Unless you have been living under a rock, you already know at least a little bit about Jadeveon Clowney. If you have even turned on NFL Network once in the last three months it’s likely than within minutes you saw a headline story or, at bare minimum, a snippet about the former Gamecock standout. Because of all this, I think it’s safe to say that he is the most intriguing prospect in all of this year’s draft (one could make a case for Johnny Manziel too I suppose). Most “in the know” (who really are most of these people anyway though?) are up in arms about what Clowney can and will turn into at the next level. You have people who feel as though he is a sure-fire, perennial All-Pro…and then there are others who reside on the other side of the fence who believe he is going to fall flat & firm on his face.
His supporters compare him to all-time greats like Lawrence Taylor. They rave about his raw, all-world athleticism; the rare and one-of-a-kind combination of freakish size, power, and speed. They overplay the video of the decapitating hit he laid on an unsuspecting Michigan running back in 2012. They get revved up about his ability to jump over 7 bags and pick up a tennis ball (if you’ve used that final sentence in your arguments please shut the F up already for the love of all that is holy). They talk about him being the best fit of a defensive end maybe ever to enter the League.
His naysayers claim he lacks the fire, the drive, and the all-around passion to play the game to be the absolute best each and every Sunday. They routinely point to the plays that he “took off” during the season. They replay the sound bite of Coach Spurrier saying his work ethic was “only OK.” They talk about his lackadaisical demeanor during games and lack of fight when out-manned.
‘Round and round the merry-go-round goes. No matter where it stops, one thing is clear; very few seem to doubt if he does have the potential to be the very best player each time he steps on a field (that nasty little P word there). Yet, there are very few who reside on the middle of the fence with him. Either you love him or you hate him. So, which side am I on? Well…you will just have to read on to find out now won’t you?!
Get your freak on
Take one quick look at Clowney and you immediately can predict that he’s different…the words “physical specimen” are thrown around American sports frequently in this day and age of course…but I assure you that it will be on NFL pregame shows even more to come when talking about Mr. Clowney. If you have never seen his high school highlights film please do yourself a favor and watch it now. As you will see, it is an absolute sight to behold.
Now, I have witnessed a number of future NFL’ers play while they were in HS, but I have never seen anything like that above. Granted, it’s always hard to tell or appreciate just how much different an athlete is when you watch a player out on a high school field due to differences in level of competition and the individual or physical maturity differences, etc. But even watching film of current NFL greats like Adrian Peterson or LeSean McCoy dominating their respective high school competition you can tell they are well-ahead of their peers, but at times their peers do eventually get one on them. However, Clowney was just a little different animal to say the least.
Still to this day, Jadeveon Clowney fits that billing. Standing 6’6” and at 266lb, he put on an absolute display of physical prowess and athletic freakdom at the NFL Combine and the tests that he completed there (Note: he did NOT do the position drills). If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you know the hate that I have for all that the NFL Combine tests and represents. If you are unfamiliar with where I am coming from with this, you can read more of my thoughts here:
In Part 2 of that blog, I express my initial thoughts on Clowney’s performance in Indy and the limitations it represents. Let me say it now: a 266lb man running a 4.53 average 40 is not even fair….that’s a lot of relative speed. Let me add a little something more to that bit though: that same 266lb man will never be required to use that 4.53 over 40 yards on Sundays.
As I shed light on in the 2nd part of the critical analysis of the combine blog, when we begin to look at quantitative data that may be more representative of Clowney’s position on the field, he begins to look more human in comparison to his peers. His combine performance, albeit very impressive (I didn’t even mention his 37.5 vertical jump or 10’4” broad jump yet) at times, left little doubt that he is a freak but there are a lot of freaks among the 1696 players who play each Sunday at noon. You’ve heard me say before that they’re all “supercars”…well, come Sundays, it all depends on how well you actually drive that Ferrari or Lambo.
Show me the money
I actually decided to break down Clowney’s movement patterns and write up this blog post on what I saw because of some developments of this past week when Jadeveon claimed that he was not going to work-out for any teams from now until the draft. The only thing he said he may do (which he then did on Friday, April 25th), was perform a simple 5 minute test but would NOT do any on-field drills whatsoever.
When a player says something like this it does strike an irritation cord with me as I personally see players each year who scratch and claw and would give their left nut to get just one chance to be in front of the eyes of a single scout or coach from a team. Now, working with a lot of guys and trying to get them to value what God has given them and treat themselves as an investment…I certainly can appreciate him not wanting to place himself in any undue risk or harm…especially by working out for a team that may have very little shot at drafting you. But was he saying “no” because that was what he was worried about or is there something more there? This is a question that only he knows the answer to.
