As many as five Tigers could be selected in the first round next year
After the 2017 NFL Draft, a lot of us in the media speculated what this year’s draft class might be like for the Clemson Tigers.
Clemson was coming off a national championship and Mike Williams (No. 7 to the Chargers) and Deshaun Watson (No. 12 to the Texans) were selected in the first 12 picks of the draft, the first time two former Tigers were chosen in the first 12 picks.
In all, six Clemson players were taken in the 2017 Draft and nine were selected in 2016.
Many expected this year’s draft class to be big as well for the Tigers. Guys like Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant and Mitch Hyatt were expected to join their teammates Deon Cain, Ray-Ray McCloud, Taylor Hearn, Dorian O’Daniel, Tyrone Crowder, Ryan Carter, Marcus Edmond and Van Smith in this year’s draft pool.
However, Wilkins, Ferrell, Bryant and Hyatt surprised everyone in January when they announced they were returning to Clemson for one more season. Their return makes the Tigers the odds-on favorite to win this year’s national championship, while also giving the program an opportunity to have five potential first-round draft choices in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Clemson has never had more than two players chosen in the first round of any NFL Draft. Besides Williams and Watson in last year’s draft, the program had two players selected in the first round just three other times … 1979, 1982 and 2015.
Defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence will also be eligible for next year’s draft and many expect him, especially if he has the year everyone thinks he will have, to be a top 10 pick in next year’s draft. Wilkins and Ferrell, if they continue to produce like they have the last two years, will likely be top 10 picks as well and Bryant could move into the first round with another great season at defensive end.
Wilkins, Ferrell and Bryant were all First-Team All-Americans in 2017.
Many considered Hyatt to be first-round talent at left tackle heading into the 2017 season, but the rising senior decided to come back to school because he felt like he needed to get better in certain areas before heading into the league. Another great year by the 6-foot-5, 305 First-Team All-American and he is sure to be a high pick as well.
“They made a decision that they thought was best for them, and as it turned out it was great for us, too,” Swinney said. “Sometimes a decision that is best for them … is best for them. It does not always work out great for us, but this year, we had three young men that had a real decision to make and they wanted to stay and to finish.
“They have a chance to be first-round draft picks with a good year and that is what they are focused on.”
Clemson is sure to have others drafted next year as well. Hunter Renfrow, Albert Huggins, Jalen Williams, Mark Fields and Kendall Joseph will be in next year’s class after using up all of their eligibility in college. Others, like running back Tavien Feaster, linebacker Tre Lamar, safety K’Von Wallace, safety Isaiah Simmons, safety Tanner Muse and cornerback Trayvon Mullen, will be eligible to enter the draft.
In all, as many as 16 Tigers could be drafted in the 2019 NFL Draft. I’m not sure all of them will be, but that is certainly a possibility.
“They want to leave a lasting legacy,” Swinney said. “Those guys are really locked into finishing. They have eight months left before the next chapter starts to begin and they want to make it a great eight months.”