This is my first ever profile of a draft-eligible player for SB Nation, so please bear with me.
First of all, I want to thank the folks over at Draft Breakdown for posting game cut-ups of most of the top draft-eligible players. This was a huge timesaver. Also, those are the folks who you can blame if I miss any important plays in any of the games I watch to break down the prospects. (I'm just saying ... lol.)
For the purposes of this breakdown, I watched this player against North Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Clemson and Wisconsin. Those games represent the very beginning, the very middle and the very end of Jadeveon Clowney's season, which gives me the opportunity to see if there is any evolution in his game.
If you have read any of my stuff prior to this, you know that I like to write in somewhat of a conversational style. Instead of giving a global view of things, I would rather walk you through the nuts and bolts of each situation so that you can better understand exactly what happened and, when possible, why it happened.
Similarly, with these profiles I am going to strive to just talk about the player to you, the reader. If there is something negative, I will talk about it, explain why I see it as a negative and how big of a factor it should be for teams that are thinking about drafting him. The same would happen when I talk about something positive. However, I will come to these pluses or flaws pretty much as they come to me when I think about the prospect. Usually, that will go from what stands out most to what stands out the least if I am successful in how I want to try to do this.
I would much rather do it this way because I don't like to pigeonhole guys in certain groups, or do the same to a certain player's abilities in pro- or con-type categories. (Hell, sometimes those attributes might be a little of both at the same time.)
Now for those of you who just have to have your draft reports grouped in categories like "positives" and negatives, well ... sorry, not sorry.
I choose to delve a little deeper than that, or at least attempt to, when giving my take on any given prospect. As a fan, I would love to know more about draft-eligible players, like what's their favorite pass-rush move, what route are they most productive when running, is he physical in coverage all of the time or just when the receiver is smaller than him, and so on and so forth.
So let us begin this discussion of the first draft-eligible player that I have chosen to break down: Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina.
Let me start off with this: I am now convinced that the Texans need to draft Clowney No. 1 overall.
Of course, I haven't broken down any of the other prospects in depth yet, so take that with a grain of salt. I came to this conclusion because I am also now convinced that Clowney is a 3-4 rush outside linebacker.
This kid is friggin' amazing in space. I'm not sure a left tackle or tight end successfully blocked him a single time in space in any of the games that I watched. He jumps inside so quickly that the opposing player just doesn't have enough time to react. When he chooses to stay outside against a block in space, he just about always holds the edge and quite a few times ends up making the tackle for a loss.
One of the problems I saw watching Clowney's film was that he did not play outside linebacker in a 3-4 at South Carolina. Instead, he was a 4-3 defensive end who, while obviously strong and powerful, ran around blocks waaaaayyyyyy too much versus the run. Understand this: He also made a ton of big plays running around blocks in those games as well.
The problem for me is that Clowney would need a lot of coaching up on how to play the run in a fundamentally sound manner that doesn't put the rest of the defense at risk if he were drafted as an end by an NFL team that uses the 4-3 defense.
When you run around run blocks in the NFL, that tends to open up huge lanes in the area which you just vacated. You will also likely be getting blocked by an offensive tackle who is at least as good or better than the best left tackle you ever faced in college. That usually equals fewer plays made and more plays giving up big yardage.
On the other hand, I will also say this: Damn, this kid has athleticism to spare.
Another thing that stood out to me was that Clowney, while not always winning at the point of attack, almost always stayed on his feet when getting blocked on runs by an offensive tackle. That is harder to do than it sounds. You would have to guess in five games that maybe a teammate would have at least fallen down by his legs and tripped him.
He usually either held his ground or got some push back, but even when he gave ground he never, ever, ended up on the dirt.
To me, that shows an elite level of balance. That is something that you need to be a great -- not good, but great -- pass rusher. The guys who can lean, take a punch from an offensive lineman and still stay upright without losing any speed are the guys who generally end up making a lot of Pro Bowls ... and a lot of money.
Clowney can definitely do that.
The little things
Here comes another knock from me.
For as athletic as Clowney is and for the fact that he had three years of coaching in the SEC, he is still immature as a pass rusher. What I mean is he doesn't do hardly any of the little things technique-wise that would have made him a much more productive pass rusher this year, and probably in every other year of his college career.
