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Early NFL Draft Predictions: Ten Tigers are likely to enter the NFL this year

Kim Montuoro
Former Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams (7) catches a pass against Ohio State in 2016.

The football off-season can be long and arduous. It lasts from the middle of February to the end of August, but there are events dotted throughout to keep even the most hardcore fan’s appetite whetted. The Senior Bowl has come and gone, highlighting the talents of Clemson’s Ben Boulware and Artavis Scott. 

The NFL Combine rolls around in early March, but is more of a skills competition than an actual game. It gives teams a chance to watch the best of the best show off their athleticism, albeit in a controlled environment. All of this culminates into the event of the season: the NFL Draft. 

The draft attempts to take young NCAA players and give them a chance to make money playing the sport they love against the best players in the world. 

Hopefully joining the ranks of those professionals are Clemson quarterback (QB) Deshaun Watson, wide receivers (WR) Mike Williams and Artavis Scott, tight end (TE) Jordan Leggett, running back (RB) Wayne Gallman, center (C) Jay Guillermo, cornerback (CB) Cordrea Tankersley, strong safety (SS) Jadar Johnson, inside linebacker (ILB) Ben Boulware and defensive tackle (DT) Carlos Watkins.

Deshaun Watson headlines the group of National Champions headed to the NFL. At 6’2” and 215 pounds, Watson is slightly smaller than the average dual-threat quarterback. He has a strong and accurate arm, but somewhat questionable decision-making skills. Reading the defense could also be difficult for him at the professional level. Clemson runs a spread offense, which often doesn’t require the quarterback to make a read of the defense before the snap. 

Most pro-style offenses, i.e. the types of offenses utilized by the NFL, do require pre-snap reads and if Watson really does have a lack of ability in this area it could destroy his draft stock. 

As it stands, his leadership qualities and ability to play under pressure remain his best qualities and are important factors in the progress of superstar players. Watson has had his value debated by many, but it is likely he is drafted in the first round and maybe even in

the top 10.

Wide receiver Mike Williams is an impressive player. He uses his body to create space off the line of scrimmage which in turn gives him a better release than most other receivers. Williams also has very good speed for a player of his height, and he uses it after the catch to break away from defenders in hot pursuit. 

The Combine will only highlight his natural athleticism further than what can be seen on his tape. Drops have been the only detrimental part of his game, but those can be improved with a little more focus. Expect Williams to also be in the mix as a top-10 pick. 

Fellow receiver Artavis Scott has also declared for the draft. He was the first ever three-year player to have competed in the Senior Bowl because he had completed his degree. Scott is one of those guys that is quick off the line, but probably won’t have that special breakaway speed that former Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins possessed. 

His sure hands are a great benefit, though; since the NFL has been plagued by superstars like Odell Beckham Jr. who can’t always secure the ball. He profiles as a slot receiver and could go anywhere in the last three rounds of the draft. 

Wayne Gallman is the best running back the Tigers have had since C.J. Spiller. Spiller has unfortunately had an injury ridden career culminating in a brief stint with the Seattle Seahawks this year. Gallman has a different skill set than Spiller, highlighted by his high motor. The best thing about Gallman is that he never quits. Even if he is hit before the line, he always finds a way to gain a few yards out of it. 

Last year, Gallman had the lowest percentage of rushes that were for loss. That kind of stat could go a long way in the pros. He isn’t very high profile as of yet, but that could change with the Combine coming up. Look for him in the third round. 

On the other side of the ball, Carlos Watkins became one of the many forces to be reckoned with on the defensive line. It is the job of the defensive tackle to just take up space and slow down the run game. What Watkins does better than most at his position is get after the quarterback.

Only Watkins and Alabama linemen Jonathan Allen led their respective teams in sacks as interior linemen in 2016. Watkins has great size and mobility, but has had problems playing toward the shoulders of the opposing linemen. This causes him to become unbalanced and knocked out of the play. With that in mind, Watkins will fall somewhere in the second round. 

Cordrea Tankersley was the one hold over from last year’s full secondary rebuild. Younger guys like Mackenzie Alexander and T.J. Green left for the draft, but Tankersley stayed. He built up his already impressive draft stock this past season by recording 11 pass breakups and four interceptions. 

What Tankersley lacks in speed he makes up for in tackling. If he was ever beat outright, Tankersley made sure to get the tackle if the receiver slowed down for any reason. In man-to-man coverage he is quite good, but he will need to work on his zone coverage if he is going to stick in the NFL.

Safety Jadar Johnson is one of the more wildcard-type players in the draft. He has the athleticism to play in the NFL, but he doesn’t have the coverage skills. If drafted, he would be projected to go somewhere around the fifth or sixth round because of how raw his talent still is. 

Ben Boulware is not a new name in the world of college football. If he isn’t suplexing a player, he is leading the Tiger’s defense to a national title. Listed as the number 12 ILB, Boulware is lower in the rankings than most fans would believe. While his physical skills are good, his mental mistakes can’t be ignored. Boulware is not very good at tackling with any consistency. He has plenty of highlight reel tackles, but he has been known to miss easy ones, most notably against tight ends. 

Boulware is listed as an inside linebacker, but he can’t execute the responsibilities of one at the next level. His pass coverage is downright terrible and he doesn’t do a good job of covering his gap against the run. 

His best chance at landing with an NFL team is impressing during the combine and hoping some team takes a flier on him with their seventh-round pick. 

Clemson has made great strides in producing NFL-quality talent in recent years, and the class of 2017 will be no different. The NFL Draft is scheduled for April 27-29 in Philadelphia.

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