Clemson Football: Who Is Replacing Every Former Tiger Taken in 2014 NFL Draft?
The NFL draft is over and 256 young men now know where they'll be attempting to live out their NFL dreams.
Clemson saw five former Tigers picked in last week's NFL draft. The most notable, of course, was wide receiver Sammy Watkins. The Buffalo Bills traded next year's first-round pick to move up five spots to select Watkins.
Injured offensive tackle Brandon Thomas was the last pick in Friday's third round. Bashaud Breeland was the second pick of the fourth round, while Martavis Bryant also went later in the fourth. Surprisingly, at least to Clemson fans, record-setting quarterback Tajh Boyd was the last to go. Boyd was chosen in the sixth round by the New York Jets.
Several other Tigers will attempt to make NFL rosters as undrafted free agents. Darius Robinson, Quandon Christian, Chandler Catanzaro, Spencer Shuey and Tyler Shatley all have signed contracts with NFL teams, per Phil Kornblut of SportsTalk South Carolina.
Now that several Tigers have departed, who will replace those five former Clemson stars that were drafted?
Quarterback: Cole Stoudt
The race to replace Boyd in spring practice was between rising senior Cole Stoudt, sophomore Chad Kelly and true freshman Deshaun Watson.
However, after a shaky performance in the spring game that saw Kelly get into a disagreement with coaches, he was promptly dismissed from the team. Watson injured his shoulder in one of the spring scrimmages and Stoudt was essentially the last man standing.
Let's not assume Stoudt was just given the job, though. He earned it.
As a backup to Boyd for three years, Stoudt attempted just 119 career passes, although he completed 72 percent of those throws. He also has eight touchdowns versus only one interception.
Stoudt is a talented passer with underrated athletic ability and he knows where to go with the ball. He is the perfect replacement for Boyd in 2014 with the Tigers also breaking in two new starting receivers.
Wide Receiver: Mike Williams
In the last two years, the Tigers have lost wide receivers Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and Martavis Bryant to the NFL. Hopkins and Watkins were first-round selections.
So instead of panicking, Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris will reload. And there is plenty of talent to choose from, beginning with 6'3", 205-pound sophomore Mike Williams.
Williams is the latest Tiger with big NFL potential. Not only does Williams have tremendous size and speed, he also possesses terrific ball skills and exciting run-after-catch ability.
Williams started out slowly this spring, but seemed to get the message and finished strong once coaches publicly called him out.
He will play a major role this fall.
Wide Receiver: Charone Peake
Williams and senior Adam Humphries will have two wide receiver spots locked down. The other spot could be a battle between several talented players, including three true freshmen.
The leader, though, appears to be junior Charone Peake. Peake, who is coming off surgery for a torn ACL and missed contact work this spring, has good size (6'2", 205 lbs) and is among the fastest players on the team.
Peake had 25 receptions in 2012 as a true sophomore and was poised for a breakout season in 2013 before suffering the knee injury.
If Peake is healthy this fall, look for him to compete with Humphries to lead the team in receptions.
Offensive Tackle: Isaiah Battle
Brandon Thomas was a very good player for the Tigers. The athletic and versatile Thomas starred at left tackle for the past two seasons.
But fortunately for Clemson, junior Isaiah Battle appears primed and ready to step right in and assume Thomas' old spot protecting the quarterback's blind side. Battle started four games at right tackle in 2013 and the experience served him well.
At 6'7", 285 pounds, Battle has ideal size for the left tackle position. He has long arms and moves like a tight end. Battle was suspended one game last season for punching an N.C. State player, but appears to have matured from that error in judgement.
This position is all but decided and expect Battle to have a big year in 2014.
Cornerback: Mackensie Alexander
Breeland really could have benefited from one more year in college. Had Breeland returned to Death Valley in 2014, he could have been drafted much higher in 2015.
Fortunately for Clemson, though, it has plenty of depth at the cornerback position.
Players such as Cordrea Tankersley, Martin Jenkins, Garry Peters and a pair of freshmen, Mackensie Alexander and Adrian Baker, should form a strong cornerback group.
Alexander, one of the top recruits in the country last year, was one of the most impressive players throughout the spring, according to coaches.
Alexander was ready to play as a true freshman last fall, but an injury in the summer led coaches to redshirt him. Alexander has it all. He has good size (5'11", 189 lbs), is fast and is consistently around the football.
It will be hard for Swinney and defensive coordinator Brent Venables to keep Alexander off the field this fall. That's why you'll see Alexander lining up with the starters when the Tigers head to Athens on Aug. 30.
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