The transcendent, once-in-a-generation talent accomplished a rare feat Thursday night, when the Houston Texans selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. As a consensus No. 1 recruit in the country coming out of high school, some said that he would have been the first overall selection in the draft as an 18-year old.
As it is, Clowney decided to take his talents to Columbia, where he enjoyed a freshman campaign, highlighted by his strip sack against Georgia, which Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram managed to scoop up and score, and culminated in his receiving SEC Freshman of the Year honors.
Still, the talking heads claimed that if he came out after his freshman season, he would still be the first overall selection.
In year number two, Clowney had his strongest season statistically, as he racked up 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss, including a school record, 4.5 sacks against the Clemson Tigers. Clowney was selected as a first-team All-American, was the All-America player of the year, finished sixth in the Heisman voting, and won or was up for nearly every other defensive award available, including the Hendricks award for the nation’s best defensive end (won), and the Nagurski Trophy, Lombardi Award and Bednarik award (finalist).
All of these accolades and statistics, however, paled in comparison to his defining moment from his sophomore season, “the hit“.
The ESPY-winning play needs no explanation.
Talks about Clowney sitting out his junior year to avoid injury began to ramp up in the summer leading up to the 2013-2014 season, since it was already a foregone conclusion that he would be the first overall pick in this year’s draft.
Statistically, 2013-2014 was a significant drop for Clowney, who only finished the year with three sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. Many analysts correctly pointed out that it was going to be impossible for Clowney to replicate his sophomore season’s production because everyone game-planned for Clowney, and at least doubled teamed him on every play.
After he sat out of the Kentucky game with strained muscles around his rib cage, people began to lambaste him for not having a motor, being a lazy player, and being arrogantly complacent, an interesting criticism considering that only a few months earlier, people were honestly considering the possibility of him sitting out the entire year to avoid injury.
When every snap of the ball was not “the hit” people were disappointed and, like you might expect to see if he had actually done anything wrong, people began to doubt his supposed status as the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft.
Houston needed a quarterback and everyone loved Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel (sidebar: how in the world people thought Clowney’s “red flags” were insurmountable while they glibly overlooked the fact that Manziel is a walking red flag is utterly beyond me), and the Texans run a 3-4 defense, which would not be ideal for Clowney, a true, 4-3 defensive end.
Three years worth of certainty regarding Clowney’s future was suddenly flipped on its head. If Clowney did not go first, the Rams, who have Robert Quinn and Chris Long, were likely to pass on him; Jacksonville needs a quarterback as much as anyone in the league so they would pick whoever Houston didn’t, and so on until projections had Clowney as a undrafted free agent.
Ok, so maybe it was not that extreme, and the weeks leading up to the main event are historically nothing but a bunch of smokescreens. The possibility that Houston might trade that first pick to another team, like Atlanta, was still a possibility, but it was never likely that Houston would pass on a once-in-a-generation player, and it was never even possible that Clowney would be picked anywhere besides number one.
In the end, when Roger Goodell stood at the podium and announced that “with the first pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans select Jadeveon Clowney”, was anyone really surprised?
As Clowney walked on stage, humbled, tears in his eyes, he had completed the double, a dream which he has been chasing “for forever”: number one recruit and number one overall draft choice. One could even consider it the triple if you add in his appearance on the The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
The Clowney saga has only just begun. This coming season will be the first step in what could be a a Hall of Fame career, and I, for one, can’t wait to watch it unfold.