Whether it’s being in New York with C.J. Spiller and Sammy Watkins, or in Chicago with Vic Beasley and Shaq Lawson, or now in Philadelphia with Deshaun Watson, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney is starting to get used to walking the red carpet on draft night in the NFL.
The 2017 NFL Draft, which begins on Thursday at 8 p.m., marks the fourth straight year a former Clemson player will walk the red carpet on draft night. Watkins started the streak in 2014, followed by Beasley in ’15, Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd in ’16 and of course Watson this year.
The NFL Draft, thanks to the Tigers’ success on the football field, has become another avenue in which Swinney has made Clemson’s famous Tiger Paw a brand everyone in sport recognizes. Of course, it can only help when it comes to recruiting young athletes who want to follow in the shoes of Watkins, Beasley, Lawson, Dodd and Watson.
“I don’t know how to measure that tangibly, but it certainly does not hurt your program,” Swinney said on Wednesday just after arriving in Philadelphia, Pa.
If Watson and wide receiver Mike Williams are drafted in the first round on Thursday, it will mark the fifth straight year Clemson had at least one player selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. If both go in the opening round, it will be the second time in three years that has happened, but just the fourth time in Clemson history.
“I think anytime you bring young people into your program, and you see a lot of those guys have a chance to fulfill their dream, academically and athletically, I think that is a positive,” Swinney said. “I think the biggest thing for us, it not just the Deshaun Watson’s that have come in and come in highly recruited and developed nicely and things like that, it is also the guys like Grady Jarrett, Adam Humphries, DeShawn Williams … those type of guys.”
It’s those kinds of players that made Clemson into one of the elite programs in college football. Last year, a modern-day record nine players were selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, the second most in the country behind Ohio State’s 12. Since Swinney became Clemson’s head coach in 2008, he has had 42 of his players chosen in the draft.
“The guys that come in are solid guys, but they develop at a high level throughout your program and get a chance whether they’re drafted or as a free agent, they can go fulfill their dream and be prepared to compete at that level.”
As many as nine former Clemson players could be selected in the NFL draft this weekend. Besides Watson and Williams, tight end Jordan Leggett, defensive tackle Carlos Watkins, defensive back Cordrea Tankersley, running back Wayne Gallman, wide receiver Artavis Scott, safety Jadar Johnson and linebacker Ben Boulware are also likely to hear their names called this weekend.
The program has had at least four players chosen in eight straight years, the first ACC program to do that since Florida State had a 10-year run from 1992-2001.
Swinney has six first round selections in his eight drafts as head coach.
“So it helps (recruiting), but I don’t know how to measure a direct impact,” Swinney said. “What we are always after is trying to get the best player that fits our program and have consistency year in and year out.”
—Photo Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports