As if there were not already enough of a clamor for the Falcons to draft South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the hue and cry no doubt gathered even more fuel on Monday.
That was when Clowney ran an official 40 time at the NFL Scouting Combine of 4.53 seconds. It would not be surprising if Falcons wide receiver Roddy White, after nine NFL seasons, doesn’t run that fast anymore.
When Clowney ran an unofficial time of 4.47 seconds, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said it was more impressive than when Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson set the combine record in that event at 4.24 seconds, considering that Clowney weighs 266 pounds and that the average time last season at Clowney’s position was 4.77 seconds.
Numbers like that only give more ammunition to fans to make their desire known for the Falcons to draft the All-American, though there are other factors impacting the situation — like Clowney himself. He told ESPN.com that he would like Atlanta, which holds the No. 6 pick, to draft him.
"I wish (the Falcons) could trade up for me," he said. "But I hope I don’t fall to No. 6. I like Atlanta — a lot. They’re pretty good. They’ve got some guys from South Carolina on the team, also, and it’s close to home."
He might have been referring to White, who is from South Carolina but played at UAB. Or defensive lineman Cliff Matthews, a seventh-round pick out of South Carolina in 2011, or defensive tackle Travian Robertson, a former Gamecocks’ teammate of Clowney’s who was a seventh-round pick of the Falcons’ in 2012.
So the fans want it, Clowney wants it (under the right circumstances), what about management?
Well, general manager Thomas Dimitroff is not averse to trading up, which would likely be necessary to draft Clowney. Not only did he prove that with his blockbuster deal for Julio Jones in 2011 when he moved up to No. 6 overall but Dimitroff remained faithful to that principle when asked about it at the combine over the weekend.
"Yes," he said. "I’ve said that from Day 1, since 2008 that I always want to have the light on for business. I never want to be one of those teams that (when) people pick up the phone and they quickly throw the phone back down and hesitate to reach out, thinking that we’re not going to be straight up. I think that’s the biggest thing. Whenever you are able to cultivate trades, it’s about being honest with people in your dealings and I think that we’ve done a nice job of that. We’re always going to be open for business."
The central question is whether the Falcons have fallen in love with Clowney and whether he fits into their plan. The Falcons know they have to get better on the defensive line but does the need to improve on the offensive line outweigh that? They already have $100 million invested in quarterback Matt Ryan. If the offensive line has another season like last one, Ryan will have a hard time making it through 16 games healthy.
If they think they can improve enough via free agency — signing guard-tackle Gabe Carimi last week was a step in that process — and in the later rounds of the draft, then maybe they make the move to trade up for Clowney.
If it’s any comfort, the Falcons have beefed up their front office in the offseason. Last week, they announced the addition of former St. Louis general manager Billy Devaney as a regional scout. Devaney’s drafts included Robert Quinn, whose 19 sacks ranked second in the NFL last season, and Chris Long, who has 50 1/2 career sacks. Earlier, the Falcons added former Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli whose drafts included nose tackle Dontari Poe, a Pro-Bowler last season, and linebacker Justin Houston, the former Georgia Bulldog who made the Pro-Bowl with 11 sacks last season. Houston was a third-round pick.
Perhaps those additions help the Falcons better differentiate a legitimate player from a pretender and whether Clowney — beyond the 40 time and the viral hit from the 2013 Outback Bowl vs. Michigan — is worth such an investment.
"I’ll just say what everybody in the country knows: Jadeveon Clowney is a top-notch talent and he’s going to make a team happy and he’s going to be a legitimate difference-maker in this game," Dimitroff said at the Super Bowl. "The people with the top two picks know that."
Like all NFL general managers, Dimitroff is a poker player. If he wants Clowney as desperately as the fans do, he won’t let on. But the pressure for him to try and do something to take Clowney just got stronger.