Clemson seemed to have one of the quietest 11 wins seasons ever seen. There was an exclamation point on the season as Clemson defeated LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl 25-24. The only losses suffered by Clemson came against the likes of Florida State and South Carolina.
Dabo Sweeney is 40-21 during his run at Clemson is now a little over 4 years in length. Sweeney likes an up tempo attack and that is what we have at Clemson as the Tigers led the Conference in scoring at 47 PPG.
We keep hearing that Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will forgo his senior season and be the top quarterback selected in this draft. The quarterback that most pundits have ranked #2 is Clemson signal caller Tajh Boyd. Boyd threw for an ACC record 36 touchdowns in 2012 with another 10 touchdowns coming on the ground. Boyd threw for 3,896 yards and ran for over 500 more. Those are gaudy numbers but there are still some concerns with his play or his chances at being a true franchise quarterback at the next level. Boyd had bouts with inconsistency and there are times where his decision making is highly questionable. Many have him going in the first round where destinations like Cleveland and Arizona being especially popular but just because you are a first round quarterback prospect doesn’t make you a slam dunk to succeed. Boyd is a little undersized at only 6’1” but he is very elusive and has a number of terrific targets that will make him look really good on paper. The bigger concern may be replacing two time 1,000 yard rusher Andre Ellington who left for the NFL. Roderick McDowell is penciled in as the starter and he has plenty of game experience. McDowell wasn’t used often in the passing game but from what I have seen he is a capable route runner with soft hands. He isn’t the same type of prospect but he can get you yardage in big chunks and is capable of some big games.
Best Draft Prospect: Tajh Boyd QB 1st Round 2014 (Potential top 10 pick overall).
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
DeAndre Hopkins had over 1,400 yards last season and was a 1st round pick for the Houston Texans. Sammy Watkins is the top returning target and has the ability to be even better than Hopkins. Watkins is a lot like Boyd at his position, ranked by many as the #2 overall prospect there as he is behind Marqise Lee of USC. Last year Hopkins had 708 yards on 57 catches with 3 touchdowns and another 112 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Most players and teams would be happy with those numbers out of a sophomore. As a freshman Watkins was the National Freshman on the Year with 82 catches for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns to go along with 32 carries and 232 yards and a 25.0 average as a kickoff return specialist. How much of last seasons dip had to do with the emergence on DeAndre Hopkins and how much was a “sophomore slump” or teams figuring out Sammy Watkins? I think we will see Watkins perform closer to his 2011 level but his drop in production was not all due to DeAndre Hopkins having a monster season. The good news for Clemson is they don’t have to rely solely on Watkins as Adam Humphries and Charone Peake are back as starters and Martavis Bryant will be a key contributor. Bryant had only 10 catches last season but 4 went for touchdowns and he averaged over 30 YPC. Throw in capable receiving tight end Stanton Seckinger and you have a nice unit that can beat you a multitude of ways. The depth at receiver was one of the reasons why Clemson set a school record with 533 points averaging 41 PPG, a mark that was #6 in the nation..
Best Draft Prospect: Sammy Watkins WR 1st Round 2015 (likely leaving for 2014 where he should be the second WR selected overall).
The Clemson Tigers have had at least 1 lineman drafted every year since 2007 and with Brandon Thomas at guard we see that streak continuing. Thomas is currently rated as a fringe 3rd/4th round prospect is just solid all-around, not excelling in any one particular area. If there is one thing I think Thomas needs to improve before going to the next level it is upper body strength as I have seen him get engulfed when he is engaged high on a player with leverage or leg drive and he loses too many battles. Thomas is the left tackle for Clemson but at 6’3” he projects as a guard for the NFL. Clemson has three other starters returning along the line so Thomas has plenty of experience and help. Ryan Norton is the only player along the line that is not a returning starter but he is replacing one of the best centers Clemson has ever had in Dalton Freeman. Clemson does an excellent job at rotating lineman into the game so the depth is exceptional and there is a fair amount of experience at every position. Short yardage situations will be aided by the mobile Boyd behind center but what Clemson has to avoid is putting themselves in long yardage situations with penalties. Only Boston College had more penalties along the offensive line in the ACC (especially false starts). Of the lineman aside from Thomas it may be center replacement Norton that has the brightest NFL future , we will see how the sophomore performs in his first year as a full time starter.
Best Draft Prospect: Brandon Thomas OG 3rd/4th Round 2014.
