Player Projection: Jadeveon Clowney will make his doubters eat their words


The first NFL season of the 2014 first overall draft pick Jadeveon Clowney era didn’t go exactly as planned. Clowney had sports hernia surgery in June, shortly after signing his rookie contract. Then in August 2014, Clowney suffered a concussion during a practice with the Denver Broncos.

Clowney then tore the meniscus in his right knee in the first half of the Texans’opener and had arthroscopic knee surgery the next day. It was a non-contact injury that occurred when he landed awkwardly on the NRG stadium turf (which is considered by some to be an  injury magnet)  when he jumped over defensive end J.J. Watt to try to avoid landing on him.

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After attempting for 4 games to play though the pain, Texans medical staff, including world-renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, made the decision to shut down Clowney for the season. He then had season ending microfracture surgery to repair the torn meniscus and cartilage damage in his knee.

The fact that his injury wasn’t caused by contact probably isn’t appreciated by those who have not experienced hits at or below the knees, but for those of us who have we know that there is a psychological aspect of thinking what’s going to happen in the split second before contact as you see a player approaching your lower quadrant when you’ve been injured as such before. Clowney doesn’t have to deal with overcoming that.

As reports of Clowneys injuries  and his “lack of effort to play through them” began to stockpile by some of the irresponsible and uninformed members of the media (most of whom have never even washed a football players jock strap let alone played the game or experienced such an injury themselves), the Clowney criticism bandwagon began to pick up steam.

Why? Because everyone was so infatuated with two key highlights in Jadeveon’s short tenure in the limelight: His bone-crushing tackle on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl, and his near super-human performance for a man of his size at the NFL combine.

The “Clowney critics coalition” also grew in size as other rookies of the 2014 class began to experience success, most notably dynamic New York Giants wide receiver

Odell Beckham

, Oakland Raiders linebacker

Khalil Mack

, and Vikings quarterback

Teddy Bridgewater

. Those players filled specific needs, and were in immediate plug & play  situations, not a developmental one where they were required to switch positions and responsibilities.

While of course their performances were remarkable, I think that the expectation and understanding of what Jadeveon brings to the table was both misunderstood and overestimated by many who expected him to come into the league and immediately destroy everything in sight.

The inconsistency at the quarterback position also has critics drawing additional emphasis on the fact that Clowney was the first overall draft pick when the Texans had a dire need at the position (Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn’t exactly viewed as the franchise’s savior when he was signed as a free agent last year).

While that certainly is a viable argument, it is difficult to make the case that the Texans passed on a franchise course-altering field general in the first round of the 2014 draft. Let’s be honest here for a second, there was a significant number of Texans fans and media who rooted for them to select former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel with the first overall pick.

It’s fair to say that the franchise probably wouldn’t have experienced much more success last year with Johnny Football and his drama circus than it did with a quarterback roulette of Fitzpatrick, Tom Savage and Case Keenum.

The fact of the matter is that Jadeveon Clowney was simply too incredible of an athlete who has shown football potential to pass on with the first overall pick. He’s a once in a decade kind of guy and if he blossomed into an All Pro player with his athletic gifts and was passed with that pick,  Texans brass would have been criticized for that as well.

If Clowney was healthy in his rookie year, he was still destined to fail to meet the absurd expectations and projections based on his limited sample of work in South Carolina and his combine workout. Clowney also switched positions moving from a hand on the ground defensive end in college to an outside linebacker with sideline to sideline responsibilities in Romeo Crennel’s system. That adjustment itself simply takes time, regardless of how great of an athlete that he is.

The silver lining in Clowney not having a complete rookie season is that he had plenty of time to fix all of those nagging injuries that he even played through in college. Furthermore, he’s had time to watch film, talk to coaches and get a better understanding of exactly what is expected of him in this system.

The addition of a human wrecking ball like Vince Wilfork at nose tackle who will certainly demand double team blocking also means that Clowney will be able to do exactly what he has shown us that he does best – attack the gaps. The opposing offenses most definitely will have to account for Wilfork and Watt Whitney Mercilus is emerging as a viable pass rushing threat.

Brian Cushing is reportedly healthy and back to Pro Bowl form from a physical perspective, and that will present Clowney with opportunities to make big plays.

A motivated, focused, and healthy Jadeveon Clowney will make his critics eat their words. He still has a very bright future ahead of him, and his adjustment to the NFL begins with this season.

Player projection: 8.5 sacks, 60 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles. And for good measure, 1 return touchdown.

Next: Brian Hoyer fighting a bigger battle