NFL Axiom: For Houston Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, the Most Important Ability Is Availability.
Jadeveon Clowney is a gifted athlete. He proved it in college appearing to be a man among boys. He crushed the NFL combine and his pro day checking all the boxes. He was the first selection in the 2014 NFL draft because of the abilities he demonstrated. Most experts agreed that the Texans drafted a “can’t miss” prospect to pair with J.J. Watt.
That was two years ago. Unfortunately, for most of his first two seasons despite his many outstanding skills Jadeveon lacked that most important ability, availability. He was unavailable for sixteen of the first thirty-three games and limited in many of the seventeen games in which he participated. After two years his stats are unimpressive especially when compared to defensive players drafted after him, players such as Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald.
Some are labeling Clowney as a bust, the latest Jamarcus Russell or Ryan Leaf. The draft is an inexact science and the landscape is littered with highly touted collegians who couldn’t cut it at the next level. In Clowney’s case it is not the skill set that is lacking. Injury is the issue.
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In the past two years he was injured from head to toe…literally. He has missed time because of a concussion, a back injury, a sports hernia, a knee injury requiring micro-fracture surgery, an ankle sprain and a lisfranc injury. Detractors say he is injury prone and destined to be a frequent flyer on the injury report. His head coach, Bill O’Brien says he was unlucky.
At this point either conclusion is plausible. The injuries are real, not nicks and dings. They are not the type of injuries that sideline lesser players but endured by true competitors. On a positive note, while there is a general pattern of injury there is not a pattern of chronic injury. No joint, bone, or muscle group has been reinjured. There appears to be no degradation of speed, quickness or strength. Quite the opposite is evidenced by occasional flashes of brilliance at those infrequent times when Clowney is completely healthy.
According to ESPN reporter Tania Ganguli, Jadeveon recently pronounced himself to be just that, 100 percent healthy and ready to dominate. That is great news.
For the first time in his Texans career Clowney entered OTAs concentrating on scheme and technique rather than rehab. If for the first time he can stay healthy he is in a position to establish himself as an integral part of the defense.
The burning question is whether he can remain on the field. It is a long, brutal slog from OTAs through the end of the regular season and, hopefully, the playoffs. If Bill O’Brien is right Jadeveon Clowney already experienced more than his fair share of bad luck. In O’Brien’s world the luck should shift in Clowney’s favor. If it doesn’t, the Texans have no choice but to turn the page. The envisioned “Clowney era” will be an era that never was. Is that his future?
I suppose the smart money is on another year of injury and disappointment. Smart money doesn’t buck a two-year trend. But die-hard fans are different. They wear the rose colored glasses. Their Texans glass is always half full. They look for a huge year from Clowney, Watt, Mercilus and the entire Texans defense. I have my Kool-Aid. Bottoms up!