The Clemson Tigers have experienced great success both on the field and in the NFL Draft the past two seasons. The Tigers had seven selections from their school in 2020, and six total picks in the 2019 NFL Draft. Despite that great success, Clemson’s 2020 college season and 2021 NFL Draft prospects could completely shatter those records. Led by the potential top overall prospect, quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the Tigers are expected to once again compete for a national championship in 2020.
Currently, Clemson is projecting to have 3-4 first-round picks alone, with even more throughout the seven-round event. Below, I will highlight three of the many reasons Clemson should dominate next year’s draft. This team is exceptionally talented and could compete with the LSU Tigers for the most draft picks from one school in recent years. While some individuals may go extremely high, the team has great depth, which will show next April.
Trevor Lawrence and the explosive Clemson offense
Much of the early 2021 NFL Draft talk has circulated around Clemson’s top prospect, the superstar quarterback Lawrence. That makes sense, especially considering this offense has the chance to be extremely special in 2020 with the amount of firepower and talent they have up front. However, there are other star talents on the offensive side of the ball which include receivers Justyn Ross and Amari Rodgers, along with tailback Travis Etienne.
Ross is a player I previously discussed as one of the top five receivers in college football for 2020. He is a long, athletic, and speedy receiver with excellent body control and catch-radius. He is almost certainly a lock to go in the first as Lawrence’s go-to guy this season following the loss of Tee Higgins.
Ross is joined by Rodgers, who is another highly recruited Clemson receiver who works the middle of the field well and has shifty, run-after-the-catch ability. He is a player to watch and could sneak into the second day with a successful season.
There may not have been a more exciting and explosive runner in all of college football than Etienne in 2019. Before he decided to return to school, most considered him a potential first-rounder as the top back available in 2020. He should be a top-20 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft running behind a gifted front five. Guard John Simpson is off to the NFL, but offensive tackle Jackson Carman is a former five-star recruit that has dominated in the trenches during his first couple seasons.
Sophomore OT Jackson Carman will be getting first-round buzz this summer pic.twitter.com/7aUxl8JwS9
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) March 3, 2020
Carman is another potential top-25 pick and could sneak into the first half of the opening day with another impactful season up-front. The rest of the offensive line is young and unproven and will need to step up for Lawrence and that explosive passing attack this season.
Two other talented pass-catchers on this offense are tight ends J.C. Chalk and Braden Galloway. Chalk is a potential mid-round sleeper looking to improve on his 17 career catches. At the same time, Galloway returns after missing most of his sophomore year due to suspension and could be a real sleeper with his plus size and athleticism.
The depth and star power of the defensive line
Clemson has been an absolute factory for the NFL in terms of producing quality defensive line talent. In the last two years alone, the team has had three defensive linemen drafted in the first round. Since 2010, Clemson has produced 16 total draft picks from the defensive line alone. The school will add to that list in a big way this upcoming season.
The headliner of the group is the 2018 number one overall recruit, edge rusher Xavier Thomas. He is speedy and explosive off the snap, with more than enough strength to fight off blockers to get to the quarterback. Look at this sack below, as Thomas blows past the right tackle and decimates the Syracuse quarterback.
— Daren Stoltzfus (@DarenStoltzfus) September 29, 2018
Thomas is mostly unproven at the college level and will need to take a significant next step in 2020. However, he has the talent to do so and should be one of the first pass rushers selected in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Joining Thomas in the 2021 NFL Draft discussion are fellow Clemson edge prospects K.J. Henry and Justin Foster and defensive tackles Nyles Pinckney and Jordan Williams. Henry is another former five-star pass rusher that like Thomas, has been slow to get going in his college career. Pinckney is a player that flirted with the NFL a season ago but returns to help Clemson win another national title.
The linebackers and secondary units
Adding to the depth and talent up front for the Tigers, the linebacker and secondary groups have been a real strength for this team in recent years. Clemson produced four draft picks in 2020 alone from these two units. This season, the Tigers will need to replenish some of that departed talent, but the cupboard is far from empty. After seeing A.J. Terrell drafted by the Falcons with the 16th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Tigers have another potential first-round cornerback.
Derion Kendrick is a player that emerged for the Tigers last season and returns as the best player in this secondary. He has good size and speed along with tremendous ball skills, as he began his time at Clemson as a wide receiver. Kendrick returns as one of the top cover men available in the ACC in 2020 and could sneak into the first round with another promising campaign.
Isaiah Simmons was the man in the middle and everywhere else for the Tigers last season. However, other players emerged on this Clemson defense. Linebacker James Skalski figures to take over in the middle and as leader of this defense after posting 105 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 4 pass breakups, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery in his redshirt-sophomore year. Skalski is a fierce hitter and blitzer, as seen in the video below.
NORTH GATE VIKING JAMES SKALSKI pic.twitter.com/DUbfmuVhrQ
— David Lyle (@lyleautomation) September 17, 2016
The last time we saw the talented linebacker, he was on the wrong end of an ejection for a big hit on former LSU receiver Justin Jefferson in the national championship game. He may not be the same type of athlete as Simmons, but he is a potential mid-rounder as another jack of all trades on this defense.
Will Clemson beat LSU in the 2021 NFL Draft?
The LSU Tigers led all schools with an impressive total of 14 players drafted in the 2020 NFL Draft, including five in the first round. By my count, Clemson has a chance to match that with at least 14 players drafted, and potentially six players in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Clemson’s draft prospects, along with Lawrence, will be the talk of the town at the draft in Cleveland next April.
Scott Gorman is a writer for PFN covering the 2021 NFL Draft. You can follow him @sgormanPFN on Twitter.