CLEMSON - Jadeveon Clowney doesn't have to convince anybody he can terrify quarterbacks in their sleep or knock ballcarriers' helmets into orbit.
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He will, however, have to convince his future employers he is willing to pay the price for getting those opportunities in the NFL.
Clowney has the most natural talent of any player eligible for the 2014 NFL draft, and the former South Carolina defensive end has stated his goal of being the first player selected on May 8. He remains atop the "Big Boards" routinely updated by ESPN, NFL.com, CBS Sports, SB Nation and others.
NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock can't ignore the fact Clowney had just three sacks in 2013 - after a combined 21 sacks his first two seasons - or that he provided distractions with injury concerns.
Clowney doesn't need to convince Mayock he can get it done. The question: Will he get it done?
"My biggest concern is just, what's his mental makeup? 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 on Tuesday's teleconference with reporters, two days before the NFL Scouting Combine begins in Indianapolis. "I think that's the most critical checking point here for an organization. I know what the football player is when motivated; I just want to know what kind of kid I'm getting."
Michael Sam of Missouri will command many of the headlines this weekend after the defensive end's announcement that he is gay. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will be in the limelight, too, as will fellow passers and No. 1 draft hopefuls Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville) and Blake Bortles (Central Florida.)
But the Clowney Show resumes Friday, when defensive ends meet with the assembled media. Clowney and his positional mates will compete in drills Sunday televised by the NFL Network.
"I know 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, 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 (in 2006.)"
"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, with his ability to get to the quarterback. He can play multiple places on the defense. So all those things check off."
Mayock said he doesn't drool over blue-chip receivers the way others do, and he only projects one wideout to be selected in the top 10 this spring.
But Sammy Watkins, the former Clemson All-American, is Mayock's exception.
"Watkins is a special player," Mayock said. "He's physically explosive, he's got great hands, he's got good size, he's got very good speed. And what I really, really like about this kid is he's got some toughness. He'll go over the middle, he'll physically beat press coverage."
Watkins caught 101 passes for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, but it's his intangibles that impress Mayock.
"He's got a little attitude about him. He blocks people. You can see him getting (mad) during games and going after corners and safeties and linebackers," Mayock said. "He's got an attitude like he wants to be the best player there is. When you combine that with his physical ability, I think that's awesome."
South Carolina's Bruce Ellington of Moncks Corner drew a comparison to a former teammate.
"He reminds me a little bit of a bigger Ace Sanders," Mayock said. "And I really liked Ace Sanders. So I think, given the depth of this receiving class, he's probably a third- or fourth-round guy. But he's got some upside, I like him."
Mayock projects former Gamecocks Kelcy Quarles (defense end) and Victor Hampton (cornerback) to go either in the second or third rounds of the draft.
He's less sure about USC quarterback Connor Shaw.
"I love his toughness on the field," Mayock said. "I'm just not sure if his body type, his frame is going to warrant taking much of a beating. But I think he'll get an opportunity."
As for Shaw's in-state counterpart, Clemson's Tajh Boyd is looking at a mid- to late-round selection.
"Tajh Boyd has got mobility, and he's got better arm strength than people think," Mayock said. "He's won a lot of football games. He's got some inconsistencies on tape, but he's a playmaker. I like that. He's a guy I think you get mid to late in this draft and you try to develop him."
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