INDIANAPOLIS – Jadeveon Clowney had a rough time getting to the scouting combine.
His early-morning flight out of Columbia, S.C. was delayed a few hours, so he called to see if he could get a direct flight out of Charlotte. He drove there, and then that flight was delayed. He didn't get into Indianapolis until late Friday night, a little more than 14 hours after he got to the airport in Columbia.
It's kind of fitting. Everything has come a little harder for Clowney in the last year.
Teams paid a ton of attention to the supremely talented defensive end from South Carolina, and all of the attention by the media caused plenty of over-analysis. He had just three sacks last season. His work ethic was questioned, even by coach Steve Spurrier, as was his passion for the game. Everything about his game was picked apart.
Clowney said Saturday that he probably would have left for the NFL after two seasons if he would have been able to. That would have spared him from hearing all about what he wasn't doing perfectly.
When he met with the media at the combine, the questions focused more on what he couldn't do or needed to prove more than the ability that once had him as the unquestioned best player in the 2014 draft.
"A lot of people expected stuff that was impossible, like 10 sacks a game, 30 tackles-for-loss," Clowney said. "I knew that wasn’t going to happen of course but a lot of people expected it. I just went out there and played my game, hard and physical football like I played my last two years there."
There's more of a split opinion on Clowney than there was a year ago, when he was coming off a great sophomore season punctuated by a highlight hit against Michigan in the Outback Bowl. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock doesn't even think Clowney is the best defensive player in the draft, opting for Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack.
"It would be hard for me to take Jadeveon Clowney over Khalil Mack." - Mike Mayock
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) February 22, 2014
Whether teams at the top of the NFL draft agree with that will be seen. Clowney said he still wants to be the top overall pick to Houston, which can't be ruled out. Clowney said he hopes he can run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, which would be a ridiculous feat for a man his size and make the Texans take an even longer look at him.
Even though his junior season wasn't phenomenal, he still has his sights set high.
"I just want to be the best, one of the greatest of all time," Clowney said. "The NFL is just the next level, stepping stone in my way. 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 take care of business and accomplish that in the NFL."
Clowney said he could play as a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker, so no team would necessarily pass on him because of their defensive scheme.
He'll have to answer those lingering questions about work ethic and passion from curious NFL teams. Critics said he took too many plays off, and there was a game last season in which Clowney sat out with injured ribs and angered Spurrier. Clowney didn't get angry about those claims, or Spurrier's lukewarm assessment of his work ethic. He just said it doesn't apply.
"I believe I did work hard. You pull out any practice tape from last year, you’ll see that," Clowney said. "That’s what I told them. 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."
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