HOUSTON – The big question about Jadeveon Clowney – would his work ethic prevent him from being the No. 1 pick? – has been answered with a no. But that doesn’t discredit the premise.
“Did he play with his hair on fire every snap of the game?” Texans general manager Rick Smith said. “No, he didn’t.”
But Smith took the South Carolina defensive end at No. 1 anyway, passing on a position of more desperate need (quarterback) and a local Heisman Trophy winner (Johnny Manziel) for the opportunity to put a guy who has been No. 1 since he was in high school opposite former defensive player of the year J.J. Watt. In three seasons at South Carolina, Clowney started 23 games, recording 24 sacks, 47 tackles for loss and 130 tackles. He finished his career in the top five among active college players in forced fumbles and tackles for loss. That’s football geek for "he breaks offenses."
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Watt called Clowney Thursday night to offer his mentorship. If they get along, it could be a powerful relationship. Like Clowney, Watt is extraordinarily athletic, but nobody has ever wondered if his hair was on fire.
“I told him I’d love to go to work with him,” Clowney said.
The Texans faced an existential choice. They play in the AFC South, which is Colts quarterback Andrew Luck’s division. Houston’s quarterbacks at the moment are Case Keenum, T.J. Yates and Ryan Fitzpatrick, and it seems implausible Houston could challenge Indianapolis for the division without making an upgrade at that position. But the Texans chose to attack Luck in a more direct way. Putting Clowney on the line with Watt presumably makes Houston’s defensive front the most disruptive unit in the division.
Whether or not the Texans ever had any serious interest in Manziel will remain unknown. Cleveland got him by trading up four spots in the first round to cut Kansas City in line at No. 22. So there was an opportunity. Manziel was still on the board when Smith was talking to the press about Clowney, and when somebody asked if he was trying to get a second first-round pick, he sounded open to the idea.
“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s why I have to hurry up and get downstairs.”
But with the top pick in the second round right around the corner, Derek Carr still on the board and 11 total draft picks to play with, you couldn’t blame the Texans for playing it cool.
“We have a bunch of picks and a bunch of opportunities,” Smith said.
Houston’s first pick was the safe pick, the obvious pick, the right pick. It was obvious Clowney hadn’t exactly left it all on the line for Ol’ State U, but then again he was essentially an unpaid professional football player who would have been the No. 1 pick last year if the rules allowed it. Who was shortchanging who, exactly?
In any case, the Texans are pretty sure Clowney’s gonna do the work, and they had some inside info on it. Houston’s strength coach had the same job at South Carolina in 2011.
“This guy is motivated,” Smith said. “When you talk to him, he wants to be great. He was the No. 1 player coming out of high school, he wanted to be the No. 1 player in the draft because he wants to be great. One of the things I explained to him tonight is as much as he wants to, he’s going to learn there is a whole other level of what it takes for him to realize that goal in the league.”
To start with, anyway, Clowney will play outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 alignment. For a rookie, that decodes as “situational pass rusher.”
“He’ll start in a two-point stance,” Smith said, “but any time we go into any kind of package, whether it’s a third-down package or a packaged predicated on personnel, down and distance, all those things give Romeo the ability to have him put his hand in the dirt and go get the passer.”
Clowney said Thursday the most aggravating knock against him was that he wasn’t strong at the point of attack. But the most pervasive one is the question about his desire.
“I’ve got a lot to prove,” he said. “I’m ready to get going.”