In the weeks leading up to the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, there were two prevailing storylines swirling around South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
The first was anticipation as to what kind of gaudy numbers the wildly athletic Clowney would put up in drills in Indy.
The second was whether those numbers would be enough to erase doubts about Clowney's work ethic and vault him to the first overall pick in this year's NFL draft.
Well, the athleticism is certainly as advertised. Unfortunately, the problems may be as well.
Clowney, who showed up in Indy at a slimmed-down 266 pounds, turned some heads when he managed only 21 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press.
However, as Shane Alexander of A1Gsports tweeted, Clowney's relatively low number has as much to do with his 34.5-inch arms as it does a "lack" of strength:
21 Bench Press reps for Jadeveon Clowney. I expected more but it's far from a knock. Arm length often factors in. #NFLCombine— Shane Alexander (@A1Gsports) February 23, 2014
Those same long arms are one of the many things scouts drool over with Clowney. Besides, it appeared the youngster was going to vaporize any doubts with one of those other physical traits that scouts go ga-ga for.
South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney timed in 40 at an unofficial 4.47. Wow...— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 24, 2014
Clowney's first run left more than just Adam Schefter with his tongue wagging.
Clowney ran his second 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds, which was then "corrected" to a mere 4.53. At 266 pounds.
|Bench||40 YD||Vertical||Broad||20 YS||3-Cone|
When Clowney's 40 was superimposed over Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the results were eye-popping.
Even more so when considered along with this nugget from ESPN:
Since 2006, @RGIII (4.41 seconds) is the only active starting QB that ran a faster 40 time than Jadeveon Clowney ran today at the combine.— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) February 24, 2014
The broad jump, vertical jump and 10-yard splits, all of which indicate lower-body strength?
Check, check and, as Dane Brugler of CBS Sports relayed, most definitely check:
Clowney's 4.47 40-yd dash is nice, but the 1.56 10-yd split is more impressive. All about quick get off and explosive acceleration at DE— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 24, 2014
Things were going just swimmingly, as scouts anxiously awaited the next show of speed and power from Clowney.
Surprisingly, that was it. Josh Norris of NBC Sports was among the first to offer a reason why Clowney chose not to participate in the field drills:
Willie McGinest is now reporting that Clowney said his hip flexor is hurting. Will stick to broad and vertical.— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) February 24, 2014
That explanation, however, didn't jibe with what Clowney told ESPN's Josina Anderson. After shutting it down for the day, Clowney told Anderson his hip was "fine."
"I just told them I really didn’t feel like doing it here," Clowney said. "I was practicing working on my 40, I mean, on my combine work, and I just felt like I could do it on my pro day."
Just like that, much of the day's narrative about Clowney was flipped on its head. Back to a disappointing junior season filled with nagging minor injuries, and accusations that Clowney took plays off.
Back to South Carolina head coach's Steve Spurrier's comments to the NFL Network (per Mike Huguenin of NFL.com) that Clowney has an "explosion like you've never seen before," but a work ethic that is only "OK."
Back to the debate of Clowney's ability to be great versus his desire to be great.
It didn't help that Clowney originally pledged to do all the drills in Indy:
Jadeveon Clowney will participate in all drills at the combine, he says. "The numbers I am going to put up are going to be amazing."— Josh Kendall (@JoshatTheState) January 18, 2014
Now, he "didn't feel like it"?
According to Anderson, Clowney wasn't concerned that withdrawing Monday could potentially damage his draft stock.
"No, I didn’t think so. I don’t think it should, but if they feel like it did, I can’t do nothing about it now," Clowney said. "It’s over with. I look forward to my pro day."
It's a reaction that critics will point to as evidence Clowney does as he pleases when he pleases, a valid concern in the opinion of Hall of Fame defensive tackle (and NFL Network analyst) Warren Sapp, via Huguenin:
[Sapp] said he had watched Clowney on tape and "I'm ashamed to look at it" and "He ought to be ashamed it's even out there" because of inconsistent play. Sapp said the tape made him question whether Clowney truly "wanted to play this game." Sapp said there was "no aggressiveness, no hunt" from Clowney in a lot of the tape he had seen."
If Clowney is healthy, there's no other way to see his decision to pull out of drills than terrible. All it accomplished was to fuel the fires for his critics, a fire Clowney added to himself by appearing oblivious to the fact it existed.
Not a good move for a player who stated he wanted to be the first overall pick in the NFL draft.
What is Jadeveon Clowney's NFL Future?
Life in the NFL is filled with doing things you don't feel like doing. Two-a-days. Hours of film study. Rehabbing injuries.
And that's just to keep you in the NFL. It multiplies exponentially if you want to be great.
The league's history is littered with high draft picks who haven't panned out. Very few times has it ever been a matter of them not being "good" enough to play professional football.
Some got hurt. Others were miscast in schemes ill-suited to their talents.
And some just didn't want it enough to put in the work required to live up to their draft slots.
That gnawing worry in the back of scouts' minds that Clowney will "coast" on talent and be very good rather than fulfilling his potential as a dominant pass-rusher is buzzing a little louder now.
But that potential. My goodness the potential.
There's a reason why scouts, pundits and front-office types have been dropping superlatives like this about Clowney since he was in high school:
Bill Polian describes Jadeveon Clowney as once in generation pass rusher and invokes Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Julius Peppers.— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) February 20, 2014
Those reasons were on display Monday in Indianapolis. The speed. The power. Young defensive ends built like this don't come rolling down the NFL assembly line every year.
Either players his size aren't supposed to be that fast, or players that fast aren't supposed to be that size.
Either way, this certainly isn't supposed to happen to running backs.
That potential is also why there's next to no chance Clowney makes it past the top three, much less out of the top five.
Nick Wagoner of ESPN posits the Atlanta Falcons as a possible trade partner with the St. Louis Rams, who hold the second overall pick and are looking to trade down.
Of course, that rests on Clowney not being taken first overall by the Texans.
If Clowney somehow makes it past those teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars would be on the clock. Not only do the Jaguars need impact players all over the field, but Clowney would be an ideal fit as a "Leo" pass-rusher in Gus Bradley's 4-3 "under" front.
Oh, and Bradley's a fan:
Gus on Clowney: "He's a dominating player. He's a guy that is talked about in high regard and there's no question why he is." #Jaguars— Ryan O'Halloran (@ryanohalloran) February 5, 2014
Yes, Monday was very much a mixed bag for Clowney. The questions surrounding him weren't answered. If anything they were amplified, at least to some.
However, Clowney also reminded everyone of his sky-high upside on Monday.
And you can bet the rent someone is going to gamble on him reaching it.