Playing hide and go seek with Khalil Mack is pretty easy. He is everywhere and if he wants to find you, he will find you. After another tremendous performance yesterday, which included a pick six and a strip sack to end the game, I started to think about how badly the Houston Texans messed up.
In the 2014 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans held the number 1 pick after a terrible year. Their were multiple guys up for consideration to be the number 1 pick but, one name stood out and it was Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney, a defensive end / linebacker from South Carolina, came bursting on the scene after he crushed a Michigan running back in the Outback Bowl, causing his helmet to fly 5 yards backward ( as seen above). At 6’5″ 270 pounds, Clowney is a freak athlete. He ranked first among defensive ends at the NFL combine in 40 yard dash time (4.53 seconds), vertical jump, and broad jump. The only question about Clowney was his work ethic. The Texans did not seem to find a problem with that, as they picked him number 1 attempting to make him and J.J. Watt the most feared combination of pass rushers in the league.
The Texans did however look at other potential players to pick number 1. Quarteback Blake Bortles? Nah. Offensive Tackle Greg Robinson? Nope. One player who did peak the Texans curiosity was outside linebacker Khalil Mack. Mack came from a small school ,Buffalo, who played in the MAC conference. He did not have very much competition but, he dominated every game. At the NFL combine, Mack put up big numbers ranking first in four of the categories among outside linebackers. Mack is an athletic freak like Clowney but, his work ethic never came into question. The only problem people had with Mack was the fact that he did not play for a big school or in a big conference. “Was the competition that bad or was Khalil Mack that good?”, became the question all teams were asking. Even with the question of Khalil Mack’s ability against tougher competition, he did not last long on the draft board and went number 5 overall to the Oakland Raiders; maybe one of the best picks they will ever make.
It seemed obvious to some that the Texans should pick Clowney. He was being considered a once in a lifetime talent but, passing up on Khalil Mack may haunt the Texans forever. Mack and Clowney are easy to compare because they both play similar positions. Outside linebackers who occasionally put their hands in the dirt to rush the passer. Clowney has been hurt most of his career and it looks like this may be the first season he plays the full 16 games. Clowney has been somewhat productive when in the lineup, especially this year, but Mack is playing like the so-called “once in a lifetime player”. An All-Pro at two positions last season (TWO!) , Mack is repeating that performance this year with 9 sacks and 51 tackles through 11 games. Meanwhile, Clowney has totaled 7.5 sacks in 28 career games. If the Texans front office saw any highlights from the Panthers Raiders game yesterday, I would not be surprised if they cried themselves to sleep.
It may be unfair to do this comparison right now but, is this a Bowie / Jordan situation? “Basketball is totally different dude”, I know it is but hear me out. Sam Bowie, the man picked by the Portland Trail Blazers before Michael Jordan, was a productive player during his NBA career that was eventually derailed by injuries. The man picked after him ,Michael Jordan, needs no introduction. Clowney and Mack may soon be on the precipice on this situation. Clowney was injured for the first two seasons of his career as mentioned. Is he injury prone? Will he ever be able to perform as he was expected to? Clowney, like Bowie, was solid when playing but can that continue? Then there is Mack. Mack has been a force ever since stepping foot in the league, just like Jordan. Mack looks like he may be on his way to becoming one of the best defensive players in NFL history with his constant production. It is too early to tell what will happen to Mack as injuries happen and schemes continue to change but, at this point in time he may be the most feared defensive player in the league. Clowney will most likely carve out a successful NFL career if not hampered by injuries but, he may never compare to Mack who seems closer and closer to putting his arm through a gold jacket.