INDIANAPOLIS - Jadeveon Clowney badly wants to be the No. 1 pick in this year's NFL Draft. What if he's not?
It's hard to imagine Clowney awkwardly sitting in the green room at Radio City Music Hall too long, waiting, waiting, waiting to hear his name called.
Even if there's questions about Clowney's rooted passion for the game, there are none about his raw talent, and that's why the Rams, Jaguars, Browns and Raiders would have to strongly consider the South Carolina defensive end with their selection should the Texans go with a quarterback to kick off the draft.
St. Louis owns Washington's selection courtesy of the 2012 Robert Griffin III trade, and the Rams already have 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Robert Quinn bookended by Chris Long at defensive end. That pair combined for 27.5 sacks last year.
That's not to say Clowney would be completely out of the question, as surmised when coaches and general managers met with media last week at the NFL Scouting Combine.
"We've proven in the last (two) years we can get pressure on the quarterback specifically with a four-man rush. And we've gotten pressure and effective rush from our backups," St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher said. "We lost Will (Hayes) for a couple weeks with an MCL and our numbers went down because Chris (Long) was playing more plays. So the more guys you've got up front, the better you are."
Next up would be Jacksonville, widely presumed to be the most likely landing spot for the Gamecocks' star. Second-year head coach Gus Bradley takes a unique approach to Clowney's evaluation.
"One thing we look at is sometimes as a coaching staff, you may try to attack a player. We choose to look and say, what are the positives? What traits do we like?" Bradley said. "To see that his junior year maybe didn't completely go his way he wanted, but maybe work on those weaknesses and then do better, those are the things that intrigue us. Everybody's going to have struggles at times; it's more how do they adjust to those and get better from those times."
That weaker junior year, with just three sacks, served as one of the critical knocks on Clowney's professional overview; NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock wondered aloud last week whether Clowney was interested in being the best player ever or "being a millionaire."
Regardless of unlimited abilities, work ethic still matters in the NFL.
"I think it still comes back to the player. It's got to be important to the player," Bradley said. "You've got to have humility. You've got to be able to talk about your weaknesses, and when you do that, you have a chance to get better. If he has those traits, we can help him, but I think it's really egotistical to think we can fix anybody, and that's really not our mindset."
If it does come down to the Jaguars at No. 3 choosing between Clowney and, say, Johnny Manziel, a need to inspire a woebegone fanbase won't tip the hand of Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell.
"When (owner) Shahid (Khan) hired Gus and I, he said, 'It's not your job to sell tickets,'" Caldwell said. "These decisions are football decisions and we'll put the best 53 players on the roster. If we do that and we win, the marketability and ticket sales will come."
As for those Texans in the top spot, head coach Bill O'Brien cautioned "we're only a month and a half into this process - I think that's important" and barely wanted to speak about any particular player, even in the wake of Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier referring to Clowney's work ethic as "OK."
"I'm not going to comment on what Coach Spurrier said; I've watched Jadeveon on film," O'Brien said. "He's obviously a very good player, and I think he played very well this year. But there are a lot of good players in this draft. When I sit down and evaluate the players in this draft, I see a lot of talent, a lot of exciting players, guys that bring different skill sets to the table. Jadeveon's one of those guys."
Ace in the hole
If Clowney did end up in Jacksonville, he'd be paired with former South Carolina teammate Ace Sanders, who received positive remarks from his GM after a solid first year at wide receiver.
"Ace did a really nice job. For a fourth round pick, he came in, played in 15 games and had 51 catches as our slot receiver, which is pretty good production out of a rookie receiver," Caldwell said.
Sanders rated second on the Jaguars with 51 grabs and 484 yards, while also handling punt returning duties.
"We really feel like going into next year, the arrow is pointing up on him," Caldwell said. "He's a great kid, he has a tremendous work ethic, he has incredible hands and we feel he can take a step up and be our answer in the slot position and as our punt returner."
Andre's breakout year?
On the opposite coast, former Clemson running back Andre Ellington emerged as one of the bargain picks of the 2013 draft, rolling up more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage for the Arizona Cardinals.
Ellington, a sixth-round pick, seized the starting job from free agent signee Rashard Mendenhall, and could be featured even more in 2014 after adding 10 pounds of muscle already this offseason.
"I've never been around a running back who stepped on the field and tried to do things he's never done before and played wide receiver as good as he does," Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said. "He plays it as well as most of our starting wide receivers. He has a unique talent we want to look at, and continue to build our offense around (him) this year."