By Will Vandervort.
So why did Bradley Pinion forgo his senior season to enter the NFL Draft?
Because he wanted to.
Kickers and punters are usually not drafted in the first place in the NFL and Pinion, though he was considered one of the best punters in college football, isn’t likely to be one of those rare exceptions.
“I challenged him on it,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “I wanted to know why and what your reasons are. He had all the answers.”
Those answers – Pinion lacks just two classes from being graduated and coming back to Clemson would not help or hurt his chances in next year’s draft.
“He just felt like he was ready to go ahead and take that step,” Swinney said. “He is certainly good enough. I don’t have any doubt that he is going to be an NFL player.”
Pinion averaged 42.6 yards per punt last season, which ranked fifth in the ACC. But, outside of defensive end Vic Beasley, he was perhaps the best weapon on Clemson’s No. 1 ranked defense. He consistently pinned opponents inside their 20-yard line as he led the ACC with 28 in 2014. He had 24 punts downed inside the 20 in 2013.
But are those reasons to turn professional?
“I don’t buy into the notion of leaving early to be a late draft pick or free agent. I don’t buy into that,” Swinney said. “But everybody has to make their own decisions in that regard and for him, he felt like there were only two classes left and what he accomplished here, he was ready for that next step.”
Pinion netted 40.3 yards per punt in 2014, just the second Clemson punter to have a net average of more than 40 yards since 1984. His net average in his final year was better than former Clemson punter Chris Gardocki’s average in 1990 when he declared himself eligible for the draft after his junior year.
Gardocki was selected by the Bears and No. 78 overall in the third round of the 1991 draft. He was the last Clemson punter of kicker to be drafted as well as the last one to leave school early for the NFL. Gardocki went on to punt for 16 years and played in more NFL games (244) than any other former Tiger.
He went on the win a Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005 and played in the 1996 Pro Bowl.
Can Pinion expect the same kind of career in the NFL? Only time will tell.
“You wish him well. He has been a tremendous representative of our program,” Swinney said. “He has been one of the best kids we have had here on this team. He has been a good leader for us on this team and obviously was an outstanding punter.”