The Falcons won't get Jadeveon Clowney with the sixth pick in next week's draft, and that's why their decision to travel to see him last Friday, and Clowney's decision to spend time with them, moved the needle on a stagnant news cycle as last week wound down.
For now, just know the interest is real.
Atlanta convinced Clowney's camp to sign off on the Force Plate test, the only physical test that he's done for any individual team, a sign that the South Carolina star believes Atlanta's advances to be sincere. Internally, the Falcons are using the test -- conceived by Sparta Performance Science -- as part of their ongoing effort to better define and quantify athleticism. And according to a number of sources, they are indeed considering all options with the sixth pick, including dealing up for Clowney.
In testing Clowney, Atlanta was able to come away with a more complete picture of the player and the person. One concern with an athlete as kinetic as Clowney is that he'd be predisposed for soft-tissue injuries, and the Force Plate was able to determine that his body makeup is indeed resilient. The Falcons also got to confirm what everyone already knew -- that Clowney is one rare athlete.
He scored a 71 out of 80 on the speed of movement test at just over 264 pounds, which is about equal to what Devin Hester scored when Atlanta gave him the screening last week. The bar for the test -- the score of 80 -- was set by Olympic sprinter Justin Gatlin. Clowney's strength graded out at around the average for an NFL offensive lineman.
The test only requires the athlete to jump in place, so Clowney didn't have to exert himself physically at all. The Falcons put all their current players through the test last week, and will mark their progress on it, and have also had over 100 draft prospects do it. And Sparta has built data over a decade for the test.
"(Clowney's) movement signature validates that he's both very physically gifted and physically resilient," said Dr. Phil Wagner, the founder of Sparta. "What we found is he's not a large injury risk, and he certainly has a lot of tools."
In having the athlete to jump in place, the Force Plate measures the athlete in several different ways.
"What we're looking at is the way the athlete moves, and also how he puts himself at risk, in his interaction with the ground," said Wagner. "That's the key -- the interaction with the ground. We look at the foot-ground interaction, and in a very quick, dynamic fashion, we can be specific to how an athlete will play a certain position. Off that jump alone, we can tell he'll be better at performing one act than another, tell what injuries he's at risk for, his upside, his challenges, all of that."
As an example, Wagner said Matt Ryan's results were the polar opposite of Hester's, when the Falcons went through the testing. Ryan, he said, had "leaks" in his trunk that might make him more injury-prone there, but also allow him to rotate better in throwing the ball.
Wagner laughed as he read Clowney's results -- a pretty good indication that they were uncommon in comparison to the rest of a pretty sizable data base.
The benefits for Atlanta went beyond just the test. The Falcons got to spend time with Clowney that others weren't afforded, and putting Clowney through the testing allows Atlanta to build up their own database.
And of course, they saw what everyone who's worked with him has.
"Based on the combine stuff, you look at the times he ran, the length he jumped, the height, everything he's done in movement, it validates that he's at a completely different level," said Mark Verstegen, director of performance for the NFLPA and founder of EXOS (Formerly Athletes Performance), where Clowney trained for the combine. "I've seen so many guys come through the process, but he's truly special."
The Falcons and Jaguars recently signed two-year agreements with Sparta that give them exclusive rights for the NFC and AFC, respectively. Sparta's first big client was Kansas basketball, which signed on two years ago, and the organization has done deals with the Colorado Rockies and Cleveland Cavaliers since.