After an immensely disappointing campaign the previous season, the Houston Texans used their 2014 first overall draft pick on South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney battled injuries in his three years at South Carolina, but the Texans hoped he would be able to come into the league and play at a high level immediately. Expected by many to be a once-in-a-generation talent, he managed only four games in his rookie season, recording just seven tackles.
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Clowney left the 2nd quarter of his regular season debut against the Washington Redskins with a torn meniscus, and was unable to make a full return at any point in the season. He was finally placed on the injured reserve on December 4th after it was determined that he would need more extensive surgery on his knee.
The microfracture surgery that Clowney underwent is one that while often successful, also has lead to some players being unable to ever return to full strength. This surgery is a repair of cartilage by creating tiny holes in the bones of the knee which encourages new cartilage to grow. Understandably, this damage to the structure of the knee can sometimes lead to an inability to ever fully recover.
This type of procedure has been used before in the NFL, but is even more common in the NBA. Notable NBA players such as Chris Webber, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Greg Oden have undergone this surgery, to varying degrees of success. Webber and Stoudemire were both able to recover, but failed to return to their former full talent. On the other hand, Oden’s career was almost completely obliterated by his knee injury and failure to fully recover from this type of operation.
In the NFL, this type of surgery does not have quite the same legacy, but several well-known players have gone through it. Hall of Famers like former Miami Dolphins’ quarterback Dan Marino and Pittsburgh Steelers’ cornerback Rod Woodson both went through microfracture surgeries very early in their careers, and yet were able to continue on to extremely successful careers.
Current players like New Orleans Saints’ wide recevier Marques Colston and Oakland Raiders’ running back Maurice Jones-Drew are among some who have been able to perform well after microfracture surgery. Colston, who had had the surgery twice, was able to go over 900 yards receiving in each of the three seasons following his most recent procedure. Jones-Drew managed to lead the league in rushing after undergoing a micro fracture operation. While this bodes well for Clowney, the careers of others may point in the opposite direction.
Players such as Washington Redskins’ running back Stephen Davis, Carolina Panthers’ running back DeShaun Foster, and Cleveland Browns’ defensive end Courtney Brown all failed to successfully return from their respective surgeries, leading to careers that somewhat fizzled out.
Although, it is always difficult to know for sure if their failed careers were due to their injuries, or simply lack of talent. The question is, will Clowney follow in the footsteps of these busts, or trend towards the great success stories.
Luckily for Clowney, he has age and talent on his side. After dominating at South Carolina and being one of the most feared defensive players in college football, many people had very high hopes for him as an NFL star, and at only 21 years old he still has plenty of time to realize this potential.
Recently, Houston general manger Rick Smith gave an interview on Sirius XM Radio, saying that Jadeveon has ” been diligent in his rehab,” and that the entire organization is anxious for the defensive end to be back to full strength. But that they know patience is the key when returning from this sort of injury.
Normal recovery time for this sort of injury is 6-9 months, meaning the earliest Clowney could realistically hope to return to the field would be next September. Hopefully he and the Texans err on the side of caution, allowing him to heal completely and regain his former physical conditioning before making his return. If Clowney can play at the level that many expect him to, he could be crucial to an already talented Houston defense.
Should he fail to perform, however, Jadeveon will go down as one of the biggest busts in NFL draft history. Being right on the edge of real playoff contention, the Texan’s can’t afford to hang on to a player simply based on the hope of his future potential. If Clowney wants to hang around in Houston for long, he needs to work as hard as he can to get fully recovered and become an elite defensive force.
As his rehab progresses and he is able to participate in more conditioning and strength-building exercises, we should learn a lot about both his work ethic and his body’s ability to recover. The coming months should show us whether or not Jadeveon has what it takes to make an on-field impact for the Houston Texans. If he’s able to become the star many expect him to be that would be amazing for his team, but if he struggles to perform the organization has to be willing to cut its losses and move on from a lost investment.