INDIANAPOLIS — It took Jadeveon Clowney longer than expected to arrive at the NFL scouting combine.
He's hoping to avoid similar delays once the NFL draft begins May 8.
Though the former South Carolina defensive end is sure to be a jet setter in a few months, Clowney had to battle flight snafus in Columbia, S.C., and Charlotte — sandwiched around a 100-mile drive between the airports — before arriving here Friday night.
Upon meeting with reporters Saturday morning at Lucas Oil Stadium, Clowney proceeded to advise the Houston Texans why they'd be wise to book him a first-class ticket as the No. 1 pick rather than choosing a quarterback.
"You could see the Super Bowl championship game — defense won the game, shut 'em down," he said. "Takes defense to win a championship, hands down. Seattle's proven that. You had a great quarterback, Peyton Manning – hats off to him also — but defense wins the Super Bowl, wins games."
Clowney's size, speed and athleticism certainly created the perception following his sophomore year that he was a game wrecker out of the rare Lawrence Taylor mold and worthy of the No. 1 selection. If it happens, he'd become just the third defender in the past 20 drafts (Courtney Brown in 2000 and Mario Williams in 2006) so honored.
Clowney, however, must now lower red flags raised in a junior season that saw his production wane — he had just three sacks after registering 13 in 2012 while his tackle-for-loss total dipped from 23.5 to 11.5 — while questions about his work ethic surfaced.
He was also probably undermined to some extent by his own transcendent ability, which never flashed more than it did with his bonecrushing hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in last year's Outback Bowl, a play that immediately went viral.
"A lot of people expected — 10 sacks a game, 30 tackles for loss — I knew that wasn't gonna be happen this year, of course," Clowney said of the myth the play created. "But a lot of people expected more."That won't change in the NFL for an explosive player who measured in Saturday at 6-5, 266 pounds with an 83-inch wingspan. He hopes to run his 40-yard dash Monday in the 4.4 range and said he's comfortable playing defensive end or outside linebacker.
"I know that he's got the physical makeup to be the best player in the draft," said NFL Network chief draft analyst Mike Mayock. "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.
"So from a physical skill set, this kid is as freaky as they come. ... My biggest concern is just what's his mental makeup and 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."
Clowney vowed that, "I'm always gonna be working hard no matter where I end up," and dismissed Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier's recent lukewarm remarks about his work habits as mere opinion.
Clowney was also quick to point out that South Carolina won 11 games, including the Capital One Bowl, with him in the lineup last season, adding, "I wasn't worried about my stats."
"You may choose to attack a player, but we choose to look at the positives and say, 'What traits do we like?' " said Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, whose team may have the option of taking Clowney with the No. 3 overall pick.
"Maybe his junior year didn't completely go the way he wanted. Everybody is going to have struggles at times; it's about how they adjust to those and how they capture them and get better from those times."
Clowney anticipates nothing less. Actually, he expects far more.
"I just want to be the best, I want to be one of the greatest of all time," he said.
"And the NFL is the next level, a stepping stone on my way."
One he hopes isn't riddled with any layovers.