For all the questions about Jadeveon Clowney's fitness level and criticisms of his drop in statistical production last season, it remains all but unfathomable that the South Carolina star drops out of the top three come next month's draft.
Clowney still has individual team workouts ahead of him between now and when Round 1 opens on May 8, but he again solidified his status as a freakish, unparalleled talent at the Gamecocks' pro day Wednesday. After measuring in at 6-foot-5 and 266 pounds (same as at the combine, which essentially proved that Clowney has kept working since the league gathered in Indianapolis), Clowney ripped through D-line drills with all manners of NFL personnel on hand. As opposed to the QB pro days, Clowney's late-morning workout was unscripted. He never looked uncomfortable, even when asked to close the practice by dropping in coverage, as he might have to if he winds up playing OLB in a 3-4 scheme.
NFL Network draft guru Daniel Jeremiah summarized Clowney's day with a to-the-point assessment: "I don't know if you can do it much better than that."
The Houston Texans, who currently own the No. 1 pick, were in attendance with a full contingent that included head coach Bill O'Brien and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel -- the latter ran Clowney through those late coverage drills often saved for linebackers. The Rams (No. 2 pick) and Jaguars (No. 3) both were well-represented as well; though the franchise currently slotted fourth, Cleveland, reportedly skipped the pro day as it did last week with Johnny Manziel.
Perhaps the Browns opted out of this particular outing because the odds of them finding Clowney on the board at their pick are increasingly slim. If Houston, St. Louis or Jacksonville do not have eyes for the dynamic defender, certainly one of the teams sitting just below them (specifically, Atlanta at No. 6) will heavily consider making the leap up to land Clowney.
"I want to be the best," Clowney told the NFL Network's Mike Mayock following the workout. "I say to myself every morning, 'Just be great today.' I just want to be one of the best ... to be talked about forever."
Clowney stood pat on many of his efforts from the combine, sitting out the 40-yard dash and shuttle drills Wednesday. That decision came as no surprise given that Clowney blew away observers with a 4.53 40 time back in February.
He then joined former South Carolina teammates Chaz Sutton and Kelcy Quarles, two more draft hopefuls, in running through drills before the interested crowd. Quarles, a possible Day 2 pick; and Sutton, likely a target somewhere in the later rounds, each flashed some athleticism. Neither came close to challenging Clowney for the best performance of the day.
"I think I showed 'em I'm a fighter, I'm going to push through everything they're going to throw at me," said Clowney of his pro day. "That's what it's about: show 'em that you got what it takes. You're out here running around, they want to see how far they can push you before you break."
The showing certainly is a positive one for O'Brien and the Texans. Between strong pro days from QBs Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel, and now Clowney's impressive display, Houston finds itself in a rather enviable position atop the draft.
Option No. 1 for the franchise may be simply to nab Clowney for itself and wait on a much-needed quarterback. The thought of pairing Clowney with J.J. Watt up front has to be an exciting one for Crennel -- and a terrifying one for the quarterbacks of the AFC South. O'Brien has said that the Texans' plan is to take at least one quarterback in the upcoming draft, yet cautioned against assuming such a pick would occur at No. 1 overall.
Trading down, thereby allowing another team to pluck Clowney at No. 1 overall, may stay on the table for the Texans as well. St. Louis and Jacksonville may be crossing their fingers that Houston opts to pass on Clowney, in favor of a quarterback or another position.
What makes Clowney such a coveted prospect is that any of the 32 teams out there would improve by adding him, regardless of how much talent their rosters currently possess.
"Clowney went to bed last night as the best defensive [prospect] in the world," Mayock said, "and he's going to wake up [tomorrow] as the best defensive prospect in the world."
The knocks against Clowney often came off as silly, sometimes bordering on spiteful, as he navigated his junior campaign at South Carolina. He was slammed for needing plays off during the Gamecocks' up-tempo opener in 100-degree weather, then even head coach Steve Spurrier dubbed his work ethic as just "OK." As expected, Spurrier was in attendance for the school's pro day, and, according to Mayock, at one point was chatting with O'Brien.
Any reservations raised by Spurrier or others about Clowney's drive now are being met with the sound of silence. "I think my work ethic's pretty good," Clowney said. "You're getting a hard worker and a guy who's great in the locker room and who wants to win. Football's about winning. I hope everybody around me wants to win, too. That's what I bring."