CLEMSON - Jadeveon Clowney's status as a top-tier NFL draft prospect seems to have fewer questions than his colleagues and competitors.
Quarterbacks Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles, along with offensive tackle Greg Robinson and linebacker Khalil Mack, have been regarded as potential top-three picks.
But Clowney's more of a sure thing, according to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. on Thursday morning's teleconference with reporters. However, it's not so simple to limit the former South Carolina defensive end's options to the top-picking Texans, the No. 2 Rams or the No. 3 Jaguars.
"You can see him at Houston, you could see him at the second spot - not to St. Louis, via a trade possibility there," Kiper said. "Atlanta could certainly use him, and some other teams looking to move up could certainly look at Jadeveon Clowney if he didn't go 1 and trade up to 2. Jacksonville at 3 would be a nice spot for him. So I don't think he gets past 3."
On his latest mock draft released Thursday, Kiper pegs Clowney going third to the Jaguars, after Mack to the Texans and Robinson to the Rams, with the caveat he's not allowed to project trades.
Watkins waits on QBs
Clowney's fellow in-state prospect, Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, is projected by Kiper seventh overall to the Tampa Bay. Kiper said Thursday the Browns (No. 4 pick), Raiders (No. 5 pick) and Buccaneers will all have interest in the best playmaker available in the draft.
"He's certainly that top 5 (talent) overall. Watkins is gonna be a top guy," Kiper said. "How far he goes down depends upon how the first round unfolds, because of where all those quarterbacks go. If a quarterback goes to Cleveland, a quarterback goes to Oakland, then that overrides receiver and pushes him down maybe to Tampa at 7."
As positively as Tajh Boyd was reviewed at his Pro Day on Thursday, Kiper hasn't changed his mind much on the Clemson quarterback.
"I think Tajh Boyd's a Day 3 pick. I thought that for the last couple of months," Kiper said. "I think he goes anywhere between round 4 and round 7, moreso as a primary backup in the NFL. You never know once they get to the pro level, but that's what the way he'll be regarded going in."
On his own accord, Kiper brought up Roderick McDowell, Boyd's longtime backfield-mate.
"(Look at) Roderick McDowell more as a late-round running back," Kiper said. "(Andre) Ellington went late and had a heck of a rookie year and was a steal in the (2013) draft. McDowell could go late as well."
Speaking of Ellington, his cousin Bruce Ellington, the ex-South Carolina receiver out of Berkeley High School, will compete for a day two pick.
"With the kind of skills he brings, the speed he brings, the ability after the catch to hit the home run," Kiper said, "I would say third to fourth round for him."
Also asked about USC cornerback Victor Hampton, Kiper assessed he's "more in the second- to third-tier corners, in that early day 3 area."