In the days leading to the start of the college football season, NFL Draft Scout will count down the top-25 college programs, according to draft-eligible NFL talent on the roster.
Clemson Tigers : No. 3
Clemson Draft History
- NFL Draft picks since moving to seven round format in 1994: 81 (18th in college football)
- NFL Draft picks the last 10 years: 49(9th in college football)
- NFL Draft picks the last five years: 27(t-6th in college football)
Looking back at the 2016 NFL Draft
2016 NFL Draft picks: 9
- (1/19) DE Shaq Lawson
- (2/33) DE Kevin Dodd
- (2/54) CB Mackensie Alexander
- (2/57) DB T.J. Green
- (4/109) OLB B.J. Goodson
- (5/166) DT D.J. Reader
- (7/241) WR Charone Peake
- (7/244) SS Jayron Kearse
- (7/247) RB Zac Brooks
Undrafted free agents: OG Eric MacLain, OT Joe Gore
Looking ahead to the 2017 NFL Draft
The one blemish on Clemson’s record last season came in the national title game, falling to Alabama Crimson Tide by only five points in an instant classic. With a 14-win team, it wasn’t a surprise to see several Tigers picked on draft weekend. In fact, if not for Ohio State Buckeyes ‘s historic draft class, Clemson would have been the most represented college program in the 2016 NFL Draft with nine selections, including seven underclassmen. And just like the Buckeyes, the NFL pipeline isn’t dry for Clemson this season with over half a dozen draft-eligible prospects, including quarterback Deshaun Watson , who is a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick.
Below are the top draft-eligible prospects on the Tigers’ roster for the next level.
|Class: Junior||Height: 6-2||Weight: 210||40-yard dash: 4.64|
The favorite for the No. 1 overall pick next spring, Watson arrived at Clemson as the top quarterback recruit in the country and over two seasons for the Tigers, he has certainly lived up to that high billing. It didn’t take long for Watson to work his way up to the No. 1 quarterback spot on the Tigers’ depth chart, but an LCL tear and partially torn ACL prematurely ended his true freshman season. He underwent off-season surgery and returned healthy last season as a sophomore, leading Clemson to a 14-1 record and an ACC Championship. He finished the season with 67.8-percent completions (333-for-491) for 4,104 passing yards and 47 total touchdowns (35 passing, 12 rushing). Watson became the first Clemson player to win the Davey O’Brien and Manning Awards and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Watson is an above average athlete with instinctive playmaking skills with the ball in his hands. Some might label him as a running quarterback, which is technically correct as he rushed for 1,105 yards last season. But he is much more than just an athlete playing quarterback, displaying the passing traits that project well to the NFL game.
Watson has fantastic arm talent with unforced velocity and an easy release to deliver passes with touch downfield. He has shown the ability to make whole field reads and absorbs and processes information quickly to make sound decisions. Watson has clean footwork and throws well from all platforms, doing some of his best work on the move to stress the defense with run-pass options.
In order for Watson to secure his spot as the top quarterback in the 2017 class, he needs to be more efficient with his eyes as he tends to rush through reads on some snaps and then stare down targets on other snaps. His decisions can be too influenced by pressure, prematurely escaping the pocket and not always stepping up to buy extra half-seconds.
The No. 1 concern among scouts and Watson’s transition to the NFL is his size. He has adequate height, but lean body features and questionable growth potential. Nonetheless, Watson has the mature attitude, production (18-2 record as a starter) and traits pop off the screen.
|Class: Redshirt Junior||Height: 6-3||Weight: 220||40-yard dash: 4.50|
The image of Williams lying motionless in the end zone following a collision with the goal post padding in last year’s season opener is one that will be tough to forget. The fracture in his neck made football an afterthought as he watched Clemson win the ACC last season and compete for a national title from the sidelines.
Despite worries that his career might be over, Williams, who posted 57 catches for 1,030 yards and six scores in 2014, returned to the field this spring with full clearance from his doctors and motivation to put his career back on track. Based on his natural gifts, Williams could be the third Clemson wideout drafted in the first round since 2013.
