ROCK HILL SC - FEBRUARY 14: Jadeveon Clowney announces his college football commitment to the University of South Carolina Gamecocks along side his mother Josenna Clowney during a press conference at South Pointe High School on February 14 2011 in Rock Hill South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The signing of Jadeveon Clowney has understandably been met with shouts of joy from Gamecocks fans everywhere. With Clowney coming in widely regarded as one of the best overall prep prospects in years, many have ventured to say that he'll will make an immediate All-SEC-type impact. Travis Haney even went so far as to say that Carolina might have won the SEC when it signed Clowney, and it's safe to say that a large portion of the fan base agrees.
Is one player really going to have that kind of impact, though? I'm going to say that while there's good reason to be optimistic, there's also good reason to be a bit more soberly realistic in this case. Why? History, my friends.
Let me introduce you to four players: Ronald Powell, Devon Kennard, Da'Quan Bowers, and Carlos Dunlap. What these players each have in common is that they were the top-rated DEs in their respective classes. Powell was also, like Clowney, the top overall recruit in his class. Bowers, also like Clowney in this regard, was considered a once-in-a-generation DE. All were considered absolute blue-chip recruits.
However, neither Powell, Kennard, Bowers, nor Dunlap dominated in their freshman seasons. This isn't to say that none of them made big impacts; all saw significant playing time from the very beginning, and considering that Powell, Kennard, and Dunlap play / played for Florida and Southern Cal, that's saying something. However, none of these guys were recording double-digit sacks in their freshmen seasons. Dunlap and Bowers did eventually become dominant players; Bowers, as you know, recorded 15 sacks last year and will likely be a top-five draft pick soon. Powell and Kennard are likely on their way to that level of play. It took them time to get there, though.
All of this is to say that DEs don't usually play like All-Americans in their freshman seasons. Clowney may be different, of course. He certainly appears to be as likely to make an immediate impact as any player at his position ever has. But I'll be very impressed if in his first year he manages to provide a suitable replacement to his predecessor, a guy named Cliff Matthews who was pretty good in his own right. If as a freshman he can be as good as Matthews was as a standout senior, he'll be doing pretty darn well. I wouldn't be surprised if it takes him until his sophomore and junior seasons, though, before he's the kind of All-American player he's capable of becoming.