The Truth About Jadeveon Clowney

October 2nd, 2013

Everyone wants to see this hit on every snap. (Photo AP images gallery)


Darren Page, DLD Lead Scout

“What’s wrong with Jadeveon Clowney?” “Clowney is overrated.” “He can’t stay in shape.” “He’s trying not to get hurt before he enters the draft.” “Clowney only has two sacks through four games!” Unless you have been under a rock for the last four weeks, you’ve likely heard statements like this from fans and media types alike. The box scores tell one story. Clowney indeed has only two recorded sacks. He recorded 13 over a 13 game sophomore season. His tackle numbers are down as well. He averaged 4.5 as a sophomore and only has 3 per game as a junior.

So what gives? Where has Jadeveon Clowney’s ability to impact a game in such a significant way gone?

A thorough and experienced evaluator of football talent tries to give every single play an equal piece of the pie when it comes to their final evaluation of a player. One does so by watching, describing through note-taking, and internalizing every relevant play a draft prospect participates in. With experience in studying such things comes an understanding of the workings of a pass rusher over the course of an entire game.

The offensive lineman or specifically the pass blocker always has the upper hand by knowing snap count, blocking schematics, depth of the quarterback’s drop, and overall play design. Pass rushing is a craft, a game of cat and mouse which becomes much easier with a physical advantage. No defensive end can blow by or blow up an offensive tackle every play to put a hit on the quarterback, everyone knows that. But how often should a defensive end hurry or hit the quarterback? What does a productive pass rusher look like?

The most productive pass rusher according to Pro Football Focus metrics (subscription required to view premium stats) through four weeks in the NFL is Seattle’s Michael Bennett. Bennett’s pressures (sacks, hits, and hurries) total to 20 with a total of 99 snaps spent rushing the passer. That’s the most productive 4-3 end in the game today, and he’s only getting home once every five snaps. That should provide a decent idea of what top-end production looks like for a pass rusher in the NFL. If pass rushers were baseball players, they would be lucky to scratch the Mendoza Line.

Some of the best rushers in the NFL seem far more successful at getting to the quarterback than their advanced statistics suggest, but why is that? A particular cognitive process that poses a threat to accurate evaluation called salience is the reason. Salience means that when a certain event is attention-grabbing, it is far more likely to be remembered than an equivalent event that doesn’t catch the eye. So when Julius Peppers clubs a left tackle, runs over a back, and drills the quarterback from behind, it sticks with us in a way that Peppers getting double teamed on the edge and coming up empty doesn’t. This affects the way we view pass rushers when not keen to evaluate on an every snap basis. Jadeveon Clowney is being measured by the consensus football audience in a way few if any others defensive end prospects have been.

Typically, the audience of a football game watches for entertainment purposes and is watching the football. While watching the football, fans aren’t likely to notice and therefore remember plays when a pass rusher gets stood up and fails to pressure the quarterback. When they have their attention turned to a pass rusher like Clowney on every snap, they are likely to expect a higher success rate than is realistic, even for a once-in-along-while prospect.

What looks like a mildly successful outing to a casual fan watching a rusher work every single snap is likely to be a rather productive outing. Add in obvious offensive scheming to limit the player and he will appear to have an even smaller impact. So even though Jadeveon Clowney has been unblockable for stretches of every single game he’s played in this year, it hasn’t corresponded to a high number of sacks or tackles for loss. He certainly hasn’t made a splash play like knifing through a front, popping off the helmet of a back with a bone-jarring hit, and picking up the fumble he caused. That’s what too many are expecting to see though.

Instead, offenses are finding ways to make sure Clowney doesn’t end up on Sportscenter’s top ten at their expense. Offensive coordinators are doing what’s necessary to keep their quarterbacks upright and their running backs finding lanes by scheming around the most dominant defensive player in the country. Advanced statistics back it up. Clowney has had 86 true pass attempts (quick hitting WR screens discounted) through four games. He was double-teamed on 16 of those, chipped by a back on 21 of those, and had designed roll-outs go the opposite direction on 5 of those. That means on 48% of his rushes, the offense is sending extra help or rolling their quarterback away from him. Occupying an eligible receiver and a tackle or forcing the field to be cut in half puts a big impact on what offenses are trying to accomplish. Just by being on the field, that’s happening almost half of the time.

Much was made over whether or not certain quarterbacks had a fear of Jadeveon Clowney over the offseason. Whether it is fear, respect, or simple awareness, quarterbacks are in fact on notice when Clowney is on the field. Their offensive coordinators are adjusting their play calling to Clowney’s presence as well. The average time to throw for opposing quarterbacks Bryn Renner, Aaron Murray, Austyn Carta-Samuels, and Blake Bortles measures 2.15 seconds when Clowney is rushing. Those same quarterbacks got rid of the ball in an average 2.63 seconds with Clowney off the field. Almost a half second is a big difference when a quarterback is sitting in the pocket with a swarm of rushers bearing down on him and coverage often on the verge of slipping.

