Banner Year: (2005) 34 catches, 619 yards (18.2 avg.) 3 TDs
Packer Comparison: Corey Bradford
How does he fit in? Four minutes, 19 seconds remain in the fourth quarter and Green Bay trails San Francisco 23-20 in the 1999 NFC Wild Card game. With the ball on their own 11-yard line and Brett Favre fresh off an ugly interception, hope was scarce. But in true Favre fashion, he heaved a 47-yard bomb to little-known receiver Corey Bradford to put the Packers in scoring range, where Favre hooked up with Antonio Freeman for the go-ahead score two plays later. On the ensuing possession, if the officials realize that 49ers receiver Jerry Rice fumbles, or if Craig Newsome hangs on to a sure interception on the next play, then Bradford is a hero.
One year later. Trailing the Detroit Lions 17-12 in the third quarter, Green Bay was on the brink of a four-game losing streak. Favre lobs another ‘go-get-it' prayer to Bradford in the corner of the end zone, and the Jackson State-product makes an acrobatic one-handed snare as he's falling down. The Packers won 26-17 and strung off three straight wins.
Bradford was hardly a polished receiver. He lacked strength and was never more than Green Bay's third wide receiver on the depth chart. But Bradford could change a game in an instant, whether he was turning a five-yard slant into a 74-yard touchdown (vs. Seattle '99) or snagging a 51-yarder to spark the Packers in their 2002 Wild Card revenge against San Francisco. It's simple. Speed kills.
Green Bay's fifth round pick, David Clowney, fits this mold of Bradford, and then some. He will be expected to make the tough catch across the middle and wrestle away passes in traffic as well as stretch the field. Like Bradford, Clowney has sprinter's speed (4.36 40-time) and can make the circus catch. Several of Favre's 47 interceptions the last two years were a result of overthrown balls. It's been difficult to keep defenses honest without a home run threat, hence the Clowney selection.
Now the million dollar question weighing on Ted Thompson's shoulders: Is Clowney and James Jones (two raw rookies with high character) a better option than Randy Moss (one proven veteran with low character). Bottom line? Someone has to go deep.
Even in Mike McCarthy's conservative, max-protection offense, Brett Favre needs a speedster to connect with on deep routes. Sterling Sharpe, Robert Brooks, Bradford, and Javon Walker could get separation from defensive backs and make the big play, an element that has been lacking the last two seasons. Regardless of who is calling the plays, Favre is going to take shots downfield. Clowney has the natural speed to chase down Favre's frequent floaters.
McCarthy sees this potential. He also realizes the prospects of pairing Clowney with third round pick Jones, who is a much more physically-imposing pass-catcher.
"James Jones is extremely physical," he said. "We felt he was one of the most physical receivers in the draft. …Clowney and Jones both bring a dimension. Clowney can run. You can see his burst and his fast twitch out there."
Added Green Bay scout Lee Gissendaner, "Once [Clowney] gets the ball in his hands, he's north-south right away. There's no wasted motion. He's trying to make something happen after the catch, and you have to acknowledge his speed, give him respect for his speed."
If Clowney can do just that and extend safeties back 12 to 15 yards, then Green Bay has plenty of sure-handed possession receivers to work underneath coverages. Ideally, Clowney gets to a point where his presence on the field softens defenses, allowing Donald Driver and Greg Jennings to operate in more space. At least that is the effect that Bradford had on Bill Schroeder, who put together his two best seasons with Bradford in the lineup (1999: 74-1074, 5 TD and 2001: 53-918, 9 TD). After leaving Green Bay (and Bradford), Schroeder never came close to those numbers and was out of the league in three seasons.
In year one, such an impact will not be expected from Clowney. But he's willing to fulfill any role the Packers have in store.
"I'll give it my best in any special teams I can do, punt team, kickoff return, receiver…whatever I can get on, I'll do," he smiled. "I want to help this team win a Super Bowl."
As humble as the Hokie is, falling to the 157th overall pick in the fifth round did leave some bruises.
"I was frustrated about Saturday and actually cried that night," admitted Clowney. "My family had to talk to me. But everything happens for a reason. Green Bay believes in me…Being able to catch passes from a legend is a blessing."
Why the slip? Well, to say that Clowney is thin as a rail is generous. At 6-0, 185, many teams believe he'll get pushed around in the NFL. But it's not like Steve Smith, Marvin Harrison and Torry Holt will be winning Mr. Olympia anytime soon. Size can be overrated.
Don't be fooled by Clowney's stature or draft sobbing. Pound for pound, Clowney may be one of the draft's toughest receivers, physically and mentally. At Virginia Tech, Clowney never shied from contact and didn't complain about an offense that rotated its receivers. Nine days after an emergency appendectomy, Clowney was back on the field. Despite starting only five of 12 games in his senior season, the collegiate track star has the tools to succeed in the NFL.
Essentially, he is a classic ‘boom or bust' fifth round pick. His lean frame may drive him out of the league in the blink of an eye as it did with former Packer picks Joey Jamison and DeAndrew Rubin. Or Clowney's speed could become the X-Factor that Green Bay's offense is missing.
Right now, the jury is out on Clowney.
Tyler Dunne is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.