Great Investment. Great Expectation. And an Injury Requiring Great Patience.
Arguably, the most hyped NFL rookie from last year is facing the most uncertainty in 2015.
Jadeveon Clowney, the top overall pick in the previous draft, is working hard to bounce back from a plagued inaugural season, culminating in microfracture surgery on his right knee.
While it’s still early in his promising career, there are high expectations due to the significant investment made in him.
Clowney finds himself in a delicate position, tasked with demonstrating his value as a top draft pick while recovering from a challenging medical procedure.
Microfracture surgery involves creating small fractures in the lower leg bone plate, allowing blood and bone marrow to seep through and form a blood clot, releasing cartilage-forming stem cells from the marrow.
Essentially, it’s an attempt to regenerate cartilage from scar tissue.
This rehabilitation can be particularly tricky for large-bodied athletes like the 6’5″, 270-pound Clowney, as they must patiently rebuild the new cartilage under the weight of their substantial frame.
Careful recovery is crucial, especially given that Clowney’s explosive leg strength is likely the team’s primary interest in preserving – the attribute that initially made him such a highly sought-after pick.
By now, we’ve all been regaled with Clowney’s remarkable football prowess countless times.
He is one of those rare athletes whose physical abilities surpass his peers at his position, akin to another Houston Texan nearly a decade ago: Mario Williams.
Clowney possesses an astonishingly swift initial move, demonstrating explosiveness that allows him to zip past offensive tackles on one play, then power through a running back as if they were mere tissue paper on the next.
His size-to-speed ratio is beyond comparison, a crucial attribute for Clowney to maintain as he emerges from this challenging rehabilitation process.
When acquiring a player with the potential for greatness, there’s also the potential for disappointment.
In Clowney’s case, the lingering draft question centered on his consistency in his drive.
This doubt emerged due to inconsistent play during his final year in college.
Critics pointed out instances where he appeared disengaged throughout that season.
One might be inclined to think that this specific type of rehabilitation could potentially amplify some of those perceived shortcomings.
There were moments last season, while recovering from another knee issue when it seemed those concerns about Clowney’s maturity were becoming a reality.
Privately, the organization voiced apprehensions about this aspect of his development.
Since deciding late last year to undergo the procedure, there appears to have been a shift in the tide.
Texans players and coaches are now commending Clowney’s handling of the offseason, with the team’s leader, JJ Watt, openly acknowledging the positive changes in Clowney’s approach and maturity.
Head coach Bill O’Brien, known for his no-nonsense coaching style in the NFL, also praised Clowney’s dedication during his recovery, stating, “He’s worked extremely hard. I think he’s moving well; I think he feels better. We’ll look forward to seeing where he’s at once we return here at the end of July.”
It could be that this positive outlook is simply the Texans’ leadership expressing hope, or it might be the real deal.
Regardless, Clowney ultimately holds the final say in shaping the narrative about the type of professional football player he will become.
His challenge lies in demonstrating how much he has grown and how deeply he desires to be back on the field with his teammates, all while being cautious and avoiding rushing his recovery from a delicate injury.
While it may be tempting, Clowney must resist the pressure to match the early success of players in his draft class.
This can be incredibly challenging for an elite player like him, burdened with lofty expectations.
Khalil Mack of the Oakland Raiders has lived up to his considerable expectations following an impressive rookie season, albeit one free from serious injury.
Many NFL experts believe Mack is on track to become an All-Pro outside rusher/linebacker.
While this may hold true, Clowney’s primary competition lies within his body and development.
The main focus should be on realizing his potential within his organization rather than vying with another player on a different team.
It’s crucial to manage what he can control.
While it might seem premature to apply pressure on Clowney to perform at this stage, the reality is that when you’re drafted as high as he was, the expectations are even more significant.
However, if the pressure to excel pushes a player to rush a delicate rehabilitation process to “prove something,” it can lead to equally serious career setbacks as failing to meet those expectations.
The vision of Clowney and JJ Watt forming an incredibly disruptive defensive duo remains a very tangible possibility, but achieving this will require thoughtful and dedicated efforts from both the team and the player.
Given the substantial investment, the Houston Texans likely strongly desire to see this vision come to fruition sooner rather than later.
Not in a year. Not in two years. According to O’Brien’s optimistic outlook, the team appears eager for a return on their significant investment this coming fall.
Ultimately, it falls on Clowney to repay the team’s patience and support, approach his recovery intelligently, and leverage his talent to ensure this dream becomes a reality for everyone involved.