Clemson football: Examining NFL Draft stock of upperclassmen

clemson football

In a recent interview, quarterback Trevor Lawrence left the door open to returning to Clemson football. While the superstar is leaning toward entering the 2021 NFL Draft, he hasn’t publicly made the move official. All of the recent draft speculation surrounding Lawrence got me thinking about Clemson’s other star athletes and where they might fall in the draft.

This article contains most of Clemson’s key players eligible for the 2021 NFL Draft with some analysis and the round I believe they’ll get drafted in accompanying each player. With more than half of the college football season still potentially on Clemson’s table, these rankings could change significantly by the spring.

Trevor Lawrence, QB

At this point, most people have accepted that Lawrence is the future No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, assuming he leaves Clemson football. He has everything teams want. He’s got the accuracy, mobility, size, marketability and leadership skills of a pro quarterback. Clemson’s remaining games are the only things separating Lawrence from millions of dollars.

Even if COVID-19 has a serious impact on Lawrence, where he doesn’t look the same once returning, the junior should still go in the first three selections. The media uses the term “generational talent” too often, but Lawrence legitimately belongs in that conversation.

Predicted selection: Top-3 pick

Travis Etienne, RB

The debate surrounding Etienne is whether he’s worth a first-round pick. Plenty of accomplished running backs entered the 2020 NFL Draft, including J.K. Dobbins, D’Andre Swift and Jonathan Taylor. However, only LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire heard his name called on Day 1.

Etienne seems primed for his own Day 1 draft party. The senior entered 2018 as a nonexistent part of Clemson’s passing game. Over the past two years, he’s become one of college football’s best receiving backs. With plenty of game tape and a proven drive to improve, Etienne should go in the first round after a fantastic career for Clemson football.

Predicted selection: 1st-round pick

Jackson Carman, OT

Carman possesses the massive 6-foot-5, 345-pound frame preferred by scouts in the modern NFL. While he’s one of the best pass-blocking left tackles in college football, Carman thrives in the running game. He’s mobile enough to get ahead of plays and pancake defenders. Carman projects better as a right tackle initially because his footwork and balance still need some fine tuning.

With ideal mobility, power and size, Carman could work his way into the first round. However, he should at least come off the board by the end of round two.

Predicted selection: Late 1st to early 2nd-round pick

Derion Kendrick, CB

Entering 2020, some analysts believed Kendrick could turn into a first-round pick. While he’s made some plays and emerged as a cornerstone in an underrated secondary, the junior hasn’t fully capitalized on a promising sophomore campaign. As the draft draws closer, Kendrick is a prime candidate to find himself slipping down the rankings.

Predicted selection: Late 2nd to early 3rd-round pick

Amari Rodgers, WR

Assuming Lawrence returns from his COVID-19 isolation in time for the Notre Dame game, Rodgers could finish the season with very impressive numbers. Going into Clemson’s matchup against Boston College, the senior already had 33 receptions for 520 yards and five touchdowns.

Unfortunately for Rodgers, he doesn’t shine in any specific area of the game. His size and speed don’t make him stand out, and his route running isn’t elite either. Overall, Rodgers is a well-rounded Day 3 prospect. However, I wouldn’t entirely rule out some team viewing him as a late-third round selection, and whoever takes Lawrence might want to reunite him with Rodgers.

Predicted selection: 4th to 5th-round pick

James Skalski, LB

Skalski is a dynamic linebacker with above-average instincts. He’s taken over a leadership role at the heart of Clemson’s defense. Unfortunately, the senior is missing time with a groin injury right now. While I think he could go in the late rounds, there’s a chance Skalski goes undrafted. Ben Boulware was roughly the same size as Skalski and more productive during his time at Clemson, but he went undrafted in 2017.

Predicted selection: 5th to 6th-round pick

Justin Foster, DE

The senior defensive end entered 2020 with a chance to move his draft stock into the mid-rounds. However, Foster hasn’t played a game this season, and the Tigers don’t know when he’ll be healthy enough to make an appearance. Foster possesses enough talent to find a home in the NFL Draft, but he’s in a challenging situation.

Predicted selection: 6th-round pick

Nyles Pinckney, DT

Pinckney is on pace to have the best statistical season of his collegiate career. The senior defensive tackle isn’t as well known as many of his counterparts, but Pinckney excels at eating space and blockers, creating opportunities for his teammates. There’s a chance NFL scouts view Pinckney as undersized and convert him to defensive end or don’t draft him at all.

Predicted selection: 7th-round pick

Justyn Ross, WR

Ross was a sure-fire first-round pick after his first two seasons with the Tigers. Clemson football expected Ross to become the team’s leading receiver in 2020 and cement himself as a top-three wide receiver prospect. Unfortunately, a minor injury during the spring revealed a congenital fusion in Ross’ neck/spine. He hasn’t played this season, and there’s no known timetable for his return.

Neck surgeries are always scary, and they often threaten football careers. Ross should focus on getting back in pads for now and worry about the NFL later.

Predicted selection: Stays at Clemson

Xavier Thomas, DE

Several early mock drafts heading into the 2020 college football season had Thomas going in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Thomas was the No. 3 prospect in the country and the No. 1 defensive end prospect coming out of IMG Academy in 2018. Many people believed he was the next great Clemson defensive lineman.

Thomas only recorded five sacks in his first two seasons at Clemson and already missed significant time this year. He could still technically enter the NFL Draft, but another year in college might raise his stock to an elite level. If Thomas went to the NFL right now, he would go in the late-rounds.

Predicted selection: Stays at Clemson