Sammy Watkins is a likely first-round NFL draft selection.
CLEMSON—Dabo Swinney has one guiding principle that he uses when dealing with juniors and NFL draft decisions: If you’re not projected as a first-round selection by the NFL draft advisory committee, your smartest decision is to return to school.
“I’ve always said that,” Swinney said. “If you’re not a first-rounder, it’s not a good long-term decision (to leave).”
Results of Swinney’s message are mixed. A year ago, he questioned wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins’ decision to leave after receiving a second-round projection. Hopkins wound up as a first-round pick, going No. 26 overall to the Houston Texans.
Five years ago, tailback C.J. Spiller was expected to leave after being projected as a late first-round pick. Instead, he came back to Clemson, was named the ACC Player of the Year and was selected ninth overall by the Buffalo Bills.
“We just go through the same process we go through with (everyone),” Swinney said. “Here’s accurate information, not just what some guy on TV said. Everybody has their own reasons for making their decisions. Our role is to make sure they have good, accurate information. We counsel them, give them our opinion and support whatever they decide.”
Over the next few weeks, Swinney will be providing plenty of counsel. A number of Clemson’s juniors have submitted evaluation papers to the NFL regarding their draft status and will make decisions about their futures following the Orange Bowl against Ohio State on Jan. 3.
Let’s take a look at the choices that the Tigers’ most prominent juniors have ahead of them.
Sammy Watkins, Wide Receiver
Watkins rebounded from a down 2012 season with an outstanding junior year. Through 12 games, he has 85 receptions for 1,237 yards with 10 touchdowns, averaging 14.6 yards per reception.
He was named as a first-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association and has put himself in prime position for a first-round draft position. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said on Thursday on a conference call with reporters that Watkins was slotted 13th in his latest mock draft.
CBS Sports draft analyst Rob Rang projects Watkins going 13th to the New York Jets, while fellow CBS analyst Dane Brugler has him going seventh to Tampa. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller also projects him to the Bucs at No. 9, while Yahoo's Eric Edholm agrees with Rang and has Watkins going to the Jets at No. 13.
Watkins has said several times this fall that leaving isn’t a certainty and he’ll make his final decision after consulting with his coaches and parents following the season. But Swinney has said repeatedly that he considers Watkins a top-10 overall selection. It’s hard to imagine a scenario that ends with him back at Clemson next season.
Vic Beasley, Defensive End
Beasley arrived at Clemson as a man without a position, working as a tight end and linebacker before landing at defensive end last season. He enjoyed a breakout season this fall, piling up 39 tackles, 12 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. He was named as a first-team All-American by Athlon, Bleacher Report, CBSSports.com, SB Nation, SI.com, Sporting News, USA Today and the Walter Camp Football Foundation. He is also a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award, which is given to the nation’s top defensive end.
He has submitted his draft evaluation and says, “I’m leaning towards coming out, but I haven’t made a decision yet. It’s definitely a consideration.”
If Beasley receives a first-round evaluation, he’ll likely declare. Brugler projects him 29th overall to the New Orleans Saints. Miller has him at No. 31 to the Seattle Seahawks, and Edholm lists him at 27th to the Saints.
“I’d take first round. It ain’t all about the money, but shoot I’ll take first round,” Beasley said. “That’s the best of the best. I hope it’s a first-round grade.”
Beasley says his coaches are split about his return: “Some tell me I should probably come out and some say I should stay for another year and put on more weight and help the team.”
At 6’2”, 235 pounds, he remains somewhat slight for a defensive end. Another offseason in the weight room and 10-15 pounds of additional muscle would help him better attack the run and perhaps enhance his pass-rush stats.
Still, if Beasley receives a first-round grade, Clemson will likely be grooming rising sophomore Shaq Lawson, a talent in his own right, as the new starting end.
Martavis Bryant, Wide Receiver
Bryant shook off two seasons of inconsistency and came into his own this fall, catching 39 passes for 800 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 20.5 yards per reception as a solid deep threat. He has two young children to support and told reporters last week that if he was projected as a second- to third-round selection, he’d likely depart.
Given his improvement in the season’s second half, that wouldn’t be a huge surprise.
Stephone Anthony, Linebacker
Anthony rebounded from losing his job as the Tigers’ starting middle linebacker midway through last season for a fine junior season. He has 120 tackles, 13.5 tackle for loss and four sacks. By contrast, he entered this season with 119 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in 26 career games. He said he has submitted paperwork to the NFL regarding his status, but when asked, he didn’t say what result would make him consider an NFL jump.
He is not projected as a first-round pick; a return to school is likely in his future.
When Swinney sits down with his draft-eligible juniors, he’ll tell them what he told Hopkins, Spiller and others: Maximize your opportunity.
“Especially with the way the NFL is now, all these rookie contracts are four, five years. The only thing guaranteed is what you get on the front side,” he said. “To get to a fourth, fifth year, the odds are really against you in that regard. Everybody has to make those decisions. That’s my personal opinion.
“That’s what I’d tell my sons. You have to maximize your one opportunity. You come back, still a third, fourth, fifth rounder, who cares? You’ve maximized your opportunity and it’s still a blessing to go play at the highest level. I wouldn’t go at a discount. We’ve got a few guys, if they came out now, they’re not going to get what I think they’re worth. That’s the way it is.”
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.
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