March 08, 2009

Jimmy Clausen: The Ultimate "Outlier"??

Finally got around to reading Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers, in the last couple weeks. Interesting stuff as always from him. Anyway, his opening chapter about the hockey players born in January being the most successful in their sport got me thinking something about the ND football team. I think his theory makes a lot of sense. If you are older in your class than your peers, there is a physical and psychological advantage throughout your childhood. I think everyone can think of someone from their grade school who dominated in middle school sports because he had an older birthday and was more physically and mentally mature than the other kids in his class. Everything sort of builds on itself. An older kid might get more playing time and more attention from coaches. Suddenly that kid is brimming with confidence that carries with him through the rest of his athletic career and gives him a mental edge over his peers. It makes some sense, and I bet studies would show similar results in other sports besides hockey.

Isn't Jimmy Clausen the perfect example of this theory?? Clausen was held back a year in grade school and also started kindergarten a year late. Think about his athletic life for a bit:

Clausen was born September 21, 1987, so he entered kindergarten at the age of 6 and turned 7 within a month of starting school. For point of reference, I was 5 when I entered kindergarten and didn't turn 6 until April. Clausen would have been almost a year and a half older than your average kindergartner. Could you imagine a 7 year old playing peewee football against 5 year olds?? Think about how much confidence you would have playing against kids two years younger than you at all times. Is there any doubt that his age probably had a huge impact on his athletic career??

Clausen also repeated 6th grade, which meant that he turned 16 in September of his freshman year. Clausen was able to drive in the first month of his FRESHMAN year! That's amazing! I didn't have a driver's license until the end of my sophomore year. That's not necessarily an athletic advantage, but it's still pretty cool. It's kind of nice to always be the first to do something in your class, and he was the first to do things by over a year. You could say there's maybe even a social advantage to being the first to do everything.

Clausen graduated high school at the age of 19 in December 2006. He is going to turn 22 this year in September, and will be 23 for most of next year's college football season. That's amazing to me. If he had actually redshirted in college, he would have been 24 for his 5th year of football.

Clausen's parents essentially "redshirted" him as a kid. Isn't that how you would describe it?? He started kindergarten a year late (heck, there are there were probably kids in his class who turned 5 in September or October and were actually two years younger than him) and repeated 6th grade. Isn't he pretty much the textbook example of Gladwell's "Outlier"?? His age probably gave him a substantial advantage as a kid in athletics, and that carried with him throughout his career. Playing against younger kids probably gave him a ton of confidence that still benefits him to this day. And now he's the starting QB at Notre Dame and probably headed to the NFL someday. I wouldn't be surprised if Gladwell's book prompts a "child redshirt" trend, and I also think you'll see more and more people trying to plan out pregnancies to give their kid a leg up on the school calendar.

Now obviously you need to have the athletic ability to get as far as Clausen did, but I think Gladwell's theory makes sense when applied to Clausen. If he hadn't always been older than his peers, would he have made it all the way to Notre Dame?? Maybe he would have made it either way, but I think there's something to that theory. If your kid is older than his peers, he's probably going to have an advantage in sports. I definitely think his age contributed to his reputation as "The Lebron James of High School Football." Clausen has been decent thus far and could still end up being a great one, but he hasn't lived up to the ridiculous hype at this point. Clausen came to college about as polished as you could get for a quarterback, but some of his weaknesses (athletic ability, pocket instincts, mobility) have caught up to him now that he's been playing against better and more mature athletes. That doesn't mean he can't be a great player at ND. He's still got a great arm and great accuracy, and he's going to be one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the nation. Even if he doesn't turn out to be the next John Elway, it still doesn't mean he's a bust or anything like that. If he ends up having a Danny Wuerffel type career, I certainly won't call that a disappointment.

As mentioned earlier, Clausen will be turning 22 this year in September. 22 is the age that most kids graduate from college. In other words, his junior year is the equivalent of a lot of senior years for other 22 year old football players. If Clausen has a big year and ND goes 10-2 or better, are we going to be at risk of losing him to the NFL after this year?? If he comes back for his senior year, he would be 23 heading into the NFL Draft in April of 2011 (and really he'd be closer to 24 by that point). Would it hurt his draft stock by then if he's that old by the time he entered the draft?? I wonder if NFL teams would view him as having less potential or something like that.

One good thing for ND fans on this front is that the 2010 NFL Draft appears to be loaded at the QB position. If Clausen declared for the draft after this season, he'd be entering with Bradford and McCoy and Tebow. That's a fairly good group already, and that's before you take into account the other surprises that usually emerge over the course of a football season. Clausen would be joining a pretty loaded QB draft if he left after this year, so maybe that would deter him from declaring. Maybe he'd be the signature guy in the 2011 NFL Draft if he waited another year.

Obviously all this discussion is premature since Clausen hasn't really proven at this point that he's even an NFL quarterback let alone someone who is going to enter the draft early. However, I do think the stars are aligned for him to have a big year and for the Irish to get back on the map with a 9-10 win season or more. If that happens, I guess it's possible that Clausen would consider going to the NFL considering his age. Then again, 2010 would be looking like a year where we could make a national title run, so hopefully Clausen would stick around and come back for his senior year.


Tim said...

If he does well this year, he will be eligible. Throw Tebow out of that QB scramble. Every NFL scouthas maintained that he is not NFL caliber for a QB. Clausen will stay untl he graduates. The bigger question is can he beat out Crist this year?

