In recent years, Clemson has been sending more and more players to the NFL. What’s more is that some of these players have even been going in the first round. 4 years ago, running back C.J. Spiller was taken 9th overall by the Buffalo Bills. Last year, the Houston Texans made wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins the 27th overall selection of the draft. So what about this year? Well this year Sammy Watkins will become the second Clemson wide receiver in as many years to be selected in the first round. The only question is how high will he go?
Sammy Watkins, WR – Watkins is a game changer, plain and simple. There’s a reason guys like this don’t fall past the first 5 picks in the draft, and Watkins will be no different. There’s been talk about teams like the Lions trading up to select Watkins in the top 5, but I just don’t see it happening. This is a talent laden wide receiver class, with Watkins being the cream of the crop. The Lions can try to trade up for Watkins, but their most likely suitors (Jacksonville, Cleveland, Oakland) all have wide receiver needs of there own. Additionally, seeing as the Lions went out and signed former Seahawks WR Golden Tate this offseason to line up opposite all world everything wideout Calvin Johnson, I think they have other, more pressing needs.
The Pick - All three of those teams I mentioned above in Jacksonville, Cleveland, and Oakland are in the mix for Watkins. They pick 3, 4, and 5 respectively in Thursday night’s first round. There has also been some talk about St. Louis at number 2 picking Watkins or trading out of it, perhaps to Detroit. In the end, I think the Rams take Auburn OT Greg Robinson, leaving Jacksonville with a decision to make on Watkins. Ultimately, I think the Jags pass on Watkins, leaving him in the waiting arms of Mike Pettine and the Cleveland Browns. While the Browns may have other needs (QB), they also have two first round picks. I think that Cleveland takes Watkins here at number 4 to pair him up with Josh Gordon, and use their second first round pick at number 26 on a quarterback.
Martavis Bryant, WR - Bryant possesses all of the physical attributes you look for in a wide receiver. He’s tall (6’4″), he can run (4.42 40), and he can jump (39 inch vertical leap). So why is Bryant not projected as a first round talent? Consistency for one thing. Bryant is prone to dropped passes, something that simply will not fly in the NFL. On top of that, Bryant could work on his route running, as he is most dangerous right now on straight line routes and jump ball plays. While he is not nearly as polished as his Clemson teammate Watkins, Bryant still holds the talent to be a very good NFL wide receiver. If he can work on becoming a more consistent route runner and pass catcher, someone may have a steal in the 2nd or 3rd round.
The Pick - It’s difficult enough to predict where a player like Watkins will go when you know it will be in the first 5-10 picks. It is another thing entirely to figure out where someone like Bryant will end up. My best guess is that his physical prowess and ability to make the big play will land him in the 2nd round on Friday. A team with a veteran quarterback and coach, and perhaps a couple of wide receivers already in place would be the perfect spot for Bryant to end up in. For me, that’s teams like the Patriots, Steelers, 49ers, and Lions. Look for one of these teams to grab Bryant in round 2.
Bashaud Breeland, DB - Breeland is a guy who definitely could have benefited from staying in school one more year. As of now, he is probably a third round pick. Had he stayed at Clemson for one more season, Breeland could have seen his stock rise to the second or maybe even first round. As it is though, Breeland should be off the board on day 2. A big defensive back standing at 5’11″, Breeland offers exactly what NFL teams are looking for in a DB. He is versatile as he could play either cornerback or safety, and is able to change direction quickly, which is especially important for a bigger defensive back in guarding quicker wide receivers.
The Pick - There’s a chance that someone could reach for a big defensive back in the second round, but I think Breeland will wind up being taken in round three. His size really makes him a wanted commodity by just about every team in the league. Teams with defensive backfield problems that could use Breeland? The Giants and Jets come to mind. As does a team like the Tampa Bay Bucs who let go of all pro corner Darelle Revis this offseason. In the end though, I think the 49ers are a perfect fit for Breeland. San Francisco lost cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown to the Raiders in the offseason. If the niners pass on a DB in round 1, Breeland would make perfect sense for them at the back end of round 2 or somewhere in round 3.
Tajh Boyd, QB - Boyd had all of the statistics and records in his time at Clemson, so why is he not being projected higher up draft boards? For starters, Boyd stands at just 6’1″. While that isn’t terribly small, it is still undersized for an NFL quarterback. Furthermore, Boyd can sometimes get happy feet in the pocket, and is also prone to some errant throws down field. Having said all of that, Boyd still possesses good arm strength, plus speed for a quarterback, and is a joy to have in the locker room. He was universally liked by his peers in his time at Clemson, something that goes a long way for GMs in today’s NFL (Re: Aaron Hernandez).
The Pick - There are only a few places where Boyd DOESN’T fit. Teams like New England, Denver, and the New York Giants have a starter and back up already in place. These teams are out. However, teams with either a starting quarterback or back up QB need will be eyeing Boyd. Teams like Jacksonville, Cleveland, Oakland, St. Louis, and Houston could all be in the mix for the Virginia native. What is my pick though? I’m going to look into the future here a little and predict that the Washington Redskins will trade Kirk Cousins at some point this weekend. RG III is clearly the man in Washington, and while Cousins has been an admirable back up and spot starter, the fact remains that the Redskins do not need to hold on to him. I see Washington trading away Cousins and looking to grab a guy like Boyd, who they won’t have to reach too early on as they can get him in round 3.
Brandon Thomas, OL - Thomas tore his ACL a few weeks back, greatly impacting his draft stock. Thomas was a versatile offensive lineman who played both guard and tackle in his time at Clemson. NFL coaches and GMs love that kind of versatility and experience. If not for the knee injury, Thomas would have been off the board by round 3, perhaps even as early as round 2. As it stands though, Thomas will likely fall to the 4th or 5th round.
The Pick - Although the knee injury was unforunate, and it likely means a missed season for Brandon Thomas, all is not lost. He is still going to be drafted, and will be ready to compete for a starting job as soon as he is healthy and able. A team that needs offensive line help and that usually goes after these versatile type of players is the New York Giants. Look for NYG to snag Thomas on day 3.
Spencer Shuey - Shuey is ranked as the 20th best ILB in this year’s draft according to cbssports.com. Shuey is not the biggest or the fastest linebacker in the world, but he is a guy that can contribute on special teams and will not give coaches any problems. Shuey could be taken late on day 3 or signed as an undrafted free agent
Roderick McDowell - McDowell carried the load for the Tigers at RB this year with the departure of Andre Ellington to the NFL. McDowell is good, not great in most aspects of the game, but lacks ideal size and speed for a running back. I personally do not see McDowell getting drafted, but NFL teams would be foolish not to take a flier on him as a UFA.
Chandler Catanzaro - Catman was lights out after taking over the placekicking duties for Clemson, with his career highlight being the game winning field goal to beat LSU in the 2012 Chik-Fil-A Bowl. Kickers rarely get selected before the final few rounds, if at all, and Catanzaro will be no different. I don’t think anyone will draft him, but look for Catanzaro to stick somewhere as a UFA.
Regardless of where these players end up, they will always be discussed in Clemson lore. Boyd was a part of the 4th and 16 play that helped the Tigers beat LSU in the Chik-Fil-A Bowl, Watkins had one of the greatest Freshman seasons in Clemson and ACC history, and all seven of these players were a part of Clemson’s first ever BCS Bowl victory this January against Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl. It will be a thrill and a pleasure to watch these Tigers take their talents to the next level.
You can catch round 1 of the draft Thursday at 8 pm on ESPN.