In preparation for the 2013 NFL Draft, NFLDraftScout.com will profile the top draft-eligible prospects from FBS-level programs. This summer series will run until the start of the college football season.
NFL Draft picks the last five years: 21
2012 NFL Draft picks: 4 – DE Andre Branch (2nd round, 38th overall), TE Dwayne Allen (3rd round, 64th overall), DT Brandon Thompson (3rd round, 93rd overall), CB Coty Sensabaugh (4th round, 115th overall)
After jumping out to an 8-0 start last season, Clemson dropped four of their final six games, including an embarrassing 70-33 defeat to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. Despite the discouraging finish for the Tigers, head coach Dabo Swinney led his team to an ACC title with a young team and Clemson returns almost all of their offensive skill players in 2012. The Tigers do lose the Mackey Award winner at tight end (Dwayne Allen) and one of the most electrifying playmakers with the ball (Mike Bellamy), but Clemson does return their starting quarterback, leading rusher and top two leading receivers.
While the Tigers will be loaded on offense, the majority of their high draft picks in recent years have been on the defensive side of the ball, specifically on the line. Over the past two years, four Clemson defensive linemen have been drafted in the top three rounds (Andre Branch, Brandon Thompson, Jarvis Jenkins and Da'Quan Bowers) and while the Tigers' line won't be as experienced this year, the cupboard isn't bare. However, Clemson's top NFL prospects for next April's draft can be found on offense.
Top-five prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft
1. RB Andre Ellington (5-10, 190)
One of four running backs to eclipse 1,000 yards in the ACC last season, Ellington (pictured above) currently ranks as the Tigers' top draft-eligible NFL prospect. He saw limited playing time as a redshirt freshman in 2009 behind CJ Spiller and was on-pace to be Clemson's leading rusher as a sophomore, but a toe injury sidelined him, making room for Jaime Harper to lead the team in rushing. Ellington was able to stay mostly healthy last year, recording five 100-yard rushing performances, including a career-best 212 yards on the ground at Maryland. He stays light on his feet with explosive lateral burst to avoid blockers in tight areas, showing much improved vision and patience to follow his blockers. However, he struggles to break tackles with his 190-pound frame and needs to continue to add bulk to hold up at the next level. If he can stay healthy as a senior, and that's a major if, Ellington will be one of the top senior backs in the 2013 draft class.
2. WR DeAndre Hopkins (6-1, 210)*
While true sophomore Sammy Watkins receives most of the attention (and deservedly so), Hopkins is a very talented pass-catcher in his own right. Watkins set numerous freshman and school records last season, but Hopkins quietly finished fifth in the ACC with 72 catches for 978 yards and five scores, finishing close behind Watkins on the stat sheet. A highly-touted recruit out of South Carolina, Hopkins chose the Tigers over several SEC offers and grabbed 52 catches in 2010, becoming the first true freshman to lead Clemson in receptions. He has large hands and a good catching radius to make some acrobatic catches look easy with the speed to make plays at all levels of the field. Hopkins needs to iron-out some wrinkles in his game and become a more precise route runner, but opposing defenses are well aware of #6. So while Watkins might be the team's best player, he isn't eligible for next April's NFL Draft. But Hopkins, who will be a true junior in 2012, will be and pro scouts will have their eye on the talented receiver.
3. DE Mallicaiah Goodman (6-4, 280)
Who holds the Clemson record for the amount of plays in a season by a defensive lineman? Gaines Adams? Da'Quan Bowers? The correct answer is Goodman, who was on the field for 767 plays last season in his first year as a starter for the Tigers. In 2008, Clemson landed the consensus top high school recruit in Bowers, but a year later, the Tigers nabbed another highly-ranked defensive end from the prep ranks in Goodman. But because of the depth of Clemson's line, he didn't become a full-time starter until last season when he started all 14 games opposite Andre Branch. Goodman didn't come close to Branch in terms of production with only 4.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks, but he consistently found himself in the backfield, putting pressure on the quarterback. At 280 pounds, Goodman isn't the quickest or most explosive rusher off the edge, but he works hard to the pocket and has the strength to handle blockers in one-on-one situations. If he can elevate his statistics as a senior, look for Goodman to improve his draft stock, which is currently in the mid-round range.
4. C Dalton Freeman (6-5, 285)
Although the Tigers lose three of their five starters along the offensive line from last season, Dalton Freeman returns at center for the Tigers' offense. And while that doesn't sound like a big deal to those outside Clemson, SC, he is considered one of the top leaders by the coaching staff and one of the stronger voices in the locker room and huddle. Freeman was a four-star recruit out of high school, choosing to play for in-state Clemson over Florida State and became the first freshman to start full-time at center for the Tigers since 1943. He started 22 games over his first two seasons followed by 14 starts last year as a junior, earning First Team All-ACC honors. Freeman is a good athlete for the position and does a nice job setting up quickly off the snap, but has room to get stronger to sustain at the point of attack. It doesn't always look pretty, but more often than not, Freeman gets the job done for his team. While his name won't show up in the highlight reel, Freeman is one of the most valuable players to this Clemson team and is projected to be one of the top-three centers drafted in the 2013 NFL Draft with a strong senior year.
5. QB Tajh Boyd (6-1, 225)*
If the Heisman Trophy was awarded after eight games, Boyd would have been the frontrunner last season as he led Clemson to an 8-0 start with a 24-3 TD-INT ratio over that stretch. However, just like Clemson, he struggled down the stretch. And as many times that he bailed his team out of a jam, Boyd had just as many puzzling mistakes and poor decisions, making him an intriguing evaluation for the next level. He was a top-10 quarterback recruit out of high school, redshirting and seeing limited time as a freshman in 2010. Boyd became the starter last season and turned heads as Clemson won the ACC and earned a spot in the Orange Bowl. He has the physical tools with the arm strength and legs to make plays, but he lacks ideal size and needs to do a better job taking care of the football. Last season, Boyd had the luxury of throwing to Watkins, Hopkins and Allen with one of the nation's top offensive coordinators (Chad Morris). And while he will have Watkins and Hopkins back in 2012, Boyd needs to prove to scouts that he is the engine that makes the Tigers' offense go, not the other way around. He doesn't project as an early round draft pick, but he has a pro future if he matures as a decision-maker throwing the ball.
Just missed: CB, Bashaud Breeland, S Rashard Hall, S Xavier Brewer, S Jonathan Meeks, LB Jonathan Willard, TE Brandon Ford, LB Corico Hawkins
Photo credit: US Presswire