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Clemson 2018 NFL Draft Preview

Clemson’s Deon Cain (8) goes up for a ball in the 2016 game vs. South Carolina
File/Travis Bell/Sideline Carolina Post and Courier

After the exciting 2017 NFL Draft, in which two Clemson players were drafted in the first 12 picks, the story of the 2018 Draft will be who will not be attending. Three members of the feared defensive line (Christian Wilkins, Clein Ferrell and Austin Bryant), all projected to go in the first two rounds, decided to return to Clemson for another run at a second national championship in three years. Also returning will be LT Mitch Hyatt and LB Kendall Joseph, two more players who had been expected to go during the first two days of the draft.

These announcements only enhance the expectations for the 2018 Tigers and they set the stage for what could be a historic 2019 NFL draft for Clemson. But there are a few players that are going to be joining the NFL this week. Several will be fighting for roster spots from day 1 but a couple project to be solid professional players.

Deon Cain – WR

Cain broke out his freshman year becoming the deep threat in Deshaun Watson’s high-flying offense. In 2016, he took a bit of a step back with the return of Mike Williams, but he still managed nine touchdowns for a team that won the National Championship. Cain went into the 2017 season with high expectations as the new WR1 in Clemson’s offense. He struggled with drops and while the offense turned into a run first offense under QB Kelly Bryant, Deon still managed to show he can be an elite threat down field. Most scouts believe that Deon has the potential to be a WR2 in the NFL and teams will utilize his speed to complement other receivers. I think that Deon has shown the ability early in his Clemson career to be a multi-faceted receiver and could be a draft steal. Dabo thinks so too and points out that Cain and fellow WR prospect Ray-Ray McCloud played QB in high school and will only get better as they gain more experience as receivers.

Draft Projection: Rounds 2-3

Ray-Ray McCloud – WR/CB

Ray Ray McCloud scores vs. NC State

Another receiver coming out of WRU, Ray-Ray is a lot less accomplished than Cain but is still very raw. He contributed to the Tigers as a receiver, rusher, returner and even cornerback late in his career. His disappointing 4.53 40-time hides the fact that he is extremely elusive on screens and in the return game. Many scouts suggested that McCloud return to Clemson for another year of development but with rising stars Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers poised to step into larger roles next season, McCloud decided it was in his best interests to come out early. McCloud’s versatility in all three phases of the game will appeal to some teams and will take a chance on him late in the draft or he will be a hot commodity in undrafted free agency.

Draft Projection: Round 7 - UDFA

Dorian O’Daniel – LB

Dorian O’Daniel celebrates his pick six vs. Virginia Tech
Clemson Athletics

Perhaps the most underrated prospect this year, Dorian O’Daniel only started his final year at Clemson but ended the 2017 season with 104 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, 3 pass break ups and 2 interceptions, both returned for touchdowns. He was named an All American and was a finalist for both the Butkus and Bowden awards. He is not highly projected as many scouts worry that his small stature (6’1”, 220 lbs) is too small in today’s NFL. What they do like though is his special teams production in which he is tied for the most special teams tackles in Clemson history (47). Scouts expect him to get drafted in the 5th or 6th round but I think he goes much higher. As his numbers suggest, he is a versatile playmaking outside linebacker who can rush the quarterback but also drop into coverage.

Shaquem Griffin might have gotten all the linebacker hype at the combine but O’Daniel arguably had the best combine of any linebacker. He was top 15 in all the events he participated in including top 10 in Bench Press, Broad Jump, 3 Cone Drill and 20 yard Shuttle. One scout called O’Daniel sluggish in directional changes so O’Daniel went out and finished the combine as the best linebacker in the 3 cone drill and 20 yard shuttle. His 3 cone drill tied the all time record for a linebacker with a time of 6.64 and his 20 yard shuttle placed 5th all time with a time of 4.07. The media tends to only focus on the 40 yard dash in which O’Daniel placed 11th but NFL teams take note of all the drills. Teams will note O’Daniel’s high floor with his special teams ability and also see his potential as a starter in the league.

Draft Projection: Round 2-4

Tyrone Crowder – OG

Crowder has been part of the Clemson O-line for the last 3 years
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

A 3 year starter at Clemson, Crowder was part of the offensive line with its well documented issues. Crowder was named All ACC in all 3 years that he started and was named first team each of the last 2. Despite his impressive resume against high caliber teams, scouts are not high on Crowder saying he does not have the speed or the power to excel at the next level. They say at best he can cause stalemates in battles with the defensive line but not win them. That will likely not be enough in the NFL. Crowder unfortunately was not extended an invitation to the NFL Combine so he will have to rely on his tape and his pro day to get him drafted. Like with Jay Guillermo, team success will likely not be enough to get Crowder drafted. Hopefully he will take advantage of undrafted free agent opportunities and latch on to some team.

Draft Projection: UDFA

Taylor Hearn – OG

Taylor Hearn was a two year starter for the Clemson O-line
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Another starter on the Clemson offensive line, Hearn was a 2-year starter before opting to go pro. While not as distinguished as Crowder or Mitch Hyatt, Hearn did receive Third Team All-ACC recognition his junior year. Hearn has many of the same issues as Crowder in terms of speed and mobility, but Hearn has shown more power than Crowder. Hearn had 69.5 knockdowns in 43 career games and averaged almost 25% more per game than Crowder. Hearn was invited to the NFL Combine, an indication that teams already viewed him more favorably than Crowder. Crowder likely could’ve used another year at Clemson but with his degree in hand, he opted to try the jump to the NFL early. He will get the opportunity to become an NFL backup.

Draft Projection: Round 6 - UDFA

Van Smith – S

Van Smith broke out in Clemson’s 58-0 route of Miami in 2015

Another early entrant into this year’s draft, Van Smith has been a prolific safety for the Tigers over the last 3 years. He has recorded a whooping 163 tackles in 3 years including 95 tackles in 2016. A smaller safety, Smith has not shown the ball hawking capabilities of an NFL Free Safety having only recorded 4 interceptions in his 3 year career. He has the speed and ability to bring down receivers after the catch but also has a problem with missed tackles. If he can clean up his missed tackles, he has the chance to be a solid backup in the NFL, helping a team with a bend but don’t break mentality.

Draft Projection: Round 6-7

Ryan Carter – CB

Carter has been a big contributor for Clemson despite being undersized
Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America

In 2017, Clemson was very thin in the secondary, which will continue to be a problem in 2018. One player that quietly excelled though is Ryan Carter. Despite being 5’9” and 180 lbs., Carter was able to go up against ACC receivers, finishing his career with 78 tackles, 19 pass breakups. 4 interceptions, 8.5 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles and a sack. Despite his impressive resume, some teams will get hung up on his size and choose to pass over him for larger but less prolific players. Dabo has compared him to Adam Humphries who went undrafted out of Clemson but in 3 seasons has become a starter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Hopefully Carter can do something similar.

Draft Projection: Round 7 - UDFA

Marcus Edmond – CB

Slowed by injury, Edmond showed flashes while playing at Clemson
Clemson Athletics

After a strong 2016, Edmond was expected to play a major role in 2017 but was brought down by injury. After waiting for his chance to shine it is hard to see a player not live up to his potential. Edmond played in 36 games in his Clemson career recording 25 tackles, 3 pass defensed and 1 interception. He will almost assuredly have to go the free agent circuit if he hopes to continue his football career.

Draft Projections: UDFA

2018 might not be the most exciting NFL Draft for Clemson fans but there are several players to cheer for that helped Clemson to its winningest period in history. Keep an eye on the draft on Friday and Saturday to see which teams give the 2018 class of Tigers a chance.