Jadeveon Clowney came into the league as a highly ranked prospect. Being selected number overall and playing J.J. Watt will do that. The Texans defense already boasted some impressive play makers. Brian Cushing, Whitney Mercilus, Jonathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson and Watt. With the lofty draft status, expectations were high.
Clowney was impressive at South Carolina accumulating eye popping numbers. 129 total tackles including 47 tackles for loss, 24 sacks and nine forced fumbles. These are numbers worthy of a number one overall pick. This dominance at the college level paired with the defense that already existed for the Texans, created high expectations.
His rookie season was a bit of a disappointment. Suffering a torn meniscus and missing the final 12 games of the season. Only accounting for five total tackles, to say this is underwhelming is a bit of an understatement.
As a result of the injury, comparisons of Courtney Brown were rampant. A high profile defensive end with an injury plagued career. Clowney would now have to shake off the injury prone label.
Clowney quickly rebounded his sophomore season managing 27 total tackles and four and a half sacks in 13 games. Appearing in 13 games while starting nine, this was a welcome sight considering his season ending injury the previous season. While the production was not earth shattering it displayed he still had the burst and athleticism necessary to be an elite defensive end.
An unfortunate injury to fellow Texan Watt was a chance for Clowney to fully display his play making ability. The only downfall playing with Watt, is that he is so dominant the chances to make plays for others are few and far between. Clowney made 40 total tackles with six sacks last season. Starting in all 14 games he appeared in, Clowney was able to take another step forward towards becoming the player he was expected to be coming out of college.
This year is the year where Clowney will fully display all of his talents. Having played two seasons since his meniscus injury his rookie year. By now it is all healed and will not hold him back performance wise. Another key progression which is often overlooked is the mental progression. Whether players admit it or not, they are not as mature as the teams expects them to be their first few seasons. This season, Clowney will be turning 24 and will be without a doubt at the level of mental maturity required to take the next step into being an elite NFL player.
With a healthy Watt and a more physically and mentally mature Clowney, opposing offenses will have their hands full. Clowney and Watt are two of the most athletic defensive ends in all of football. Having to try and defend them for 60 minutes is not an easy task. Clowney is going to take advantage of Watt returning to the defense. He will receive only a single blocker compared to the double team Watt will face. This will allow Clowney to be more disruptive than before. He inherited all of the double teams Watt faced when he went down with injury. Now facing single teams, he will be just as dangerous as Watt.
Clowney has improved each year since his injury. What is more important is that he has been physically healthy. His long term health is going to be the key to the long term success of the Texans defense. As long as his production continues to improve with the return of Watt, Houston will be giving everyone else problems.