Two days after the door to bring back 2022 sack leader Justin Houston officially closed after the four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker decided to join the Carolina Panthers on a one-year deal, the Baltimore Ravens could be looking to fill his role as the seasoned veteran in the room with a former No. 1 overall pick.
According to a report from the Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec, the team hosted three-time Pro Bowl edge defender Jadeveon Clowney for a free-agent visit on Tuesday, August 8, 2023.
He came into the league as the top pick in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans out of South Carolina and while he has failed to live up to the immense hype he garnered coming out of college, Clowney has more than a solid career to this point.
All three of his Pro Bowl nods came in his first five years in the league where he spent time playing a similar SAM outside linebacker role to the one the Ravens are likely looking for with seventh-year veteran Tyus Bowser still not practicing on the Non-Football-Injury list. Clowney got voted three straight all-star rosters from 2016-2018 where he racked up 24.5 sacks including back-to-back years of 9 or more, 53 tackles for loss, 59 quarterback hits, and forced 4 fumbles according to Pro Football Reference.
He has yet to recapture that Pro Bowl form in the four seasons since although he did record 9 sacks and 19 quarterback hits in his first season with the Cleveland Browns in 2021. Last season, Clowney only managed to take down an opposing quarterback twice in 12 games in what was a down year overall for him and the team and unit as a whole.
This marks the second established and versatile edge defender that the team has brought in for a visit in the last month with the first being two-time Super Bowl champion Kyle Van Noy on July 21, 2023. This suggests that they’re not only doing their due diligence on the surprisingly saturated free agent marker at the position but they might be looking to make a move to add before the regular season gets underway.
Projecting Ideal Role for Clowney If Signed by Ravens
Although 2021 first-rounder Odafe Oweh and 2022 second-rounder David Ojabo are projected to be the Ravens’ top two pass rushers off the edge, the 10th-year veteran can provide tremendous value on early downs and in obvious run situations as a stout edge setter.
While Clowney has largely underwhelmed as a pass rusher compared to his draft status and lofty expectations coming into the league, an aspect of his game where he has been more consistent and even dominant at times has been slowing down and stifling opposing teams’ rushi g attacks.
His ability to quickly shed blocks with violent hands, prevent ball carriers from getting around the edge, and knife into the backfield for swift tackles for loss is a skill set that is valued highly in Baltimore where the Ravens’ defensive philosophy has always been to stop the run first and foremost.
Clowney has more than twice as many tackles for loss in this career (90) than he does sacks (43) but he also has tallied 109 quarterback hits during his time in the pros as well. Perhaps with some instruction from pass rush guru Chuck Smith who was hired to be the Ravens’ new outside linebackers coach this offseason, Clowney could unlock some of the potential that catapulted him to the top of the draft a decade ago.
In the meantime, his contributions on early downs could help preserve Oweh and Ojabo for obvious passing downs and since he has experience dropping into coverage, he’d be able to rotate with Bowser as well.
Another area in which he could contribute would be moving inside in sub packages where he could play five-technique and use his superior athleticism against guards on the interior. The Ravens have a history of having players of his mold excel greatly when deployed in that dynamic way.
Emerging Leader Among Young Edge Group
During his first two years in the league, Oweh was the young pup not just in the outside linebacker room but the entire defense as a whole. He looked up to and heeded the words of seasoned veterans and multi-time Pro Bowlers like Houston and Calais Campbell during that time but after both of them found new homes in the NFC South since the new league year began, a share of the leadership mantle has suddenly been passed down to him.
“Dafe right now, he’s the leader of the group,” outside linebacker coach Chuck Smith said on August 4, 2023. “He is; that’s how it goes.”
It is a role that he does not take lightly and one that he intends on fulfilling more with his actions than his words.
“I’ve taken a mentality of just trying to lead by example,”Oweh said. [I’m] just trying to run to the ball [and] take every rep as if it were my last rep. [I’m going to] go hard at everything and try to perfect everything.”
Even if Clowney were to be signed, his expanded role on the field as a starter and in the locker room as a leader likely won’t be affected barring injury. This upcoming season could have massive implications for what his long-term future might look like in Charm City.
If he can dominate on the gridiron while leading his position group, Oweh might put himself in consideration to get his fifth-year option exercised next offseason and potentially even emerge as a candidate to receive an early extension.