Clemson racked up 34 sacks last year and they did that without any players reaching double digits so we had a number of contributors. The defense ranked in the middle of the conference and the nation in virtually every category except for scoring defense where they were 3rd in the ACC giving up 24.9 PPG. The reason Clemson kept the scoring down was the red zone defense which was #2 in the ACC and #9 in the nation. Clemson seemed to subscribe to that “bend but don’t break” philosophy and when teams got inside the 20 they really buckled down. Vic Beasely and Corey Crawford will bring a great deal of pressure off the edge while the tackles will be the focal point of the line with Grady Jarrett and Josh Watson performing at a high level. These players were #1 and #2 on the team in quarterback pressures even though they only combined for 5 sacks a season ago. Jarrett is currently projected as a 6th round pick for 2015 while Watson is in the 7th round/UFA range and not far behind. Next to the defensive tackle combo at Florida State, this is the best starting pair in the ACC. Tavaris Barnes is not listed as a starter at defensive end but we should see him on the field for 350+ snaps and he will even see some time at linebacker.
Best Draft Prospect: Grady Jarrett DT 6th Round 2015.
I talked about Vic Beasley along the defensive line above but I have hmi projected as a linebacker at the NFL level that should see time as a pass rushing specialist. Beasley played less than 300 snaps in 2012 and still finished the year with an astounding 8.5 sacks. Again, Beasley will start at defensive end but he will see his NFL future at linebacker and that should be the case whether in a 4-3 or a 3-4 base. All three linebackers for the team are returning in Spencer Shuey, Stephone Armstrong and Quandon Chrisitian. When you combine the stats of the three starters you have a returning 210 tackles with 14.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks and a pair of interceptions. While all solid in their own respective areas nobody jumps out as a sure fire NFL prospect although Spencer Shuey does look like a free agent that could attract attention and possibly make an NFL: roster or spend a few seasons on a practice squad. B.J. Goodson and Kellen Jones are a pair of talented sophomores that Clemson will try to get on the field as much as possible in the linebacker rotation.
Best Draft Prospect: Vic Beasley DE (who looks to be LB prospect for NFL) 4th/5th Round 2015.
Clemson ranked only 71st in the nation against the pass and they have only 1 returning starter. This means the defensive line that did a great job at reaching and pressuring the quarterback a season ago may have to be even better to ensure Clemson is not susceptible the big play. Travis Blanks is a fantastic safety prospect and the sophomore is the only returning starter. When speaking of the secondary Clemson has seen more safeties drafted than cornerbacks through the years and Blanks has the ability to become a special player. Blanks had a fine rookie season as a freshman with 51 tackles, 7 pass breakups and caused a pair of turnovers. At 6’0” and 195 pounds he has the perfect blend of height and speed and there are a few who question whether he could actually play cornerback full time. If we see new starters Darius Robinson and Bashaund Breeland struggle don’t think this is out of the realm of possibility because Blanks certainly has cornerback speed coming in and out of breaks. Juggling the secondary is something Clemson had to do a season ago so the ranking may be a bit deceiving. Clemsons inconsistency had more to do with injuries vice bad play last season and the depth is not as strong as it was during 2012. If Clemson faces multiple injuries in the secondary this season it could seriously hamper their status as ACC favorites.
Best Draft Prospect: Travis Blanks S 4th Round 2016.
If there is an area that may put Clemson over the top it is special teams because Clemson is bursting with talent everywhere you look. Sammy Watkins and Adam Humphries are the kickoff and punt return men and both are among the elite in the ACC. Even with Watkins looking like a first round prospect and All ACC wide receiver it doesn’t look like Clemson wants to cut back on his kickoff return duties. Bradley Pinion should be the punter after spending last season as the kickoff specialist and kicker Chandler Catanzaro went 18-19 on field goals last season. Look for Catanzaro to get some feelers and be a potential prospect if he can convince teams he is not a liability kicking the ball off.
Best Draft Prospect: Chandler Catanzarro K 7th Round 2014.
There may not be an early game I am more excited to see in August more than Clemson’s home game against Georgia on the 31st to open their schedule. Clemson also catches a break in that chief division rival Florida State is a team they get at home this season after losing on the road 49-37 in 2012. Clemson does have to travel and play on the road with their grudge match to end the season with South Carolina in a game that could have huge BCS implications.
How Sammy Watkins performs in 2013 is going to be one of the main story lines in this draft season. If he performs close to or exceeds his 2011 output he is the only receiver who could challenge Marqise Lee as being the first receiver off the board. A big Watkins performance would likely mean Clemson has a pair of first round selections, meaning scouts will be watching them closely all year long.