Clemson Football: NFL Draft Projections for Every Former Tiger

Bryan ManningFeatured ColumnistMay 4, 2014

Clemson Football: NFL Draft Projections for Every Former Tiger

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    Former Clemson star Sammy Watkins
    Former Clemson star Sammy WatkinsRainier Ehrhardt/Associated Press

    The NFL draft is just days away, and for football fans, both college and NFL, the draft is like Christmas in May. 

    The draft is a bit bittersweet for college fans. On one hand, you're excited for your favorite college players. But on the other hand, it's tough saying goodbye to players who meant so much to your school.

    The Clemson Tigers are losing some major talent to the NFL in 2014. Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Brandon Thomas and Martavis Bryant are among the names Clemson fans will hear in this week's draft. 

    As the Tigers prepare for the 2014 season, we take a look at where some of the former Tigers expect to go in the upcoming NFL draft. 

Tajh Boyd

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    Record-setting quarterback Tajh Boyd
    Record-setting quarterback Tajh BoydRainier Ehrhardt/Associated Press

    Boyd did everything at Clemson. He broke numerous school and conference records, while leading the Tigers to three straight 10-win seasons for only the second time in school history.

    After the 2012 season, many who follow the NFL draft pegged Boyd as a big-time prospect, including Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller:

    I see Tajh Boyd a lot like I saw Robert Griffin in 2010. Raw, athletic, makes easy mistakes, but is athletic enough to take over games.

    — Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 30, 2013

    However, after a 2013 season that saw the Tigers lose two big regular-season gamesone against Florida State and the other against bitter rival South Carolinamany in the draft community cooled on Boyd. And in a prime opportunity to impress NFL folks at the Senior Bowl, Boyd failed to do so with an inconsistent week.

    In Miller's current rankings, he doesn't even have Boyd among the top eight prospects at quarterback for this week's draft. 

    Expect a team with an athletic quarterback to select Boyd in the later rounds and attempt to develop him. Tyrod Taylor, a former ACC Player of the Year at Virginia Tech who compares favorably to Boyd, went in the sixth round the of 2011 draft and has been the backup to Joe Flacco ever since.

    Boyd will likely be picked anywhere between Rounds 5 and 7. 

Roderick McDowell

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    Roderick McDowell
    Roderick McDowellRICHARD SHIRO/Associated Press

    Despite running for 1,000 yards as the starting tailback in 2013, Roderick McDowell was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. McDowell's first opportunity to impress NFL scouts came at Clemson's pro day in March.

    Results were mixed, via NFLDraftScout.com.

    McDowell, at 5'9'', 204 pounds, is thickly built in the mold of several NFL running backs. He has good vision, is strong and underrated in pass protection.

    However, it is McDowell's lack of breakaway speed that will hurt him in the eyes of NFL scouts. His best time in the 40-yard dash was 4.69 seconds, not good for a 200-pound running back. 

    The running back class in this year's draft isn't loaded with top-end talent, but it does have depth. With the running back position as fungible as it is in today's NFL, a player like McDowell could benefit from not getting drafted. As a priority free agent, he will have an opportunity to choose which team he signs with. 

    McDowell likely will go undrafted, but he possesses some unique skills which will endear him to some NFL teams. 

Sammy Watkins

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    Sammy Watkins
    Sammy WatkinsRAINIER EHRHARDT/Associated Press

    Sammy Watkins is arguably the best player in the 2014 NFL draft.

    He has it all. You want production? Watkins has it. You want measurables? Watkins has them. And do you want a player who has the passion and desire to continue to get better? Yes, Watkins possesses that, too. 

    Of the teams picking in the top five, St. Louis, Jacksonville and Oakland all have a major need for a true No. 1 wide receiver. Watkins will be that from day one. 

    Watkins will go in the top five. There is a good chance he goes No. 2 overall to St. Louis, but he won't slip past the fifth overall pick. Don't be surprised if a team moves up to acquire Watkins. 

