher Greg Hardy

Just as news of the salary cap going up had some of the top free agents — and fans wanting their teams to add more top talent — getting excited, reality has started to set in.

First came Jimmy Graham, and now it’s Greg Hardy’s time.

Hardy will receive the dreaded franchise tag from the Carolina Panthers, which will severely restrict his chance to land a big, free-agent deal elsewhere. That said, the Panthers almost certainly will want to keep Hardy in tow and will try their best to sign him to a long-term deal, with the tag giving them a little more time to negotiate — even with their limited cap space.

If they can’t sign Hardy long term, the one-year tender figure for defensive ends is projected to fall between $ 12.4 million and $ 12.6 million.

Hardy, 25, is coming off his finest season to date, with 15 sacks in 2013, one year after an 11-sack campaign. The 6-foot-4, 290-pound Hardy was a sixth-round pick out of Ole Miss in 2010 and clearly has earned a big raise. His fellow end, Charles Johnson, is scheduled to make more than $ 16 million in a deal green-lit by former general manager Marty Hurney.

With new GM Dave Gettleman running the show now, the team has protected its best asset. The Panthers have cleared cap space on multiple fronts in recent weeks and appear to have the room to sign Hardy long term, even if a few more moves are coming to help do that.

The colorful Hardy has been making the media rounds since the Super Bowl, no doubt in an attempt to raise his profile — and perhaps his price. But Hardy has said that he’d be willing to take a hometown discount, provided the Panthers’ offer was at least in line with what other teams might pay him.

At the very least, he has a hefty tender offer on the table, but there’s little doubt he’ll be holding out for the big (guaranteed) money for a long-term deal.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Carolina Panthers seem unsure if receiver Steve Smith will be back

INDIANAPOLIS – Steve Smith was 34 last season, and his play made it seem like the end might be getting close.

Carolina’s top receiver had 745 yards and his yards-per-catch average plummeted to 11.6, down 4.5 yards from 2012. He is due $ 4 million in base salary for the Panthers, who have repeatedly said this offseason they are “cap challenged.”

All of that has led to the Panthers being noncommittal when it comes to Smith’s future with the team in 2014 and beyond. Carolina coach Ron Rivera said he was “not quite sure” when asked if there was a scenario in which Smith wouldn’t be back.

“It’s all about the evaluations,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “We have got to look through everything.

“Steve is part of who we are. We’ll go from there.”

When asked about impending free agents Jordan Gross and Greg Hardy, Rivera expressed a lot of probably unrealistic optimism that both would return, so he wasn’t lukewarm about other players returning.

The Panthers might be hopeful that Smith will restructure his deal. It’s hard to believe the Panthers would get rid of Smith considering how few receiving weapons they have for Cam Newton. Smith might be aging, but he’s still the best they have.

“Again, we’re going through the process. We have to see,” Rivera said. “He’s a veteran guy that has played a lot of games for us.”

Smith has been with the Panthers since 2001. It’s hard to imagine him playing anywhere else. It’s especially hard to see the Panthers moving on considering they’re struggling to find a reliable No. 2 receiver, much less someone who can be Smith’s successor as their top option. But the Panthers are apparently considering all their options.

“We’re going through the whole process,” Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said. “Steve’s had a great career. He really has. None of us are here forever.”

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will not hold out to obtain new contract

Quarterback Cam Newton’s positive attitude epitomizes why he deserves a new contract.

Newton is eligible for a contract extension for the first time since he was drafted in 2011 by the Carolina Panthers. Despite being Carolina’s franchise quarterback, he does not intend to hold out in hopes of obtaining a new contract.

“Absolutely not,” Newton told ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio on the Dan Patrick Show.

Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson recently said he would not eliminate a holdout to receive a new contract this offseason, but Newton believes his situation is different.

