INDIANAPOLIS – The contradiction that is Jadeveon Clowney blew into the media center at the NFL Scouting Combine on Saturday.
The defensive end from South Carolina had been touted as the obvious choice for the top pick in the 2014 NFL Draft before he ever played a snap in 2013. But when the production never matched the hype last season, it sparked questions about everything from his motivation to his conditioning.
Clowney sounded – and seemed – unaffected by any of it and all of it.
“Of course,” he told the mass of media gathered around him at his podium at Lucas Oil Stadium when asked if would try to convince the Houston Texans to make him the first pick overall. “That’s one of my goals here, to go No. 1. I came out of high school as the No. 1 player, so I want to come out of here as the No. 1 guy.”
Clowney’s actions supported his words Saturday. With his dreads cascading over the shoulders of his pale blue Combine sweatshirt with 4DL on the front and sporting a Gamecock backpack, Clowney punctuated most of his statements with a smile – and even flashed a few in anticipation of the topic before the question was even finished.
It was obvious that he has gotten used to the theories about why his statistics diminished from 2012 to 2013, and the innuendo that he is under-motivated and overhyped. And the numbers are there to support the concerns. Clowney had 54 tackles, 15 sacks and 23.5 tackles for losses in 2012, compared to 40, three and 11.5 in 2013 – when his sack and tackle-for-loss totals were fewer than he produced in 2011 (eight and 12).
“Going into last season, I had a lot of high expectations of myself,” he said. “Things don’t always happen like you plan on. I was really trying to break the (career) sack record for us for the next guys coming in. There were a lot of ups and downs. But we won 11 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.
“I wasn’t worried about my stats, really.”
Others were, of course, and still are.
Mike Mayock, draft analyst for the NFL Network and NFL.com, addressed the two sides of Clowney during a conference-call interview last week.
“I know that he's got the physical makeup to be the best player in the draft,” Mayock said. “If you want to compare him to Mario Williams (a defensive end and the first pick overall in the 2006 draft), I think he's a better football player with more upside than when Mario came out of college and he was obviously the first pick.
“So 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 the quarterback. He can play multiple places on the defense, so all those things check off.”
But with Clowney, there also is the prerequisite “but …”
“My biggest concern is, just what's his mental makeup and how important is it to him when he gets a big paycheck to become the best player in football. Or is he just going to be happy to be a millionaire?” Mayock said. “So I think that's the most critical checking point here from an organization is finding out what the motivation is, what kind of kid are they going to get. I know what the football player is when motivated. I just want to know what kind of kid I'm getting.”
Even with the uncertainty over just where Clowney will go in the first round of the draft on May 8, it is certain that he won’t be available when the Super Bowl champion Seahawks made the final pick in the opening round.
But coach Pete Carroll recognizes that Clowney’s size, speed and skills are a match for the Leo end spot in his defense.
“He’s an extraordinary athlete,” Carroll said Friday. “That position that he plays is such a rare position, and (he plays it) with such rare focus. The guy that rushes on the right side with the speed to come off the edge – the backside, that whole thing that we understand – he looks extraordinarily gifted for that spot.”
The question remains: Which team will concur with Carroll’s assessment?