Jadeveon Clowney, the best player in the 2014 NFL Draft, is currently getting shredded by anonymous NFL personnel in the media.
This happens every year. The same thing happened to guys like Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton before the draft.
The one word that keeps popping up with Clowney is “lazy.”
An anonymous NFC executive told NJ.com last week:
“He’s spoiled, and he’s lazy. He’s never worked hard a day in his life, now all of a sudden you’re going to give him a bunch of money and expect him to work hard. I don’t see it.”
It’s not a new criticism. The Sporting News reported in October that scouts were worried about Clowney taking plays off.
CBS’s Pete Prisco reported the same thing last week … before he watched all of Clowney’s game film and determined that laziness concerns were “overblown.”
When anonymous NFL people call Clowney lazy, they’re actually talking about two different things:
- “Lazy” meaning “a lack of work ethic bread out of a sense of entitlement, a serious psychological hindrance.”
- “Lazy” meaning “doesn’t give maximum effort on the field.”
The first definition — the one contained in the NJ.com story — is the more easily dismissible one.
The logic is twisted: Football players have to work hard to succeed, Clowney’s natural athleticism makes it easier for him to succeed, therefore Clowney isn’t a hard worker.
It’s a baseless statement meant to imply that players who are blessed with a relative abundance of athleticism aren’t responsible for their success, and don’t deserve credit as a result.
There’s no real evidence for that with Clowney.
He added 40 pounds of muscle in college. He played all year with an injured foot that required surgery.
The idea that he doesn’t work hard comes from the first game of the 2013 season, when he appeared tired on the sidelines while playing in 95-degree and smothering humidity. Getting tired when it’s hot out isn’t exactly evidence of a lack of work ethic.
The other criticism from NFL personnel — that Clowney is “lazy” because he takes plays off — has a little bit more legitimacy, but it’s still a myth.
Clowney’s production went down in 2013. He has 13 sacks in 2012 and just three in 2013. Because of that dip, a narrative quickly developed that he was not giving maximum effort. After all, how could such a young, athletic player get worse year over year?
When you dig into the nitty-gritty, though, you see that there are some good reasons for Clowney’s disappointing 2013 numbers that have nothing to do with laziness.
For the first two years of Clowney’s college career, he had future NFL defensive ends playing on the opposite side of the line. That gave him the freedom to exploit mismatches, and made it impossible for teams to double-team both star defensive ends at once.
That wasn’t the case in 2013.
Last year, opposing offenses did everything in their power to minimize Clowney’s impact. In the Georgia game, for example, the Bulldogs ran to Clowney’s opposite side 27 out of 39 times.
Josh Norris of Rotoworld summed it up nicely last year:
“Production for a collegiate defensive lineman can be tricky. Yes, Clowney registered 23.5 tackles for loss, including 13 sacks last season, but starting from the first snap this season it was obvious teams understood South Carolina lost a good amount of talent to the NFL and have struggled to replace it.”
“Opponents have consistently worked away from Clowney, running plays to the opposite side of the field, sending multiple blockers his way, using upfield momentum against him, or throwing quick passes on straight drop backs.”
There are certain positions on the football field that you can remove from the game with your offensive scheme. One is cornerback (you can just not throw it their way, like what teams used to do with Darrelle Revis). Another is defensive end (you can run away from them and double team them and throw quick passes, like what teams did to Clowney in 2013).
But this is its own kind of production, when you think about it. While Clowney’s numbers went down last year, he single-handedly made his opponents play differently by simply showing up. That matters.
The idea that Clowney takes plays off largely comes down to single-case examples, like this GIF from CBS Sports where he just stands there (at the top of the screen along the line):
But no one has presented any hard evidence that he routinely “takes plays off,” or that he takes off more plays than the average defensive end.
We know, from GIFs like the one above, that he just went through the motions on select plays in select games. We don’t know if that amounts to anything.
In fact, Norris found that Clowney played 78.3% of his teams snaps early in the 2013 season. That’s roughly in line with what top NFL defensive ends play.
And even Pete Prisco, who was anti-Clowney earlier this winter, admitted that the “taking plays off” thing is not a big deal after watching film of his games.
The Clowney “lazy” narrative says more about how the NFL Draft cycle works than about Clowney himself.