Daily Focus: Can Clowney live up to his pre-draft hype?

John Kosko examines Clowney's potential, Jared Goff's struggles under pressure and Karlos Williams' future.

| 2 months ago
(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

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.

| Analyst

John is an analyst for Pro Football Focus and former safety for the University of Kansas Jayhawks (2004–2006).

  • Bill Doerr

    Goff is going to be a big time BUST!!!!! I just know it…. He looks lost out there on the field & his body language screams he has no confidence right now in his game, no pocket presence & is horrible under pressure, he just doesn’t look like a 1st overall pick. Guys like Andrew Luck looked like the top pick, Last year Winston and Mariota looked like top picks and looked confident , Goff doesn’t. I think the Rams traded away the next few years worth of picks , their future basically, for a bust.

    • @PFF_JohnKosko

      I think it’s just way too soon to make any conclusions. Luck and Mariota came out as a redshirt Junior and Winston a red shirt sophomore. All struggled as rookies but with Luck looking the best. Can’t state enough how important an extra year in college is. Goff will get there, he needs a year or two of development. Thanks for reading.

    • Joe Doe

      You could be right, but it’s a bold prediction this early. I wasn’t able to verify it through my google search, but I’m quite sure that Peyton set the record for most pick-sixes in a season as a rookie. A lot of them were on out routes that were easy for corners to diagnose. Though that line and receiving crew won’t do him any favors.

      • crosseyedlemon

        Peyton Manning threw only 2 pick-sixes in his rookie season. In game one against the Dolphins, Terrell Buckley had a 21 yard INT return for a touchdown and the following week the Patriots Ty Law had a 59 yard INT return against Peyton for a score.