Print and Go Back ESPN.com: SEC [Print without images]

Monday, January 27, 2014
The SEC's 25 best players: No. 15

By Chris Low

Even though his numbers dipped this season, this next guy in our countdown was still one of the more dynamic defenders in the SEC.

No. 15: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina, Jr.

2013 summary: Clowney led the Gamecocks with nine quarterback hurries and was second on the team with 11.5 tackles for loss, including three sacks. He was a first-team All-SEC selection by both the Associated Press and coaches.

Most recent ranking: Ranked No. 1 in the 2013 preseason countdown.

Making the case for Clowney:The expectations for Clowney weren't realistic this season. After the hit heard round the college football world to end the 2012 season, Clowney's legend grew to mythical proportions, and nobody was going to be able to live up to that hype. To be fair, he helped take that hype to another level by talking about what all he was going to do this season, and once again he was guilty of taking plays off. Nonetheless, his presence on the field and the way teams avoided him was a big reason the Gamecocks finished 12th nationally in scoring defense and 19th nationally in total defense. Pro scouts will tell you that Clowney was the most schemed-against defender they've seen in recent memory at the college level, and that attention helped create opportunities for other players. In league games this season, he was sixth among SEC players with 8.5 tackles for loss. But, then, the way he impacted games and impacted what an opposing offense could and couldn't do went far deeper than mere stats. And with Clowney on the Gamecocks' roster, they enjoyed unprecedented success with three straight 11-win seasons. An early entry into the NFL draft, Clowney finished his South Carolina career with 24 sacks in 24 career starts. It may be a while before we see a pass-rusher in this league again with the size and physical gifts of Clowney, whose closing speed on the quarterback was downright scary.

The Rundown:

No. 16: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU, Jr.
No. 17Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri, Jr.
No. 18T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama, So.
No. 19: Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU, Jr.
No. 20Cody Prewitt, S, Ole Miss, Jr.
No. 21Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn, Jr.
No. 22Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama, Jr.
No. 23Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State, Sr.
No. 24Kenny Ladler, S, Vanderbilt, Sr.
No. 25E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri, Jr.