In Year 3, Jadeveon Clowney provided the kind of dynamic disruption that everyone expected when he went No. 1 overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. And earlier this month, Texans defensive line coach Anthony Weaver told the Houston Chronicle about a comment he’d made to the immensely talented 24-year-old.
“I told him he can be a Hall of Famer,” Weaver revealed. “Now, there’s a number of things that have to happen. You’ve got to stay healthy, you have to be consistent and persistent. But he has all the qualities and athletic attributes in order to do that.”
Earlier this week, Clowney said these words “meant a lot” to him, before providing a juicy admission: “I’m not surprised. He sees my potential. He sees what I can do. I’ve been talking to him since he came in the building. He sees me working. He coached me. I would say hats off to my coach and I’m going to get ready to go for him.”
Hey — I guess — if you got, flaunt it!
But Weaver is spot on: Clowney is a freak with a Canton skill set. I’ve raved about Clowney and believed in him for years. The only thing that can hold him back is poor health.
So, sparked by Weaver’s remark and Clowney’s self-assured response, my incredible editors at NFL.com asked me to get wild and go deeeeeep into the crystal ball …
Who are the other youngsters — 24 or younger, to be exact — who have this kind of potential? I’m not fitting them for a gold jacket; I’m just recognizing rare talent, like Clowney’s.
Like George Costanza said before driving Susan’s parents to his fake house in the Hamptons, “You wanna get nuts?? Let’s get nuts!”
Here are the current NFL youngins with Hall of Fame potential, Schein Nine style:
1) Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Zeke got my AP vote for Offensive Rookie of the Year, and I had him in the top four for league MVP. I’m not even going to give you his numbers — just remember that he led the NFL in rushing by more than 300 yards. In Year 1. And don’t forget: It took him a few games to get going.
Elliott did it all for Dallas: running the ball, catching it out of the backfield, taking heat off of Dak Prescott and preserving the defense. Zeke was the biggest reason for Dallas’ nine-win improvement from 2015.
Yes, he only has one NFL season under his belt, so — in theory — you want to take it slow and avoid hyperbole. But I know what I saw. And you know what you saw. This cat has what it takes to be a generational player.
2) Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants
Well, with this guy, I am going to give you the numbers — cause they’re absolutely mindboggling. In his first three NFL seasons, Beckham has racked up 288 catches for 4,122 yards and 35 touchdowns. That’s an average seasonal line of 96/1,374/12. Good grief.
Odell is such a gifted, rare receiver with speed, athleticism and hands that are all extraordinary. This is a guy who cannot be stopped.
3) Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Overshadowed by his draft classmate listed just above, Evans is someone who demands more attention. The beastly wideout has gone over 1,000 yards in each of his first three pro seasons and just authored his second 12-touchdown campaign.
Now, with Jameis Winston coming into his own — as well as Tampa’s offseason additions of O.J. Howard and DeSean Jackson — Evans’ domination and numbers will be off the charts.
4) Joey Bosa, DE, Los Angeles Chargers
After holding out during training camp and missing the first four games of last season due to a hamstring injury, the Chargers’ sack artist stunned me with his sheer ability to wreck games. He notched a pair of sacks in his first NFL contest and finished the year with 10.5 (in just 12 games).
His Defensive Rookie of the Year season was just the beginning. The Bolts have a true gem on their hands.
5) Brandin Cooks, WR, New England Patriots
Still just 23, Cooks already has a pair of 1,000-yard seasons to his name. And he logged 17 touchdowns over the past two years. So, the numbers — and the ability to stretch the field — are there.
And now I’m projecting what his numbers will be in New England, where he’ll be catching passes from the greatest quarterback of all time.
6) Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis was drafted No. 1 overall for a reason. He has Hall of Fame ability — and leadership skills that remind you of some of the most notable names enshrined in Canton.
The time is now for the Bucs quarterback. The weapons are there. Winston takes that step forward in 2017 and turns into a bona fide superstar.
7) Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
Wentz over Dak Prescott? You betcha. This isn’t about 2016 or Rookie of the Year results. And I love Dak. But I think Wentz is going to be a better quarterback in the years to come — especially now that he has legit receivers around him, highlighted by Alshon Jeffery.
Remember, 2016 wasn’t even supposed to happen. The kid from North Dakota State was supposed to be groomed behind Sam Bradford. But a lucrative trade opportunity presented itself, and Wentz was thrust into the lineup. And I believe it turned into an excellent building block in Wentz’s road to stardom.
8) Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders
Cooper’s numbers are excellent: two years, two 1,000-yard campaigns. And being teamed up with Derek Carr certainly doesn’t hurt. I think Carr and Cooper are going to be a special and winning combination for a prolonged period of time. And that sort of thing definitely helps build a legacy.
9) Landon Collins, S, New York Giants
The Giants safety has a knack for making plays (SEE: five interceptions and four sacks last season). And he’s a major part of a great defense — Big Blue just yielded the second-fewest points in the NFL.
Having established himself as a legit Defensive Player of the Year candidate in 2016 — his second NFL season — Collins has the ability to be entrenched as a first-team All-Pro for a long time.
TOUGHEST OMISSIONS: Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys; Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams; Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans; Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars; Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears; Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs.