JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jadeveon Clowney's 40-yard dash at the NFL combine on Monday morning was fantastic. Other words that have been used to describe him covering the span in an unofficial 4.47 seconds: dazzling, combustible, ridiculous (UPDATE: His official time was 4.53).
Here’s the actual word that should be used: overrated.
Although it is amazing that someone Clowney’s size (6-foot-5, 266 pounds) can move that well, his time in the 40 really doesn't mean anything when it comes to measuring his potential. NFL players, especially linemen, rarely have to run 40 yards, and if they do it’s because they’re either chasing a back or a receiver who has broken off a huge gain for a touchdown, or they’re returning a fumble/interception for a big gain.
That happens, but not often enough that Clowney will be in a dead sprint for 40 yards.
The number that is really impressive about Clowney, however, is the 1.56 seconds he took to cover the first 10 yards. That's what really should have Houston, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Cleveland and Oakland general managers and head coaches excited.
It's key because it shows how explosive he is from a dead start. That burst off the ball is where rushers win most of their battles against offensive tackles. They gain the edge and make the turn toward the quarterback, and the tackles can't catch up. Clowney certainly has that burst.
Chasing down quarterbacks behind the line of scrimmage, getting to the sideline to disrupt a screen or tackle a running back, and dropping into coverage won't require a 40-yard dash. It requires explosiveness, closing speed, agility, and change of direction. Some of the drills at the combine are designed to showcase those things, but Clowney sat after running two 40-yard dashes, citing a hip flexor injury.
What none of those things will show, however, is Clowney's work ethic and attitude, and there are plenty of questions about those. Mike Mayock and Warren Sapp, both of the NFL Network, shredded Clowney in those areas. Mayock said there were red flags about Clowney -- but Sapp was even harsher, saying Clowney should be ashamed of the way he played at times and questioned whether Clowney really wants to play football.
Those are questions that dogged Clowney throughout the 2013 season, when he managed just 3.0 sacks one season after putting up 13.0, including 4.5 in a victory over Clemson. Clowney explained the drop by saying he was hurt early in the season and was often double- and triple-teamed.
Those issues seemed to fade into the background after Clowney ran the 40 on Monday, at least for a while, and it’s unlikely that they’ll keep him from being a top-five pick when they do resurface over the next two months. It’s hard not to be impressed when someone that big is that fast, and GMs can’t help but imagine the possibilities.
Houston could pair him with J.J. Watt. St. Louis could put him opposite Robert Quinn, whose 19.0 sacks finished second to Robert Mathis' 19.5 in 2013. The Jaguars would finally have a threat from a pass rush that finished last in the NFL the past two seasons. Cleveland and Oakland didn't have a player with more than 6.0 sacks in 2013.
Clowney’s 40 was impressive, but in its totality, it's the wrong thing on which to be focused.