Jadeveon Clowney is a Seattle Seahawk, but what position will he play? Pete Carroll’s scheme is the perfect fit.
The Seattle police department, FBI nor the UN didn’t intervene in John Schneider’s heist. The Texans didn’t fail the physicals. Trading Barkevious Mingo, a likely cap casualty who struggled with the transition to defensive end, and Jacob Martin, a 6th round pick down to 220lbs last year, plus a third-round pick is a clear value win. What has been murkier to some has been where Jadeveon Clowney will play in Seattle.
It feels perverse that the first clips of Jadeveon Clowney in this article will be disappointing ones. But this is a necessary process in evaluating the 26-year-old’s skillset and projecting the best role for him. (His strengths are coming later; don’t worry!) Clowney’s current body weight of 255lbs projects best to the “LEO” pass-rusher prototype.
The LEO is a lighter, faster and bendier rusher who is given wider alignments in the Seahawks’ defense. It’s more of a 3-4 outside linebacker than a 4-3 defensive end. Jacob Martin, though he lacked pliability, somewhat fit this description. Chris Clemons is the peak.
Clowney, however, lacks the bend required for the LEO spot. Though he tested absolutely ridiculously at the NFL combine, his 3-cone disappointed. The 7.27s time places in the 41st percentile versus one-gap defensive ends according to mockdraftable. The tape matches the combine performance: Clowney is a linear, albeit historically gifted athlete.
When Clowney attempts to bend-to-finish, his lower body lacks the required flexion to shorten the corner and get to the quarterback. This is a large reason for him never registering double-digit sacks in a single season. While his speed (4.53s forty at 266lbs) threatens tackles, he can get pushed around the arc because of his body not allowing him to tighten the pocket. His upper is incredibly flexible, with that “duck under tables” ability. His lower just lets him down and stiffness occasionally shows.
JC being listed at 255lbs and testing so explosively would hint that he would be suited to the "LEO" role in PC's D, that of a bendy, fast QB hunter given wide alignments. Yet Clowney struggles to bend, evidenced by a 7.27s 3c. This limits his corneringpic.twitter.com/dbfeZ2K4Zp— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) September 7, 2019
Clowney can still turn corners thanks to hip flick, especially potent from tighter angles where he can work half-man relationships. He can point his toes in the correct direction and his explosion still threatens tackles, crucial in avoiding them from “shallow setting” him. The dynamism of Clowney can surprise opponents and get them turned.
Very flexibile in his upper body, Clowney has limited lower body flexion. It's the one part that isn't CRAZY-gifted athlete.— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) September 7, 2019
Clowney can, however, turn and flip his hips around corners to round the arc and keep his feet pointing at the quarterback. pic.twitter.com/UylpcXzbGn
Lacking the lower-body bend though, Clowney’s weight suddenly becomes an interesting discussion. At South Carolina, he is rumored to have played at 275lbs. In Indianapolis, he weighed in at 266lbs. Last year on the Texans and on the current Seattle roster, Clowney is listed at 255lbs.
Houston was running a 3-4-based scheme that had Clowney occasionally dropping and playing as an “outside linebacker” type of EDGE. A lot of the early down interior work was given to J.J. Watt. So Clowney slimmed down. Yet his game suits more of a 275lb build. “Coming out of college it was very different for me, coming from a 4-3 to a 3-4,” Clowney told reporters at his introductory press conference.
Seattle’s roster is now in a weird place, lacking a pure speed-rusher or finesse type after cutting Cassius Marsh (picked up by the Arizona Cardinals on waivers) and moving Martin. The only possible man is the total project of Jachai Polite, currently on the practice squad.. Indeed, the Seahawks listed Clowney at defensive end not LEO. That’s because Clowney is absolutely perfect for the 5-technique role in Seattle, the big end. A better weight for him is therefore closer to 275lbs. “I think he will really thrive for us,” offensive tackle, and friend, Duane Brown told Josina Anderson.
