NEW YORK — No surprise: Clowney is the Texans’ man.
After two extra weeks of intrigue, Houston opened the NFL draft Thursday night by taking South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Rarely does a team not reveal the top overall choice until it is announced, and there was wide speculation the Texans had soured on Clowney, whose work ethic has been questioned.
Obviously, the Texans were convinced that a player considered a budding NFL star even when he was a freshman was the right guy for them.
“I just been proving a lot of people wrong throughout my life,” Clowney said. “Growing up, I grew up hard. I always said I’m going to do something great. Hopefully, I’m going to be a Hall of Famer one day.”
After Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the pick, fans who filled Radio City Music Hall to capacity applauded Clowney as he held up his index finger, his eyes moist, a relieved look on his face. Just like the 30 prospects on hand, the fans were extra eager to see who would wind up where after the draft was pushed back from late April because the theater was unavailable.
Clowney, 21, brings size, speed and power to a lineup that already has 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. His diligence had been questioned after he slipped from 13 sacks to just three in 2013. Critics said he was protecting himself from injury in his junior year before declaring early for the draft.
Clowney is the first defensive player taken first overall since Houston selected another end, Mario Williams, in 2006. Williams now is with Buffalo.
Houston also made the top pick in its first season, 2002, taking quarterback David Carr. He never lived up to that billing; the Texans hope Clowney has more of an impact.
Tackle Greg Robinson, whose blocking helped high-powered Auburn make the national championship game last season, went second to St. Louis. The Rams owned the pick as the final payment for a 2012 trade with Washington that allowed the Redskins to draft quarterback Robert Griffin III.
St. Louis is concerned about the health of starting left tackle Jake Long, who is coming off knee surgery.
The first quarterback to go went to Jacksonville in the third slot, but it wasn’t Johnny Football. Blake Bortles of Central Florida, whose stock shot up last season and in subsequent workouts, was taken by the Jaguars ahead of Texas A&M sensation Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner.
At 6-5, 232, Bortles drew comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger because of his combination of size and mobility. Jacksonville missed the last time it took a QB in the first round, Blaine Gabbert in 2011. The Jaguars gave up on the inconsistent Gabbert, who struggled to read defenses and was benched for journeyman Chad Henne. Gabbert is now a backup in San Francisco.
“He’s a down-to-earth guy, a self-made guy, a blue-collar guy and he wants to be the best he can be,” said Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell, who added a word of caution: “He just needs a little bit of time.”
Seeing a chance to grab playmaking receiver Sammy Watkins of Clemson, Buffalo swapped spots with Cleveland, also sending a first- and fourth-round selection next year to move up from ninth to fourth.
Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews, the son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, went to Atlanta with the sixth overall pick. The Falcons leaked so badly on the offensive line in 2013 as they plummeted from NFC South champion to 4-12 that Matt Ryan was sacked 44 times.
Another Aggies star was chosen next, receiver Mike Evans to Tampa Bay. The 6-4, 231-pound Evans is durable, versatile — and quite emotional. He also couldn’t hold back the tears when Goodell called his name.
Meanwhile, Manziel is still waiting.
The crowd thought he might go eighth when Cleveland traded up one spot to get Minnesota’s pick. So when the Browns took cornerback Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State, there was a loud groan from the fans. Gilbert smiled wryly as he shook Goodell’s hand.
Minnesota grabbed UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, Detroit selected North Carolina’s Eric Ebron, by far the best tight end in this crop, and Tennessee filled a need on the offensive line with Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan.
Finally, a local team was on the clock and the audience approved lustily when the Giants chose LSU receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
NEW YORK — No surprise: Clowney is the Texans’ man.
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