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Jadeveon Clowney and the History of the "Next Lawrence Taylor"

Jadeveon Clowney 40-yard dash

Jadeveon Clowney is the latest physical freak man-child to enter the NFL Draft. He is not the first. Since Lawrence Taylor terrorized opposing quarterbacks at the Meadowlands, people have been in search of the “next Lawrence Taylor.”

Jadeveon Clowney has been debated and discussed as the “next Lawrence Taylor”, with over 17,000 Google hits on those search terms. We have known how physically dominating and athletic Clowney was since he arrived at South Carolina. Even if the comparisons aren’t always apt, dominating defensive players at linebacker and pass rusher have been compared to Lawrence Taylor for 30 years. Clowney has simply re-vitalized an old sport of discussing the “next Lawrence Taylor.”

How have the “next Lawrence Taylors” done? Here is a list of players drafted in the Top 5 in the NFL Draft, with pre-NFL career quotes about their potential to be who’s next.

10. Aaron Curry, 4th overall in 2009

“One must-pick prospect is linebacker Aaron Curry. If, by some miracle, he falls to No. 4, you don’t have to start the clock. You pick him immediately. He is the next Lawrence Taylor.” – Seattle Times, April 13, 2009

Curry was in many ways considered the safest pick, a defensive standout sure to at least be good. He now stands as a testament that even projecting safe picks is dangerous business, retiring after a nondescript career after just four years in the league.

aaron curry of wake forest

9. Marvin Jones, 4th overall in 1993

“Marvin Jones was voted the Lombardi Award and the Butkus Award as college football’s best lineman and best linebacker. Some people thought he deserved the Heisman Trophy, but Heisman voters don’t know how to spell linebacker. Now he’s being touted as the “next Lawrence Taylor.

“Marvin wants to establish Marvin,” his big brother said. “But the intensity L.T. has, the willpower to make every play every down, that’s what Marvin has.’ – New York Times, April 26, 1993

Marvin had a good career, though he spent it all with the Jets. He started for nine seasons, and would have to be on the short list of best players to never be selected to a Pro Bowl.

8. Aundray Bruce, 1st overall in 1988

Atlanta Falcons’ linebacker coach Chuck Clausen, asked about first round draft choice Aundray Bruce from Auburn, told the New York Times: “This guy could be great, but it will probably be tough living up to all the expectations. There was one advantage Lawrence Taylor had. He didn’t have to be the next Lawrence Taylor.” – Los Angeles Times, July 11, 1988

Here’s the interesting thing about Bruce. He will likely be compared heavily to Clowney if the Texans make Clowney the first overall pick. And, if you do different searches, he is kind of the modern poster boy of the “next Lawrence Taylor” label — often the first mentioned. However, the above quote was the only one I could find pre-career. That’s not to say that people didn’t talk about it, only that he was not one of the players most associated with the label.

It’s a similar phenomenon to what I observed in looking into the history or “workout warriors” and Mike Mamula.

Needless to say, Bruce did not come close to being the next Lawrence Taylor.

7. Kevin Hardy, 2nd overall in 1996

“ANOTHER LT, ANYONE? What would you give to draft the next Lawrence Taylor? If the Giants were smart, they’d try to duplicate the magic by taking Illinois linebacker Kevin Hardy, who is being compared by many scouts to the greatest linebacker ever.” – Newsday, December 26, 1995

Hardy and his college teammate Simeon Rice both come in on this list, and were selected in the top 3 in the same draft. Hardy also had a solid NFL career, starting for nine seasons and making one all-pro team.

6. Simeon Rice, 3rd overall in 1996

After hearing himself mentioned as the possible ”next Lawrence Taylor’‘ for about the 500th time, he finally rented the video of Taylor’s career highlights. (Rice says he doesn’t remember seeing Taylor play, though it’s not as if Taylor was with the Giants in the era of leather helmets.) ”He didn’t impress me,” Rice says of the tape. ”He didn’t impress me because defense doesn’t impress me. The only defensive player I’ve ever been impressed by was Dick Butkus. – The Sporting News, September 4, 1995

Rice, in many ways, is underrated. He was a physical freak in every sense like a Clowney, but was kind of forgotten in his first five years playing on a typically bad Arizona team. He was dominant when paired with Sapp and Brooks in Tampa Bay, and had an incredible year in 2002 when the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl. He will probably fall in the “Hall of Very Good”, but could garner consideration from voters.

peppers-packer

5. Julius Peppers, 2nd overall in 2002

He could be the next Lawrence Taylor, but does he take plays off? He has unique athleticism as a two-sport college player (basketball and football), but does he lack football instincts? He has the ideal size, weight and speed of a first-rate NFL pass rusher, but can he be intense over a 16-game season?

