For nearly three years, Jadeveon Clowney couldn’t wait to get to the NFL, and the league was just as eager to add the player some called the best defensive prospect in a decade.
No surprise: Clowney is the Texans’ man.
But Thursday’s first pick of the NFL Draft didn’t come without some intrigue about how it would all turn out. There had been criticism of Clowney’s work ethic last season and questions about whether the Texans would hold or trade the No. 1 slot.
‘‘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.’’
Houston will take that.
Rarely does a team not reveal the top overall choice until it is announced, and there was wide speculation the Texans had soured on the defensive end, whose junior season at South Carolina was accompanied by criticism he played it safe to stay healthy for the pros.
After Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the pick, fans filling 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.
‘‘It’s been a long time. It just kicked in at the end there, man, I've been drafted,’’ he said.
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.
Bortles first QB taken
The Jacksonville Jaguars have their next franchise quarterback.
This one might have to wait to get on the field.
The Jaguars passed on dynamic playmaker Johnny Manziel, as well as receiver Sammy Watkins and defensive end Khalil Mack, and surprisingly selected Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles with the third overall pick. General manager Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley said they won’t throw Bortles into the starting lineup right away, insisting the plan is to stick with Chad Henne as the starter to begin next season.
‘‘This is not a quick journey,’’ Caldwell said. ‘‘It’s a marathon. Well, hopefully not a marathon. We want to build for the long term. Johnny’s a heck of a football player. Johnny’s game isn’t going to change a lot from Year 1 to Year 2. We felt Blake has some development from Year 1 to Year 2. This first year is going to be critical for him to develop.
‘‘With Johnny, he’s always going to be Johnny. He’s going to be electric, he’s going to be dynamic, he’s a great player. But for our system and what we want to do offensively, we felt like Blake was the best fit.’’
The 6-foot-5-inch Bortles completed 68 percent of his passes last season for 3,581 yards, with 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also ran for 272 yards and six scores.
His size and scrambling ability were huge draws for the Jaguars. So was his competitiveness and work ethic.
Bills make moves
Doug Whaley was willing to risk future draft picks for the opportunity to land receiver Sammy Watkins and put the Bills in a position to make the playoffs this season.
In his first NFL Draft as the Bills general manager, Whaley struck a deal with the Browns to move up five spots to select the Clemson receiver with the fourth pick. To get Watkins, Buffalo gave up its No. 9 pick this year, plus a first- and a fourth-round pick in next year’s draft.
‘‘We thought it was a calculated risk, and a risk we were willing to take,’’ said Whaley, who took over after Buddy Nix stepped down a year ago. ‘‘The high cost of not making the playoffs is something we weighed, and we thought this guy was going to get us to the playoffs.’’
The Bills are coming off their third consecutive six-win season. They've also gone 14 seasons without a playoff berth — the NFL’s longest active drought.
Watkins has the potential of providing the Bills’ sputtering offense a dynamic threat. And he addresses the objective Whaley outlined in the weeks leading up to the draft: add talent to spur the development of quarterback EJ Manuel, who is coming off an inconsistent and injury-shortened rookie season.
‘‘He’s automatically going to make our quarterback better and us better as a team,’’ Whaley said.
Manuel expressed his excitement by posting 16 exclamation marks on his Twitter account after Watkins was picked.
Buffalo finished last year 19th in total yards gained, and 29th in yards passing.
Jets go boom
Rex Ryan saw game film of Calvin Pryor and liked what he saw — and heard. Boom! Pop! Pow! Ryan and the Jets expect plenty of those hard hits from their first-round draft pick. They selected the Louisville safety at No. 18, helping bolster a secondary that ranked 22d in pass defense last season. ‘‘We pride ourselves in being a physical football team, and he fits that profile,’’ Ryan said. ‘‘This young man is an enforcer.’’ Pryor, who earned the nickname ‘‘Louisville Slugger’’ in college, could compete with Antonio Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett for a starting spot opposite Dawan Landry. It is the fifth straight year the Jets have selected a defensive player with their first pick. They took cornerback Dee Milliner last year at No. 9 . . . New Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey says Tennessee right tackle Ja’Wuan James was the highest-rated player on their draft board when their turn came in the first round, which made for an easy decision. Eager to acquire a right tackle, Miami turned down trade offers and selected the 6-6, 311-pound James with the 19th pick. ‘‘We had a couple of calls, but we were excited about picking Ja'Wuan,’’ Hickey said. ‘‘We were always targeting him. He was the best player for us. That’s the way we valued him.’’ The Dolphins passed on a chance to take 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Manziel. They opted for a blocker even after four offensive linemen were taken among the first 16 picks. The Dolphins gave up 58 sacks last year, a franchise record.