Jadeveon Clowney: future NFL star or bust?


So, the news came down that Jadeveon Clowney, he of South Carolina Gamecocks fame and the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans, would miss 4-6 weeks with a torn meniscus after departing yesterday’s season opener against the Washington Redskins.

More from South Carolina Football

Not good. Not good for the Texans, who were pinning their hopes on a young man that had the ability to change games whenever he stepped on the field in college, and not good for Clowney, whose NFL career is off to a tough start.

Now, you may look at the title and automatically recoil in horror (especially Gamecocks and Texans fans) because it looks like I’m proclaiming Clowney to be a bust before he played his first NFL game. I’ll leave that for you to decide.

But stay with me for a moment.

Nothing is guaranteed in professional sports. Clowney could be one of the best defensive players of this generation, or he could be an absolute bust. Nobody knows.

I’m simply here to make the point that nothing is guaranteed in professional sports. Teams in all leagues willfully shell out millions of dollars every year to kids fresh out of college with the hopes of getting 12-15 good years out of them. No other employer does that. Raise your hand if you’re reading this and your future boss gave you a eight-figure advance


your first official day of work because they believed so strongly in your performance in college, as well as your future ability.

But there’s that small feeling in the back of the minds of every executive across the four major sports.

That feeling that one bad snap, one turn of the ankle or knee, one big hit, could alter not only their franchise, but their prized possession, that same kid they paid millions upon millions of dollars to. (See Oden, Greg.) That feeling that he could completely stink it up in the pros so much that he’ll be remembered more for what he didn’t do than what he did do. (See Russell, Jamarcus.)

I’ll say it again: nothing is guaranteed in professional sports, and no amount of money paid to a player can change that. Eli Manning could tear up his arm tonight. Drew Brees‘ career could end with a concussion on Sunday, for all we know. Who’s to say Calvin Johnson doesn’t come down wrong on his leg after a jump ball next week, forcing him to receive season-ending knee surgery?

Which brings us back to Clowney.

Clowney could be one of the best defensive players of this generation. He could put in his 15 years or so of service, hang it up in 2029 with a few rings to his name, and be a first ballot Hall of Famer in 2034 in the absolute best scenario. He could be a middling contributor, a good player but not a great player, still retire in about 12 years and maybe make the Hall. Or he could be an absolute bust, an injury-riddled player that never saw the field much, and when he did, never chipped in more than a couple sacks a year before retiring early due to bad knees.

Which will it be? I don’t know. Nobody knows.

We’ll see how he’s remembered in 2034.