The hype surrounding Jadeveon Clowney has never matched on-the-field production. (Mark Zaleski, AP Photo)

How It All Started

It was the hit that reverberated across the college football landscape. The hit that set social media ablaze, launching Jadeveon Clowney into the public consciousness as a name you had to know moving forward. A hit that firmly entrenched itself as being one of the greatest highlights in college football history by a defensive lineman. Hell, the hit itself has an entire paragraph dedicated to it on the guy’s Wikipedia page. You know the play I’m referring to. The year is 2012. South Carolina trails Michigan by a score of 22-21 in the Outback Bowl, just 8:21 left to go in the 4th quarter. Quarterback Devin Gardner drops back to hand the ball off to running back Vincent Smith and then…

Never mind the fact that Clowney was unblocked on the play. Ignore the fact that it was a designed trap play with the Michigan right guard, Patrick Omameh, pulling. He whiffed on his assignment, allowing Clowney the ultimate dream scenario for any defender: a straight line shot right at an unprepared ball carrier. Perhaps if Omameh didn’t miss that block, Clowney is viewed as he rightfully should be: a good NFL defensive end. A good player…not a great one.

With that single play, though, Jadeveon Clowney secured top billing in the 2013 NFL Draft. Even after a down year in his final season at South Carolina, it was hard to look beyond that highlight to see what Clowney truly was: a frustratingly inconsistent performer on the field. And therein lies our problem: as a result of that hit, Jadeveon Clowney has been miscast as one of the elite defensive linemen in the NFL. It’s time to put the mythology to bed and face the facts: Jadeveon Clowney is one of the most overrated players in the NFL.

Tracking Jadeveon Clowney’s On-Field Production

Maxx Crosby. Markus Golden. Willie Young. Mark Anderson. Antwan Barnes. What do all of these players have in common? A ten-sack season. Notice who’s not on that list? Jadeveon Clowney. This isn’t to totally disparage Clowney’s on-field production, but ten sacks, by and large, stand as a testament to a player’s pass rush ability. It’s expected of elite pass rushers to reach this mark. Seven years in, Clowney has yet to do so. Has he come close? A couple of times, but when you look closer at the statistics, Clowney’s overall play begins to take a different shape.

2017 was Clowney’s best statistical season. Breaking down his game-by-game production, however, there’s a trend of Clowney having some huge breakout games and then stretches of relative irrelevance. September 24th, 2017 vs. the Patriots: 6 tackles (four for a loss), 2.0 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, and a defensive touchdown. Damn, that’s pretty good. Against the Jacksonville Jaguars that season, one tackle in a 29-7 loss. Eek. Against Pittsburgh later in the season, two tackles. On December 10th against the 49ers, six tackles (two for a loss) and four QB hits. Impressive. So inconsistent, though. That’s the name of Clowney’s game. Spurts of brilliance and stretches of mediocrity.

Putting Statistics Into Context

Individual pass rush statistics don’t make or break a player’s effectiveness. Clowney has long been solid at stopping the run, amassing seventy-five career tackles for a loss. To put it into perspective, though, longtime Philadelphia Eagle Brandon Graham has essentially produced the same output as Clowney over the course of his career. Across nine full seasons in the NFL (excluding his rookie and sophomore seasons where he had inconsistent playing time), Graham has averaged 11.5 tackles for a loss per season to go along with 6.5 sacks. Clowney’s numbers? Just less than 5.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for a loss per season as a starter. Not that much different. My point here? While Clowney comps very well to a player like Brandon Graham, we don’t talk about BG like he’s the type of player who completely affects the dynamic of the opposing team’s play.

Brandon Graham
Brandon Graham’s career numbers are fairly similar to Jadeveon Clowney’s. Why is Clowney afforded so much more hype than BG? (Lori Nichols, NJ Advance Media)

All Aboard the Hype Train in Cleveland

The level of hype coming out of Cleveland following the Clowney signing is reaching an unbelievable level. Waking up this morning, I’m treated to this article, stating that Cleveland has won the offseason by signing Clowney. Are you kidding me? I followed that article up with this doozy of an article from ESPN, which provided me with this nugget of a quote from Jadeveon Clowney during his opening press conference with his new team:

“I’ve been getting double-teamed an awful lot in this league, in my career…I’m looking forward to playing with somebody dominant on the other side in Myles Garrett who can draw a double-team. Maybe I can go one-on-one more.”

Bruh. You played opposite arguably the greatest defensive end of the 2010s in J.J. Watt in Houston for years. Somebody dominant on the other side of the line…you’re describing J.J. Watt! It’s crazy for us to think that Clowney’s numbers are going to drastically improve as he comes back off another injury in 2020, whilst trying to fit in on a new team, into a division that will be drastically more competitive than those he’s played in the past few seasons.

I rarely, very rarely, take what is said on Undisputed seriously, but Shannon Sharpe has a point. Is Clowney a good player? Yes, but he’s not the type of player that the media has made him out to be since that monstrous hit on Vincent Smith back in 2012. Jadeveon Clowney and Lawrence Taylor don’t even belong in the same sentence when you’re describing their abilities and career potentials. No, I’m going to pass on this hype train. Jadeveon Clowney will have a fine year in Cleveland. Worth $10 million, though? Probably not. Deserving of the Super Bowl 56 love that some sports analysts are bestowing upon them? Absolutely not.