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Former Clemson Players Shine at Pro Day

Ashley Stout, Asst. Photo Editor

  Even though Clemson finished its record-setting 2015 season losing a hard-fought national championship game to Alabama, the players have not taken a break from football activities. The majority will return to the team for the 2016 season and compete again for a chance at a national title. Some, however, are moving on to bigger and better things: the National Football League (NFL). 

Joining the throngs of talent the Clemson Tigers have produced over the years are defensive ends (DE) Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd, cornerback (CB) Mackenzie Alexander, free safety (FS) TJ Green, strong safety (SS) Jayron Kearse, defensive tackle (DT) DJ Reader, inside linebacker (ILB) BJ Goodson, outside linebacker (OLB) Travis Blanks, offensive guard (OG) Eric Mac Lain, offensive tackle (OT) Joe Gore, center (C) Ryan Norton, wide receiver (WR) Charone Peake, tight end (TE) Stanton Seckinger and running back (RB) Zac Brooks. 

Clemson’s top five prospects all look to be drafted somewhere in the first four rounds. Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd and Mackenzie Alexander have all been projected to be picked as high as No. 11 overall and as low as No. 29 overall.

As the highest rated Clemson draft prospect, Shaq Lawson has wasted no time showing scouts how much of a playmaker he can be at the professional level. Lawson outperformed most of his peers at DE displaying great speed and strength. Lawson ran a 4.7 second 40-yard dash which put him at fourth overall for defensive ends. He finished top-ten in the broad jump and the three-cone drill and in second in the 20-yard shuttle drill, demonstrating that his ability to beat tackles off the edge was never just raw strength, but also a decent amount of agility.

Lawson’s Pro Day was much of the same. As if his skill at DE wasn’t enough, Lawson also did drills at the OLB position to prove his utility to defensive coordinators. 

Lawson’s only hiccup was a shoulder injury that was flagged by a couple of teams in his physical. Most NFL teams aren’t worried, but he is going to be reevaluated again in April to determine exactly how much of a problem that shoulder could be. When asked about his shoulder, Lawson simply replied, “My shoulder is fine and I am ready to play football.” If the scouts believe he could aggravate that injury enough to require surgery, Lawson could fall out of the first round altogether. 

The latest mock drafts predict Lawson to be chosen by the Chicago Bears at No. 11 overall.

 Kevin Dodd, Lawson’s counterpart DE, has been trying to exhibit why he deserves to be a first-round pick ever since the start of the 2015 season. With big shoes to fill on the defensive line after the departure of No. 7 overall pick Vic Beasley, Dodd stepped it up big time. He compiled 12 sacks (three of which came in the national championship game against a vaunted Alabama offensive line) and 23.5 tackles for loss during the course of 15 games. 

Dodd exemplifies everything the Clemson football program aims to achieve in coaching their athletes. Not just the athleticism, but the sportsmanship and character that he has. “I ain’t fighting Shaq. There’s a lot of hype about me and (Lawson) fighting each other. But the goal is to be No. 1, and neither of us is the No. 1 defensive end.” Dodd and Lawson have been good friends for a long time, and neither of them wants the draft to get in the way of that. 

The other top draft prospect Clemson has is CB Mackenzie Alexander. Alexander did not participate in the NFL Combine due to a nagging hamstring injury he suffered in the National Championship Game. The Pro Day was where he had to prove he could be a legitimate shutdown corner at the professional level.       

Scouts had a few question marks about Alexander going into the Pro Day. All of them and more were answered as Clemson’s top corner proved he was worth a first-round pick. 

He ran a 4.41 second 40-yard dash, recorded a 37.5 inch vertical and ran the three cone drill in 7.17 seconds, all very high marks. Alexander’s vertical speed — how fast he can run in a straight line — impressed coaches the most, as teams don’t want to draft a guy who can cover well but gets beat on a simple long throw. 

Over Alexander’s career he has only ever given up one touchdown. He does this because of his freakish athleticism and ability to read the formation and determine where the receiver will go. Alexander is an extremely smart guy and fundamentally understands the game of football and what his role in a defense really is. 

Jayron Kearse, TJ Green and Charone Peake are the other high-ranking Clemson prospects in the draft. 

 Kearse has high raw athleticism, but lacks poise when he plays. He has blown coverages and misplayed simple cues, but Kearse has something else a lot of draftees lack: toughness. Kearse is never afraid to make a big play or hit the quarterback with everything he has. 

Green simply does not have enough playing time to prove he has what it takes at the next level, though he has had flashes of excellence. His tape is there and he does a good job in coverage, but he simply doesn’t have the justification to go higher than the fourth round, and even that could be a stretch. 

Peake has been limited by a knee injury, although his build suggests he could be a No. 1 WR in the future, similar to former Clemson receiver Deandre Hopkins. Peake’s Pro Day drills and 40-yard dash time (4.45 — good for fifth overall) have improved his draft stock the most of any Clemson player thus far. Originally projected in the sixth round, new projections have him coming off the board sometime in the third or fourth round to the Lions, Saints or Falcons.   

No matter what, Clemson draft prospects have set the bar high for the rest of the program going forward. 




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