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Small class of NFL prospects set to make big impact

Kim Montuoro, Conributor
Redshirt graduate Dorian O’Daniel (6) celebrates a win with teammates, K’Von Wallace (12) and Ryan Carter (31). O’Daniel captained the defense in his final year, leading it to a top-five ranking. 

It’s no secret that when Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant, Mitch Hyatt and Clelin Ferrell pledged to return to Clemson it made next year’s team much stronger. While this makes it easier for Dabo Swinney and his coaches to train up new recruits, it weakens the class leaving for the NFL. 

A common point coaches make during recruiting is that when they graduate, the coaching they have received coupled with the talent they possess will assure them a spot on an NFL team. Sadly, this year’s crop of freshly graduated Clemson players is not of the same caliber as most other top school’s classes. 

Alabama will be sending top defensive linemen Da-Ron Payne and Deshawn Hand, Ohio State will send elite cornerback Denzel Ward and Georgia will send linebacker Roquan Smith and running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb. 

Most, if not all of these players, will be taken in the first two rounds. Meanwhile, Clemson might have wide receiver Deon Cain selected before the fourth round. Much is still unknown about where teams will value such prospects until after the Combine, but it is unlikely Clemson will have a player picked in the first two rounds.

Linebacker Dorian O’Daniel sustained a rib injury during practices for the Senior Bowl in mid-February which kept him out of the main game, but his practices excited many scouts. A linebacker with the speed to keep up with speedy wide receivers and the raw strength to take down running backs head-on is incredibly rare, even in the NFL. O’Daniel played at two of the three linebacker positions as well as a third position unique to Clemson’s defense which can only be described as a safety/linebacker hybrid.

Not only this, but O’Daniel is tied for Clemson’s record of special teams tackles. He doesn’t have the name recognition of some of the returning players, but O’Daniel was no less important to the defense. After he recovers from injury, don’t be surprised if he rises on many teams’ draft boards. 

Another defensive key this year was cornerback Ryan Carter. Standing at just 5’9”, he is a small player by most standards, but a good player nonetheless. Despite this fact, he was denied an invitation to the Combine. 

“He’s as good a player as we’ve got, and I tell the pro scouts that, too. He’s not very sexy. He’s not going to walk up and you go, ‘Oh wow, man, you must be the starting corner at Clemson.’ They’re never going to think that about him. But put the pads on, and you’ll notice him,” Coach Swinney said when asked about Carter. 

There are other good players from other schools as well who might not be given a chance because they are too small, or too slow or too wild. The NFL is not a charitable business, but it will give chances to players who show teams that they can work and that they will make them better for it. Clemson may not be sending the best class ever, but there are plenty of surprises in there for sure.


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