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Way too early look at Clemson’s 2018 NFL Draft Candidates

For five straight years, Clemson has had at least one player drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft. In two of the last three years, the Tigers have had two players taken in the first round, including this year when former wide receiver Mike Williams went No. 7 overall to the Los Angeles Chargers and quarterback Deshaun Watson was picked No. 12 overall by the Houston Texans.

Since Clemson had four players selected in the 2012 NFL Draft, following the Tigers first of six straight 10-win seasons, 33 former Tigers have been drafted into the NFL, including six from the 2017 class.

So how many Clemson players can we expect in next year’s draft? Will Clemson be able to continue its streak of first-round selections, or better yet, streak of at least four players taken in the draft for nine straight years?

The answers? More than likely.

When looking at next year’s potential draft class coming from Clemson, the Tigers have 14 players who could be drafted. Ten of those 14 will be underclassmen so it will depend on their draft grade on whether they leave school early or not.

However, here is what we do know. Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, defensive end Clelin Ferrell, wide receiver Deon Cain and left tackle Mitch Hyatt could all be potential first-round picks next year. Clemson has never had more than two players taken in the first round in any NFL Draft. It is even crazier to think that potentially all four could be top 10 to top 20 picks.

Wilkins was a freshman All-American at defensive tackle in 2015 and then followed that up with first-team All-American honors after moving to the outside because of Austin Bryant’s injury at defensive end. When he came to Clemson, Wilkins was expected to be just a three-year player for the Tigers. It would not be surprising to see his name at the top of the draft board in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Ferrell redshirted as a freshman because of an injury suffered in training camp, but this past year he became a dominant force on Clemson’s defensive line with 12.5 tackles for loss and six sacks while recording 50 tackles. At 6-foot-5, 265-pounds you figure Ferrell will only get better as a second-year starter, which should increase his draft stock even more.

Potentially, wide receiver Deon Cain (8) can be a top 10 pick like Mike Williams was this year if he can become more consistent. (File Photo)

Given how NFL teams covet pass rushers, Ferrell could be at or near the top of next year’s draft if he has a big season for the Tigers in 2017.

Mitch Hyatt, like Wilkins, is another guy no one expects to stay at Clemson past his junior year. He has been a starter on Clemson’s offensive line since Day 1 after stepping foot on campus. It is also no coincidence Clemson has led the ACC with the fewest sacks allowed the last two years since the two-time All-ACC left tackle got to Clemson.

The wild card here is Cain. Potentially, he can be a top 10 pick like Mike Williams was this year if he can become more consistent. In his first two years, Cain has flashed his potential in big games, including a 43-yard catch-and-run in the national championship game against Alabama that turned the game around for the Clemson offense. The rising junior averaged 19.1 yards per catch in 2016 and scored nine touchdowns.

However, Cain has also shown the propensity to make unnecessary drops when he is wide open. That is something he has to get corrected if he wants to be a first-round draft prospect.

Other underclassmen that could come out early for the draft depending on the kind of season they have are cornerback Mark Fields, wide receivers Hunter Renfrow and Ray-Ray McCloud, linebacker Kendall Joseph, defensive end Austin Bryant and kicker Greg Huegel.

As for the seniors, linebacker Dorian O’Daniel seems likely to be highest pick. Depending on the kind of season he has, and if he continues to progress like he has done the last two years, O’Daniel could be a second-round to Day 2 player in the draft.

If cornerback Marcus Edmond can bulk up a little bit, and continue to improve, he could also be drafted after his senior year.

Right guard Tyrone Crowder has earned All-ACC honors the last two years, but he is more affective as a run blocker and at times is inconsistent in pass protection. If he shows more consistency there this coming season he could improve his stock as well.

The only other draftable senior is cornerback Ryan Carter. Though his 5-foot-9, 180-pound frame is not conducive in today’s NFL, his ability to work, his speed, his technique and skills to play pretty much every position on the back end will make him intriguing to NFL teams especially those that need a nickel back.

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