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Previewing How Players Leaving Clemson Football Will Do in the NFL

Zach GillilandFeatured ColumnistJanuary 26, 2014

Previewing How Players Leaving Clemson Football Will Do in the NFL

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    Dabo Swinney celebrates an Orange Bowl victory with Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd.
    Dabo Swinney celebrates an Orange Bowl victory with Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    It's inevitable in college football. You have to re-build and start over fresh every few seasons. Some players go on to play professionally, while others played their last football in college. For Clemson, there are a few guys that I am confident will blossom as solid NFL players, a few that are on the fence and some that will not make it professionally. Enough talk, let's get started.

Players That Likely Won't Make It in the NFL

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    Quandon Christian was an important part of the Tigers defense over the past few seasons.
    Quandon Christian was an important part of the Tigers defense over the past few seasons.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    The players below aren’t projected to get drafted, according CBSSports.com. All had solid careers at Clemson, though, and will be missed.

    • Tyler Shatley, OG
    • Quandon Christian, LB
    • Darrell Smith, FB
    • Darius Robinson, CB 

    Tyler Shatley did a good job on the offensive line this year, and Quandon Christian made some big plays for the Tigers defense. Darius Robinson and Darrell Smith were good leaders for Clemson, but both have probably played their last football.

     

Martavis Bryant

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    Martavis Bryant's combination of size and speed makes him an interesting prospect.
    Martavis Bryant's combination of size and speed makes him an interesting prospect.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Martavis Bryant is the trickiest guy to scout out of Clemson’s departing players. He can either be a major boom or a big bust.

    He has great size at 6'4", 200 pounds and can also blow you away with his speed. According to CBSSports.com, he runs a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash. He's ranked as the 12th-best receiver in the upcoming draft. Draft scouts are excited to see that size and speed combination.

    The one issue with Bryant this season was his focus and consistency. In the opening game against Georgia, he missed a few opportunities to make big plays. He definitely matured throughout the season, though, and became a solid weapon for the Tigers.

    He totaled 43 catches for 828 yards and seven touchdowns this season. 

    Bryant should get drafted in the first three rounds because of the huge upside. With that size and speed, teams will be willing to take a chance on him.

    I think if he works hard on becoming a consistent target, he can become a very useful receiver in the NFL.

Bashaud Breeland

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    Breeland opted out of his senior year, choosing to enter the draft.
    Breeland opted out of his senior year, choosing to enter the draft.Tyler Smith/Getty Images

    Bashaud Breeland was expected to return for his senior year, but surprisingly he decided to turn the page and head to the NFL.

    He is a guy who definitely could have benefited from returning for another season, but there are other factors such as economics that go into these kinds of decisions.

    In his junior season Breeland stats totaled 56 tackles, two sacks and four interceptions. CBSSports.com has him as the 17th-ranked cornerback in this year’s class.

    I think Breeland should have come back for another year, but he will most likely get drafted in one of the lower rounds.

    He reminds me a lot of former Tiger Byron Maxwell because of how Maxwell's NFL career has evolved. Maxwell was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the sixth round, but is now an important part of the Seahawks’ defense.

    I think it will take Breeland a few seasons, but eventually he has the potential to make an impact on a team similar to the way Maxwell has.

Roderick McDowell

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    McDowell made the most of his opportunities in his senior year.
    McDowell made the most of his opportunities in his senior year.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Roderick McDowell is another guy who could be a boom or bust. He isn’t projected by CBSSports.com to get drafted, but I do not agree with this.

    McDowell may not be the most powerful back, but he hits the hole quick and is elusive in space. He only had five touchdowns in 2013, but around the goal line, Tajh Boyd got most of the carries.

    McDowell can be used effectively as a receiver out of the backfield in the NFL, though, and can also provide a change of pace. He had 29 receptions for 199 yards this past season for the Tigers.

    An NFL team would be smart to take a chance on McDowell and utilize him in the way that New Orleans uses Darren Sproles.

Spencer Shuey

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    Shuey had a great year for Clemson and a big game in the Orange Bowl also.
    Shuey had a great year for Clemson and a big game in the Orange Bowl also.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Spencer Shuey is another guy who had a great career at Clemson but may not make it as a pro. The biggest knock on Shuey, listed as an outside linebacker, is his speed.

    He does a great job of getting to the ball in the run game, but his pass coverage and 40-yard dash will keep him from getting drafted high.

    He runs a 4.84 in the 40-yard dash, per CBSSports.com. That isn’t typically great speed for an outside linebacker, but he could still possibly be utilized as an inside linebacker.

