NASHVILLEFree-agent pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney signed a one-year deal with the Cleveland Browns on Wednesday. The move comes less than a year after the former first overall pick’s failed tenure with the Tennessee Titans.

The deal is worth up to $10 million, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported.

Any discussion around a potential Clowney return to Tennessee was little more than wishful thinking by portions of the fanbase. The Titans were more than comfortable letting him walk and went on to bolster their pass rush with Bud Dupree this offseason. The move negated the need for Clowney to stay in Nashville and longer. Still, many in Tennessee continue to voice concerns about whether Dupree can sustain coming off of an injury

His predecessor most certainly could not.

Titans better off without Clowney

The Titans defense heading into 2021 is indisputably better than it was last season.

Tennessee Titans
Oct 25, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Titans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (99) takes the field before the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

I say this knowing full well that this unit has yet to practice together, much less play a game. The focal point of the argument is simple: Jadeveon Clowney’s presence on Tennessee’s roster never remotely lived up to the hype. In the eight games that the pass-rusher appeared in, Clowney pressured the quarterback 25 times on 426 total snaps.

Pressures, though, are similar to tackles when it comes to counting stats. The numbers are easy to manipulate to tell a more favorable story.

Far more favorable than Clowney’s 2020 total of zero sacks.

“Teams that kind of pump up and use analytics to talk about pressures are the teams that don’t get sacks and that’s just how it’s always been,” pass rush specialist Chuck Smith said Wednesday on my 104.5 The Zone radio show. (Pressures) are somewhat of an excuse, to me, for the lack of production.”

Smith, known as Dr. Rush, played college football at the University of Tennessee and professionally in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons from 1992 to 1999 and the Carolina Panthers in 2000. Smith spent the 2010 season as an assistant coach as his Alma mater, Tennessee and now runs the renowned Chuck Smith Training Systems facility in Georgia.

Smith’s program is designed for coaches and players with a focus on defensive linemen and linebackers to help improve their pass rush tools. His pupil’s include league defensive royalty such as Von Miller, Aaron Donald and, of course, Dupree.

Tennessee Titans Jon Robinson Bud Dupree
Aug 25, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) scrambles with the ball as Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree (48) pressures during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

According to Next Gen Stats, Clowney’s capacity to rush the passer and stop the run tailed off in both volume and efficiency metrics after being traded from the Houston Texans to the Seattle Seahawks ahead of the 2019 season. With the Titans in 2020, Clowney did not record a single sack on 248 pass rushes. His pressure rate has remained fairly consistent in the last four years of his career (8.9%, 9.5%, 8.9%, 8.8%).

Even that figure, however, dipped during his brief participation in Tennessee’s most recent campaign (8.1%).

What makes Bud Dupree so much better than Clowney?

Dupree comes to the Titans with a big salary (5 years, $82.5M) and high expectations. After the Clowney experiment, a healthy skepticism surrounding the latest savior of the pass rush can be understood.

So, what sets Clowney and Dupree apart?

“(Clowney)’s never developed a signature pass rush move,” said Smith. “What that means, again, I’m going to go back to (Super Bowl LV). Let’s look at a guy who wasn’t drafted, obviously, as high as Jadeveon. Talking about Shaquil Barrett. You watch Shaquil, he used the spin move to get a sack. He used the cross chop move to get a sack. He used a stutter bull rush to get a sack. They’re high performance skilled moves.”

Tennessee Titans
Sept 9, 2020; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (99) warms up during practice at Saint Thomas Sports Park Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020 Nashville, Tenn. Mandatory Credit: George Walker IV/The Tennessean via USA TODAY NETWORK

With the Texans, Seahawks and Titans, those high performance skilled moves are something that Clowney consistently lacked. For all of the accolades and fame, Clowney has yet to eclipse double digit sacks since entering the NFL in 2014.

“When you look at Bud Dupree, you look at his career,” said Smith. “There’s been no one. I mean, I can’t think of one that’s had as much negativity, as many people criticizing Bud Dupree just because he’s an outside linebacker for the Steelers.”

Dupree was a first-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015 but struggled to make an impact in his first two seasons. The Kentucky product managed only 8.5 sacks in his first couple of years but notched 31 sacks over the next four seasons alongside teammate T.J. Watt.

Whether it was the harsh criticism of Dupree early on or the diminishment of his success once he finally hit his stride, there’s a reason Tennessee deemed him worthy of a long-term deal. The linebacker totaled with eight sacks in 11 games last season before tearing his ACL and had hit opposing quarterbacks 15 times.

19.5 sacks over the last two seasons ranked Dupree eighth among all NFL pass-rushers. Titans GM Jon Robinson understood that this was the kind of player that could help his defense that ranked 30th in sacks (19) and allowed a historically high 3rd down conversion rate of 51.8%.

What Tennessee had in Clowney was a player who had long since peaked. In Dupree, the Titans found a player with a ceiling that has yet to be reached.

Featured Image: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports.
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