Clowney is smart to stay in school

Jadeveon Clowney is a freak. He was arguably the best defensive player in the country last season, will be a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate to start the fall, and would probably be the No. 1 pick in this year's NFL draft.

With all that freakish ability South Carolina's tremendous defensive end has, you have to feel sorry for him -- and the NFL -- because he can't jump the college ship early and take his game to the pros. Well, unless you're a South Carolina fan.

This week, Tom Sorensen of The Charlotte Observer wrote that Clowney should think about skipping the 2013 college football season and prepare for next year's NFL draft. Per NFL rules, a player isn't eligible for the NFL draft until he is at least three years removed from high school. If Clowney skips his junior year, he avoids injury and can get his body in even better shape for next year's NFL combine and South Carolina's pro day. It's the safe route, and it would probably guarantee Clowney to be at least a top-five pick in 2014.

But Clowney later laughed at the idea of him skipping what will likely be his final season with the Gamecocks (he'd be absolutely crazy to return for his senior season). He actually tweeted (@clownejd) that he isn't thinking of skipping his junior year.

"I'm playing lol," Clowney tweeted.

Steve Spurrier then told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he hopes "he plays this year" and believes "he should play" this season.

The bottom line is Clowney is coming back, and that's the smart move by Clowney. Sure, seeing teammate Marcus Lattimore lose his first-round status after shredding his knee last fall might have sent the thought of going the safe route rattling around Clowney's brain, but no one gets into football for the safe route. Well, unless you're a kicker.

Clowney made a huge jump from Year 1 to Year 2. Last fall, he was second in the SEC in sacks (13) and tackles for loss (23.5). And he nearly beheaded Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the hit heard round the college football world that is still dominating the SportsCenter's Best of the Best play. It's unfair to him that he has to stay in school, that the SEC has to deal with him and that the NFL can't have him, but he's wise to play one last season of college ball.

He doesn't have a ton to gain with one more year, but he isn't the perfect player. He still has some on-field growing he could do, which NFL GMs would love to see. It's no secret that Clowney wasn't always the most consistent player on the field in 2012, and this is a chance for him to play with a killer motor all season. It's a chance for him to deal with more attention coming his way, and a chance for him to evolve his game just a little bit more before he takes off to richer pastures.

And let's not forget that Clowney is also a student. Sure, academics are pushed down on the priority list in the public eye when it comes to major college athletes, but spending another fall in the classroom is a good thing for Clowney as well. Laugh at the term "student-athlete" all you want, but everyone needs a backup plan ...

He wouldn't fall out of the top 10 if he skipped his junior year, and a major injury could knock him down considerably, but going full steam ahead in 2013 is the way for Clowney to go, as he looks to be the top pick in next year's NFL draft.

Let the "Collapse for Clowney" campaign begin!