"Greg Gabriel didn't see many players with the sheer explosive power of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney in his three decades as an NFL scout.
When reviewing tape last summer of Clowney's sophomore season in 2012, Gabriel kept thinking back to his days on the New York Giants' staff watching Lawrence Taylor — a lofty comparison, considering Taylor's in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Only problem: Clowney's 2013 tape didn't match up.
"He has an opportunity to be one of the all-time greats at his position," Gabriel told USA TODAY Sports on Monday, shortly after watching Clowney's impressive workout at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
"He's going to get drafted high based on the pure talent. There's no question about that, and chances are he's going to be a good player. But to me, there's also a bust factor, and the bust factor is he didn't play worth a (expletive) this year."
The exceptional numbers Clowney put up in testing Monday — 4.53 seconds in the 40-yard dash, plus a 37½-inch vertical jump and 124-inch broad jump, all at 6-foot-5 and 266 pounds — just confirmed what scouts knew: He's by far the most freakish physical specimen in this draft.
That only makes it more maddening to evaluators such as Gabriel, who was a part of two Super Bowl winners with the Giants and later spent nine years as the Chicago Bears' college scouting director, that Clowney wasn't more productive in his final college season.
"He has that talent to totally dominate a game at any given time. Now you go into this year, you didn't see him dominate at all," Gabriel said of Clowney, who finished last season with three sacks and 40 tackles (11½ for loss) in 11 games, missing two others because of injuries.
"People are making excuses for him, saying that, 'Oh, he was double-teamed. He was triple-teamed.' Do you think every offense in the National Football League didn't set their game plan to stop Lawrence Taylor? Yet they never did it.
"When you have that much talent, you find a way to get it done."
In a media session Saturday at the combine, Clowney dismissed South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier's lukewarm remarks about his work ethic and pointed to the Gamecocks' success as a team, saying there was a "lot of game-changing" by opponents with him on the field.
"Quick passes, two-on-one, opposite-side runs — but that happens," Clowney said. "I wasn't really worried about my stats. I just wanted to win."
VIDEO: CLOWNEY ADDRESSES MEDIA AT SCOUTING COMBINE
Clowney, who turned 21 this month, also admitted he probably would've left school after his sophomore season if NFL rules allowed it. Combined with the decision to pull himself from the lineup shortly before an October game against Kentucky because of sore ribs, it's only logical to wonder if Clowney was primarily worried about avoiding a major injury that would affect his payday. That excuse wouldn't sit well with Gabriel either.
"The definition of a defensive lineman is he's a thug," Gabriel said. "You're asking him to win 60 street fights in the course of a game. He's got to be a tough guy. They're a little different birds. But you want to see the effort. I didn't see the effort this year, so that's the question mark.
"People say, 'Well, he was playing to protect himself,' and that very well may be true. But who's to say he's not going to do that once he gets into the NFL level?"
Taking a chance on a player like Clowney with the No. 1 overall pick isn't the financial risk it was four years ago, before the rookie wage system chopped the guaranteed money by more 50%.
The Houston Texans own the top pick and just hired a defensive coordinator, Romeo Crennel, who was with the Giants for most of Taylor's career. Crennel had success with Willie McGinest in New England and might envision Clowney is a similar role as a big outside linebacker.
If the Texans pass, Clowney has fans with the St. Louis Rams, who already have invested heavily in defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long and could look to move the No. 2 pick. Next on the clock are the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders.
"No matter where I end up," Clowney said, "I am going to work hard and give a team everything I've got.""
Clowney will probably be a top 5 pick. If I were Houston, I'd take a chance on him. Having him and JJ Watt trying to get after the QB?
Any legitimacy to the bust factor?