Clemson University

Tigers' Ford, Butler gave NFL some thought

A note that didn’t make it into the coverage following RB C.J. Spiller’s decision last Thursday to return for his senior season:

Talked briefly with receiver Jacoby Ford and corner Crezdon Butler, two of the four other juniors who requested a draft projection from the NFL’s Advisory Committee.

Both Ford and Butler said they actually gave some thought as to whether to turn pro but ultimately decided an extra year would likely enhance their draft stock.

Ford said he was projected as a third- or fourth-rounder. Butler said he garnered a fourth-round grade.

Cornerback Chris Chancellor, in so many words, didn’t want his draft grade publicized. The fourth, guard Thomas Austin, wasn’t in attendance, or at least I didn’t see him.

Presuming what Ford said was true (no statement against Ford, but I’ve witnessed plenty of players in the past inflate their actual evaluation), I am rather surprised he graded out that high.

While I’ve considered him the most underutilized player on Clemson’s offense – probably a bit excessive, but I’d be prone to argue no team in the ACC, other than Georgia Tech, utilizes its slot receivers over the middle less – Ford has been a hit or miss proposition. He’s had a few games where he looked great and made some tough and/or clutch catches. Then there have been others where his raw route-running showed, and I’m not necessarily convinced he runs as fast with pads on as his track speed might suggest.

But for a receiver, getting a 3rd- or 4th-round grade is a fairly high mark. And, come to think of it, that could be as reflective of this year’s uninspiring crop of receivers.

Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree is a top-10 lock, and while Missouri’s Jeremy Maclin is likewise pegged as the second-best receiver, I’d wager UNC’s Hakeem Nicks (a projected fringe first-rounder) will be the better pro. (An aside; I’ll also wager Nicks makes a much more significant impact the first two years than Crabtree. Like QBs, name a true spread offense WR among the NFL’s top 20 wideouts. Crabtree will have an extended learning curve to deprogram what he did at Texas Tech. Meanwhile, Nicks has worked in a pro-style attack, and he’s certainly physically ready).

Beyond those three, the pickings turn pretty slim. Penn State’s Derrick Williams is living off his prep recruiting hype. Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey appears a prototypical workout warrior. Oklahoma’s Juaquin Iglesias is the next in the chain of Sooners receivers (Mark Clayton, Mark Bradley, Travis Wilson, Brandon Jones, Malcolm Kelly) who, IMO, seems destined to fail to meet expectations. UNC’s Brandon Tate is intriguing, but who knows if or how long it might take to recover his athleticism following major knee surgery. Georgia’s Mohamed Massaquoi last turned heads at the Shrine Bowl.

USC’s Kenny McKinley and Clemson’s Aaron Kelly were really good college players. But my challenge to you is to find anyone in the NFL favorably like them. McKinley is the latest byproduct of the Spurrier system, while you don’t find many slender 6-5 long-striders like Kelly who find success in the pros. Maybe they prove me wrong, we’ll see.

As for Butler, I think fourth round is about right. Butler hasn’t shown the coverage prowess and instincts of Chancellor, but he has relatively rare size (listed as 6-foot, probably is 5-11) as well as sufficient speed and range of motion. There would be a lot of NFL coaches who’d believe if he got a lot more experience and coaching in man coverage than he got at Clemson, he’d make a smooth transition.

I’ve always though Chancellor will make an NFL roster one day, too, as a nickel corner (kinda like Terry Cousins). But I doubt he would ever go before the fifth round because of his height (a generous 5-9).

Plenty more draft blabber in the weeks and months to come.

But with a rather significant hoops game at UNC coming up Wednesday, we’ll have another gameday forecast coming tomorrow. Wasn’t too far off on the ol’ Wake Forest prediction (forecast: WF 79-71; actual, WF 78-68).