CLEMSON — The topic du jour this week — and now likely all the way to early January — is Clemson’s talented junior class and early entries to the NFL draft.
And that’s with good reason.
On offense, Clemson’s leading receivers are both juniors in Sammy Watkins (1,086 yards/9 touchdowns) and Martavis Bryant (698 yards/four touchdowns). And that’s not even to mention the maestro, Tajh Boyd, moving on as a senior.
Bryant getting better with practice
Watkins, Boyd and junior defensive end Vic Beasley have all made early NFL draft projections for the first round.
Watkins isn’t worrying about that circus yet.
“I haven’t really thought about that,” said the ACC’s leading receiver. “There’s been a lot of talk lately about the NFL, but as of right now, all I can do is focus on Citadel and focus on finishing and trying to do my best this season. I will evaluate that after the season.”
If Bryant needs any references for the next level — this year or next — the Tigers No. 2 has plenty of good to say.
“His future is bright,” Watkins said. “He’s a big guy. He can make big plays. You don’t find many guys who run like him and he can easily be a top draft pick if he comes out. He’s been doing all of things coaches have asked of him and playing great.”
For an improved Tigers’ defense, juniors lead the unit in tackles (Stephone Anthony, 95), tackles for loss and sacks (Vic Beasley, 17 and 10) — and interceptions and pass breakups (Bashaud Breeland, 4 and 17).
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, like head coach Dabo Swinney, maintains a first-round projection is a must to make the move.
“If you’re a sure first-rounder, (yes),” he said, “but you see all of these meatheads on TV saying they know who all of the first round guys are. They’ve got all of their mock drafts. I’ve had the guys that I know exactly what they’re being told and I say, ‘You’re not really there,’ but (he says) ‘Yeah, well everybody’s talked to these guys — my agent’s talked to these people and I’m first or second round at worst.’
“Next thing you know, they don’t get drafted. I’ve had an All-American not get drafted and they’re like what do I do?”
Venables didn’t offer a yea or nay on Beasley’s draft options specifically, but did literally point out another Tigers’ chances.
“You better be sure, you better be sure, you better be sure,” he said. “Hopefully they trust (their coaches). As coaches, people think we’re not neutral and in reality alls we want is what’s best for these kids because we have the lifelong relationships with them.
“If he’s for-sure slam-dunk freak — and listen, you better be a freak. Freak’s (an) Adrian Peterson. Freak’s probably a guy (motions to Sammy Watkins) over here. A freak’s over at South Carolina (Jadeveon Clowney). Those guys are freaks. If you’re not a freak, it’s a no-brainer to me, but that’s me. To each his own.”
‘WE WANT FSU’
While cries of ‘We want Bama!’ have cropped up on college campuses across the country, an improving Clemson team would rather have another crack at No. 2 Florida State.
Over the last three games, the Tigers have averaged 571 yards, 51 points and a 24-point margin of victory.
“You always think about it and we wish we could play those guys again,” Boyd said. “For whatever reason, the (conference) championship isn’t set up that way. At the same time, we’re solely focused on being the best team we can possibly be. Right now, it’s 11-1. We’re doing everything possible to finish that way.”
Their success, however, shows the disparity and at the same time takes some motivation from the nightmare night in a 51-14 loss to the Seminoles on Oct. 19.
“I think it put things in perspective about just going out there to play the game you’re capable of playing,” Boyd said. “For us, it was disappointing because we didn’t give ourselves a chance. From then on, it’s do everything in your power to make sure that you’re in a position to win the game.”
Clemson’s opponent this week, The Citadel (5-6), has won four of its last six games, but they’re a loss in TigerTown from an odd distinction.
Against Palmetto State opponents, the FCS-level team could go 0-4, already losing at home to Charleston Southern (32-29), Wofford (21-10) and Furman (24-17) this season.
Last season, the Bulldogs went 2-1 against South Carolina teams, downing Charleston Southern and Furman.