Clemson juniors weighing options on NFL draft decision

Football - Martavis Bryant

Photo by Mark Crammer

Football - Martavis Bryant

CLEMSON - The clock is ticking for Clemson's draft-eligible juniors.

They have under a month to decide to go pro or stay in school (Jan. 15 deadline), and that decision won't be announced until after Jan. 3's Orange Bowl.

The group has plenty to think over.

For all intents and purposes, ACC-leading receiver Sammy Watkins is gone, as both ESPN and CBS Sports have the south Florida product as a top-five prospect and the No. 1 receiver overall.

He accounted for 1,237 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns this season despite sitting the fourth quarter in most of Clemson's games (four receptions for 19 yards). Like Daniel alum DeAndre Hopkins before him, Watkins set the school record for receiving yards in just three seasons (3,164).

For everybody else, it's not so cut-and-dry.

Fourth-year defensive end Vic Beasley is the only other Tiger with first-round projections, but he's in a volatile range for his financial future.

Beasley looking to leave legacy

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CBS Sports draft analysts Rob Rang and Dane Brugler peg Beasley for the No. 23 (Arizona Cardinals) and No. 30 picks (New Orleans Saints) respectively. One false move in pre-draft workouts and even a drop one spot from the first 32 picks is worth over a million dollars with the NFL's rookie salary scale.

Beasley's meteoric rise to have this option is incredible in itself.

The Adairsville, Ga., native led the country in sacks for much of the season and currently ranks third (12) – No. 7 in tackles for loss per game (1.58). He hadn't played a down at end before last season, working through three position moves before a breakout 2012 campaign (eight sacks).

"I came a long way from last year and working through the spring and summer," Beasley said, who’s totaled 15 sacks in his last 15 games. "Coach (Marion) Hobby has helped me out a lot and basically the most help I've got is from my teammates. Pushing each other from the spring paid off to get here."

He has been the most outspoken Tiger on his NFL draft mindset, believing he's a first-round selection.

"I'm leaning towards coming out," Beasley told reporters Saturday. "But I haven't made a decision yet whether I'll come back or leave."

"Some coaches tell me they think I should probably come out (and) some coaches think I should come back for another year to put on more weight and help out the team. It's definitely a tough decision right now."

Beasley finds himself in a spot very similar to a pair of current Clemson alums in the NFL.

"Just like Nuk (Hopkins) last year, he got his paperwork and it was second-round (grade) and he felt good about it and he left," Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney said, while outlining his message to borderline first-rounders.

"(C.J.) Spiller got his paperwork and he was a late first round guy. He didn't like that. He wanted to be a top-10 guy. Everybody has their own reasons for making decisions."

For T.L. Hanna product Martavis Bryant, his decision weighs on the NFL draft advisory board's grade.

Bryant, who will turn 22 on Friday, will consider throwing his name in the ring with a second-or-third round projection, but if it's anything later, he guaranteed his TigerTown return.

Bowl practice big for younger players

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The 6-5 speedster led the ACC for a second-consecutive season in yards per catch (20.5), ranking seventh nationally. He posted a career-high 800 yards on 39 catches with five touchdowns. CBS Sports has him just inside their top-300 prospects, as a late-round pick to free agent option.

"(The coaches) just said they want me to come and talk to them, which I will," Bryant said. "I will let them know what I've decided to do. They're behind me 100 percent."

Swinney's stance has remained unchanged since taking the job full-time in 2009: definite first-round projection or come back to school.

"I wouldn't go at a discount. I think we have a few guys that if they came out now – they're not going to get what I think they're worth," said Swinney. "That's just the way it is. That's not my decision."

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