CLEMSON — While quarterback Tajh Boyd and other Clemson players have a lot to prove, there doesn’t seem to be any disagreement that Sammy Watkins should be a first-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft, which was why he didn’t bother to request an evaluation from the league committee that advises underclassmen.
After a three-year career in which he set Clemson game, season and career records for receptions, yardage and touchdowns, Watkins recognized there was little more to prove.
Watkins enters the draft a consensus first-round pick, possibly in the top five, but opinions diverge in evaluating other nine Clemson players eligible for the draft.
As members of his first recruiting class, Boyd and running back Rod McDowell were inevitable, as was senior kicker Chandler Catanzaro. With a year of eligibility remaining, coach Dabo Swinney believes receiver Martavis Bryant and corner Bashaud Breeland might be jumping into the pool too soon.
“Everybody’s convinced they’re going to be a first-rounder,” Swinney said. “Unfortunately, some of those guys aren’t going to be drafted at all.”
NFLDraftScouts.com for CBS projected Bryant a second- or third-round pick as the No. 12 wide receiver. They pick Breeland as a potential fourth-rounder, the No. 16 corner.
Watkins should be the 24th first-round selection from Clemson, the second straight receiver following DeAndre Hopkins a year ago. He would also be the fifth underclassman to be drafted in the first round following Hopkins, Anthony Simmons (1998), Trevor Pryce (1997) and Chester McGlockton (1992).
“If Sammy isn’t taken in the top 10, they’re crazy,” said Swinney, who describe him as “a one-in-a-million, special guy.”
The only questions for Watkins, then, are when in the first round and by which team.
“Every fan of the sport knows that there is a difference between timed speed and football speed,” wrote Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com for CBS.
“Football is rarely a game of straight-lines, making fluidity and general athleticism much more critical than just a 40-yard dash time,” Brugler said. “In much this same way, some receivers possess a natural ability to pluck the ball, tuck it away and accelerate in one smooth motion that makes them even greater than the sum of their parts.
“Sammy Watkins is one such receiver.”
Said Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN, who projected Watkins to the Raiders at No. 5 in his first mock draft, said: “He is extremely explosive.”
Kicker Catanzaro received encouragement from scouts indicating that several teams might be interested in drafting him. One site projects him as a late-round selection.
McDowell, guard Tyler Shatley, corner Darius Robinson and linebackers Quandon Christian and Spencer Shuey might receive invitations to a camp as free agents, but aren’t projected to be drafted, according to analysts.
This year, 26 Clemson players were on NFL rosters at the start of the season, and not all were drafted.