Jadeveon Clowney is an impact player with tremendous upside who will start right away as the Texans rush linebacker.
One of the more puzzling criticisms leading up to the draft surrounding the possibility of the Texans selecting Clowney was that the transition from a 4-3 defensive end in college to a 3-4 outside linebacker at the pro level would be too difficult. If that is your opinion, please shake yourself. You're overthinking it.
The Texans are going to be playing a 3-4 defense, so that means he's going to be a 3-4 defensive end or an outside backer. I don't particularly think he forecasts well as an outside backer up on his feet rushing the edge, because I do think there is some lateral tightness in his athletic ability.
First, Clowney is athletic enough to handle the position. Other college defensive ends of a similar size like DeMarcus Ware, Aldon Smith, Tamba Hali and Brian Orakpo handled the transition easily, and none of them can hold a candle to Clowney in terms of raw athletic ability.
Second, my guess is Clowney will be asked to rush the passer 90 percent of the time or more. Don't get caught up in the name of the position or whether or not he'll have his hand on the ground or will be standing up. His role on the team will be as the primary edge pass-rusher, same as it was in college.
Does anyone get worked up over or get concerned about DeMarcus Ware dropping into coverage? Of course not, because regardless of what title you give him, his job is to rush the passer.
The Texans have desperately needed another pass-rusher the last two seasons to complement J.J. Watt. As great as Watt is, no player can fill that role on his own. Watt led the team in sacks in both the 2012 and 2013 season; the next highest total both years was just seven.
In 2011, the Texans had a very good pass rush because the pressure was coming from everywhere, and the sacks were more spread out, making them harder to block. Connor Barwin's team-leading 11.5 sacks in 2011 was only 26 percent of their overall total of 44.
The next year, when the pressure was coming from just one guy, J.J. Watt's team-leading 20.5 sacks represented nearly half of their sacks at 46.5 percent of their total of 44. Adding Clowney along with a developing Whitney Mercilus, who will now see more one-on-one situations, will suddenly turn their one-man wrecking crew into a trio of pass-rushers that will be more difficult to game-plan against.
The expectations for Jadeveon Clowney could not be any higher. The expectation is for him to turn into a Hall of Fame player like Lawrence Taylor; no pressure, right? We saw the fans turn on Mario Williams early on when he didn’t produce at a high level, while Vince Young and Reggie Bush were appearing in playoff games. If popular fan choice Johnny Manziel plays well early, the pressure will intensify quickly.
Even when Williams averaged 11 sacks over four seasons between 2007 and 2010, a sizable portion of the fanbase still felt that he wasn’t living up to the expectations of being the first overall pick. The expectations for Clowney appear to be much higher than they were for Mario Williams; he’ll have to produce at the same level or better than J.J. Watt to make fans happy.
Clowney will be under the hot spotlight from day one with critics sharpening their knives every day, waiting for a chance to tear him apart. The intensity of the NFL microscope will challenge even the most grounded athlete, but Clowney has been treated differently than other players since he was in high school.
After the famous hit in the 2013 Outback Bowl game against Michigan that was SportsCenter’s best of the best on their top-10 list every week for an entire year, Clowney experienced what it’s like to get caught in a media whirlwind. He’s still young and will make mistakes, but he’s had time to learn how to deal with and adapt to the pressure; I don't think he will break under the weight.