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Micheal Clemons: Deep Dive
I’m pretty excited about today’s newsletter as I get to do a deep dive into a player who I knew the least about in terms of the Jets draft class.
There is some real excitement around Micheal Clemons and it’s easy to see why, he’s a big man with a great attitude.
There isn’t a great deal of news to get into today, so let’s dive straight in.
The Early Years
Clemons was born in Garland Texas on August 21st, 1997. He grew up in Garland attending Sachse High School, first as a running back before switching to linebacker for his senior year.
“I was 6 foot 2 and 160 pounds,” Clemons said with a chuckle of his junior season with the Mustangs. “I was tall and long. I didn’t get ‘big’ until I had an all-you-can-eat meal plan in college. I took advantage of that a little bit.”
Considering he weighed in at 263lbs at the combine, it must have been a well-used meal plan. Before he dreamt of smacking QBs in the mouth as he recently said, he dreamt of being the next great running back, “Brandon Jacobs 2.0” - the rough and tough Giants RB was a bit of an idol for Clemons but between his Junior and Senior years he moved to the defensive side of the ball with the hope that the move could propel him onto the radars of some big Division 1 program.
Unfortunately for Clemons, it didn’t really go to plan and he was left with very few options.
“I switched to defense my senior year (at Sachse), and in the first game I tore my groin,” Clemons recalled. “I had no film as a linebacker, so I went to junior college. I switched to defensive end as soon as got to junior college, and I had not played one snap at defensive end — ever.”
Cisco is a community college located in Eastland County between Fort Worth and Abilene and is home to under 5,000 students. Clemons walked on with the Wranglers and made an instant impact. He recorded 30 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks in six games played and was rated as a 4* JUCO transfer prospect by ESPN.
Texas A&M came calling and Clemons committed after just 6 games of community college football.
Although he didn’t receive the interest out of high school, Clemons wasn’t short of interest following his season at Cisco. Central Florida was the first to offer, which opened up the floodgates. Middle Tennesse State, Utah, Kansas State, Ole Miss, Minnesota, N.C State, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Kentucky, Mississippi State, and Auburn all offered, but Texas A&M is where he wanted to be.
College - Texas A&M
To say that Clemons burst onto the scene for the aggies would be a little disingenuous, but he did appear in all 13 games for A&M in 2017 recording 19 tackles, 3 for a loss, and 1 sack.
Kevin Sumlin who was the Aggies coach at the time was full of praise for Clemons and in particular, his build quipping: "The best thing about him is we gave him some extra-large shorts, and they looked like the kind that Larry Bird and Magic Johnson used to wear." - So short shorts.
He was set for a bigger role in 2018 and was slotted in as a starter before a foot injury sidelined him for the entire season. With Myles Garrett leaving in the 2017 draft there was an expectation that Clemons would help fill that void, and the new A&M coach Jimbo Fisher was loving what he saw from the 2nd year player:
"We had to chip and double team him a couple of times," Jimbo said after a scrimmage "He beat his guy a couple of times and the back had to pick up some chips in the pass-rush game. He's getting better and better”
Following an injury in practice, surgery was required to insert a screw to stabilize the foot, at first there was hope he could play some part of the 2018 season, but Jimbo Fisher and staff decided to redshirt him instead to maintain the year of college eligibility.
You could argue that missing an entire season stunted Clemon’s growth with his 2019 season starting slowly, a third of the way through the season San Antonio Express columnist Brent Zwerneman wrote “Defensive end Micheal Clemons has had a disappointing junior season — one his coaches and teammates had predicted as a breakout year — at least on the “scaring the quarterback” front.” in his article titled ‘Texas A&M pass rush is scaring no-one this year’.
Clemons finished that 2019 season with just 28 tackles, 2.0 for a loss, and 0.5 sacks. If the expectation was that Clemons was going to replace Myles Garrett, it wasn’t quite going to plan. But Texas A&M as a whole were not getting the kind of play they expected from their entire defensive line, it wasn’t just Clemons who was disappointing.
