Daily Focus: Can Clowney live up to his pre-draft hype?
Editor’s note: Every day in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest NFL news and translate what it really means for each team involved.
Will Jadeveon Clowney live up to his pre-draft hype in 2016?
A year and half before the 2014 draft, a sophomore defensive end from South Carolina was being touted as best edge rushing talent since Lawrence Taylor. Most of this hype originated from a soul-crushing tackle-for-loss-strip-fumble-and-recovery of Michigan running back Vincent Smith. While it was pretty poor blocking from the Michigan offensive lineman, what was evident was the speed, explosion, and power from an athletic phenom. In hindsight, comparing Jadeveon Clowney to LT was a bit premature, but clearly the tools were there for Clowney to become a dominant edge rusher in the NFL.
Fast forward to 2016 and the former Gamecock has struggled to stay on the football as he played just 146 snaps as a rookie and 573 snaps in his second year missing four games including the AFC wild card game. Just two years removed from being selected No. 1 overall, national media was already him off as a bust. While it’s much too soon to do that, his injury history is a concern for his long term durability. If he can somehow shake the injury bug, Clowney has shown he can become a dominant player in the NFL, including what he did against New Orleans Saturday night.
Against the Saints, Clowney put together the best grade of all the edge rushers in this weekend’s slate of games recording a sack, a hit, two defensive stops, and was disruptive in the run game. It’s a glimpse of what Clowney can become, but we’ve already seen him in regular season action playing at a high level when healthy. His rookie year is almost a lost one as he played in parts of just four games but last year was impressive grading positively in every game in which he was able to play more than 30 snaps (played just 12 snaps week 8 vs Tennessee and graded negatively). When looking at the weeks he played healthy, Clowney graded as the 11th overall edge defender and third-best against the run behind Khalil Mack.
Clowney’s 2015 looks similar in a lot of ways to Mack’s rookie season where both players were very strong against the run and solid in rushing the passer. Mack graded better as a rookie (87.0 player grade) than Clowney did last year (82.3) but if Clowney can build off his strong sophomore season and be a playmaker opposite J.J. Watt, opposing offenses will have their hands full with the Texans edge rushers. He’ll need to be another Watt to live up to his pre-draft hype but even if he never becomes the dominant pass-rusher most thought he’d become, he has already shown to be a top tier run stopper.
Jared Goff struggling under pressure
Last week the common theme after the Rams-Cowboys preseason game was that Goff struggled, but his game wasn’t as bad as it was perceived to be. He was far from perfect but he had a drop and a hit as thrown on his interception that made his stat line look terrible. Goff’s stat line was much better in his second game but his grade was much worse, as he couldn’t hold on to the ball, fumbling twice – once when he tried to extend the play too far when throwing the ball away would have been the smart, safe choice.
It’s much too early to make any conclusions on the 2016 No. 1 overall draft pick. PFF analysts highly rated him coming out of college as he was the top-graded passer in college in 2015. Goff is just 21 years young and would be a true senior in college this year if he stayed at California. What is clear is that he needs time adjusting to NFL defenses. His 36.1 passer rating when under pressure is obviously not good and the sample size is very limited, but Saturday night’s game against Kansas City guaranteed Case Keenum will be the starter Week 1 of the regular season.
Karlos Williams cut after a strong rookie season
The Buffalo Bills announced Saturday that they had released second-year HB Karlos Williams. GM Dough Whaley stated that the reasoning was “strictly performance-based” inferring Williams’ dramatic offseason weight gain in which he was reportedly as heavy as 261 pounds at one point. Combine Williams being out of shape with his four-game suspension to start the year due to the league’s substance-abuse policy, the Bills cut ties with the talented back.
Williams and LeSean McCoy formed a solid HB duo as both graded positively in 2015 with Williams proving to be a force to bring down, ranking ninth in the NFL in elusive rating and forcing 19 missed tackles on just 93 carries. What happens to Williams moving forward is a big question as any team picking him up won’t get to play him until Week 5 and his weight could be a problem. If he can get himself back into NFL shape, he would provide the team a promising HB talent.