Once upon a time, Houston Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney was on the verge of being considered a bust before he even played his first game. Drafted out of South Carolina with the 1st overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, his speed, strength and athleticism had scouts fawning over his potential.
However, due in part to former South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier alluding to his "ok" work ethic or the outlandish comparisons to New York Giants hall of famer Lawrence Taylor, there just seemed to always be something negative circulating around his name.
There was even one of those anonymous quotes from an NFL executive calling him "spoiled" and "lazy". Such dispersions would have most certainly dropped most prospects in the draft, but Clowney's talent was too much to pass up on.
Now in his third year, the Texans' defensive end has upped each of his statistical measurements since his superstar defensive line teammate J.J. Watt was lost for the season back in September.
This season's tally of six sacks and 40 tackles are all career highs. During the AFC Wild Card game between the Texans and Oakland Raiders, Clowney was constantly in the Raiders backfield and in the face of rookie quarterback Connor Cook.
When your team offense is only averaging 17.4 points per game (28th in the NFL), inserting chaos and confusion into the mix is a good idea. Clowney's game fits right into that dichotomy. Fast, fierce, unrelenting and brutally efficient, one could argue that he is the prototype defensive end of the future.
Tall and rangy, cat-quick and agile, his length and reaction time means he doesn't even have to get all the way to the quarterback to cause problems.
While at linebacker, Clowney deflected six passes in 2015 and two in 2016 when moved to defensive end. The decrease in statistics is a reflection of the defensive scheme.
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As the Texans gear up to travel to Foxboro, Massachusetts to face the offensive juggernaut that is the New England Patriots, the only hope the Texans have is to rattle the usually unflappable Tom Brady early and often is Clowney. With former Patriot defensive tackle Vince Wilfork providing pressure up the middle, Clowney has to be disruptively dominant in the running and passing game for Houston to have a chance of pulling the upset.
He has the skills and the guile, but only time will tell if he has what it takes to bewilder a veteran New England Patriots offensive line.
Back in college, he was being touted as a once-in-a-generation type of talent. Not long ago, people were calling the 6-foot-6, 270-pound manchild a bust. This year, he was named to his first Pro Bowl and awarded Second Team All Pro honors.
In the playoffs, however, is where players make their bones and where legends are formed. Without the exceptional Watt by his side, demolishing the Patriots offensive line and making life miserable for Brady in a Texans upset victory will bring the vindication that he seeks, and a nod towards his future that just might make some of those lofty predictions come closer to reality.