While everyone expects Clowney to put in a productive shift as it relates to sacks, hits, and hurries, he’s getting less time to do so due to offensive scheming. Compare the average time to throw Clowney faces to that of NFL pass rushers and expectations of him may change. The quarterback who’s quickest to get the ball out of his hands in the NFL through four weeks in 2013 is Matthew Stafford at an average of 2.24 seconds. The median of all 32 quarterbacks is Jay Cutler at 2.72. That’s a far cry from the 2.15 average Jadeveon Clowney sees.

In fact, Clowney’s two sacks have both come in very timely fashion at 2.13 and 2.48 seconds apiece. He’s not about to get a coverage sack any time soon, considering the way quarterbacks are getting rid of the ball while he’s on the field. On multiple occasions this season, Clowney has gotten free as a rusher and had quarterbacks slip out of would-be-sacks. Criticize his inability to finish plays consistently at this point, but he’s still just as if not more impactful than ever on what offenses are able to do.

The tallies as a run defender tell a story in their own right. Opposing offenses have only run to Clowney’s side of the center 30 times this season, as opposed to 68 times to his opposite side. Offensive coordinators are trying to avoid Jadeveon Clowney at all costs. When resigned to running to his side, they have put multiple bodies on him 10 out of the 30 plays or a third of the time. If not doubling Clowney, they have mostly been allowing him to come off the ball before pulling a blocker to kick him out, which is an easier and quicker block to make than going toe to toe with him off the ball at the point of attack. Taylor Lewan and Vincent Smith of Michigan have horror stories to tell as it relates to running directly at Clowney. Once again, just by having a pulse, Clowney is forcing the hand of play callers.

Everything previously written can be contrived to be one giant excuse for what Jadeveon Clowney has done through four games. The truth is that Clowney has been extremely disruptive and impactful to this point without even considering the way offenses are playing him. He has lived in opposing backfields, showcasing his exceptional burst off the snap, uncommon upper body strength, and a lightning-quick swim move. Even while offenses run away from him, he’s chasing down runs from the backside with speed that very few 274 lb. men have.

Despite the narrative national media may have to this point, one thing is for certain. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Jadeveon Clowney.

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34 Responses to “The Truth About Jadeveon Clowney”

  1. The Strategy Expert says:

    Fascinating read. You can bet he’s going to be one of the most widely scrutinized players to come along in a long time. I can imagine there are some NFL personnel people that will spend crazy amounts of time trying to examine every little thing about him. I know I would be because you obviously can see the massive potential but obviously there’s definitely also some curious potential weak points that need to be examined. The game of football is a lot more than just having one spectacular year, it takes consistency with both the body and the mind and there’s always opportunity for things to improve or take a turn for the worse. Everybody is watching closely and it will be interesting to see how this player’s future unfolds from here.

  2. Great article about Clowney’s impact so far this year. This described everything that we have been trying to tell people for the last 5 weeks.

  3. TheSheltonizer says:

    ummm… so Clowney is the only football player to be double teamed? please! this is garbage! He’s a great player, I won’t deny that. He’s either tanking it this year or he’s in a slump.

  4. TheSheltonizer says:

    Great football players fund ways to make great plays. I’m sure he will fit right in with all the other personalities in that Detroit defense. lol.

  5. TheSheltonizer says:

    *find

  6. SCGent says:

    Did Jadeveon hire you to further dilute the intelligence of fans and scouts across the country into believing he is the same man he was a year ago? I’d be surprised if any intelligent individual made it halfway through your article without rolling their eyes to the point of discomfort. I can’t confirm whether many of their games have been televised in Detroit and whether you’ve actually watched him play, but he has been walking around with his hands on his hips, giving up in the middle of plays, and sitting out half of every game. He’s been handled one-on-one as much as he has been double-teamed, and he has used every excuse known to man for each performance. This was clearly an extremely biased article, which makes me question what connection you have to Jadeveon, because the rest of the country just doesn’t agree with you. Neither do Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina fan base. This was a feeble attempt to defend someone that clearly doesn’t care about college football anymore. He’ll probably still be drafted high, though, and it will be NFL coaches ragging him for his sense of entitlement, lack of motivation, laziness, and refusal to play through pain(which is different than injury).

    • ranydrooster says:

      You, my friend, obviously know very little if anything about the game and your emotions rule your thinking. Oh yes, you also aren’t speaking for the true SC fan base!! Have you evedr played the game?