. . .

“I don’t want to be the next Lawrence Taylor. I don’t want to have to live with his legend. I want to be my own person.” – St. Petersburg Times, April 19, 2002

Julius Peppers was famously taken after David Carr in 2002, and has had a career that will likely get him into Canton when he decides to retire (9 Pro Bowl selections, 3 all-pros). He has not been Lawrence Taylor — although both were freakish athletes, they play differently. Peppers is your traditional 4-3 defensive end, though he may get a chance to show his versatility that led to these comparisons so many years ago, this year in Green Bay.

4. Cornelius Bennett, 2nd overall in 1987

The 1986 senior class contains the next John Elway, a future Dick Butkus and a Lawrence Taylor clone.

. . .

”Bennett is amazingly quick and he’ll step in as the next Lawrence Taylor. Bosworth, Bennett and Testaverde are clearly the class of the draft, but that doesn’t mean the senior crop is all that weak. Last year, one guy — Bo Jackson — towered above everyone.” — UPI, November 24, 1986

It was Bennett, from Alabama, and not Bruce, from Auburn, who was really the original “next Lawrence Taylor.” His coach referred to him as such coming out of high school, and he did not disappoint with the Crimson Tide. Bennett would go on to a long career that, like Simeon Rice, may have him just outside the Hall of Fame.

3. Keith McCants, 4th overall in 1990

Could be the next Lawrence Taylor – or the next Aundray Bruce. A raw talent with unlimited potential. Dominant in college, but is he worth the risk at No. 2? A junior with only two seasons of experience. Work ethic and judgment have been questioned. May have cost himself millions by hiring a controversial agent and appearing out of shape at recent workout. Type of player who could make or break a personnel director’s career.

. . .

Yes, they knew he made every All-America team last season. Yes, they had seen him do amazing things on film and in some of the games they had scouted and were aware he was capable of running 40 yards in 4.5 seconds or less. — Newsday, April 20, 1990

McCants’ run as the “next Lawrence Taylor” was already coming to an end pre-draft, with questions about his drive seeping in. He had great physical skills but could not put it together professionally or personally.

2. Derrick Thomas, 4th overall in 1989

Kansas City is zeroing in on Alabama linebacker Derrick Thomas, the latest “next Lawrence Taylor.” — Chicago Tribune, April 23, 1989

By the time Thomas was another SEC prospect who looked like the second coming, the term was being used derisively. In truth, no one came closer to emulating the pass rushing ferocity of LT coming off the edge as a young Derrick Thomas. He is the only player on this list currently in the Hall of Fame.

Derrick Thomas

1. Lavar Arrington, 2nd overall in 2000

NFL sources said yesterday Cleveland Browns officials are divided evenly between choosing Penn State defensive end Courtney Brown or Arrington with the first pick in the April 15 draft. Although Brown has been considered the front-runner over the past two weeks, coach Chris Palmer showed renewed interest in Arrington after New York Jets chief operating officer Bill Parcells called him the next Lawrence Taylor during failed trade talks. — Washington Times, April 6, 2000

This was just one of many articles pre-draft referencing Lavar as the next Lawrence Taylor. In fact, there were almost as many Arrington pre-draft articles referencing LT as all other players on this list combined.

Arrington, of course, had the potential to be dominant, but never quite got there and had his career shortened by injury. He did make three Pro Bowls, but never quite lived up to the lofty expectations

OVERVIEW AND OUTLOOK

Overall, the other men who were going to be the next Lawrence Taylor produced one, and probably two, Hall of Famers, two other guys who were among the best at their position for a stretch of time, two who were long-time starters, one who never quite lived up to the extreme hype but had a better career than you remember, and three who were outright busts.

The average is 9 seasons as a starter, 3 pro bowl appearances, and 1 all pro selection.

You could find thousands of stories about Clowney’s athletic ability, and almost as many questioning his technique or motor. You could laugh off either, but both probably add to the picture, and why it is hard to tell with razor sharp focus how he, or any other prospect, will turn out. Can you see into the heart of a man to know how he will respond to things he has not experienced yet? Can you foresee injuries and trials ahead?

Jadeveon Clowney vs Tennessee-b

Keith McCants and Julius Peppers were both mentioned in the same lines as Lawrence Taylor, and questioned for their work ethic. They could not have turned out more differently.

Let’s set aside the next Lawrence Taylor discussion. If I told you right now that Clowney would have a career like Simeon Rice, but I was mum on everyone else in the draft, where do you take him? Probably first overall. If Clowney can have that career, it may not satisfy everyone, but it would be a pretty good outcome.

 

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