COLUMBIA, S.C. — Jadeveon Clowney believes he should be the NFL’s No. 1 draft pick and says he took a big step toward that goal Wednesday during South Carolina’s pro day.
The 6-foot-5, 266-pound defensive end did position drills in front of dozens of NFL personnel, including Houston coach Bill O’Brien and Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley. And Clowney thinks he elevated his already elite status during the 40 minutes or so of running through cones, jumping over hurdles and catching tennis balls in workouts he passed on at the NFL combine in February.
“Yes, I do feel like I should be the first pick,” Clowney said after the session.
Clowney did not lift weights or run the 40-yard dash, standing on his combine showings when he did 21 reps at 225 pounds and clocked a 4.53-second time.
He also felt he eased anyone’s concerns about his work ethic. He was considered by many a future No. 1 pick after his sophomore season in 2012, when he had 13 sacks and closed it with his helmet-jarring hit on Michigan’s Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl.
The footage of the hit was seemingly shown daily on highlight shows and Clowney immediately became a Heisman Trophy favorite, analysts projecting record-setting sack numbers for 2013.
But Clowney couldn’t live up to the expectations. He dealt with injuries and opponents scheming him out of plays. He finished with a disappointing three sacks.
A midseason tiff with coach Steve Spurrier — Clowney pulled himself out of the Kentucky game with a rib muscle strain without following proper protocol — intensified questions about Clowney’s work habits and going hard every play.
“I think my work ethic is pretty good. I think I proved that today, but I’ve still got a lot of proving to do,” he said.
There were 30 of 32 NFL teams represented, with Tennessee and Cleveland opting to pass on South Carolina’s pro day.
Browns general manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine were in Florida for a private workout with Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles, according to multiple reports. Clowney would receive strong consideration from Cleveland if he’s available when it picks No. 4.
Clowney spent Tuesday night at dinner with the Texans, including O’Brien, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and general manager Rick Smith. Clowney thought the visit went well and he answered their questions about what he’d bring to the Texans if they took him with the top selection in May’s draft.
Houston’s leaders liked what they saw of Clowney on the field.
“I thought he had a good day. He worked hard and did a bunch of different drills, which was good to see,” said O’Brien, the Texans’ first-year coach.
Smith was happy to see Clowney move easily in space should the Texans draft him and use him at an outside linebacker spot in a 3-4 system. Clowney’s got a quick first step that lets him fly past offensive lineman, but he’s also got sustained speed that allows him to chase down opponents other defensive linemen can’t.
“He could absolutely play outside linebacker for us,” Smith said.
Clowney wasn’t the only former Gamecocks player on display. Leading receiver Bruce Ellington, offensive lineman Ronald Patrick and quarterback Connor Shaw — all projected to go in the draft —worked out for NFL scouts and leaders.
But the show, as it’s been since he packed a high school auditorium on Valentine’s Day 2011 for his college selection, was the easygoing, hard-charging Clowney.
Several hundred fans that turned out cheered his every move and gave him a loud farewell when the defensive linemen wrapped up their portion of drills.
“I just wish I had pads on and could hit somebody,” Clowney said with a smile.
Clowney has individual workouts scheduled with the St. Louis Rams and Atlanta Falcons. Houston’s Smith said Clowney will also visit the Texans complex before the draft.
While O’Brien said his team’s draft plans were still wide open — the Texans traded starting quarterback Matt Schaub this offseason — Clowney hopes he’s made himself a bit harder to pass up.
Clowney thought a defensive line that included himself and All-Pro end J.J. Watt would be unstoppable.
“I’d be great, a great fit for them,” Clowney said.
Clowney acknowledged it was a point of pride for him that he arrived at South Carolina as the No. 1 high school prospect. It would also mean a lot to leave as the NFL’s top choice.
“I’m just going to keep on pushing,” he said, “all the way to the draft.”