”Now that I’m here, I just know for a fact that I’m going forwards. So I can put on as much weight as I want and get going,” Clowney stated. “I can get back to going vertical, not dropping. Just really putting my head down and grinding. When you’re going forward you don’t think about a lot. So that’s the best thing about this defense.”
Seattle expects their defensive ends to play with some two-gap principles. The Seahawks play with a “spill-then-force” philosophy up front and use their ends to keep the linebackers behind clean. That’s a concept Clowney clearly grasps: “You’ve got guys behind you who can make all the plays and guys in front who just get moving and get going; cause havoc. So that’s what I like about this [defense].”
Nothing demonstrates this better than Clowney’s play against the run. It is coaching tape for Seattle defensive ends. “Pete loves working with guys like this,” John Schneider enthused to Albert Breer. Clowney is excellent at using his explosion and ability to get skinny to slip past down blocks. He squeezes down the line of scrimmage with inside zone away. He pierces double teams. He does not let the point of attack get re-set.
Clowney can take out multiple blockers on run players, both when the offense intends to double him but also when he thunders into the backfield, beating a crackback or downblock; then knocking out a split-block or puller. It’s violence that wrecks offensive play-design.
Clowney is better suited to the doubles and tighter alignments of Seattle's 5-tech role. Nothing demonstrates this better than his play v IZ away, squeezing down the LOS, stunting in and taking on doubles. This is his immediate impact, it's coaching ️pic.twitter.com/KpcGXaHzHm— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) September 7, 2019
This is the type of stuff the Seahawks demand from their 5-tech. It’s where Clowney’s immediate impact will come. Seattle also regularly schemes it up, calling various run stunts to gain an extra gap. Carroll commented: “He’s made a lot of plays in the backfield over the years you know, and instinctive plays penetrating and causing problems. We plan to allow him to do that in our scheme. It will fit really well with what we are doing. We saw a great fit whether it’s early downs or third downs.” The defensive end and 3-technique will slant one way, the linebackers will fall back in the other direction for the clean tackle. Observe “Pirate”:
Pirate is something Pete Carroll has applied to his Cover 3, run out of his "Boston" (Over) front.— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) June 3, 2019
It always comes from the 3 tech side, was an automatic against Far formations.
2014. Rams running bend. Seattle got dudes playside and fallback linebackers were free to tackle. https://t.co/2RPcK6zdXU pic.twitter.com/idd7f0jN0R
Clowney is a ridiculously talented run defender. Seattle’s scheme will also require to set the EDGE against the run on occasions. The way Clowney adapts his technique and leverage for different run types is superb. Setting the EDGE on outside zone towards him, he gets depth and is stout. Setting the EDGE on inside runs, he manages to play one-and-a-half gaps, again pushing depth. He controls blocks, disengaging at will and keeping the correct arm free.
The above is the stuff SEA seeks from their ends (esp 5), as they look to steal gaps and play with some 2-gap elements to keep their 'backers clean.— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) September 7, 2019
JC also excels setting the EDGE, from tight or wide, controlling blocks and keeping the correct arm freepic.twitter.com/ab1G4ryiFd
Clowney’s quickness and run recognition leads to him making some splash plays. It’s rare to see him finish a play blocked. There is a madden glitch-level to his near-instant blocksheds. His suddenness combined with excellent handwork—his favorite being a club-to-swim or club-to-rip—makes for splash plays.
Clowney's elite quickness shows up for absolute splash plays in the run game. He rarely, if ever, finishes the play being blocked. This is thanks to some excellent moves (club-swim, rip) and his sudden athletic talents. It's almost glitchy insta-blockshed:pic.twitter.com/cFj93k8Qc9— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) September 7, 2019
Bill Belichick’s entire game-plan is based around removing the strengths of the opposition. Darth Sidious’ decision to make sure that Clowney was regularly double-teamed, chipped and slowed was revealing. The rest of the NFL did the same. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, when Clowney lined up as an EDGE rusher (DE or OLB) he was double-teamed 33% of the time, the highest rate amongst all EDGEs. “I know he is respected by offensive coordinators, guys that have to prepare,” Brown revealed to Anderson.
