College Sports

Clemson football could make history in this year’s NFL Draft

Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd (98) is one of several Tigers expected to hear their name called during the NFL Draft.
Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd (98) is one of several Tigers expected to hear their name called during the NFL Draft. gmelendez@thestate.com

The 2016 NFL draft, which begins Thursday, is setting up to be a very intriguing player-selection event.

The top two picks have already been traded away by Tennessee and Cleveland to Los Angeles and Philadelphia, respectively. Carolina cutting ties with Josh Norman last week, and the All-Pro cornerback quickly signing with Washington, will also reshape the draft.

Teams at the top could go multiple different directions, making this one of the toughest first rounds to figure in years.

The same goes for Clemson’s top four-rated pro prospects, who all left school early. Defensive end Shaq Lawson is likely to have his name called on the first night, and he could go in the top 15.

Fellow end Kevin Dodd, who was receiving no NFL hype a year ago, will be in Chicago with Lawson for the draft and could also end up going in the first round, according to several mock drafts.

And then there’s Mackensie Alexander, who made a name for himself as Clemson’s lockdown cornerback for three years and is now one of the most coveted players at his position. He could slip into the end of round one or fall into the second.

Even T.J. Green, a safety who surprised many people by giving up his senior season, could be a surprise pick in Thursday’s first round. He created a lot of buzz after posting an optimal 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine.

If a combination of that were to happen in what could be a wild and crazy draft, Clemson would make history. The football program has never had more than two Tigers taken in the first round. Last year was the first time two Clemson players went in the first round since 1982. The Tigers have had at least one first-round pick for three consecutive years.

Having a shot at duplicating or bettering that mark is quite an accomplishment, and it speaks to the way Dabo Swinney has recruited and developed players.

Making the College Football Playoff and national championship game, where the Tigers lost to Alabama, raised Dodd’s status. Lawson’s huge performance in a showdown against Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley, who’s projected to go in the first round, proved the powerful pass rusher could handle top opposition.

Other draft hopefuls, such as safety Jayron Kearse, linebacker B.J. Goodson and receiver Charone Peake, also will enhance Clemson’s image with pro teams. You’ll see countless highlights of players in orange.

In a lot of ways, having players drafted, especially when it’s in the first round, is a celebration of a program, but no matter how many Clemson players are taken in the first round this year, plenty more are coming.

Deshaun Watson, the star QB who finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting as a sophomore, already is being talked about as the No. 1 overall pick for the 2017 draft. And then there are rising sophomores Mitch Hyatt, a left tackle, and Christian Wilkins, a defensive lineman, who already profile as potential stars in the NFL.

Swinney, who will be at the draft in Chicago with Lawson and Dodd on Thursday, might want to see if he can reserve a table for at least a couple more years.

Great Eight

Clemson could have as many as eight players picked, which would be the largest Tigers’ draft class in 25 years.

SHAQ LAWSON, DE

Projected: 1st round

Key stat: 25.5 tackles for loss

KEVIN DODD, DE

Projected: 1st round

Key stat: 22.5 tackles for loss

MACKENSIE ALEXANDER, CB

Projected: Late 1st, early 2nd

Key stat: Zero TDs allowed

T.J. GREEN, S

Projected: Late 1st, early 2nd

Key stat: 130 tackles

JAYRON KEARSE, S

Projected: 4th-6th rounds

Key stat: 6 pass break-ups

B.J. GOODSON, LB

Projected: 4th-6th rounds

Key stat: 108 tackles

D.J. READER, DT

Projected: 4th-6th rounds

Key stat: 141 career tackles

CHARONE PEAKE, WR

Projected: 4th-6th rounds

Key stat: 99 career receptions

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