Clemson hoping to continue strong recent NFL draft run

Andre Branch, a defensive end from Clemson, is one of several area defensive players who is expected to be picked in the NFL draft.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Andre Branch, a defensive end from Clemson, is one of several area defensive players who is expected to be picked in the NFL draft.

— – When the NFL draft begins tonight, Clemson is unlikely to have a first-round draft pick.

However, Dabo Swinney’s program appears poised to continue its recent run of draft success, thanks to a number of players who are expected to be selected between the second and seventh rounds.

The NFL’s new draft format – which will feature the first round at 8 p.m. tonight on ESPN and NFL Network, the second and third rounds at 6 p.m. Friday on both channels and the fourth through seventh rounds Saturday at noon on both channels – means that Clemson fans who are interested in watching former Tigers learn their NFL homes would be better served by turning in Friday.

A trio of players – defensive end Andre Branch, tight end Dwayne Allen and defensive tackle Brandon Thompson – are all expected to be second to third-round selections, while cornerback Coty Sensabaugh is likely to be a mid-to-late round pick.

In addition, fullback Chad Diehl and offensive linemen Antoine McClain and Landon Walker could also be late-round picks, or could sign as undrafted free agents.

This would extend a solid recent draft history. Clemson had five players drafted in 2010 and six in 2011; the 11 Tigers drafted in that period is tied for sixth-best nationally.

Last year’s draft output was Clemson’s most since 1999, when six players were selected.

The program record for most draft picks in a single year is 10, set in 1983.

However, the draft was 12 rounds then. In 1993, the draft was reduced to eight rounds, and cut to its current seven-round format in 1994.

In the last 18 years, Clemson has had at least five players selected five times, with six players selected in 1999 and 2011.

The Tigers have had seven first-round choices in that time, including three over the last six years. Cornerback Tye Hill went No.15 to St. Louis in 2006, the late Gaines Adams went fourth overall to Tampa Bay in 2007 and tailback C.J. Spiller went ninth overall to Buffalo in 2010.

A year ago, Clemson had no first-round selections, but had three players drafted in the second round – defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins, cornerback Marcus Gilchrist and defensive end Da’Quan Bowers.

Jenkins was fighting for a starting role with the Washington Redskins before tearing his ACL in August; Gilchrist was a solid contributor during his rookie year for San Diego, as was Bowers with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Bowers was taken No.51 overall, but might wind up being one of the draft’s biggest steals. Persistent rumors regarding the health of his knee plunged him from the top five into the second round. Bowers wound up playing in every game, with 25 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

There are no guarantees, but if Allen, Branch and Thompson wind up waiting until Friday, they can take comfort in knowing their positions afford them plenty of room for success.

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