You may be thinking this is all a bit underwhelming and depressing so far, but this is the part of the story where Clemons started to make a name for himself. Many players opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID, but that thought never crossed his mind:
“I believe in fighting to come out of the mud,” he said. “I’ve always had a hard-working mentality. Leaving and running away from a challenge has never been my mentality — ever. I’ve always been confident, and God gave me an opportunity, and continues giving me opportunities. I want to take advantage of that.
His ascent from disappointing defensive lineman to the Jets 4th round pick started in 2020 and it started on opening weekend against Vanderbilt. The senior collected two sacks in the 4th quarter to seal the game, a key win to start the season. It had been a long journey for Clemons to finally prove that there was production to go with that talent and build, and a couple of quotes from his coach and teammate show his standing within the program and locker room:
“Micheal is really understanding the importance of being a senior leader with how he’s practicing,” Fisher said. “Every day is the same with him — there’s nothing different. … (And) he’s relentless on each and every play.”
“Me and Mike came in together. He always has a smile on his face. He’s always pushing me to go harder. That’s one guy that’s a big leader on this team, and I was very excited when he got those two sacks,” said defensive lineman Jayden Peevy.
A week later he recorded another sack, this time against Alabama and through the first five weeks of the season he was on pace to put up a dominating season with the Aggies, 4 sacks and 4.5 tackles for a loss in the SEC in five games is notable…but unfortunately week 5 is where his season ended, another injury which sidelined him for the rest of the season, this time an ankle one.
It was a frustrating sequence for Clemons, after fighting back from a groin injury that halted his college recruitment and then missing an entire season in Texas before disappointing in his junior campaign, his trajectory was finally heading where many expected it to, the injury just slowed down that trajectory but Clemons confidence remained high.
“I do not think that I’ve come close to reaching my full potential. I think that at any point in the game you can always get better. Especially me. I think that my ceiling is high, and I’m excited for where I’m going,” said Clemons.
Following the injury Clemons decided to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility due to COVID knowing that he needed a big year to improve his chances of being drafted and he picked a great year to stay healthy and turn his production up to another level.
Although his final year at A&M didn’t start how many had hoped as Clemons found himself suspended for the first game of the season after an August arrest on multiple charges, including unlawful carrying of a weapon and marijuana possession.
Clemons didn’t allow that arrest to be the dominant story of his 2021 season. Before that arrest his teammates voted him as a defensive captain, showing the kind of respect that he commanded in the locker room.
There are a couple more red markers on his record according to Heavy, he pleaded no contest to driving with an invalid license in May 2020. He pleaded guilty in November 2021 to a charge of driving with an invalid license, he failed to appear for his arraignment and was sentenced to nine months probation. He also pleaded guilty in January 2022 to parking in a handicap space without authorization. So maybe the Jets should pay for a driver, and hopefully we’ll be all good.
He finished the year with 32 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, and 7 sacks but heading into the final game of the regular season against LSU, his momentum was at a standstill. He’d gone 4 games without a sack against Missouri, South Carolina, Auburn, and Mississippi, then came the game that did more for Clemon’s draft stock than any other game in his entire career.
It must be noted that sometimes teams ask their defensive ends to play contain which limits their opportunities to get to the QB, especially against teams like Missouri who run a ton of RPO’s, Clemons was asked to make sure the RB or QB didn’t get outside.
Facing off against the Tigers in Baton Rouge, the defensive end put up 4 sacks including a key one on 2nd down as the clock was ticking down. Unfortunately, that herculean effort wasn’t enough as Max Johnson found Jaray Jenkins for a 28-yard score, and the Aggies went down 27-24.
Clemons contribution may not have been enough to secure the victory, but it did vault him into the 2022 draft conversation and prompted Jimbo Fisher to say "Micheal plays his heart out," A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. "He puts his heart and soul into everything he does. He's had a tremendous year."
Over the course of his career at Texas A&M, Clemons recorded 83 pressures on 770 pass-rush snaps, which is good for a pressure every 9 snaps.
