Don’t let anyone tell you Clemson’s Pro Day on Thursday was about the former players that are about to be drafted. It’s much bigger than that.
That’s not to say the process didn’t benefit some guys. Jay Guillermo had a great day on the field, and his 33-rep bench press performance likely impressed some observers. Ben Boulware also had a quality day that probably solidified his status as a legitimate option late in the draft. Mike Williams was a stud, and Wayne Gallman received rave reviews by some.
Some players still needed a chance to showcase themselves in front of NFL scouts, since they either weren’t invited to the combine a couple of weeks ago or have lingering questions surrounding them. They needed to press the flesh with decision-makers. Players who find themselves in this category needed this event.
For players like Guillermo, it was a big day. For anyone who performed at the combine, however, it was just an exhibition. Smart executives won’t change their minds based upon what they saw Deshaun Watson or Gallman or Williams or Artavis Scott or Jordan Leggett or Cordrea Tankersley do on Thursday. There’s plenty of film available, plenty of combine footage, plenty of prior information that is much more valuable.
Thursday might have been a day for Clemson to showcase its draftable talent, but that was far from the point. The point of Pro Day was more about the future than about the present or the past.
Other than a guy here or there, not much truly changed for the draft entrants that formerly donned the orange and purple. However, if you’re a high school prospect paying attention to what was happening in Clemson, here’s what you might have seen:
All 32 NFL franchises sent somebody to Clemson to scout the talent. Some of those were current head coaches. Others were scouting directors, general managers, or other senior front office staffers.
Teams weren’t just sending a couple of scouts to keep an eye out for diamonds in the rough. Clemson was a priority for them. It won’t be the last time.
The workouts were conducted in one of the nation’s premier indoor practice facilities that’s less than a half-decade old. Next door stands Clemson’s football palace—the $55 million facility that houses a national championship program. Both structures were on display for all to see, especially since there was no shortage of viewing options.
Clemson had its own in-house broadcast that featured the proceedings. It was carried via ACC Network Extra and included interviews with current and former players and coaches—Dabo Swinney made a cameo, of course—as well as analysis of each stage of the workout. The Tigers also received a few minutes of free publicity on ESPN’s morning “Sportscenter,” as the worldwide leader sent a team that included prominent draft analyst Todd McShay to break down the performances of Clemson’s top prospects.
Tons of former players tripped back to catch Pro Day. Some of them are currently in the NFL, like Shaq Lawson and Charone Peake. Others are simply program icons, like former quarterback Tajh Boyd. Other coaching staffs on campus stopped by to see what was happening. There was a palpable buzz around the program—in mid-March, months away from the start of the next season.
By showing off players vying for NFL roster spots, Swinney sent a subliminal message to prospects that could comprise that group in a few seasons. Those prospects could become part of what they watched online. They could be discussed on national sports shows. They could mingle with NFL stars and pro coaches and general managers in facilities exceeded by no other program in America.
With Dabo Swinney, it’s all about recruiting and development. This is true even when the players being touted are on the way out of the program. He’s telling interested recruits that they could be next, that their lives could look just like this—and it’s working.
We just thought Thursday was about the NFL. But as Swinney often reminds us, it’s really all about Clemson.
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