Finally, it happened. The moment we’ve been waiting for since the 2014 draft day: Jadeveon Clowney is finally living up to the massive potential everyone saw in him in college. The potential which caused him to go #1 overall to the Texans.
After two injury-plagued seasons, Clowney finally progressed into the freakish talent we’ve been waiting for. While he didn’t light up the stat sheet, he was enough of a disruptive force to earn First Team All-Pro honors by the Pro Football Writers Association for the first of hopefully many times.
When All-World defensive end J.J. Watt went on injured reserve in Week 3, everyone assumed the team would be dead in the water, and they were for the early part of the season. To that point, Clowney was still being labeled a bust. The defense wasn’t particularly scary in any one area. And the offense hadn’t found its footing under Brock Osweiller.
Fast forward to Week 12. Clowney has racked up just 3 sacks. He’s been just another role player in the defense on the 6-5 Texans team that saw its playoff hopes dwindling. Injuries to starting linebackers Brian Cushing and John Simon have forced head coach Bill O’Brien to shuffle around his defense.
In Week 13, Clowney was moved from defensive end to outside linebacker in Houston’s 3-4 defense, a place many draft experts believed would be the best position for him coming out of South Carolina. How did the big man respond? With a sack in three straight starts to match his season total to that point.
Clowney had a full head of steam heading into the playoffs. If you were unable to watch the Texans play the Raiders on Wild Card Weekend, look up some highlights. The former number one pick was all over the field. He didn’t necessarily light up the stat sheet, though he did snag an interception on a screen pass, he did make an impact.
Granted, Jack Del Rio and the Raiders offense were working with their third string quarterback and missing an offensive lineman, but I don’t know how much that would’ve effected Clowney’s performance.
No matter who the Raiders put in front of him, he manhandled them. All day they were moving around players to chip in on blocking the 6’5, 255-pound freight train. Poor Connor Cook was running for his life. Looking down to find Clowney before even getting through his progressions.
The Texans came away with a 27-14 victory, while Clowney came away with some much earned respect.
A week later, however, the Super Bowl champion Patriots proved better suited to neutralize the young beast with a full compliment of offensive lineman, one of the most cerebral coach-quarterback combos in the league and homefield advantage. The Patriots will want to keep that tape, they may meet Houston in a similar circumstance come December.
Clowney enters the 2017 offseason healthy for just the second time in his young career, but most importantly for the second year in a row. Once again he’ll be able to focus on improving his technique as a pass rusher as opposed to rehabbing. That should be a scary thought for teams facing the Texans in the upcoming season.
When the season starts, Clowney will only be 24 years old. He’s like a puppy at this point. He doesn’t even know how much of a destructive force he can be. If the Texans are smart, they’ll do what they have to do to keep him at the outside linebacker spot, at least on a more consistent basis.
Playing without their most dominant defender, they finished the season with the eleventh-ranked scoring defense. With a healthy Watt returning to a defense that features Clowney, Simon, Cushing and Whitney Mercilus, Houston has the potential to be downright scary in 2017.
Let’s all hope Clowney can continue to realize the potential he’s flashed so far. If he truly has turned the corner, if the light switch really flipped, teams on the opposing sideline will have their hands full deciding which Texans defender to block. Good luck.