|ESPN.com: NFL Draft 2014||[Print without images]|
Carl Banks calls it his "rude awakening."
It was 1984. He was the third overall pick in the draft out of Michigan State, where he had been a three-time All-Big Ten selection at linebacker and first-team All-America.
On the first day of practice, Banks walked into the Giants' locker room and introduced himself to veteran linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson.
Carson looked at a smiling Taylor, then turned to Banks and said, "What the hell are you going to do to get on the football field?"
|Lawrence Taylor is one of only two defensive players to be named the NFL's MVP. Alan Page is the other.|
"I knew I didn't have it figured out," Banks said.
Few, if any, rookies do. Banks began to figure it out later that day when he saw the 6-foot-3, 237-pound Taylor work in practice as if a game were on the line.
Because he played with Taylor for nine seasons and saw firsthand the speed at which Taylor practiced and the skill with which he rushed the passer, Banks thinks it is lunacy to even mention former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney in the same breath as Taylor. It is grossly unfair to Clowney. And, Banks said, it is reckless.
He is right.
There is always pre-draft hype this time of year, but casually comparing any prospect to Taylor is foolish. Taylor is the greatest defensive player in the history of the National Football League. He was a three-time defensive player of the year and the only rookie ever to win that award. Taylor was named All-Pro in eight of his first nine seasons. He is one of only two defensive players ever to be named the league's MVP.
Like Michael Jordan is in basketball or Tiger Woods is in golf, Taylor is the standard in football for defensive players. He changed the game. He won two Super Bowls. He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Most of all, Taylor accomplished all he did because he saw the game differently than everyone else. He was always a step ahead. He faced countless double- and triple-teams, and it didn't matter. He would come to the sideline after a series and tell the Giants' coaches exactly how the opponent was trying to pass protect and how they could best counter it. And Taylor practiced at a speed few players played at on game days, let alone in midweek drills when score wasn't being kept.
Clowney is supposed to be that? He hasn't put on an NFL uniform yet. He hasn't played a snap. Clowney is the most talented prospect in the draft, sure, but the next Lawrence Taylor? Please.
|Jadeveon Clowney had three sacks in his junior season in 2013 after getting 13 as a sophomore.|
"No. 1, you're stepping over a lot of great defensive ends," said Banks, now a Giants broadcaster. "They should hope he's as good as a Richard Dent, Neil Smith, Bruce Smith or Charles Haley. If he can get to that level, he's a dominant player. But you want to jump over those players and say he's the next Lawrence Taylor? It's ridiculous. I just gave you four of the greatest defensive ends, and you don't want to put him in that category because he's already better than them?"
Banks' point is well taken. Two of the players he mentioned -- Bruce Smith and Dent -- are in the Hall of Fame. Haley has been a finalist each of the past five years. Neil Smith racked up 104½ career sacks in 12 seasons and was named to six Pro Bowls.
Clowney might turn out to be as good as them. He might turn out to be as good as Taylor. But it is premature to project him into either stratosphere, given the relatively small body of work he produced in college, often against competition that will not make it to the next level.
Why not pump the brakes and let him try to be the best Jadeveon Clowney he can be?
Banks brought up another point. The rules governing practice now are much different than when he, Taylor and the others played. There are fewer practices in training camp. There is less hitting. Once the regular season starts, there are a limited number of practices in pads. Most work is done in the form of glorified walk-throughs.
It is one thing for quarterbacks and receivers to develop timing by working through route trees. It is something else for defensive players to hone their craft when their only real work happens on game days.
Practice is a place where Taylor excelled.
"LT was the guy that would always set the tempo for practice, whether he hated every drill," Banks said. "He would complain after the fact, but he would give 100 percent. ... He never took a play off, never wanted to take a play off and resented players who took plays off. He'd talk about you if you wouldn't finish."
That certainly has not been the scouting report on Clowney.
There could be a time when Clowney deserves being compared to Taylor, but it is not now. Not yet. To suggest otherwise is unfair to Clowney and disrespectful to Taylor.
At the very least, Clowney first needs the time and opportunity to show what he's going to do just to get on the football field.