“He can do whatever he wants to do when he wants to do it,” was how Schneider surmised his game to Breer. We haven’t even touched on Clowney’s best pass-rushing moments yet. NFL Next Gen Stats had Clowney with the third-best pass-rush win rate, beating his blocker within 2.5 seconds 36% of the time which only placed behind Robert Quinn (40%) and Aaron Donald (46%),
Even playing at 255lbs, Clowney had genuine knockback power that stunned offensive linemen. Adding more weight will only add even more oomph to his punches. What was particularly impressive about Clowney’s power moves was his ability to engage a tackle with a long-arm, driving them back, and then re-set his other hand as a repeated puncher. Such grappling in the trenches is something Clowney is close to mastering.
Even at 255lbs, Clowney had explosive knockback power against tackles and there was a clear violence to his game. His bullrush will only get more effective as he adds weight, but his ability to re-set his off-hand while punishing with a long-arm excites:pic.twitter.com/qYiqP1B68R— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) September 7, 2019
Throughout games, Clowney would set up blockers to fail with a clear pass-rush plan. It was nasty. He alters the length of his steps to set people up, shimmying, using heavy feet as though coming inside and employing pitter-patter feet to time up his bullrush and punches. It’s all about trying to get the tackle to make the first move. Get the fatty lunging.
Clowney even elongates his stride to time up his club. His favored counter is the inside move, set up with a hard-step to the outside and then a blistering club-swim inside. This is something that Clowney, when aligned wide in Seattle, can utilize. After all, despite lacking bend he still has excellent comprehension of wide angles. He can pull his hips through nicely with his Club-Swim move and often manages to get his hand on the back of the offensive tackle. It’s death in an instant.
The above is again suited to the tighter confines of 5t (4t, 5t, 6t and 7t).— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) September 7, 2019
There's evidence of a clear pass rush plan from JC. He has a nice inside counter, hard-stepping outside and then darting inside with a strong, blistering club-to-swim.pic.twitter.com/VbEr93FmNG
There are numerous 3-tech elements to Clowney’s game, which is exactly why he is the ideal 5-technique in Seattle. His quickness against a guard, combined with the Club-Swim or a loop, leads to immediate pressure in pockets and scared quarterbacks. Like on the outside, Clowney can bounce around a bit and the Seahawks do heavily emphasize rush lane discipline. Still, though, part of that was Houston’s scheme.
There's 3-tech to Clowney's game and he often looks like an explosive DT in an EDGE body. That's basically the 5t role job description and it made sense SEA listed him at end NOT LEO. It's expected to see Clowney's quicks power and club-swim thrive insidepic.twitter.com/EFzkGVJkAq— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) September 7, 2019
Seattle is never afraid to get creative with pass-rush talent. This is particularly true on pass-rush downs. They regularly look to get their 5-technique types inside in nickel. There is a Jet front, an over that features a 9-technique, a 3-technique, a 2i-technique and a 9 technique. The defensive tackles thing run-first; the defensive ends think pass. There is also a Green font, composed of a 9-technique, a 3-technique, a 3-technique and a 9-technique. All of the defensive line are playing pass first. Finally, there is a Dallas front that is like Green but with the two inside linebackers sugaring the A-gaps.
From these fronts, Seattle runs games like Exit and Tex. Combined; they make for a game called Tempe. Clowney’s power and quicks as the set-up guy on stunts either inside or outside feels exciting. Even more enthralling is the idea of Clowney looping around the set-up guy inside.
The Seahawks' scheme, like their run stunts, perfectly suits Clowney v the pass.— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) September 7, 2019
They get their 5t at 3t in their nickel fronts "Jet" (9, 3, 2i, 9 - DT's think run, DE's think pass) and "Green" (9, 3, 3, 9 - everyone thinks pass). The games fit JC toopic.twitter.com/gPxMMThzBA
Finally, Clowney has some Mike linebacker to his game. Whether it be first down or third down, Houston wasn’t afraid to line up Clowney at Inside Linebacker in a “Spinner” role behind a 3-down front. It was in this position that a ton of Clowney’s splash plays happened. From here, the Texans could use his instincts, quicks and power to blow up the run or pass.
