Clowney will try to buck DL Heisman trend

Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

Is there a Heisman in this man's future?

South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is being talked about as a Heisman Trophy contender in 2013 after a sixth-place finish in last year's voting, but the history of defensive linemen in the Heisman voting has not been good.

In the last 25 seasons, 31 players have had multiple top 10 finishes in the Heisman vote. None of them have played defense.

In that time, only 29 non-skill position players have appeared in any form, with six getting an invite to New York and only two finishing in the top-3.

D-Linemen in Heisman Voting
Since 2000

It seems all but certain that Clowney will be the first defensive player to finish in the top 10 of Heisman balloting in back-to-back years since Ohio State linebacker Chris Spielman did so in 1986 and 1987.

Clowney will have to improve his already impressive numbers to differentiate himself from past defensive linemen who have fallen short.

Ndamukong Suh in 2009 was the last defensive lineman invited to New York, with momentum from a 4.5-sack performance in the Big 12 Championship Game carrying him. His numbers in 14 games were nearly identical to what Clowney did in 12 games last season (13 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss).

Great stats are no guarantee.

Western Michigan’s Jason Babin set the FBS record with 32.0 tackles for loss in 2003, and Arizona State’s Terrell Suggs set the sacks record with 24.0 in 2002, yet neither player ended up in the Heisman Top 10.

What each of the Heisman-top 10 defensive linemen had in common was a steady improvement as they got older and Clowney saw the same improvement in his two seasons.

Clowney made a big jump from 12 tackles for loss as a freshman to 23.5 as a sophomore, and from eight sacks to 13.

If he can add to his numbers with the same big jump this season, he would finish with 18.0 sacks and an FBS record 34.0 tackles for loss. Another six forced fumbles would give Clowney 14 for his career, which would tie the FBS record.

With a competitive team behind him and more highlight-reel plays in line with the Vincent Smith hit, Clowney could be headed to New York with a chance to win.