NFL COMBINE

Top pick still undecided

jkendall@thestate.comFebruary 22, 2014 

— Look no further than the Super Bowl to see why Jadeveon Clowney should be the No. 1 overall pick in May’s NFL Draft.

That’s Clowney’s advice.

“Defense won that game, shut them down, shut them out,” Clowney said Saturday at the NFL Combine, in reference to Seattle’s 43-8 title game victory over Denver. “It takes defense to win championships. You had a great quarterback in Peyton Manning, hats off to him also, but defense wins the Super Bowl.”

Clowney is presumed to be competing with quarterbacks Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater for the right to be the Houston Texans pick and walk onto the Radio City Music Hall stage first.

“That’s one of my goals, 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,” said Clowney, who was still settling in at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday after travel delays kept him from getting to Indianapolis until 8 p.m. Friday.

The Texans are owned by South Carolina graduate Bob McNair and last year drafted former Clowney teammate D.J. Swearinger in the second round. Clowney would like to think both of those factors will weigh in his favor at decision time, but he isn’t counting on it.

Swearinger recently told CSNHouston.com that Clowney asks him “every day” what the Texans are thinking, but Clowney downplayed that link.

“It’s going to happen or it’s not,” he said. “They are going to take who they need and who they want. I am going to perform well here at the combine, and hope they choose me.”

The Texans are “a long way from” determining who will be the No. 1 pick, first year head coach Bill O’Brien said.

“What people need to understand is it takes a long time,” O’Brien said. “It’s not something where you develop your thoughts overnight.”

Houston general manager Rick Smith indicated the process is further along, at least in the team’s front office, but agreed that no decision is imminent.

“We put the real onus on the playing, and we look at the film,” Smith said. “That part of it is done. Now you have the parts of the process that augment that evaluation. We know how we feel to a large degree about all these prospects.”

The biggest of what Smith calls “ancillary things” for Clowney will be questions about his work ethic, questions that Clowney faced during a 12-minute session with the media Saturday.

“I believe I did work hard,” Clowney said. “You pull out any practice tape from last year, you’ll see that. 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.”

Clowney touched on many topics that are by now familiar to Gamecocks fans, reiterating that he does not regret playing his junior season, during which he 51 tackles and a team-high nine quarterback pressures.

“Things didn’t go as good as possible, but I had a lot of high expectations on myself,” he said. “I was looking forward to the season. I think I played hard and physical every game.”

He did not, he said, think about protecting his draft status during games.

“I was out there trying to help my team win games,” he said. “I wasn’t worried about draft stock or nothing. That will take care of itself.”

Clowney, who had 13 sacks as a sophomore and three as a junior, was disappointed to leave South Carolina without the school’s career sack record, he said.

“Things don’t always happen like you plan on,” he said. “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. I had to stay a third year, and I did what I had to do, took care of my business with my team, helped them win games.”

Clowney “probably” would have entered the draft after his sophomore season if NFL rules allowed it, he said, but now he’s focused solely on the future.

“I believe that once I get to the NFL, it’s going to be up on my career,” he said. “I just want to be the best, one of the greatest of all time. 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.”

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