Sammy Watkins looks to solidify his status as a top-10 pick at this week's NFL Scouting Combine.
CLEMSON, S.C.—This week, one of the most pivotal events of the NFL draft calendar takes place in Indianapolis. NFL coaches, scouts and general managers from across the league will gather for the annual NFL Scouting Combine, where 355 draft hopefuls will display their skills in a weeklong exhibition that some call “The Underwear Olympics.”
Players are measured, poked, prodded, tested, interviewed and evaluated in a number of drills, medical tests and team interviews. Do well here, and a player's draft stock can soar.
Bomb out, and his stock can plummet from draftable talent to free-agent fodder.
Coming off an 11-2 2013 season and a top-10 national finish, Clemson has a number of talented alumni in Indianapolis. Quarterback Tajh Boyd, receivers Martavis Bryant and Sammy Watkins, cornerback Bashaud Breeland and offensive tackle Brandon Thomas will be flaunting their wares and skills this week.
Let’s examine what to expect from the talented former Tigers this week.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.
At one point last fall, Boyd was regarded as a first-round draft pick. His stock has slipped significantly since then. He excelled in the 2013 opener against then-No. 5 Georgia, throwing for 270 yards and three touchdowns against no interceptions but struggled in high-profile games against Florida State and South Carolina.
He completed just 17 of 37 passes for 156 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in the 51-14 demolition at the Seminoles’ hands, losing a key early fumble that was returned for a touchdown.
At South Carolina, he completed 19 of 27 passes for 225 yards but threw for no touchdowns and two interceptions. He also lost a key fumble early in the fourth quarter inside the Gamecocks’ 35-yard line with Clemson trailing 24-17, which was a key factor in the Tigers’ 31-17 defeat.
For the year, he threw for 3,851 yards with 34 touchdowns against 11 interceptions, completing 68.5 percent of his passes. He also ran for 400 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.
Boyd’s Senior Bowl experience didn’t go much better. He started for the North team but completed just seven of 16 passes for 31 yards with an interception and didn’t play after the first quarter.
During a recent media teleconference, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. said Boyd is projected as a “fifth- to sixth-round pick.”
“A Day Three quarterback who certainly will play in the NFL, as a backup hopefully for a lot of years,” Kiper said. “As a starter? Debatable.”
Scouts want to see Boyd improve his accuracy. His height (officially 6’0.875” at the Senior Bowl) is also a concern, although with smaller quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Drew Brees excelling in the NFL, that issue could be mitigated.
At the combine, he will be joined by underclassman quarterbacks who didn’t compete at the Senior Bowl like Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Central Florida’s Blake Bortles and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater.
Boyd has always responded well to criticism, and a few weeks off to train and prepare will likely do him good. Don’t expect a total bounce-back, but he should solidify mid-round status with a solid effort.
Prediction: 10 bench press reps, 4.72 40-yard dash.
Bashaud Breeland turned a strong junior season into an early NFL departure.
Breeland’s decision to leave Clemson a year early was something of a surprise. The junior bounced back from an injury-plagued sophomore season with a standout 2013 campaign, making 74 tackles (fourth on Clemson’s roster) with two sacks, a team-leading 13 pass breakups and four interceptions (tying safety Jayron Kearse for tops on the Tigers defense).
He was the team’s top cornerback, combining physical play with excellent coverage skills. Still, it was his first truly impressive season, and he wasn’t projected as a first-round pick. However, family concerns (Breeland has an infant daughter) prompted him to make the jump, per Scott Porter of New Era Scouting.
So far, it is paying off. NFL.com recently projected him as one of the draft’s top 50 selections, and Yahoo! Sports pegged him as a first-round pick. If Breeland can display the same skills in Indy that he did this season, he could solidify his spot as an early-round pick.
Prediction: 19 bench press reps, 4.55 40-yard dash, 35-inch vertical leap.
Athletic receiver Martavis Bryant could be a strong middle-round find for an NFL team.
A highly regarded recruit when he signed with Clemson in 2011, Bryant followed two substandard campaigns with an outstanding 2013 season.
He found consistency and emerged as the Tigers’ clear No. 2 receiver behind Sammy Watkins, making 42 receptions for 828 yards and seven touchdowns. He averaged 19.7 yards per reception (tops on Clemson’s roster) and had 17 catches of 20-plus yards—second among Clemson receivers behind Watkins, who had 19.
Bryant has excellent speed. At 6’5”, he is a dangerous deep-threat target, as opposing cornerbacks found out this season. He is projected as a middle-round selection but could enhance his professional stock with a solid effort this week.
If he is focused and shows good hands, his size and physical ability will give scouts something to talk about in Indianapolis.
Prediction: 17 bench press reps, 4.45 40-yard dash, 41-inch vertical leap.
Brandon Thomas did a solid job of protecting Tajh Boyd for the last two seasons.
Thomas was a cornerstone of an improved Clemson offensive line that paved the way for 40.2 points and 507.4 total yards per game in 2013. He was a two-time first-team All-ACC selection and has solid hands, size and footwork.
His versatility is a major selling point. He spent most of his sophomore season starting at left guard before moving to left tackle for his junior and senior seasons, where he was largely impressive against talented defensive ends.
He impressed at the Senior Bowl. Both Mel Kiper Jr. and the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock project him as a second-round selection.
The only question: where Thomas fits in. Mayock said on a Tuesday teleconference with reporters that he sees Thomas as a tackle, while Kiper projects him as a guard.
“He was a left tackle who played well, and did a good job at the Senior Bowl practices,” Kiper said. “He could play as guard, and be a great guard, a Pro Bowl guard.”
Prediction: 33 bench press reps, 5.0 40-yard dash, 22-inch vertical leap.
Watkins finished his college career as the Tigers’ career leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, and he did so in just three seasons.
He put a lost sophomore season behind him in 2013, making 101 receptions for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns. He finished second in ACC history in career receptions and third in receiving yardage.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper projects him as the draft’s No. 5 overall selection, going to the Oakland Raiders. And the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock says he is the top receiver in a deep wideout draft class.
“Sammy Watkins is a special player,” Mayock said on a conference call with reporters. “I don’t usually get too excited about wide receivers in the top 10, but this kid is different.”
Mayock loves Watkins’ speed, size, hands and toughness and says he plays “pissed off” while going over the middle, which is a positive sign in the always-physical NFL.
Watkins has been training in Florida and told The State that he is “10 times faster” than he was in college and plans on running “one of the two or three fastest” 40-yard dash times at the combine.
If Watkins is motivated and it shows this week, he’ll solidify his spot as a top-five selection in May’s draft.
Prediction: 19 bench press reps, 4.42 40-yard dash, 40-inch vertical leap.