Weekly Thoughts


Mack vs. Clowney 2.0

Here is something that caught our eye this week:

Spoiler Alert: Mack wins

Our regular readers know the Chenmark team are fans of professional football.  This week, when catching up on some “reading”, we came across an article about Khalil Mack’s insane strength, which reminded us of an article we wrote back in 2016 about the two highest-drafted defensive players from the 2014 NFL draft, Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack, and what their starkly different paths to the NFL might say about their success in it.  From 2016:

For those not as into NFL storylines as your author, Clowney was a star in the making since his high school days, when he was the consensus #1 college recruit.  The enormous 6’6″, 270 lb defensive end runs a 4.50-second 40-yard dash (that is very fast) and is most commonly referred to as “a freak,” an otherwise unfortunate moniker but nonetheless a term of the highest praise when describing athletic prowess.  Even casual fans will recognize Clowney for “The Hit”, a play from his sophomore year where Clowney, almost instantaneously at the snap, shed two blockers and tackled a Michigan ball carrier so hard that the runner lost both the ball and his helmet (Clowney recovered the fumble, too).

That was in 2013, and afterward, Jadeveon Clowney was lauded as a surefire NFL superstar.  Except, to date, he hasn’t been one.  For sure, injuries have gotten in the way: a hernia, torn meniscus, and microfracture surgery have all hobbled Clowney since his first day in the NFL, but there were signs from college that Clowney, while immensely gifted, was too raw to produce at the next level.

In college, defensive coaches had a mantra they repeated to players playing behind Clowney: “Make him right,” which meant that when Clowney disregarded a defensive assignment, linebackers and safeties were expected to adjust accordingly and fill-in for him.  Quarterback and teammate Conner Shaw said of Clowney “He’s a freak athlete, and when he wanted to in college, he dominated the game. His work ethic was there. It was just about getting him in the building.

Khalil Mack entered college football in the opposite way.  The two-star high-school recruit received no interest from any Power 5 conference school, and his first role on the University of Buffalo team was as an undersized middle linebacker on the scout team.  The next year, Mack changed his jersey number to 46, the player score he received in EA Sport’s NCAA Football 11 video game as a reminder of those who doubted his ability.  Says one of his UB coaches “I would pop in the office on a Sunday to pick up something, and Mack would be in the gym…I saw him in there with a lady friend one time, just doing sit‑ups, push‑ups, working with a medicine ball.

Entering their third NFL season in 2016, Mack is considered a perennial All-Pro while Clowney is still trying to live up to his pre-draft hype.  With their college careers contrasting so perfectly, it is hard not to wonder whether the divergence in their respective pro careers was somewhat inevitable.  Ken Norton Jr, Mack’s defensive coordinator on the Raiders, seems to think it might have been:

“When I was at USC we studied this. We were always trying to recruit five-stars because those are your better players…What we found is that your two- and three-star players end up being pros because they’re so upset, so offended, and they’re trying to spend the rest of their career proving they’re five-stars.”

Fast forward to 2020.  While they are both still good players, Mack clearly holds the better statistics.  More interestingly, when Clowney became a free agent this year, no team signed him to a long-term contract  he was only able to secure a one year contract for up to $15 million with the Tennessee Titans.  In contrast, Mack signed a six-year, $141 million extension (with $90 million guaranteed) with the Chicago Bears, securing himself the most valuable deal ever for a defensive player at the time.  Since it pays to be a winner, Mack also leveraged his popularity into sponsorship deals with companies such as Nike and Mack Truck.  According to Forbes, Mack was the world’s 13th highest-paid athlete in 2019.

Back in 2016, we wrote “while we would stop short of giving ourselves the business equivalent of a recruit grade, we do believe that there is value in a road less traveled both for ourselves and for the business owners and entrepreneurs that we work with.  Less-traveled doesn’t mean less successful, and from our reading this week, maybe just the opposite is true.”  Today, we’d equate Chenmark to being in the proverbial weight-room on Sundays, diligently working on our craft out of the spotlight.  Just like Mack, we remain hell-bent on proving we are five stars.

Have a great week,

Your Chenmark Team

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