He doesn't turn his hips toward the quarterback or toward the blocker on edge rushes. When in doubt, the best pass rushers like to keep their hips turned toward the blocker so that once they get past him, it's all over for the quarterback. If your hips are turned away from the blocker it is much harder to a) push him back into the pocket, b) turn the corner at the quarterback's level, and c) stop and make a countermove so that you don't run well beyond the quarterback and open up a lane for him to scramble.
Part of the reason Clowney doesn't turn his hips in toward the blocker on his speed rushes is because he only has one outside move: a swim or arm-over move. I like to use the term "arm-over" when teaching this move to young players because guys hear "swim move" and think it is supposed to be a wide circle with their arm, but I've found that the move is much more successful when the rusher keeps everything compact.
Clowney appears to be the guy who learned "swim move" at an early age from a bad coach and never changed his approach.
(No offense to any of Clowney's pee-wee coaches. I don't want any problems.)
Not only does Clowney do swim moves with the wide swimming motion, he also follows through in such a way that it forces him to turn his hips out to complete the rush. Basically, even if he were to successfully "swim" over the blocker's outside shoulder/arm, he could still have a hard time turning the corner because his hips would be facing the opposite direction.
Hopping back over to the other side of the ledger, there is another reason we didn't see Clowney flying around the corner most of the season. I went through each game and counted how many passes were thrown that were, in my opinion, legitimate opportunities for Clowney to make a pass-rush move and get to the quarterback. This would exclude screens of just about every kind and almost every three-step drop timing pass.
Furthermore, I also counted out of those plays how many times opponents "double-teamed" him -- where double-team equals either a running back, guard or both coming over to help out the offensive tackle blocking Clowney.
Only one out of the five teams double-teamed Clowney less than half of the time on those plays: North Carolina. It's worth noting that while the announcers for that game excoriated Clowney for his effort on a few plays, the guy showed up all over the place most of the game. He didn't get the sack, but it was his edge pressure that forced the UNC quarterback up into the pocket to get sacked with the Tar Heels backed up near their own end zone. Clowney also beat a cut block near the end of the game to get a hit on the quarterback.
I'd say if they had it to do over again, I highly doubt the Tar Heels would single-block Clowney as much.
The opposite side of the spectrum came against Arkansas. The Razorbacks double-teamed him on seven out of the eight passes that I thought were legitimate opportunities for him to get a good pass rush.
Seven out of eight.
Missouri doubled Clowney on 16 out of the 25 plays where I thought he legitimately had an opportunity to rush the passer. He looked bad on a few plays, but Clowney was still all over Missouri's quarterback even with all those double teams. He forced one sack by containing the quarterback on a bootleg action. On another play, he bull-rushed the left tackle all the way into the quarterback, which forced him up into pressure from the defensive tackles. The throw should have been intercepted by running over the Missouri running back who was trying to cut block him.
It was the constant chip-blocking with running backs that unsurprisingly started to discourage Clowney from trying his speed moves. I can't say for sure if he doesn't know how to do a "dip and rip" move where a guy gets off fast, dips his shoulder when the offensive lineman punches, and then rips under that offensive lineman's arm to turn the corner and sack the quarterback.
All I can say for sure is that I didn't see him use one in those five games. That's surprising for a guy like Clowney, who is known for his athleticism and speed. A "dip and rip" move is about the most speed rush thing a player like that can use. It is certainly the first move I bet his NFL position coach, whoever that may end up being, will end up teaching him.
Something that impressed me was the fact that Clowney started to go to more bull rushes to avoid the chip blocks, and he had quite a bit of success with them -- even though he isn't necessarily known for his strength.
Bull rushes & body strength
Tiptoeing back over to the not-great side of things, Clowney could have and should have been even more productive with his bull rushes.
For one, he was inconsistent getting extension with his arms on his bull rushes. When he got them extended and his elbows locked, he tended to run the tackles right back into the quarterback. More often than not, he would not get that extension and end up trying to push the tackle back with his elbows bent. He was decidedly less productive on those plays.
(If you aren't sure why it matters whether or not he gets his arms extended and elbows locked when trying to push somebody, have a friend stand in front of you and brace himself. First, try to push him with your arms bent and your elbows not locked. Then, try to push him with your arms extended and your elbows locked. You're welcome.)
He had opportunities, but it appears that in three years of playing in the SEC, Clowney never really learned how to escape off a block.