The tests he did agree to participate in were some “biomechanical assessments” with the Atlanta Falcons (who reportedly are in the mix to trade up to get him). When I read the initial report of him doing this, I immediately speculated that it was going to be nothing more than the Functional Movement Screen and of course I took to my social media feeds to bash the heck out of it. However, after seeing further reports (the one below), it is my understanding that the Falcons actually used a Force Plate to perform this biomechanical testing! Yippee skippee!! OK; hold on just a bit on the excitement pedal though.
Here is the story on it:
It also appears that hell must’ve officially frozen over too now that an NFL team realized that there are ways to actually analyze force production beyond a maximum lift on a squat, clean, or deadlift. But the sky opened up, and God said, “I love you Shawn Myszka!” That is…till I realized this was done purely in the vertical sense and only during preprogrammed activities…of course, because Clowney did not want to do any on-field drills…I mean, I guess it was too much to ask for us to actually get him to do something that would give us specific indication regarding the biodynamic structure of his on-field sport movement actions and patterns now huh?!
Contrary to the NFL Network reports, a Force Plate is NOT all that cutting edge and state-of-the-art for anyone that knows anything about exercise and sports science…unfortunately, for the NFL…it has yet to be used by teams and thus it IS cutting edge… and let’s hope it represents a new wave of thinking for NFL teams. Thus, I will give major props to the Falcons staff for bringing in Sparta as a consultant to do Force Plate testing and to step outside of the box a bit by doing so. I believe that if incorporated correctly it will allow them to get a better grip on specific strengths and weaknesses of their players and begin to realize better paths towards optimizing on-field movement through the development of specific motor potential.
The biggest thing from the inclusion of the force plate is they got objective data on his force-time characteristics. Yet, as noted above, there are still limitations to this…actually big limitations especially if he wasn’t required to perform any football-specific movement on it (either of a preprogrammed or especially chaotic/organic nature). Though, even with that, they would be missing the kinematic analysis side of this movement optimization puzzle…BUT it’s still a step in the right direction for sure.
I will also say that it’s time for other teams to take hold of this and use these ideas in a way that can give more accurate information regarding exactly which factors of performance are important for the assessment of players of the highest level of mastery. On that note, if you want to get your sport science geek on, here are a few short videos of me discussing the ideas of kinetics (http://youtu.be/s-L-nEKCcqk) as well as the kinematics (http://youtu.be/2_ET8MFobM) and the kinesiological patterning (http://youtu.be/WGa2aj9saB4) that I wish they would have taken into account with their “biomechanical assessment” as well.
All in all…maybe (just maybe), all of this is setting the precedence for the next step to be the designation of a movement coach for teams to have someone who works with its players on optimizing the movement patterns and efficiency level like someone intelligent suggested last year in the blog below!?!
Well, after all that hoopla and all that jazzing up, for your sake I hope this movement analysis to come is not just another smokescreen like all the pre-draft analysis out there. For those of you unaware of my style, I am analyzing and assessing football-specific skill has it relates to movement proficiency levels to play the game in the most optimal possible fashion. So, here goes nothing…
Now, you know I always say that the on-field/in-game movement is the only screen we really need…and that’s still true. But because I spend all my time watching NFL film, I really haven’t watched a ton from Clowney’s past. So, I decided to start with his Pro Day film to get a grip on what we were working with here. Let me premise this with saying that I won’t be breaking down his ‘bag jumping/tennis ball picking up drill’ movement efficiency but I will say this: would you people who design this drill stop the insanity already…it’s not the damn circus….it’s supposed to be football movement simulation. Now that I got that out of my system, let’s continue…
With his general & global movement displayed during the Pro Day, here are some quick points I noticed:
-through much of day’s drills I personally felt as though his general movement was very labored at times and lacked fluidity as a whole
-he rarely bursts during drills/following through a drill unless the drill particularly calls for it (with the guys I work with this attention to detail at all times is an absolute must)
-when instructed to burst, his linear explosiveness is exceptional. He has the ability to generate a lot of force to the ground and attack aggressively. The thing is…I believe that his football-specific acceleration mechanics could be improved so that explosive ability could be on greater display and on another level (more to come on that in a bit).
-he moves in both tight & open spaces with very high hips that often appear tight & overly stiff…this happens both when he is trying to flip his hips in space or attempting to drive his foot into the ground and project himself hard into a different direction.
