Was Jadeveon Clowney the Right Choice for the Houston Texans?
“The Clown” has been hailed as one of the best defensive players in college football since his 2011 freshman year at South Carolina. Only a procedural age rule prevented Clowney from entering the 2013 draft and likely becoming the first overall selection, after a 2012 season that saw him accumulate 23.5 tackles for a loss (second in SEC) and 13 sacks (second in SEC). Over his three season collegiate career, he ranks second in the SEC record books since 2005 with 47 tackles for a loss, fifth with 24 sacks, and third with 9 forced fumbles.
Many in the industry have questioned Clowney’s work ethic, as he has admitted to slowing down his pace in 2013 in order to stay healthy for the draft. This, along with news that he has opted for offseason foot surgery, do give concerns about external factors of Clowney’s game. Yet, nothing is in question about Clowney’s raw explosiveness, thanks to an NFL Combine showing that produced a 4.51 forty-yard-dash, a 37.5” vertical jump and a 10’4” broad jump. About his slowed game in 2013, one can also see on tape that he was favoring the foot now undergoing surgery, which could explain the loss of production.
He has all the tools to be an elite defensive end in a 4-3 scheme in the NFL, but his raw athleticism could even allow him to thrive as a pass-rushing 3-4 end. His work at South Carolina also gave him experience in coverage, and his career seven batted passes show that he is capable of disruption in many varied ways, so a move to 3-4 outside linebacker wouldn’t be out of the question either. Whatever role he plays, Clowney should thrive as a once-in-a-generation defensive prospect.
Clowney's Impact in Houston
Clowney's disruption should mesh well with a defensive unit that already features inside linebacker Brian Cushing, defensive end J.J. Watt, and a variety of other top-tier pass rushers in the front seven. The big concern here is that a 3-4 defensive end will be less effective at pass rushing (Clowney's natural gift) than a 4-3 DE. In addition, Clowney (6'6", 249 lb.) does not have prototypical 3-4 DE size. Still, this shouldn't be a problem, as Watt has overcome both concerns to become arguably the best defensive player in the NFL, and Clowney could do the same.
One will hope that new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel will allow Clowney to use his natural pass-rushing gifts and cause disruption all over the field, rather than forcing him into an archaic two-gap scheme that will require Clowney to stay home and man the line. Possibly the best scenario for Clowney in this case would be to shift to an outside linebacker position and continually rush the passer, much as Clay Matthews has done in Green Bay.
Houston will find a way for the first defensive top pick since 2006 to be effective. I expect Clowney and the Texans' D to do quite well with this addition of a once-in-a-generation talent. After all, the team finished 25th within our Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points metric last season, and getting a pass rusher like Clowney can only help.