I'm talking about his bull rush right now, but I could just as easily be talking about an offensive tackle base blocking (tackle aims for right down the middle of the defensive end, attempting to push him back and open up the hole inside of him) him for a running play. That's why I'm sure you will hear some scouts say he struggles to get off blocks in the run game. It isn't a lack of strength, although I personally believe folks should pay more attention to his bench numbers at the combine than his 40 time. Hell, we all know he's fast.
Clowney is obviously powerful in his core. That's part of the reason that even though he doesn't weigh a lot, he rarely gets pushed back when getting blocked one-on-one by an offensive tackle who outweighs him by about 40 pounds or more. That doesn't mean anything if he doesn't know how to keep his arm extended in the direction he wants to go, and then rip with the opposite arm while stepping in the same direction.
I just described to you in very easy terms how to escape off a block. It is a simple thing, but when I watch college football it is getting rarer and rarer to see guys use good technique to get off of a block. They just try to reach out and make arm tackles instead.
Had Clowney attempted to escape off blocks on his bull rushes, I would say he would easily have had five more sacks this year. You could say the same for the amount of tackles for loss he would have had if he had done it against the run.
It pissed me off to see how many times he ran right through the offensive tackle like a hot knife through butter only to get stuck right. In. Front. Of. The. Quarterback. Instead of ripping off, Clowney tried to just reach around the tackle and grab the quarterback's jersey. That ain't gonna work in the NFL and it barely worked in the SEC.
One other small concern I had watching film was how strong Clowney's hands are. Several times I saw him try to wrap up a ball carrier, whether it be the quarterback or the running back, only to see him slip through his fingers. He comes through his hips on contact, so it's not a matter of whether he likes to hit. He also has pretty good form when he tries to wrap up. His hands just, at times, don't seem to be strong enough to hold on and bring the guy all the way to the ground.
That's a minor thing, but a lot of times that can end up being the difference between a sack and a hurry, or a tackle for loss and a first down. I am not sure how you could test for hand strength, I just thought it was interesting.
Finally, I was a little disappointed in Clowney's change of direction at times. Whether he was rounding off his path trying to run down the line to catch a ball carrier from behind, or trying a speed rush and not trying to stop and come back to the quarterback's level, this showed up on film and hurt his production. I think in several games you could attribute it to his ankle injury, but on the whole this was more about being inconsistent, because sometimes he did both of those things very well. To reiterate yet again, he is going to need a lot of drill work to improve his technique all around.
Here's the deal, though. If you're the Texans GM, quite frankly, you don't give a shit about any of that.
Or at least you shouldn't.
Because while this kid may run around a lot of blocks, he makes a hell of a lot of plays doing it.
He doesn't take on pulling guards correctly most of the time, but he damn sure forces a lot of whiffs while making a tackle for loss on counters and power Os. And even though Clowney is still inexplicably raw as a pass rusher after three years in the SEC, he sure does get a lot of friggin' pressure.
The key, in my book at least, is that at outside rushing linebacker in a 3-4, opposing offenses will have to try to block Clowney in space a lot more than they would if he were in a 4-3. The most consistent thing out of all those games is that he looked damn near unblockable in space.
You put him beside J.J. Watt, and SOMEBODY ain't getting double-teamed.
Pick your poison.
Draft him No. 1, and surely somebody on staff or in that locker room can teach him how to do a spin move. And a long arm to a rip. And the correct way to do a swim move.
If the Texans finally give Watt the kind of outside speed rusher beside him that will open things up inside, I have a feeling Clowney will quickly learn how to escape off a block.
(Oh, and if Clowney goes first overall, I'm pretty sure the Texans conditioning staff will make sure he stays in tip-top shape. Heh.)
In many ways, I'm pretty puzzled (and somewhat disappointed) as to how Clowney could have played that much in college and still be this raw technique-wise. It's also because he is still so raw that makes him so attractive as the top overall pick. Unless we find out that Clowney repeatedly refused to learn new things, he should be viewed as a ball of clay just waiting to be molded into an ass-kicking, pass-rushing monster.
If I were Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, I would be in the GM's office every day pounding the table to draft Clowney. The things he could do with a Clowney/Watt combination on third-and-long would keep me up late at night if I were an offensive coordinator in their division. I know they'll have a strong impulse to draft a quarterback with the first pick because of the problems they had there this past season. I get it.
They have a much better chance finding a quarterback somewhere else who will be good enough to take them to the playoffs than they do finding an outside linebacker in free agency who will be the kind of difference-maker that Clowney can be. For that reason, Jadeveon Clowney would be a no-brainer for me if I ran the Texans.
That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.