Clemson sent five athletes to this year’s rendition of the NFL Combine and the goals (and results) for each varied. Sammy Watkins, the headliner amongst the Tigers, went to prove what scouts, writers, and fans already thought—he’s a can’t miss prospect and a lock for a top 10 pick. On the other hand, underclassmen Martavis Bryant and Bashaud Breeland sought justification for their early entrances to the NFL. Lastly, Tajh Boyd and Brandon Thomas were prolific college players who were thought to lack ideal NFL measurables.
When you enter the combine as the unanimous top prospect at your position, you can only hurt that pristine perception. That being said, wide receiver Sammy Watkins participated anyway, perhaps a testament to his competitiveness. Watkins did nothing to sway the opinion of observers. In the 40-yard dash, Watkins ran a blazing 4.43 (tied for 7th amongst WRs). At 6’1” and 211 pounds, Watkins is built like a running back. With his speed and strength, it’s easy to see why he’s so dangerous after the catch. Scouts need only to watch his final game against Ohio State, when Boyd repeatedly threw quick screens to Watkins and let the playmaker do the rest. Barring something unforeseen, Watkins will be a top 10 pick on May 8th and could go as high as number two to the St. Louis Rams.
One of the surprises of the combine was Clemson’s other receiver, Martavis Bryant. Clemson fans knew Bryant possessed special ability, but the combine allowed Bryant to show the country just how talented he is. The 6’4”, 211 pound Bryant topped Watkins in the 40, running a 4.42. Additionally, his 39” vertical was 6th best amongst receivers. Physically, the long, lean Bryant matches up well with NFL receivers like AJ Green and Justin Hunter. Of course, he needs to improve his technique and become a more consistent player if he hopes to reach the same hemisphere as Green. Still, Bryant has immense potential and I’ll be surprised if he lasts past the second round.
Even after a solid Senior Bowl, there were many questions about LT Brandon Thomas entering the combine. The two-time All-ACC performer is only 6’3”; you won’t find a starting tackle in the NFL that is that short. Most experts believe Thomas will move inside to guard in the NFL; however, Thomas’ 34 and ¾ inch arms give him the necessary length to play tackle. Although the average NFL offensive tackle is about 6’6”, Thomas’ arms are longer than the mean. In fact, projected first-round tackles Taylor Lewan and Jake Matthews’ arms were a good bit shorter than Thomas’. Thomas isn’t as athletic as Lewan or Matthews, but his height is largely negated by his arm length. Given that NFL teams sometimes carry only 7 offensive linemen on game days, it is critical to have players who can play guard or tackle. If Thomas can indeed swing between the two, it gives him extra value. He projects as a third or fourth round pick.
CB Bashaud Breeland surprised many by leaving Clemson early for the NFL. Entering the combine, draft experts varied widely in their opinions of Breeland. I’ve seen him projected as high as the second round and as low as the fifth. As far as measureables go, Breeland’s performance was underwhelming on Tuesday. He was shorter (5’11”) than he was listed and proved to not be as long as some expected. Most importantly, he ran a 4.62 40, which is quite slow for a corner. Breeland’s numbers in the other workouts (vertical, 3-cone, shuttle, etc.) were pedestrian as well. It’s hard to say what the fallout of his performance will be, but I’d imagine Breeland will end up on the low end of his projections, making him a fourth or fifth round selection.
The underwear Olympics probably matter the least at the quarterback position, so it is hard to glean much from Tajh Boyd’s numbers. How he interviewed behind closed doors will have a greater impact on his draft status than anything shown on TV. With that said, he measured in at a solid 6’1” and 222 pounds. Boyd ran a 4.84 40, which is a slight disappointment. I would have thought he would be in the 4.7 range. Regardless, we knew he wasn’t a blazer, but a powerful, crafty runner. The big questions with Boyd center on his accuracy and his ability to transition to a pro-style offense. Draft day will probably be a disappointment for Boyd as it’s hard to imagine him going before the fifth round.