Defensive end Jadaveon Clowney should be a top-three pick in the NFL draft.
INDIANAPOLIS – Jadeveon Clowney is in his element here at the NFL Scouting combine. Most defensive ends wouldn't dream of running the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, but the former South Carolina standout openly talks about posting a time in the 4.4 range.
When it comes to Clowney, the physical tools have never been the question. Desire is the one measurable which cannot be quantified, and his ability to convince teams about his dedication to football could be the difference between ending up as the No. 1 overall pick or dropping lower in the top-10.
"I know that he's got the physical makeup to be the best player in the draft," said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock." If you want to compare him to (Bills defensive end and former No. 1
pick) Mario Williams, I think he's a better football player with more upside than when Mario came out of college. From a physical skill-set, this kid is as freaky as they come. He plays a position of critical importance in today's NFL, which is an ability to get to the quarterback, and he can play multiple places on the defense. All those things check off.
"My biggest concern is just, what's his mental makeup? How important is it to him, when he gets a paycheck, to become the best player in football, or is he just going to be happy to be a millionaire? I think that's the most critical checking point here for an organization, is finding out the motivation. I know what the football player is when motivated. I just want to know what kind of kid I'm getting."
Clowney isn't the first nor will be the last player facing such scrutiny before a draft. But it naturally takes a greater importance when a team is looking at a guy to be one of the anchors of their franchise.
He was laid back during his Saturday press conference in Lucas Oil Stadium, stuffing his hands in his sweatshirt pockets and answering questions stoically. It was a similar lack of passion last season with the Gamecocks which has teams concerned.
Clowney wrapped up his sophomore season with 54 tackles and 13 sacks, and said that he would have declared for the draft following that showing if the rules allowed him to do so. Instead, he returned as a junior and watched his numbers dip, posting 40 tackles and only three sacks in 2013.
"This year, a lot of things didn't go as planned, like I said before," Clowney said. "Teams played me different, played our team different. When we watched them on film, they took three or four seconds to throw the ball. You watch them after our game and they took like two seconds so they changed the game plan because of our defensive line and played us different and things didn't go as planned."
The Jaguars choose third overall in May's draft and are a possible destination for Clowney. Instead of focusing on the work ethic concerns, coach Gus Bradley said the team will accentuate his strengths when going through the evaluation.
"Everybody is different," Bradley said. "One thing we look at is, sometimes as a coaching staff, you may choose to attack a player but we choose to look at the positives and say, 'What traits do we like?' Maybe his junior year didn't completely go the way he wanted. Everybody is going to have struggles at times; it's about how they adjust to those and how they capture them and get better from those times."
There is no clear No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft. Clowney has the ability to be that guy, but there is the worry that the production won't match the talent. In situations where players have work ethic concerns, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said it is important for teams to do their due diligence.
"That's one of the big questions, because when you talk about a motor, you're talking about the love of the game," Arians said. "When you start going to the training room, to the equipment guys and all the people on campus, and it's, 'Oh, he loves to play on Saturday but not so much on Wednesday or Thursday,' that's a red flag to me. You want guys who want to be there every day. A low motor is a red flag."
Clowney is trying his best to change the perception. He scoffs at the idea that he will coast after getting a big paycheck. He said the proof is in his college production, which he believes will translate to the NFL.
"Coming out of high school, I said I wanted to be one of the best in college, and I think I proved that," Clowney said. "Going to the NFL, I want to be one of the best in the NFL, go down in history as one of the best, so I have another stepping stone in my way and hopefully take care of business and accomplish that in the NFL."