Physically, Williams looks like he was constructed with a NFL-starter kit: tall, muscular, powerful, long, fast and coordinated. He releases quick off the line and has the short-area burst and footwork to create spacing in his routes, showing little wasted movements out of his breaks. Williams provides a large strike zone for his quarterback due to his length, ball skills and overall catch radius, plucking the ball away from his body and out of the grasp of defenders.
He has the athletic traits to generate separation, but also flashes the focus and strength to finish in contested situations, making him a threat at every level of the field. The most substantial concern with Williams is obviously the neck and how he returns from such a distressing injury. No one would blame him if he thought twice while going over the middle of the field or if he doesn’t attack the football with the same vigor. The fracture might be fully healed, but where Williams is mentally will be something scouts examine with a microscope this fall.
|Class: Senior||Height: 6-0||Weight: 195||40-yard dash: 4.48|
The only returning starter from the secondary is Tankersley who flirted with the idea of joining his teammates and jumping to the NFL, but now returns as one of the senior leaders in 2016. In his first year as a starter last season, he was among the ACC leaders with 19 passes defended and five interceptions, adding 48 tackles. With opposing offenses staying away from Mackensie Alexander at the other cornerback position, Tankersley saw a lot of passes thrown his way and responded well to the challenge.
A good-sized athlete, Tankersley has the height and length desired for the next level, using his arms well to obstruct the catch point vision and disrupt the rhythm of wide receivers. He displays above average ball skills on film with the ability to quickly locate and gain proper position, but also left some production on the field due to his inconsistent timing and reluctance to get his head turned.
Although he isn’t an elite speed athlete and needs to stay balanced at the top of routes, Tankersley stays hip-to-hip in man coverage and there were several instances of him tracking down ball carriers from behind on tape. He needs to tweak some technique and discipline issues, but his athleticism, ball skills and tough-minded approach in man coverage as scouts intrigued for his second year as a starter in 2016.
|Class: Senior||Height: 6-5||Weight: 275||40-yard dash: 4.73|
It is a good bet that Leggett won’t be the first player drafted next spring from the Clemson offense. In fact, he might not even crack the top three considering Watson, Gallman and Williams are all expected to be in the 2017 class. But Leggett, who set career-bests with 40 catches for 525 yards and eight scores last season, is a blossoming player with his best football ahead of him as NFL scouts consider him one of the top-five senior tight end prospects in the 2017 class.
Leggett has a moldable frame that allows him to be effective as both a pass-catcher and blocker. He shows smooth body control and soft hands as a receiver with the length to expand his catch radius and make the diving grab look routine. Leggett’s route tree requires maintenance, but he finishes as a ball carrier due to his balance and power to keep his feet, also showing off a steel stiff-arm.
He holds his own in pass protection, using his long arms and wide base to shield the pocket and shuffle laterally with defenders. While he has the baseline traits to be a dependable blocker, Leggett must show consistent effort and aggression from snap-to-snap and better use his body angles.
|Class: Junior||Height: 5-10||Weight: 190||40-yard dash: 4.49|
It can be tough for some highly-recruited receivers to make an immediate impact at the college level. But that wasn’t the case with Scott, who has 169 catches in his first two seasons for the Tigers, which is a school record. He garnered Freshman All-American honors in 2014 with a team-best 76 catches for 965 yards and eight touchdowns. Scott improved his catch total last season as a sophomore with an ACC-best 93 receptions for 965 yards and six scores, earning First Team All-ACC honors.
Scott is a catch-and-go creator with a quick, efficient plucking motion to easily transition into a ball carrier. He helps out his quarterback with his adjustment skills and soft hands, showing the speed to weave through a defense. Scott can be redirected vs. the jam in press coverage and needs to play more physical at the catch point.
