INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Jadeveon Clowney wants NFL scouts to rethink their draft strategy.
Instead of settling for one of those glitzy, franchise quarterbacks, he's urging teams to build a fast, physical defense that can stop all those high-powered offenses, and he has the perfect suggestion about where to start. Himself.
"That's one of my goals here, to go No. 1," this year's top-rated defensive end said softly Saturday at the NFL's scouting combine. "I came out of high school as the No. 1 player so I want to come out of here as the No. 1 guy."
Nobody doubts the former South Carolina star has the physical tools to go No. 1 in May. He measured in Saturday at 6-foot-5¼, 266 pounds, with an 83-inch wingspan and hopes to finish the 40-yard dash in the 4.4s, maybe the low 4.5s if he's a little off.
With numbers like that, it's no wonder Clowney is projected to go in the top five in May. But going ahead of quarterbacks such as Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater will take a lot more than athleticism.
The biggest questions Clowney will answer this week focus on his work ethic and desire, and it sure didn't help when he missed Friday night's first round of team interviews because of travel problems. He said he drove from Columbia, S.C., to Charlotte, N.C., to avoid one 2-hour delay only to run into another 2½-hour delay.
While coaches and team executives may excuse Clowney's tardy arrival, they still need to find out whether they'll be drafting the guy who delivered that helmet-dislodging, highlight-making hit on Michigan's Vincent Smith in the 2013 Outback Bowl or the guy critics believe was more concerned with protecting his draft stock than winning games in 2013.
Clowney insisted he was the same guy, though he did admit he would have left school after his sophomore season — if NFL rules would have allowed it.
"I believe I did work hard. You pull out any practice tape from last year, you'll see that," Clowney said. "I'll tell everybody that. I will always be working hard. No matter where I end up I am going to work hard and give a team everything I've got."
The numbers and words seem to tell a different tale.
He finished 2012 with 54 tackles and 13 sacks. And despite the lofty expectations from college football fans after that eye-popping hit, Clowney finished 2013 with 40 tackles and only three sacks.
What happened is a matter of perception.
Some believe Clowney did not go all-out following a public debate about whether it was even worth it for him to play in 2013.
Try telling that to those who had to block Clowney.
"I don't think he took a play off," Missouri tackle Justin Britt said. "If he did, I didn't see it."
But inside the Gamecocks program, there were signs something was amiss.
In October, coach Steve Spurrier expressed frustration that the injured Clowney waited too long to tell coaches he couldn't play. Then, this week, on the eve of the combine, Spurrier told NFL Network that Clowney's work ethic was "OK," rekindling talk about Clowney's desire to excel at football. Not surprisingly, it was still a hot topic when Clowney took the podium at Lucas Oil Stadium with a huge crowd of reporters seeking answers to the same questions as team executives.
Clowney started the explanation by saying opponents relied on shorter, quicker passes to slow down South Carolina's pass rush and then defended his effort.
"There were a lot of ups and downs, but we won eleven games, were 11-2, won our bowl game, finished No. 4 in the country for the first time in South Carolina history so I was pretty excited about the season," Clowney said. "I wasn't really worried about my stats, I just wanted to win."
Instead, Clowney contends the bigger problem was the artificially high level of expectations going into the season.
But now Clowney must convince coaches, scouts and team executives the guy they watched in 2012 was the same guy they saw on film in 2013 and will continue to be the same guy they can build a defense around.
And to jump back up the draft board into position for the top spot, Clowney understands he has to convince teams he means what he says.
"I just want to be the best, one of the greatest of all time," he said. "Coming out of high school, I said I wanted to be one of the best in college and I think I proved that. 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 I can take care of business and accomplish that in the NFL."