For the most part, I try to stay away from proselytizing on behalf of Heisman candidates. In generally, I try to be laudatory of the special talents of each of the players competing for this coveted trophy. If I’ve ever come across as poo-pooing a candidacy, it’s usually because I am trying to provide a clear-headed, honest assessment of that player’s chances given the realities of the situation.
I am now heading into my 10th season of breaking down the politics of the race for the most prestigious award in sports. Each year, without exception, I get asked about the odds of a pure defender actually winning the trophy and, without exception, that answer has always been: Slim to none.
But there is little doubt that 2013 provides a unique opportunity to, once again, explore this question.
South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney is receiving more Heisman hype heading into a season than any defensive player that I can remember. Some people are actually predicting he is going to win. Now, don’t get me wrong. I still think his chances of coming out on top are slim and none. But, like everyone else, I’m curious to see if he can make history and prove me wrong.
In that spirit, I’m going to try to put Mr. Clowney on a level playing field in this race. One of my criticisms of the idea of defensive players as Heisman candidates is that they are not judged by the same standards by which we judge other candidates. If a quarterback or running back doesn’t produce, he is generally expelled from the race. But the impact of defenders on the game is so vague in the minds of most media, they are rarely held accountable for poor or middling performances.
To that end, I will review Clowney’s performance each week and give him a grade so that we can truly judge whether he is playing up to the level of a Heisman winner.
Here are the categories that I will measure:
1. Solo tackles
3. Tackles for loss
4. Fumbles forced
5. Fumbles recovered
9. Percentage of assignments filled
10. Number of times ‘chipped’.
11. Number of times double teamed
13. Number of times triple teamed
14. Number of times single blocked
15. Number of times not blocked
16. Percentage of run plays run away from his side
18. Total plays
19. Critical plays (game on line, momentum changers, etc)
20. Skill set of players attempting to block him on a given play (graded 1-5, 5 being best)
As a controlling tool, and for contextual purposes, I will also apply these metrics to the play of Stanford’s All-American candidate OLB/DE Trent Murphy who, at 6-foot-6, 265 pounds, is close to Clowney’s size and a very talented player in his own right. That way we can compare Clowney’s exploits to another high quality defender playing a similar position/role.
Each week, I’ll have their Defender Rating (with Murphy, starting after Stanford’s first game on Sept. 7) so that we’ll have a number by which we can measure their impact on each game. As far as I know, this is the first time this has been attempted.
With this rating, I hope to more accurately assess whether Clowney is, or isn’t, the game’s most outstanding player.
Let the chips fall where they may.