Ball security is another area that needs improvement with two fumbles in the games I studied and several other close calls. He isn’t an overpowering blocker, but runs his feet and gives quality effort, especially on broken plays. Scott doesn’t necessarily stand out from a size/speed perspective, but he is a dependable target who was also Clemson’s primary kick and punt returner last season. With Mike Williams back as the Tigers’ No. 1 target, Scott is an ideal fit as a versatile No. 2 who can line up all over the formation.
|Class: Redshirt Junior||Height: 6-0||Weight: 215||40-yard dash: 4.54|
Few would argue that quarterback Deshaun Watson is the driving force of the Tigers’ offense, but Gallman is one of the vital supporting talents that made Clemson a National Title contender last season and again in 2016. While Watson deserves all the attention he received for the team’s success a year ago, Gallman “quietly” rushed for 1,527 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior, adding 21 catches for 213 yards receiving.
Gallman might not have the build of a traditional power back, but he gets north-south quickly and runs with authority, finishing through contact instead of bracing for it. He gains his top speed in a hurry and while he has a quick first step, his second and third steps are even better due to his run anger and strong run strides.
He is a capable athlete who can runs decisive, but needs to be more graceful in congested areas, often making too much contact with his own blockers, occasionally late to find holes due to hot/cold vision. With the stud ball carriers projected in the 2017 class, it is easy to overlook Gallman, just like he is overshadowed by Watson in his own backfield. But with some improvements in 2016, Gallman could be one of the reasons we talk about next year’s running back group being special.
|Class: Redshirt Senior||Height: 6-3||Weight: 300||40-yard dash: 5.06|
As a four-star recruit out of high school, Watkins received scholarship offers from every major program in the country, choosing Clemson and seeing playing time as a freshman reserve in 2012. He was set to push for starting reps as a sophomore, but a few weeks into the 2013 season, a fatal car accident, which killed his cousin and left Watkins with several injuries, changed the path of his career.
He suffered blood clots in both legs and understandably battled with the weight of the situation, forcing him to redshirt in 2013. After finishing with 13 tackles as a back-up in 2014, Watkins worked his way into the starting line-up last season as a junior and drew All-ACC honors with 34 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and an interception over 14 starts.
Watkins has a solidly-built frame for the position with well-distributed mass and room to add more muscle. He fires off the snap with the movement skills to cross the face of blockers and redirect his momentum in tight spaces to close on the ball carrier. Watkins stays balanced through crowds and is able to generate a push when he locks out and drives his legs.
While he carries his weight well, Watkins needs to translate his athletic traits into more disruption and production at or behind the line of scrimmage. He struggles to counter the upper body movements of blockers, too often allowing his hands to wander, which opens his chest and helps single blockers tie him up. Watkins needs extensive mechanical refinement, especially when he plays too high and allows his base to narrow — something offensive coordinators see on tape and know they can attack.
|Class: Senior||Height: 6-0||Weight: 240||40-yard dash: 4.84|
The new-look Clemson defense will feature several new names in 2016, but Boulware returns at weakside linebacker and brings a veteran presence to a young unit. After serving as a back-up his first two years, Boulware started all 15 games last season and posted 82 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. He also finished second on the team in passes defended (nine) and interceptions (two) and the conference coaches made him a First Team All-ACC selection.
Boulware competes with a physical mentality and loves to hit, throwing his shoulder and using his entire body to finish. He plays at full-go at all times with the quick diagnose skills and closing burst to consistently be in the neighborhood of the ball.
Boulware has the spatial instincts that allow him to hold up vs. backs and tight ends in coverage, but his tight hips limit his change of direction skills. He is an average athlete with only average power and range, but he limits the wasted steps and is a smart player – will that be enough to find a role in the NFL? Possibly, but no question it will give him a fighting chance.
Other draft-eligible prospects to watch:
- Hunter Renfrow , WR, rSO. (5-10, 175, 4.54, #13)
- Tyrone Crowder , RG, rJR. (6-2, 330, 5.43, #55)
- Jay Guillermo , OC, rSR. (6-2, 325, 5.34, #57)
- Scott Pagano , DT, rJR. (6-3, 295, #56)
- Jadar Johnson , SS, SR. (6-0, 205, 4.57, #18)
- Andy Teasdall , PT, rSR. (5-11, 190, 4.90, #32)
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Top 25 NFL Draft Rankings: Deshaun Watson leads loaded No. 3 Clemson