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Predicting NFL Future for Tiger Players

Ashley Stout, staff
Wayne Gallman

With the regular season officially half over and after a brutal beat down of Boston College 56-10 on Friday, it’s time for an update as to where the most eligible juniors and seniors might fall in the draft. It is never too early for predictions. 

Let’s start with offense since so many starters are likely to be leaving after this year. Wayne Gallman is a junior, and has performed admirably after being thrust into the limelight in 2014. In 2015, with the starting job firmly in his grasp, Gallman rushed for a school record 1,527 rushes on 283 carries, good for an average of 5.3 yards per carry. 

While he isn’t the do-it-all threat of Dalvin Cook at FSU, Gallman is a great downhill runner that keeps his feet moving even when the rest of his body is being tossed about by multiple defenders. Since the NFL has shifted to more of a passing league, expect Gallman to be taken lower in the third round or high in the fourth round. A team like the Jets could really use a runner who can go between tackles. 

Next up is the pairing of Mike Williams and Artavis Scott. Both have a legitimate chance to be high round choices, but both might decide returning for their senior year is in their best interest. Williams missed all of the 2015 season with a neck injury sustained in the game against Wofford, and could definitely choose to rack up some more big plays before going pro. Scott, though he didn’t have an injury, has had his role reduced with the emergence of Ray-Ray McCloud as a good screen receiver and great special teams returner. 

Williams in 2014 hauled in 57 receptions for 1030 yards (18.1 yard average) and six touchdowns while Scott picked up a hefty 91 receptions for 903 yards (9.7 yard average) in 2015. Williams has the makeup of a guy like Alshon Jeffery or Larry Fitzgerald standing at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds. He can really stretch the field, but also plays very well in space. Scott, however, fits the bill as more of slot receiver on an NFL team since he is much shorter at just 5-foot-10, 190 pounds. Expect Williams to be a late first rounder to maybe the Patriots and Scott to go middle fourth round to someone like the Oakland Raiders or the LA Rams.

Jordan Leggett just recently set the Clemson record for most career touchdowns by a tight end so he is likely to go pro. Establishing himself as a big presence in the middle of the field, Leggett can also make defenders miss and acts as a larger version of Mike Williams on passing downs. It is likely he could take a Jimmy Graham-esque role so look for him to go late third round or early fourth to a team that likes to use tight ends like the Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, or even the Baltimore Ravens. 

Now to Watson. A perennial Heisman contender, he was the first Tiger to even become a finalist in Heisman voting last year. Watson has excelled with his pocket presence and has a keen eye for finding where the defense will be the weakest. He always seems to be playing in slow motion compared to the rest of the players on the field which is something that can be perplexing as someone watching the deep balls that rain from above. 

His throw power is impressive, sometimes too good as he has been overthrowing receivers a good bit this year. It is certainly possible he changed his mechanics in the offseason, but if it ain’t broken don’t fix it. Otherwise, he does seem to be carrying the ball less effectively this year. Last year, he averaged 5.3 yards per rush and this year he only has 4.2 yards per rush. It seems small, but over enough carries, one yard can be a big difference. 

Overall, Watson’s top three traits of medium and deep accuracy, elusiveness in the pocket, pocket presence will be determining factors of how high he will be picked in the draft. If the season were over today, Watson would be picked early in the first round to a team needing a franchise quarterback. Those teams include but are not limited to the Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints, San Diego Chargers (Philip Rivers isn’t getting any younger).

 On the defensive side of the ball, a couple notables will be taking to the draft as well. Defensive backs Cordrea Tankersley and Jadar Johnson as well as linebacker Ben Boulware and defensive tackle Carlos Watkins. 

Tankersely forwent the draft to finish out his senior year, staying behind as the only starter for the secondary from 2015. He has so far proved that was a good decision as he now has covered the number one receivers for Louisville and Auburn, and will test his mettle later in the season against Florida State’s best as well. This year, he has had five passes defensed and no interceptions. 

Not surprising numbers considering Dabo likes to make sure his number one corners are keeping the ball out of the hands of the receivers. Ball hawking and missing an easy interception can easily turn into a touchdown for the opposing team if not done correctly. Former number one Mackenzie Alexander played the same way and was rewarded for his efforts with a second round selection to the Vikings. 

Expect Tankersley to be near there maybe in the early to middle third round to the Buffalo Bills. They like drafting Clemson players (Sammy Watkins, Shaq Lawson, Tony Steward, the list goes on…). 

Jadar Johnson, although a new member of the starting safeties has flashed plenty in his junior year to warrant a spot in the NFL. He took over at strong safety for Jayron Kearse, but has performed much better in his stead. Johnson has already picked up three interceptions, pun intended, this year eclipsing his 2015 total already. He too has five passes defensed and has turned into both a good run stopper and pass defender. Look for him to surpass Kearse and least be drafted in the fifth round, if not higher to, let’s take a shot in the dark, the Falcons (they too enjoy drafting Clemson players, especially on defense). 

Ben Boulware is a tricky one to pin. He returned for his senior year in hopes of crushing his way to another National Championship berth and lead this Clemson Tigers’ defense from the inside linebacker position. He is undersized for a linebacker in the NFL and a sneaky team might try to reposition him, but that would likely be a mistake.

Boulware’s ferocity at the position is what makes him so entertaining to watch. He has a good eye for play recognition, but not such a good one for patience. He will oftentimes jump his gaps and be the difference in a play, which can be good or bad. Sometimes he stops a play dead in its tracks in the final seconds a la Notre Dame 2015 or sometimes he gives up a massive play by not waiting for just a second longer to fully understand his role in the defense a la fourth quarter against Auburn 2016. 

He really can be a mixed bag. Look for him in the fifth or sixth round to the Bills because Rex Ryan loves him some Clemson players (his son is a wide receiver here too). 

All in all, Coach Swinney has done a great job in the development of these players and they too should feel proud in what they have done for the university and the program. Because of their abilities and devotion to the program, Clemson has had no

problem filling the ranks with their replacements after they move on to bigger and better things. 

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