Doug said...

Agree about Tebow. I don't consider him a viable top tier NFL quarterback prospect and have said as much on this site a couple times, but I do think his name adds to the perception that next year is a loaded QB draft. Bradford and McCoy are both first round type guys (maybe even top 5 guys), and you know there will be some random WAC/Pac 10/ACC quarterback who comes out of nowhere and becomes a household name by this time next year. Throw in Tebow, and there's a lot of big names at QB that might crowd out a guy like Clausen. Clausen would probably be taking a spot in line behind at least a couple of those guys, so that might deter him from thinking about leaving.

With that said, I do think Clausen's age will at least be a factor in his decision. If he is a projected first round guy next year, he might decide that it's time to go since he'd already be 22 years old. If he waits until he's 23 after his senior year (and he'd be 24 by his first NFL game), I could see a lot of scouts and Mel Kiper types pounding on his age as a negative. Even a guy like Leinart who stayed for five years at USC was still only 22 when he got drafted in the NFL.

Ultimately, I think Clausen has more to gain by staying four years and hopefully playing himself into one of the top NFL qb prospects, but I'm not ruling anything out.

As for your question about Crist, I'd be crazy to say that there's no way that debate will spark up this year. Probably unlikely, but I'd say there is at least a 25% chance that Dayne Crist is the starting QB for ND by the end of next year. That would probably be a bad thing for ND football though because it probably means that we had another bad year. I could only see that happening if Clausen just hasn't gotten any better and is still making the same mistakes. If Clausen still has the happy feet and turns his back from the pocket when he gets rushed (I've never seen a college QB do that as much as Clausen does) and throws the ball into double coverage, it probably means this team won't be all that good next year. We're completely dependent on QB play in the Weis offense. If we start losing to the Michigans and MSUs and BCs of the world (and even Nevada for that matter), there will be some clamoring for Dayne Crist (I'll include myself as a clamorer if that's word). Obviously, there will also be a lot more clamoring for Weis' scalp if it comes to that.

The Crist-Clausen QB controversy would only spark up if you think ND isn't going to be any good next year (which obviously could happen). If Clausen plays well next year and the team does fairly well, he's got nothing to worry about. If not, he might become one of the scapegoats for another disappointing year of Irish football.

kevin said...

I was an outlier. Peaked in 8th grade. Imagine a running back who ran no less than a 4'6" going up against linebackers who were shorter than him and had just re-learned to walk (let alone run) after growing 3 or 4 inches over the previous 2 months. Of course, I was balding before I left high school, so....
I still suffer from an overabundance of confidence, where none should exists.

Although, I didn't get held back because my mom wanted me to succeed in sports. When I went in to meet with the guidance counselor (or kindergarten coordinator or whatever they call them), they handed me a Bearenstein Bears book to read and I threw it right between the lady's eyes and started screaming like a caged chimpanzee in the corner of the room. Apparently I "wasn't quite mature enough," and should come back as a just-turned 6 year old.

valpodoc said...

I would agree to some of the comments except this: Often childhood sports are grouped by age not class. It may have been uncomfortable for JC to show up for peewee football as a first grader when all the others are in second grade.
Also, think Rivals or Espn will somehow try and calculate this into prospective recruits? Is it always an upside?

ne said...

I think the important factor that we seem to be forgetting is the confidence element of beating up younger kids. If you have talent (which Clausen obviously does), and you can maintain that confidence when matched up against equal competition... you'll have the slight edge. Personally, I doubt Clausen thinks about how old he is. I would hope he is more concerned with things that interest the rest of his peer group - football, xbox, beer and babes.

I really dont think there is any disadvantage to being older at this point. Maybe... when he is 35 and has been in the NFL for two years less than the average QB it might come in to play, but until then it is only a good thing.

tednict said...

I don't believe we will have a Clausen/Crist controversy, unless Clausen doesn't produce for the Irish this season. In that event, we will see Crist.

Wouldn't it be good for the Irish to see Crist under center to give him experience should Clause go down to an injury?

Kalc said...

I don’t see the logic of how this has anything to do with Clausen’s decision to stay or turn pro early. One or two years won’t make a difference. I would think that most general managers would want to see consistency, leadership, and focus over more than one season if Clausen wants to be a first day draft choice. I think some NFL teams would view him as being more mature. Were not Michael Vick and Ryan Leaf very young? Not to mention if he stays and helps to bring Notre Dame back to the top his marketability would be off the charts. I don’t think all the “Mel Kiper types” are idiots. They know that if someone has the potential to help an NFL franchise both on and off the field (because marketing is also a big part of the picture) they will get compensation and ample opportunity to prove themselves. The NFL looks at things a little differently. Not even a Heisman trophy guarantees success on draft day. Charlie Ward was young, but undrafted. I believe Ty Detmer was about 25 years old when he was drafted, and Chris Weinke was nearly 30 years old when he finished college and was drafted. Although Roger Staubach was drafted at 22 he was for all practical purposes really drafted at age 26 or 27 because all the teams knew he had a Naval commitment to honor first. Jimmy’s age is not an issue. The issue is can he be a leader and master a pro-style offense. If he can master Charlie Weis’ offense, believe me, every general manager knows what that means, and everyone will take notice