When you think about the top 3-4 rush linebackers, guys like Von Miller, Khalil Mack, Justin Houston and now, after last season, Vic Beasley probably come to mind. Those guys are all around 6'3 and 250-260 pounds. Jadeveon Clowney, on the other hand, is all of 6'5 and weighs more than 270 pounds. That size difference showed up on film last year. And yet Clowney played his best football when he was out on the edge like those other guys.
I know some folks may have been baffled as to how Clowney made the Pro Bowl last season with only six sacks. Turn on his film and any confusion quickly dissipates.
As I pointed out late in the season, with J.J. Watt hurt last year Clowney wasn't playing out on the edge that much early on in the season. He still played well, but lining up as a 3-technique on a run down is not the best place to have him. As fate would have it, once starting outside linebacker John Simon went down in Week 11 it opened the door to Clowney playing more on the edge, and his play went to another level.
It wasn't just that he was making plays, it was that if you looked close enough you could almost see his confidence rising from Week 12 through both playoff games. His performance in the postseason is the way I expect him to start off this season.
Maybe he’ll be even better.
With Watt expected to be back healthy this season, it isn't out of the realm of imagination that Clowney will take another leap forward this year. Watt lining up at his familiar 3-4 defensive end position on early downs should allow Clowney to stay out on an edge for the entire year. Watt's presence should also open up more opportunities for Clowney along with the play of Whitney Mercilus who will be manning the other edge rusher position opposite Clowney.
Or maybe Mercilus and Clowney will line up on the same side some on passing downs.
Or maybe Mercilus, Clowney, and Watt will line up on the same side on passing downs.
If Watt is even close to the monster we are used to, Clowney should be able to make a ton of plays just cleaning up messes that Watt creates in opposing backfields.
Houston’s offense should be a lot better this season with Brock Osweiler shipped out of town to Siberia ... errr Cleveland, so (gasp) the Texans might even be playing with a lot of second-half leads where we get to see Clowney, Watt, and Mercilus just tee TF off for 30 minutes.
Did you just get a chill up your spine?
I just got a chill up my spine.
Even with his Pro Bowl nod last season, Clowney was banged up for a lot of the year and missed two games. He still hasn't been "healthy" for a full 16 games, so that gives him even more room to grow in 2017.
I hope I am not jinxing him. While Clowney probably got a lot of haters off his back last season, his best is still very much yet to come. I'm looking forward to seeing him take another step towards greatness in 2017.