    • RustyNail says:

      Tater much?

    • Hotchkis says:

      You’re a Clemson fan aren’t you? Get over yourself. Why would a Lions Scout be biased at all towards SC?

    • Rhonda Goodwin says:

      Call Lewan, Smith or Boyd…. AN DO NOT EVER attempt to speak for he SC GAMEcocks Fan Base… Strap on his shoes then come back and talk…

    • JpoZ says:

      There are so many inaccuracies and made up stats in your post that I’d be surprised if any intelligent individual made it halfway through your post without rolling their eyes to the point of discomfort. Did you just make it up as you went along? “He’s been handled one-on-one as much as he’s been double teamed”, “..sitting out half of every game” seriously, do you watch the games? By the way, if you have ever been physical enough to do anything to strain a muscle in your rib area you would know that it is painful to even breathe. Something else you wouldn’t know is that when you have a strained muscle, and you do not let it heal, you can easily tear the muscle which is by far a worse injury. Basically the next time you have a thought about football….let it go.

    • GamecockFan says:

      Did you read the bit about how opposing teams have been taking a full half second less to throw the ball when JD’s on the field? So, in your mind, reducing the time his Defensive Backs have to cover by 20% is not effective? I can guarantee you the coaches and SC fan base do agree with this article and we know how much he means to this team and this defense.

  7. Classylady 60 says:

    It is about time someone got it right about Jadeveon Clowney. Great Article about a Great Player!! GO COCKS!!!!

  8. Micallen says:

    SCGent said it all. Sure Clowney is talented, but it’s obvious he’s saving himself for the NFL. That shows what a real “team player” he is.

    SMH

  9. Lolwut says:

    ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ I lol’d

  10. Tahj Boyd says:

    Completely biased garbage on the side of Clowney. I think he is a great athlete, but not the preseason heisman favorite everyone called him. There are some good traits in him, but he doesnt care about USC or the old ball sack….Hes trying to get paid.

  11. Damifino says:

    There is nothing wrong with him other than that he has bailed on his team.

  12. Richard says:

    Well mrboyed u did not say that when he was slamming ur ass down every other play but ur right he don’t care about USC

  13. tellitlikeitis says:

    He could care less about SC or his teammates.
    What a lowlife!

    • GamecockFan says:

      You could care less about facts or the comments of the players and teammates who fully support JD. What a joke!

  14. spanky129 says:

    This is a dumb article…every great defensive lineman has had to face double & triple teams, as well as being avoided…stop defending this guy… he is a ONE HIT WONDER….what have you done for me lately???

    • GamecockFan says:

      Did you read the article? He is trying to educate you about how to judge the effectiveness of a DE. It is not all about hits, Clowney changes the game just by being on the field. His presence means opposing teams have been taking 20% less time to throw the ball than they usually do, which means the Gamecocks have to guard receivers for 20% less time, which is incredibly important especially for a team with a young defense.

  15. Rory Lind says:

    he will be a good defensive player in the NFL. It is somewhere inbetween the argument of the haters and the pom pom waving SC fanatics.

  16. Mr. Z says:

    The sad thing about some of the commenters on this article is that they can’t come up with an intelligent defense for why they shouldn’t be referred to as “haters”, let alone a sound rebuttal to the text of this article. The reason Clowney’s so-called slump exists truly is because of the hype surrounding him. Compare his collegiate career to that of, say, Clemson’s Vic Beasley. Beasley’s been a moderately disruptive force as of this season, but that’s because he had zero preseason hype or attention due to his relatively piss-poor stats his first two seasons in the orange & purple. There aren’t millions of college football fans tuning in to see just him or even the Clemson defense in general. If he possessed the same preexisting reputation Clowney has or even just a similar highlight reel the Tigers’ opponents would put the same level of strategy into avoiding him that they do for Jadeveon. Carolina’s opponents know that a minimal focus on him even with his ongoing foot problems is a grave mistake.

  17. Ranger Instructor says:

    It’s funny how obsessed Clemson fans are with the Gamecocks while they’re forgetting about the might Noles. It’s no surprise, though, since South Carolina beats the crap out of Clemson every year and Old man Spurrier makes Dabo look like the mental midget he is. I laughed so hard last year when the Gamecocks (Lamecocks) waxed Clemson with a backup QB and a 3rd string RB. Guess what little kitties, the Noles showed them how.

    Clemson is soft. Always have been. EOS.

    Sorry Clemson, FSU is your daddy…always has been and always will be. (And don’t be too happy Lamecocks…you’re better than Clemson, but we’d beat you too.)

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