In football, one play is all it takes for a player to be remembered in glory or infamy. A single moment in time can set them on a path to stardom and prominence or make them fade into obscurity.
The Baltimore Ravens have a pair of former 2014 first-round players who have been key to their success on this season. They each know full well about how much one great play can completely change their lives.
Three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was the No. 12 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. Coming out of LSU, he was nowhere near the global superstar he is now. It wasn’t until Week 12 of his rookie year on Sunday Night Football that his legend was born, when made what many believe is the best catch in NFL history.
From there, he became an icon that eventually transcended sports and now is just as renowned for his fashion sense as his athletic ability. He started his career on what looked like a Hall of Fame track before injuries hampered him for a few seasons. However, he has already vastly exceeded expectations for him coming into the league and he has a Super Bowl ring.
Three-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney was drafted first overall by the Houston Texans in 2014. He already had become a star before he even played his first snap in the NFL, though. During his sophomore year at the University of South Carolina, Clowney delivered a hit that was seen around the world on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl. it resulted in a forced fumble that he recovered.
On this date in 2013, Jadeveon Clowney rocked the Outback Bowl with a hit for the ages. pic.twitter.com/O3bApo59ft— ESPN (@espn) January 1, 2018
That iconic play essentially sealed his spot as the No. 1 pick before the pre-draft process even started. A microfracture knee injury derailed his rookie season and even though he made three straight Pro Bowls from 2016-2018, the Texans didn’t retain him. Now, he has been on four different teams in the past five years.
Despite being in his 10th season in the league, the 30-year-old is more productive than ever. That’s largely because he’s under the least amount of pressure in his career on a Ravens’ defense that leads the league in sacks with 47.
“There’s nobody in this building, probably except Lamar Jackson, who’s had as much pressure as Jadeveon Clowney [has],” Ravens Outside Linebackers Coach Chuck Smith said Tuesday. “The difference in Jadeveon Clowney in other places, is that he’s developed a skill move. But also, add in, he has the complementary pieces around him that he’s not Jadeveon Clowney, the first-round pick, the No. 1 guy.”
The Ravens have 15 different defenders who have recorded at least a half-sack and six with three or more. Clowney ranks second on the team with 7.5 and is on pace to eclipse his previous career-high of 9.5 and record double figures for the first time.
“He’s just ‘J,’ so he’s not treated any different than ‘Mike P’ [Michael Pierce]. He’s not treated any different than Tavius [Robinson] when it comes to the overall how we look at the structure of the defense,” Smith said. “He comes in with a learning attitude, and he’s using moves.”
Against the Los Angeles Chargers in the Ravens’ Week 12 win, he was a consistently disruptive presence off the edge and made arguably the biggest play of the game. His clutch strip-sack of Pro Bowl quarterback Justin Herbert in the fourth quarter killed a 21-play drive that spanned nearly nine minutes. Clowney recorded a pressure rate of 24 percent, according to NextGenStats.
Clowney has been a destructive force for the Ravens both as a run defender and pass rusher with 17 quarterback hits and seven tackles for loss. While his production has been a pleasant surprise from the outside looking in, his coaches aren’t surprised in the slightest. Assistant Head Coach and Defensive Line Coach Anthony Weaver has had a front-row seat to his maturation for nearly half of his career. Weaver was the defensive line coach for the Texans during Clowney’s consecutive Pro Bowl seasons.
“This is my fourth year, I think, with Jadeveon, so I’ve been watching this a long time,” Weaver said. “The thing I’ve always said about Jadeveon is he plays the game violently. Sometimes, that doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet, but it doesn’t mean he’s not being impactful.
“To have him come out here and play the way he’s playing right now in Year 10, it’s funny just from my aspect just seeing him as really this old, grizzled vet now. When I got him, he was this young buck. It’s really not surprising at all, because what you see from him every Sunday so far this year is what I’ve seen from him for a number of years now.”
Clowney is arguably the biggest bargain contract on the team right now given his tremendous contributions. The Ravens signed him to a one-year deal worth just $2.5 million in August. The only player that has a strong argument to counter is fourth-year safety Geno Stone, who the team re-signed this offseason to a one-year deal worth just $1.76 million. Stone currently ranks second in the NFL in interceptions with a career-high six.
Alongside Clowney, the Ravens also signed another 10-year veteran edge rusher in Kyle Van Noy, who has six sacks. They also have third-year pro Odafe Oweh who has four sacks in the last six games and rookie Tavius Robinson, who recently recorded the first of his career in Week 11.
This quartet gives the Ravens a great blend of experience and youth at a position group that many perceived as a weakness before the season. While they lost second-year pro David Ojabo to season-ending ACL injury, they could be getting more depth soon in the form of Tyus Bowser. Bowser has been nursing a knee injury this year but could eventually be cleared to make his season debut. The Ravens also have undrafted rookie outside linebacker Malik Hamm in the wings, who is currently on injured reserve but is eligible to open his 21-day practice window at any time.