Martavis Bryant

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    Martavis Bryant
    Martavis BryantBrett Carlsen/Getty Images

    Martavis Bryant may not be Watkins or DeAndre Hopkins, but he does possess the most upside of any receiver in the 2014 draft.

    At 6'4", 211 pounds, Bryant has rare size. To go with that size, Bryant also ran the 40 in 4.42 seconds and posted a vertical of 39 inches, via NFL.com. That sounds Randy Moss-like.

    When the entire draft process started, Bryant was viewed as a fourth-round pick. However, NFL teams fell in love with Bryant's combination of size, speed and untapped potential. And watching Bryant's college tape you see a receiver who is a dangerous downfield threat. He has outstanding body control and does a good job of catching the football at its highest point.

    In three years at Clemson, Bryant averaged 24.6, 30.5 and 19.7 yards per catch. It's important to note Bryant didn't play a lot in his first two years.

    Bryant is a legitimate big-play receiver from day one. Even noted draft expert Mike Mayock is high on Bryant, according to Mandrallius Robinson of The Greenville News:

    "He jumps out of the gym. Really explosive talent, but he’s only a one-year production guy, which scares people. But I think his physical skill set is so awe-inspiring he’s probably going to go in (round) two."

    Like Mayock said, expect Bryant to go somewhere in Round 2. 

Brandon Thomas

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    Brandon Thomas at the NFL Scouting Combine in February
    Brandon Thomas at the NFL Scouting Combine in FebruaryMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    Brandon Thomas was a two-time first-team All-ACC selection at offensive tackle over the last two years.

    Thomas became a starter early in his sophomore season and never looked back. For his career, Thomas started 36 straight games. 

    Momentum was building for Thomas to be a late first- or early second-round selection in the 2014 NFL draft. After the Tigers defeated Ohio State in the Orange Bowl, Thomas went to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, and had a great week of practice in front of NFL scouts and coaches from every team.

    Unfortunately for Thomas, he tore his ACL in a private workout for the Saints in early April and his draft stock plummeted immediately.

    It was a tough blow for Thomas on many levels. His versatility to play outside at tackle or inside at guard was viewed favorably in the NFL. Now, with the injury, Thomas will likely fall to the fourth or fifth round as he won't be expected to contribute as a rookie in 2014.

    Whoever gets Thomas will be getting a steal. 

Bashaud Breeland

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    Bashaud Breeland
    Bashaud BreelandRichard Shiro/Associated Press

    Bashaud Breeland is an intriguing player for many reasons. Breeland, who left Clemson with one year of eligibility remaining, has the size (5'11", 197) NFL teams covet in a cornerback. 

    However, Breeland could have benefitted from one more year in college. 2013 was the first year where he was the unquestioned starter. He started some additional games in 2011 and 2012. 

    Breeland's 40 time (4.62, per NFL.com) was a bit concerning for a corner. But if you watched him in college, he plays much faster than his clocked time. Breeland is physical and has long arms, which could make him an ideal press-man corner. 

    There are enough concerns about Breeland, though, that could push him into the fourth or fifth round. As we all know, it takes just one team to fall in love with a player and select him much higher than many anticipated. Breeland could be that type of player. 

    Breeland has loads of potential, and the cornerback position is in demand. Look for Breeland to go somewhere in the middle of the third round. 

Chandler Catanzaro

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    Chandler Catanzaro
    Chandler CatanzaroPatrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Lost among all of the talk about Watkins, Boyd and Bryant leaving is the departure of kicker Chandler Catanzaro.

    Catanzaro isn't just any kicker. He was a four-year starter for the Tigers, hitting over 98 percent of point-after attempts and almost 82 percent of his field goals. He was reliable and clutch throughout his career.

    The only problem for Catanzaro, though, is kickers aren't necessarily in demand at the next level. Yes, all 32 teams need a good one, but few teams spend a draft choice on a kicker. Many of the top NFL kickers often bounce around before finding a permanent home. 

    That will likely be what happens with Catanzaro. He may not get drafted, but he should sign as a priority free agent with an opportunity to make someone's roster as a rookie in 2014.