“I think our positions are completely different,” Newton said (via PFT). “Being the leader of this team, I don’t think that would be a good look for me. Not taking anything away from Patrick, he’s an unbelievable player, and an elite corner in the league. But there’s some things cornerbacks can do that quarterbacks can’t.

“I’m not worried about contract discussions right now. My main focus is just becoming the better player I can become.”

Newton has improved, and it may benefit Carolina to lock up its quarterback now before another strong season increases his asking price.

Last season, Newton led Carolina to its first playoff appearance since the 2008 season. Newton had 3,379 passing yards, 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, plus 585 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. Overall, he has 11,299 passing yards and 64 touchdowns, while adding 2,302 rushing yards and 28 rushing touchdowns.

Newton is slated to earn $ 3.378 million in 2014, the final year of his contract. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford signed a three-year extension worth $ 53 million prior to last season, which will likely be the starting point of negotiations between Carolina and Newton.

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Anwar S Richardson is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at NFLAnwar@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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San Francisco upends Carolina to reach another NFC championship

CHARLOTTE – You let Colin Kaepernick run around long enough, he’s going to cause you some serious problems. On Sunday, Kaepernick and the 49ers shook off an erratic first half to defeat the Carolina Panthers 23-10. San Francisco now advances to face Seattle in the NFC championship.

Cam Newton and the Panthers had the 49ers in check for most of the first half of Sunday’s divisional playoff. But when they needed scores the most, the Panthers couldn’t push the ball in from the one yard line. On two separate occasions, the Panthers had the ball within fall-forward distance of the end zone, and scored a grand total of 3 points.

The 49ers, meanwhile, took advantage of the Panthers’ overexuberance and some advantageous referee calling to scramble to a 13-10 halftime lead, and from there it was Kaepernick’s show. He began San Francisco’s first drive of the second half by driving 77 yards, a drive capped when he called his own number for a touchdown and extended San Francisco’s lead to 10 points.

Newton, meanwhile, had the kind of insanely frustrating game that will give his critics an entire offseason’s worth of fuel. He was erratic but occasionally exceptional in the first half, and team-killing in the second. Nowhere was this more apparent than late in the fourth quarter, when Newton had marched the Panthers deep into 49er territory before throwing a backbreaking interception to Donte Whitner.

For Carolina, this will lead to an offseason of frustrating questions with few answers. What went wrong with this team that finished the season 11-1 and hotter than any in football? Is this a Super Bowl-quality team, or one that has maximized its potential?

For San Francisco, the concerns are much more immediate: how to beat Seattle in seven days.

Jay Busbee is a contributor for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter.

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Carolina Panthers’ Steve Smith downgrades himself for matchup with San Francisco 49ers

An offensively limited Carolina Panthers team really could use wide receiver Steve Smith on the field Sunday in their playoff matchup against the Sam Francisco 49ers.

But Smith said Thursday that he had a minor setback in coming back from a knee injury he suffered against the New Orleans Saints in Week 17. Smith told Fox’s Peter Schrager that things didn’t go as well in practice Thursday as they had Wednesday.

(An aside: That’s a pretty precise estimation there, Steve. Never let it be said that you are not our favorite quote.)

Smith was limited in practice according to the team’s official injury report, and even head coach Ron Rivera agreed that Smith wasn’t quite his same self, per the Charlotte Observer’s Jonathan Jones.

Smith hasn’t been the same deep threat this season he has in Cam Newton’s first two seasons but remains an important cog of the Panthers’ offense. Defenses still roll coverage his direction, and the team has looked a little disjointed offensively at times when Smith is not on the field.

Smith has caught a touchdown in all but two of his eight postseason games with the Panthers in his career, and he has totaled 47 catches for 782 yards and seven touchdowns.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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CBS Week 17 NFL Preview – Carolina At Atlanta

Pete Prisco, Pat Kirwan and Adam Aizer share their thoughts on the Week 17 Panthers-Falcons NFC South matchup in Atlanta.

NFL Gridiron Gab