No. 90 isn’t settling for No. 49.
When asked about his place on the NFL Network’s Top 100, a list of the best players in the game, as voted on by their peers, Jadeveon Clowney said it was an honor, but also motivation.
“It was pretty exciting,” he said after Tuesday’s Houston Texans mandatory minicamp workout. “But then again, it’s like, I want to be higher than No. 49. So, I’ve just got to come out and prove myself again this season.”
Though the list is hardly gospel, given the way it’s put together, it does offer some insight into how a player is regarded by his peers.
So at the very least, it seems that Clowney, who spent most of his first two NFL seasons injured or getting over injuries, won over some of his contemporaries with his showing in his third year.
As for his critics, Clowney said he’s just doing what he can to improve.
“That’s the goal,” Clowney said. “That’s what I’m working towards. It’s a new year every year. You’ve gotta come out here and prove yourself every year. So, I’m just coming out here to prove myself again.”
Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick in 2014, had a career year last season, logging 6.0 sacks, 40 tackles and a forced fumble. Most importantly, he was healthy enough to play 14 games.
Heading into this year, Clowney said, there’s a lot working in his favor.
First, the return of JJ Watt, who missed all but three games in 2016.
“It’s going to help us,” Clowney said. “It’s got to help us. He’s one of the best players in the league. So, it’s only up from here.”
Next, all the talent on the Texans defense, which, as Clowney reminded reporters on Tuesday, goes beyond he and Watt.
“It’s not just us, Clowney said. “I mean, we’ve got a lot of great players on our defense. Whitney (Mercilus), DJ Reader, who stepped in last year and played big minutes. I feel like if we keep our secondary good, and if everybody does stay healthy, we can do big things again. Like, rank No. 1 (in the NFL total defense) again. So, we’ve just got to come out here and compete every day, and come to work.”
Also, first year defensive coordiantor Mike Vrabel, who’s considered an ascending star within the coaching community.
“I love Vrabes, man,” Clowney said. “He’s the smartest football guy I’ve ever been around. The same guy every day. Always high energy. That’s the one thing he brings to our defense. We needed that. I’m looking forward to him being our defensive coordinator. I love it.”
Another key factor: 2017 will be Clowney’s second year at his new position, 3-4 defensive end, where he spent all of last season.
“Oh, it’s a lot better for me,” Clowney said. “It’s gotten a lot easier. Everything’s just coming to me now. I spend more time focusing on who I’m going against than myself and doing my job. I feel like I kind of know what I’ve gotta do. So, just going up against opponents and figuring out what I’ve gotta do. Working on my craft.”
In all, Clowney said he likes where he’s at, physically and mentally, and that he’s excited by the way the team is coming together.
“It’s been great,” Clowney said. “We’re still getting back to work. Still gotta try to get to where we wanna get. Farther in the playoffs and try to win a Super Bowl. That’s our goal.”