The 2017 NFL Draft just ended, but in our sports media world, that’s just an excuse to look ahead and plan for the next one. TCI’s own Will Vandervort already did it.
In the various 2018 mock drafts out there on the worldwide web, as many as four different Clemson players are mentioned as potential first round selections. Obviously, a lot still has to be proven on the field, but there are a number of Tigers who could conceivably hear their names called quite early in next year’s draft.
Here is my personal ranking of the top ten NFL Draft prospects on Clemson’s roster. Keep in mind that this list includes players I feel have a good chance to leave school early for the pros, and it may omit some names I think will (or at least should) opt to stick around for another season.
- Christian Wilkins
Wilkins is the most versatile defensive lineman to enter the NFL Draft in a while. He has proven his dominance inside as a tackle and outside as a thick multi-purpose end. He could certainly be a 4-3 tackle and do very well, but in my opinion, Wilkins projects best as an end in a 3-4 scheme where he could also line up over the tackle in over/under alignments. Even in a quarterback-friendly talent pool, I think he’s more likely to be the first player taken than to drop out of the top ten.
- Clelin Ferrell
Ferrell is just about to begin his sophomore season, but his potential is off the charts. He proved his worth last year as a focal point of opposition gameplanning, especially as a pass rusher. His length and quickness make him a disruptive force in passing situations, but he also showed a nice ability to change direction and recover when necessary. Scouts will salivate at the thought of having this guy on the edge.
- Mitch Hyatt
Two years ago, I might have placed Hyatt above Ferrell. However, the new world order seems to prefer pass rush to pass protection, so Hyatt ends up dropping a smidge. Still, I’d be stunned if a rock solid left tackle with almost no flaws falls into the 20s. Hyatt’s consistency, technical prowess, and bloodlines may sneak him into the top ten if a team wants to take a tackle that early.
- Austin Bryant
This one might seem like a bit of a stretch, but with Ferrell garnering a great deal of attention next season, Bryant seems like a candidate to make a bunch of plays at the opposite end. He has been a consistent contributor with good size and skill, and his ability to contain the run has improved over the past couple of seasons. I could see Bryant’s stock rising steadily game by game in 2018.
- Deon Cain
Cain is an interesting specimen. On one hand, he possesses immense ability and has yet to scratch the surface of his potential. He has the Midas touch and should have a ridiculous catch-to-touchdown ratio once again next season. His steady growth as a functional receiver has been well documented. The flip side is that the NFL appears willing to let a player slide due to off-field issues, which could mean Cain falls into round two.
- Dorian O’Daniel
It’s still a question where O’Daniel projects at the next level, but his talent is unmistakable. His body type profiles best as a safety that plays more toward the line of scrimmage than out in deep coverage. However, if he bulks up 15 or 20 pounds, a strongside linebacker role might not be out of the question. O’Daniel seems like the kind of player a team will take a chance on in the middle rounds.
- Ray-Ray McCloud
Many people might have McCloud ranked higher on this list. Many also might not have him on this list at all. His talent is unquestioned, but it’s hard to tell if he’s destined to have a breakout season in the eyes of scouts or if he’ll need another year in college to truly prove he can consistently produce. With fellow Tampa native Cain probably gone after the 2018 season, I believe McCloud will also leave and be selected toward the middle of the draft.
- Tyrone Crowder
In a pass-first league, there isn’t much demand for interior linemen that favor run blocking. That’s where Crowder is as a player, and his skill set doesn’t suggest any shift any time soon. A team will likely draft Crowder to see if his pass protection is up to snuff because his physical nature and feracity going downhill will be too good to ignore.
- Marcus Edmond
Edmond wasn’t super productive last season, but his knack for making enormous plays made him legendary in Clemson’s title run. The NFL needs more defensive backs than any other position group, so if Edmond can lock down a starting role next season, he could be a late-round draft choice if his play in big moments rivals what he did last year.
- Ryan Carter
Carter seems too small to play a traditional cornerback role. The prognosis isn’t better for him as a nickel corner in extra-DB packages. Still, because of supply and demand, he could make it as an undrafted free agent and special teams contributor. This is especially true if he makes an impact as a starter for the Tigers next season.