-in change of direction situations (if he will be expected to drop into coverage on a 3-4 scheme or get out in space and track guys down laterally) especially when he is moving linear and has to stop laterally and change direction…his base of support gets overly narrow, his center of gravity remains high (mostly because of his lack of hip mobility & control), and the force up the kinetic chain dampens greatly (likely due to bad deceleration position AND subpar eccentric strength/force absorption qualities. This needs to be drastically improved upon for the NFL cuz them cats can stop on a dime and get up out of cuts differently than the guys in college.
-he looked slightly un-natural in some of the more dynamic drills…his center of gravity popped up, he shifted to a vertical shin, and he would keep his head down looking to see where his body was in space (obviously that can’t happen on the field so likely that then would lead to balance loss on a football field).
With his more specific movement patterns on-field, I saw some of the same as I did above:
-plays high way too often to be as efficient as he will need to be in the League with the jump in athleticism and skill…he will have to adapt to that change in the movement abilities of the guys he will be facing and concurrently tweak his own biomechanical positioning to account for that. We have all heard ‘low man wins’…well, in the trenches this is truer more often than not.
–hip mobility is definitely a concern on-film too. This will especially be true if he is expected to run out in space with guys…he does rely on his instincts when doing so (which you want of course) and in the past then he has been able to just overcome people…or I should say he could do this at the college game. I think if he doesn’t improve upon his movement mechanics in space and fine-tune this pattern it will be a movement trait that will get exposed as offensive players are just too crafty when they get the same creases of daylight that allowed Clowney to shine on Saturdays.
-he seems to lack upper body strength and stability. His long arms will help him overcome this to a certain degree of course (there is a reason why Offensive Tackles are often judged on arm length too). But I think he does need to improve the strength quality to be able to drive into a guy, maintain stability from arm to the foot down the kinetic chain (and this will improve force to the ground then too), and then keep dictating that which he wants to do strategically especially in edge combat that will happen with either Tackles or Tight Ends.
-that acceleration/burst is exceptional/world-class at his position (I am talking about how quickly he can push and bend the edges of the pocket). He covers a lot of ground in 3 steps and does so rapidly but I believe can even push this envelope even further (see below).
More local/specific movement actions on-field:
-when his foot strikes the ground in initial hard steps during acceleration he frequently has right knee valgus collapse occur which leads to not only a leak there but his right heel to swing out & away from his body after it leaves the ground behind him. When it does recover and swing back through it often lands too far out in front of him with an over-exaggerated step length which causes his force production angle to go mostly down in a vertical sense…rather than down AND back & away from him with an sharper horizontal force vector (i.e. for optimal propulsion for the direction he desires to go). This entire movement action compensation can quickly become dysfunctional. I would be curious where this stemmed from and exactly what is causing it in his particular case (i.e. is it a bad program/lack of CNS control, joint integrity issue in the kinetic chain, or muscle/connective tissue?). Thus, if this could be corrected, he could get more biomechanically-sound, more efficient, and less likely to have an injury rear its ugly head due to this compensation in this pattern.
-he often lacks adequate dorsiflexion angle and thus not only does he frequently get himself into a suboptimal position for delivering force to the ground but he simultaneously leaks a great deal of energy when his foot does strike the ground which causes a cascade of negative effects up on the chain.
-now that it’s likely that he will have to move in space considerably more frequently than he was accustomed to in the past, so he needs to learn to push his plant foot further away from his vertical line of force anytime he is attempting to stop in preparation for a directional change. He has a naturally high center of mass and thus widening his base of support won’t come overly natural but it would be an advantage to him if he can learn how to bend & flex through his hips & knees more comfortably. However, this improved biomechanical positioning from this will be for nothing if he doesn’t also possess or increase upon the eccentric force absorption strength qualities to handle the extreme loading present in these types of movement tasks. This needs improvement I believe (speaking from experience with MOST college football players).
All in all, though he on paper he is freaky (very, very freaky), I believe he’s still raw not only as a football player but also as a mover on the football field as well based on that which I noted in detail above. But like everyone else believes in regards to him…I too believe he has the potential to be the very best at his position in the league (the dreaded P word is back!). The sky really is the limit. But the rub is that it will all come back to passion if he is ever going to fulfill that potential…he was certainly gifted by the Man upstairs to be a different human being and attention to the details and follow through once it becomes one’s craft is what will determine just how far he’s going to go.
That all said, will he immediately be able to succeed as a football player on Sundays? Like stated above, the extent he will succeed will only be determined by him and how much he wants to (thanks, Captain Obvious!)…but I do think he’s going to be able to succeed in flashes and spurts no matter how much he applies himself…but being great is a totally different story. As it stands right now, in my opinion, he does need to refine both his general movement patterns as well as some of the more specific local characteristics that will end up being determining factors for his long-term opportunity for greatness.