Head coach Dabo Swinney has the Clemson football program firing on all cylinders. Since 2015, Swinney has led the Tigers to a staggering 69-6 record, including wins in two out of the four national championships that Clemson has played in during that time period. On top on the success the program has seen at the collegiate level, Clemson has become a hotbed for NFL talent, having produced five first-round picks since 2019. The list of top Clemson prospects for the 2021 NFL Draft is highlighted by the most anticipated prospect in the program’s history.
It’s quite clear that Clemson’s 2021 class is going to provide the NFL with another bonifide superstar. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise, as Clemson has blossomed into one of the premier college football programs. Deshaun Watson is regarded by many as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, mentioned in the same breath as some of the league’s biggest superstars such as Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, and Lamar Jackson. Also, Clemson produced DeAndre Hopkins, who is one of the best wide receivers in the league. Clemson’s 2021 class has the potential to provide the NFL with even more talent.
Top Clemson prospects for the 2021 NFL Draft
Trevor Lawrence, Quarterback, Junior (6’6″, 220 pounds)
Since Trevor Lawrence led the Clemson Tigers to a national championship as a true freshman, he has been anointed as a transcendent prospect by the draft community. To be clear, Lawrence is almost certainly the most complete quarterback prospect to enter the NFL since Peyton Manning in 1999, and baring some unforeseen circumstance, he will be the first overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Lawrence was magnificent in 2019, throwing for 3,665 yards, 36 touchdown passes, and a mere eight interceptions. He also was able to contribute with his legs, as he rushed for 563 yards and nine touchdowns as well.
As Tony Pauline points out, “Lawrence possesses all the skills to carry a team in the NFL — physical, mental, and intangible. He does an incredible job leading the offense, possesses the ability to make all the throws, and consistently makes proper choices. Lawrence is a big-bodied pocket passer, but he possesses the foot speed to pick up big yardage with his legs.”
Lawrence has exceptional arm strength, elite pocket presence, and is an accurate passer. He has breathtaking mobility and isn’t afraid to create yardage with his legs. His mechanics are nearly flawless and in terms of size and stature, Lawrence more than passes the eye test. Simply put, Lawrence is the total package and is going to instantly become one of the NFL’s biggest stars. You won’t find a more complete quarterback prospect that Trevor Lawrence.
Travis Etienne, Running Back, Senior (5’10”, 210 pounds)
The title of “RB1” in the 2021 NFL Draft goes to Clemson’s Travis Etienne. Since becoming the Tigers’ primary running back in 2018, Etienne has accumulated an astonishing 3,782 yards of offense and 49 touchdowns. Also, Etienne has averaged an impressive 8.0 yards per carry during his tenure at Clemson. Yes, you read that right.
The speed and acceleration that Etienne brings to the table is unparalleled in this draft class. He runs with tremendous burst and has the explosiveness to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. While he might not run with the best vision, he has excellent contact balance.
To add even more value, Etienne made huge strides as a pass-catcher in 2019. As Pro Football Network’s Scott Gorman points out, “Etienne was non-existent as a pass-catcher heading into the 2019 season, but he improved by leaps and bounds in that area as a junior. Etienne’s 37 catches topped his previous career-high of 12, and he could be counted on to play a much more significant role in the passing game in 2020 following the loss of receiver Justyn Ross.”
Despite a loaded 2020 running back class, only LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire was selected in the first-round. We live in a day and age where running backs just don’t get selected in the first round often. However, Etienne is a first-round talent in spades. He is a big-play threat every time he touches the ball and could develop into one of the league’s best running backs. When I watch film on Etienne, the name that immediately comes to mind is Alvin Kamara.
Jackson Carman, Offensive Tackle, Junior (6’5″, 345 pounds)
When you think about offensive tackles and the 2021 NFL Draft, Penei Sewell will rightfully steal all of the headlines. He might just be the most complete offensive tackle prospect we have seen in the last decade.
With that said, the battle to be the second offensive tackle selected in 2021 is wide open, with names like Samuel Cosmi (Texas), Alex Leatherwood (Alabama), and Jackson Carman (Clemson) jockeying for position.
Related | Hodgkinson’s 4-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft
NFL scouts will watch a lot of tape on Carman, as he protects the blindside of Trevor Lawrence, who is also known as”Touchdown Jesus”. Carman, a former five-star recruit, started all 15 games for the Tigers in 2019. He has long arms, plays with power, and has a tremendous punch. He may not be an elite athlete, but his quick feet are impressive.
With strong play in 2020, Jackson Carman could cement himself as a first-round pick in 2021. If he plays out of his mind, he could end up being “OT2” and find himself as a top-15 pick due to positional value.
Derion Kendrick, Cornerback, Junior (6’0″, 190 pounds)
In a pass-heavy NFL, teams are desperate to find shutdown cornerbacks. One top Clemson 2021 draft prospect that has tools to elevate his 2021 draft status is the “springy” Derion Kendrick.
In 2019, Kendrick secured 43 tackles, two interceptions, and five passes defended. He started his career at Clemson playing wide receiver, which is why one of his best attributes is his ball skills. He possesses impressive god-given athleticism and plays with tremendous instincts.
Oliver Hodgkinson does a tremendous job at summarizing Kendrick’s strengths:”In addition to the athleticism, explosion, and ball skills that made him such an attractive proposition as a wide receiver, Kendrick has the fiercely competitive nature that separates good cornerbacks from great cornerbacks. He also has the football intelligence that comes with having played the quarterback position.”
The 2021 cornerback class is loaded, but Derion Kendrick should find his name called in the second round. He will test really well and scouts will fall in love with his upside. While he has some things to work, such as becoming less “grabby”, he is a solid Day 2 draft prospect.
Justyn Ross, Wide Receiver, Junior (6’4″, 205 pounds)
There was a time when many in the draft community thought that Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross was a future first-round pick, but his career is very much in jeopardy after he was forced into surgery in June to fix a spinal issue. For Ross, the question isn’t “when will he be drafted”; the question is “will he ever play football again?”
Ross has impressive size, including a long and athletic build. He is a strong natural pass-catcher and isn’t afraid to compete for the football. When it comes to body control and ball tracking, Ross has borderline elite abilities. He wins at the contested catch with ease and is an explosive receiver.
It is a hard task to determine Ross’ draft stock due to his recent surgery. If he does play football again, due to medical concerns, he would likely become a mid-round pick. If he falls to the middle rounds of the draft and finds a way to prove that he is healthy, he could turn out to be quite the bargain for a lucky NFL team.
Xavier Thomas, Edge, Junior (6’2″, 265 pounds)
Clemson’s Xavier Thomas was one of the nation’s top recruits in 2018 and since then, he has been extremely over-hyped. While Thomas has an intriguing blend of size, strength and twitch, he doesn’t have the production to warrant a high draft selection. In fact, he played poorly in 2019, accumulating a mere 27 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Thomas has a lethal first step and has flashed glimpses of creating havoc off the edge, but the consistency isn’t there. He isn’t strong against the run, plays with poor technique, and doesn’t possess much in terms of pass-rush maneuvers.
When you read early 2021 NFL mock drafts, you will consistently see Thomas’ name in the first round, but it doesn’t belong there. Even if Thomas declares after redshirting the 2020 season, the earliest I can see him drafted in the third round.