Above I quoted a piece from Brent Zwernemann on Clemons's disappointing season and I wanted to finish this section with Brents’ thoughts following the conclusion of Clemons's time with the Aggies: “Former coach Kevin Sumlin brought Clemons, a defensive end, to A&M nearly five years ago, and Sumlin nailed that recruitment. Clemons collected 3½ of the Aggies’ six sacks of LSU quarterback Max Johnson, and was the biggest reason A&M was even in the game in the fourth quarter.”
New York Jets
There has been a real sense of excitement around Clemons since he was selected by the Jets in the 4th round, it’s probably down to quotes like this from Micheal “You quickly make a guy respect you when you hit him in the mouth over and over again,” or quotes like this from Coach Saleh “When he puts the helmet on he goes to a very dark place”.
Quotes like that hype a fanbase up and for good reason. A bit of nasty goes a long way on the defensive side of the football and along with Jermaine Johnson and Carl Lawson returning, the addition of Clemons adds that nasty element.
The Jets got their first look at him in Mobile during the Senior Bowl and they must have liked what they saw. The fact the Jets staff were around Clemons (although he was on the Detroit Lions-coached American team) gives me confidence in this selection. It’s not just what you see on the field, but the coaches are around them while they’re eating and relaxing, and that’s when you get a true read on someone from a personality perspective.
There were two main flags on Clemons, both of which were addressed by Joe Douglas following the selection. On the arrest, Joe said that he was confident that Clemons “wouldn’t make the same mistakes again” and he also confirmed that the Jets medical department “felt comfortable” with the injury history, don’t forget that Clemons has had two surgeries, one on the foot and one on the ankle.
Part of what attracted the Jets to Clemons was that nastiness with Joe Douglas saying he was “one of the nastier players in the entire draft. We don’t think you can have enough of that on this team” - but while he may be nasty on the field, he’s anything but off it and he explained that he has the mental ability to flick a switch, similar to what Sauce Gardner has previously said:
"It's just a switch in me,'' he stated. "I turn it off when I'm getting ready to be a civilian again. It's who I am. On the field, animal. When I get off the field, I'm chilling and low key. As a defensive player, you need that nastiness. That's definitely one of the biggest assets to my game."
The good thing for Clemons is that he’s not going to be expected to come in and light it up from day one, that’s going to fall on the shoulders of Jermaine Johnson and Carl Lawson, but if we can offer up a few sacks his rookie year, it’ll be seen as a success and a building block for the future.
"I know a little bit about Jets history," Clemons said. "But I plan on making an impact no matter what the history was."
He added: "I'm ready to get to work."
Power + Finishing - I’ve watched a lot of Clemons now, and his power is undeniable. He’s got big broad shoulders and he constantly forces tackles off balance. Here the LSU tackle plants his feet, bad idea against a player with significantly more power than you and Clemons rocks him back and finishes the QB who tries to twist away. He had 46 pressures in 2021 which is an outstanding number for a 4th round pick.
Spin Move - It’s not always pretty with Clemons and you’re not going to mistake him for Von Miller anytime soon, but he does incorporate multiple moves to try and get to the QB. His spin move isn’t overly pleasing to the eye but it was largely effective at the college level and he seems to use it based on recognition of the QB climbing the pocket. He has a chop and rip which can be effective as well.
Motor + Pursuit - If you do just 10 minutes of research on Clemons, one familiar narrative is around how much heart he plays with. Clemons has a motor that runs hot consistently and his work on every snap is outstanding. Here he’s coming across the line and running down Alabama RB Brian Robinson Jr, I mean the effort is notable but the speed is something else from a man his size. All effort, all the time.
Run Defense - Last but not least I just wanted to touch on Clemon’s run defense, stack, shed and tackle is a common theme for him. He’s very consistent in how he approaches defending the run and he’s disciplined as well, earlier in his career he would be too aggressive and mismanage his gap assignment, you saw less and less of that in 2021.
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