There has never been an NFL draft prospect quite like Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney is 6-foot-5 and runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash. His arms are 35 inches long, and his 266 pounds are almost entirely muscle. His freakish physical attributes make Julius Peppers look like an ordinary guy.
Clowney’s athleticism is indisputable, and for anybody to question it is ludicrous—his collegiate success made it clear what he is capable of doing with his physical gifts—but it is entirely fair to question Clowney’s intangibles, such as his motivation, dedication, personality, and injury risk. These are all valid concerns.
After a phenomenal 2012 season at the University of South Carolina, in which the underclassman sensation registered 54 tackles, 13 sacks, and two forced fumbles, Clowney, ineligible for the NFL draft as a true sophomore, returned for his junior season. He missed two games with two different injuries, and experienced dramatic decreases in all major defensive statistical categories, dropping down to totals of 40 tackles and a mere three sacks. His total tackles-for-loss dropped from 23.5 to 11.5.
Some speculators explained Clowney’s junior-year drop-off by claiming he was “playing it safe”; not wanting to get injured before the NFL draft. He had already made his mark as a sophomore, now it was just a matter of staying healthy.
Some people call that approach smart; most people call it cowardly, selfish, or undedicated.
Then there is the question of Clowney’s durability. After three notable injuries in college that cost him three games, Clowney’s entrance into the pros has been no less painful. He has yet to play a whole regular season game for the Texans and has already suffered a rib injury, sustained a concussion, and is now nursing a torn lateral meniscus, which has cost him most of his rookie season so far.
With the injured knee, Clowney is expected to make his return in week five or soon thereafter. Unfortunately, Houston’s bye is not until week 10, so Clowney will have missed a game every week until his return.
With only 11 games to work with at most, it is unlikely that Clowney will register double-digit sacks in 2014. The neighborhood of six or eight is a more reasonable prediction, assuming Clowney lives up to his abilities and stays off the injury report.
If Clowney eclipses 10 sacks, it would be impressive, but not necessarily surprising. When healthy and committed, Clowney has the potential and ability to be the most dominant defensive player in the NFL—which is frightening considering that his teammate, defensive lineman J.J. Watt, has a legitimate claim to that title already.
Houston did not draft Clowney first overall to be pedestrian, or even just good; they drafted him to be a legend; to combine with Watt and Brian Cushing to create the most formidable and intimidating front seven in the NFL for years to come. All things considered, Clowney may be off to a slow and disconcerting start, but the potential for NFL greatness is unquestionably there.
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