After two seasons of enduring a multitude of injuries and related surgeries, perhaps we'll finally see Jadeveon Clowney deliver on the significant investment the Houston Texans made in him duriing the 2014 NFL Draft. The burning question is if these injuries were an anomaly of unfortunate circumstances that just happened to compile one after the other very early in a young player's career, or if it is indeed a pattern that will continue forward throughout his future.
Jadeveon Clowney is Really Good
Jadeveon Clowney is Really Good
Gregg Rosenthal provided this "Making the Leap" article on NFL.com that points out how Clowney performed quite well last season even while plagued with some durability issues in 2015. The article suggests that the young Houston linebacker, just 23 years of age going into his third season in the NFL, may make a huge leap forward in 2016.
I can already hear the war drums of the Khalil Mack camp in the distance, so I'll include this quote from the article to really fuel the enduring debate on who the Texans should have drafted that year:
ProFootballFocus' numbers support his underrated campaign, ranking him second among 3-4 outside linebackers (behind only Khalil Mack) as a run defender. He finished sixth in "stop percentage," a sign that Clowney was making stuffs near or behind the line of scrimmage.
Finishing behind Khalil Mack in any measurement certainly serves to stoke the argument that the Texans should have taken the more traditional 3-4 outside linebacker, who ended up with the Raiders as the fifth overall pick, but Houston uses Clowney in many situations to create the mismatch they need, and that plays to Clowney's strengths:
Even Clowney's position feels misleading. His outside linebacker listing ignores how often his hand is in the ground as a 4-3 defensive end. He even occasionally lines up as a defensive tackle and looks comfortable rushing from the inside, too quick and powerful for opposing guards. The trick has been staying on the field to show off that power.
When at full strength, Clowney has shown incredible flashes as a dominant defensive player in the league, but sometimes he's delivering the grind in the trenches, which is most often a blind spot for the media's highlight reel:
Players don't get drafted No. 1 overall -- or appear on prime-time shows -- for their run defense. That's why Clowney's emergence last season as a world-class run stopper was slept on by the masses. Clowney doesn't shed blockers; he tosses them.
Clowney's snaps on NFL Gamepass reveal he had a much bigger impact than box scores showed. The 6-foot-5, 266-pounder flashes uncommon strength and aggression to push blockers backward. He sets the edge like a man 25 pounds heavier. He pursues the ball from a play's back side with a zeal usually reserved for guys who get the "hard hat" or "lunch pail" cliché treatment from announcers. (The ultimate sign of grittiness: You wore a hard hat while carrying a lunch pail.)
When asked to occupy two blockers, Clowney can hold opponents at bay like he's Vince Wilfork. Don't even try to send a tight end his way: He will embarrass the worst of them and regularly beat the best -- just ask Rob Gronkowski. His Week 14 showcase against New England was instructive. He also displayed the quickness to get around a double team on the way to two sacks of Tom Brady.
Clowney isn't kicking off "Making the Leap" because we think he's due for better luck. There are positive signs he's adjusted his approach. Once "frustrated" with his ability to fight through injuries,Texans coaches have lauded Clowney's professionalism more recently. Clowney enjoyed his first healthy offseason, getting necessary practice time to improve his technique with a "determined" attitude, according to Texans linebackers coach Mike Vrabel.
Clowney's injury history remains a red flag, but we chose to focus on the flip side. Clowney was a quality starter and played 13 games with very little practice time. Now he just needs to work on those pass-rush moves.
I encourage you to go read the full article; it includes some great embedded video (NFL protected content).
What say you, Texans fans? Is Clowney about to deliver on the expectations of being a "once in a generation player?" Is he just an above-average defender in the league? Or is he going to turn out to be an injury-plagued bust?
Vote and share your opinions in the comments below.