Looping Clowney's athleticism and using his power as the "1" on games feels ideal.— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) September 7, 2019
He also has middle linebacker elements to his skillset, shown when Houston deployed him as a "Spinner" at ILB behind a 3-down front. This was where his best plays came:pic.twitter.com/kus0EEGEby
While it’s unlikely Seattle will use Clowney like this on early downs, they do have a 3-1-7 Bandit package that could accommodate Clowney as a Spinner. Furthermore, Frank Clark even played some inside linebacker in a 4-1-6 personnel, 3-2-6 look. From here, you can loop and twist Clowney on all manners on pressures. But don’t drop him into coverage; send him. No ifs, no buts.
The Seahawks have also shown that on passing downs they will pretty much let their defensive linemen align in whatever stance they want. Whereas Seattle likes a three-point stance, on clear passing downs where pad level is less important, the Seahawks are more liberal. They have at times left everyone in a two-point (what Clowney likes on pure rushing reps). It’s not like this really matters: Clowney can do two-points with his inside foot up, outside foot up, no foot up, three-points and four-points.
We won't see this front from SEA early, but on clear passing downs they have their 3-1-7 Bandit package that can place JC at the 2nd level. They also put Frank Clark at ILB in a similar form (4-1-6; 3-2-6 look) and SEA isn't afraid to 2-point everyone:pic.twitter.com/vYIpLSVsxh— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) September 7, 2019
Another way to get Clowney some nice looks in Seattle will be the Overload fronts of the Seahawks. There is the Bronze overload (9, 1 ,3, 9) and the Silver (9, 1, 5, 9). To stop teams from double-teaming Clowney, and to provide some nasty games up front, Seattle can line up with 3 defensive linemen on one side of the line to guarantee one-on-ones on that side. With Frank Clark and Michael Bennett, we saw a Tom game called in. Imagine Jarran Reed at 1 technique and Clowney at 3...
Seattle also gets creative with finding one-on-ones for their DL. In 2016, they used a ton of overload lines. "Silver" is 9, 1, 5, 9 and "Bronze" is 9, 1, 3, 9. This will stop teams from double-teaming Clowney and enable them to play more games.pic.twitter.com/JTu2CGR8VF— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) September 7, 2019
The creative pass-rushing aspects to this will take time. Future Hall of Fame pass rusher DeMarcus Ware confirmed that when speaking to the Pardon My Take podcast: “When you go to OTAs, you figure out what guy rushes better. The training camp, the minicamps. Where you fit...where you actually fit in the defense. A rusher gonna be a rusher. You just gonna put him down there and they gonna rush but okay, who am I rushing with? How fast is this guy getting off the ball? Like what type of games are we gonna run?”
As Carroll said: “We’ll have to wait and see on that one. We don’t have much time here so we’ve just got to try and get him out there, right now.” It is a shame that Clowney was added so late, albeit that slight disappointment was necessary for such fantastic value. It would also have been nice if Clowney could have worked in the offseason to get to a ‘good’ 270. Still, even at 255lbs he still held up against the run game absolutely fine. It’s here that he will shine from Day 1.
As an EDGE rusher he may well underwhelm early but, as illustrated, the Seahawks aren’t adverse to putting their best rushers in the best possible spot on clear passing downs. “He is a game-changer in my opinion,” said Brown to Anderson. Carroll agreed: “He’s a rare football player. He’s got special skills that most guys just don’t have. He’s got great quickness. His reaction time, the length that he can use, his ability to run, his instincts.”
Clowney will soon gain schematic knowledge of how Seattle can use him in rush packages. His skillset and talent gives him a Michael Bennett 2.0 ceiling on the Seahawks. This is an absolute star defender who is in a dreamy fit. Thank you John Schneider.