    CBSSports.com has him rated as the 31st-best outside linebacker and a fifth-round selection.

    That is an accurate projection of the 6’2", 240-pound linebacker, although it depends on how he performs in the pro day leading up to the draft.

    Shuey will struggle to make a major impact in the NFL mainly because of the speed factor. While he lacks the speed, he can make his impact felt in the run game. I think Shuey playing on the inside benefits him better at the next level.

Brandon Thomas

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    Thomas did a solid job of protecting his quarterback over the years.
    Thomas did a solid job of protecting his quarterback over the years.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Brandon Thomas is a versatile offensive lineman. He can play tackle or guard but will likely play guard in the NFL.

    According to Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com, Thomas “projects better at guard” where he can “operate in a smaller space.” Brugler also noted that Thomas “struggled in space” during drills.

    Rated as the seventh-best offensive guard by CBSSports.com, Thomas is projected as a fourth-round selection.

    I think he will become a good offensive lineman in the NFL, but he won’t ever be elite. While he may not rack up Pro Bowl selections, he will be a solid run-blocker for some team. 

     

Chandler Catanzaro

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    Catanzaro will go down in Clemson history for his game-winning kick in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against LSU.
    Catanzaro will go down in Clemson history for his game-winning kick in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against LSU.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Chandler Catanzaro will surely be missed by Clemson. He had a great career at Clemson, setting the school record for scoring.

    He is the second-best kicker in this class, per WalterFootball.com.

    He should have a good shot at having a pro career, but he will likely not get drafted too high. Kickers usually do not go very high in the draft; last year the first kicker went in the fifth round.

    Catanzaro should have a productive pro career because of his kicking accuracy. In 2012 he went 18-of-19, and this past season he went 13-of-14. His longest field goal in 2012 was 50 yards, and in 2013 it was 51 yards.

    He has also been clutch for the Tigers. Against Wake Forest in 2011, he made the game-winning field goal that clinched the ACC Atlantic for Clemson.

    He also had one of the school’s top moments when he kicked the game-winning field goal versus LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Tajh Boyd

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    Boyd had a record-breaking career at Clemson in his three seasons as the starter.
    Boyd had a record-breaking career at Clemson in his three seasons as the starter.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Tajh Boyd elected to come back to Clemson for his senior year, despite having a spectacular game in the Chick-fil-A Bowl versus LSU. He threw for 346 yards and two touchdowns against that LSU defense.

    Boyd may have hurt his draft stock by coming back, though. Before this past season, Charlie Campbell of WalterFootball.com slated Boyd as a “potential first-round pick” and a possible “high first-rounder.”

    This year some of Boyd’s weaknesses may have been exposed. Against Florida State, he struggled to get any rhythm going because of constant pressure. He isn’t the tallest quarterback at 6’1", but he has a big body and can provide some solid runs up the middle.

    He has the arm strength to succeed, but the worries over his ability to step up in the pocket will drop him lower in the draft. Tony Pauline, a longtime NFL draft analyst, also has his concerns about Boyd, calling him “not draftable” this past week.

    While I certainly do not think Boyd is a top pick, I disagree with Pauline that he is not even worthy of getting drafted. Boyd is worthy of a late-round selection, maybe as a backup quarterback.

    I don’t see Boyd’s game translating very well to the next level based on what was seen this year against teams like Florida State and South Carolina. He is more of a system quarterback who can excel under the right system.

    Boyd has showed in other games that he is an elite quarterback, though, playing very well against LSU and Georgia. I love Boyd as a college quarterback, but it’s not likely that he makes it in the pro-style offenses.

Sammy Watkins

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    Sammy Watkins is simply one of the top players in the draft this season.

    It wasn’t much of a surprise when he chose to enter the NFL draft instead of returning for another year, especially after his Orange Bowl performance. He caught 16 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns in the Tigers’ 40-35 victory over Ohio State.

    He is ranked as the top player at his position, per CBSSports.com. He has the speed and the ability to catch in traffic. He may not be the biggest receiver at 6'1" and 205 pounds, but he is still a big-time threat in the red zone. Watkins made one of the biggest plays of his career in the Orange Bowl with the catch shown in the video above.

    The Clemson receiver should be very successful in the NFL. He can play slot receiver or on the outside. Watkins is for sure the most versatile receiver in this class.

    Likely a first-round lock, he shouldn’t have any trouble producing at the next level. He caught 101 passes his junior year, despite getting a lot of attention from opposing defenses.

    Marcus Thompson II of San Jose Mercury News compares Watkins to “Percy Harvin with no history of concussions.”

    Watkins is a very exciting player, and it will be fun to watch what he does at the next level.

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