Here's why it's not so easy: No one can truly know a 21-year-old's brain. Clowney is intelligent and polite, and can charm you with his "yes sirs" and "thank yous." But then he hands in a résumé that's incomplete. His 2013 season left questions, from his drop to three sacks, to the chatter -- from former NFL players and anonymous execs -- that he appeared unmotivated. Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp is the latest, saying on the NFL Network this week that Clowney doesn't seem to play with a sense of urgency.
Clowney dropped in mock drafts; he rose in mock drafts. He wowed with his 40-yard dash at the combine; he disappointed when he did just 21 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press.
"There's a pattern of inconsistency," said former Dallas Cowboys exec Gil Brandt, a fellow NFL Network analyst. "And these are the guys that you get fooled on. He has great talent, and you can survive with great talent and not work hard on every down in high school. But when you get to the next level, it becomes harder to do it.
"He's got all the things you need to be great. He just needs to use those tools all the time."
But in Rock Hill, S.C., there are few questions about Clowney. He is worshipped in his hometown, an old mill town 15 miles south of the North Carolina border. On a hot summer day in 2007, Clowney walked into the weight room at South Pointe High School, 14 years old, 6-3 and 200 pounds. Bobby Carroll, then the coach at South Pointe, asked Clowney if he was supposed to be there, and Clowney said yes, that his street just got rezoned and he'd be attending school there in the fall.
"I looked up in the heavens," Carroll said, "and said, 'Thank you, Lord.'"
Carroll doesn't understand the knocks on Clowney's work ethic. He says he was raised right by his mother, Josenna, who has worked at the nearby Frito Lay plant nearly half her life. Carroll says Josenna (who didn't return calls seeking comment) is "as soft as earth." She's constantly asked by folks in Rock Hill when she's going to retire, and she recently told Carroll that she probably will on May 8, the day of the draft. But Carroll could just as easily see her continuing to work.
He said her son's no slacker, either. The South Pointe Stallions used to run 150-yard gassers at practice, and the players would run with those in their position, but Clowney wanted to run with the wide receivers and the defensive backs, just to push himself. He'd come into the weight room, ask who bench-pressed the most, and Carroll would usually fib and make up a larger number. Clowney always had to top it.
He was so good he was elevated to the varsity team near the end of his freshman season, even though Carroll doesn't believe in having freshmen on varsity. Before he was promoted, Clowney scored 32 touchdowns on offense.
"I've known him for seven years," Carroll said, "and I've coached him for four years. And I've yet to ever see him be late to practice. We never had to motivate Clowney. When that ball snapped, he was 100 mph.
"There's been so much written about him, I think people got tired of being positive and they started writing negative stuff. I shoot straight from the hip. I can't say anything negative about that kid. He's one of the most wonderful human beings I've ever been around in my life."