NFL Draft 2013 Preview: Clemson Prospects

DeAndre Hopkins Headlines a Group of Five Former Tigers Awaiting Selection This Month

DeAndre Hopkins Headlines a Group of Five Former Tigers Awaiting Selection This Month

Leading up to this month’s NFL Draft, we’ll be taking a look at each ACC‘s school’s prospects and where they’re slated to be chosen. While 50 ACC players were invited to the NFL Draft Combine, those not in attendance also have ample opportunity to hear their name called between April 25 through 27.

Clemson‘s resurgence over the past two seasons has largely been fueled by underclassmen contributors, so the team will once again lose just a few players to the Draft this spring. But also similar to last season, those few players did make a significant impact. Whenever your leading rusher, leading receiver and starting center are all on draft boards, it’s both a blessing and a curse. We’ll see where these Tigers could be selected in a few weeks:

DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Junior (Projected: Mid-First Round)

Hopkins’s record-setting junior season has propelled him from well-regarded second receiving option to potential first-round draft pick. Scouts seem to love his blistering speed (his 4.5-second 40-yard dash time is not indicative of how fast he really is), along with his great hands and smart after-catch abilities. While his 6’1″ 200-pound frame is concerning for some, it’s also not a deal breaker for those looking to draft him, as he can certainly add some upper body weight between now and when the season starts. As it stands now, Hopkins may be the top receiver in a very thin class at that position, and may end up being selected as early as the middle of round one.

Andre Ellington, RB, Senior (Projected: Early Third Round)

Similar to Hopkins, the biggest concern around Ellington is his size (5’9″ 190 pounds) and how that will affect his durability as an NFL back in the long-term. Beyond that, however, there’s a lot to like from the speedy rusher who’s already drawing favorable comparisons to former Tampa Bay Buccaneer and Atlanta Falcon RB Warrick Dunn. This draft is thin at running back, so there’s always the chance he’s taken far earlier than projected. But given the changing NFL ecosystem away from featured rushers, it could end up dropping him into the latter part of day two of the draft. Of course, that’s not a bad thing, and could potentially provide Ellington with just the chip he needs to excel come camp in July.

Malliciah Goodman, DE, Senior (Projected: Fourth Round)

Despite a limited senior year, Goodman still tallied seven sacks, looking great throughout his final three games in particular (five sacks). While he’s purely a pass-rush threat, there is some thought that the quick (4.67 40-yard dash) and agile end convert to the outside linebacker position for the right team running a 3-4 defensive scheme. With a long frame weighing in at just 276 pounds, it would seem the most natural fit for him, as he’d otherwise be manhandled directly on the line. Expect his name to be called on day three with a real chance to get into a linebacker rotation come the fall.

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ACC 2013 Spring Football Preview: Clemson Tigers

Is Former Backup Roderick McDowell Ready to Take Over for Clemson at RB?

Is Former Backup Roderick McDowell Ready to Take Over for Clemson at RB?

As the ACC‘s spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing the big storylines for each of the league’s 14 (15, in this case) teams. Check back on weekdays for what to look out for during your school’s spring practices and spring game.

Team: Clemson Tigers

Spring Practice Start Date: March 6

Spring Game Date: April 13

Following two-straight seasons of more than 10 wins, Clemson’s suddenly in the national spotlight and a real threat to win the ACC and the National Championship (and maybe even the Heisman trophy too). But even as they bring back a strong group of both players and coaches, there’s still plenty left to figure out heading in 2013 if they’re going to live up to the very lofty expectations attached to them.

Offensive coordinator Chad Morris has returned for another year with the Tigers, meaning and he couldn’t be stocked with a better weapon than quarterback Tajh Boyd. Around the senior, though, there’s questions at wide receiver and running back, along with a gaping hole at center, formerly filled by NFL-bound Dalton Freeman. The odds-on favorite to fill that center spot is currently Ryan Norton, though he could also be challenged by redshirt sophomore Jay Guillermo. At receiver, Sammy Watkins will be called upon to quickly regain the all-world stature he’d reached as a freshman in 2011, especially without an experienced safety net to remove the pressure this time around. With Watkins at the top spot on the depth chart, Charone Peake and Martavis Bryant will likely take some time this spring to gain a better rapport with Boyd and prove they can handle a larger role in Clemson’s dynamic passing game. The Tigers must also replace the departed Andre Ellington at running back, but can luckily plug his experienced backup, Roderick McDowell (450 yards, five TDs in 2012), right into the role.

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Way-Too-Early 2013 ACC Football Power Rankings

An Early Look at 2013 Shows Clemson to Be at the Head of the Class in the ACC

An Early Look at 2013 Shows Clemson to Be at the Head of the Class in the ACC

When we last left our teams, there appeared to be hope on the horizon. Though the 2012 season was a difficult one, the bowls showed some real glimmers of great things to come, as the ACC racked up its first winning postseason record in seven years. Beyond some long-awaited hope for greater success, 2013 also brings some change to these rankings. Syracuse and Pittsburgh will now actually be participating in the conference, after two seasons appearing in the power rankings despite not doing so. And Louisville, our newest pals set to join in 2014, will also be joining the party — meaning 15 teams will be listed for the remainder of this calendar year (and slightly beyond into bowl season 2014). Cheer up! It’s less than 230 days ’till kickoff.

1. Clemson Tigers (Last Year: 2): Tajh Boyd‘s back, and the defense is improving steadily. So even without DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Ellington, this team will still be fine in 2013. In year two under defensive coordinator Brent Venables, expect an even more aggressive front-seven as the coach works on improving linebacker play in particular. That secondary will still get burned, but be certain they’ve also learned some lessons from last year, too.

2. Louisville Cardinals (LY: NR): After the show Teddy Bridgewater put on during the Sugar Bowl this year, the Cardinals are an extremely hot commodity, and are likely to start strong in their final season of Big East football. It’ll be interesting to see how coach Charlie Strong and his team respond to having a target on their backs from week one, when they’ll likely be handed a top-10 ranking to start the year.

3. Florida State Seminoles (LY: 1): They’re losing a lot on the defensive side of the football, along with QB and senior leader, EJ Manuel. But like those old, Bobby Bowden-coached teams of teams of the 90s, this ‘Noles squad has already reloaded. The offense may take a few to warm up, but the defense will still be very much their strength heading into next season.

4. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (LY: 5): After sitting out two straight years of postseason berths, the ‘Canes are really hoping they’re given a break from the NCAA in terms of leniency. With a ton of young talent eager to get a shot at a conference title, and arguably the best QB/RB tandem in the ACC in Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson, Miami could very well be out for blood come opening kickoff this fall.

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ACC Football Top 25 Players of 2012: #23, Andre Ellington

Clemson's Andre Ellington Put Together a Strong Senior Year, and is Likely Headed to the NFL

Clemson’s Andre Ellington Put Together a Strong Senior Year, and is Likely Headed to the NFL

As part of our 2012 season review, we’re counting down the top 25 players in the ACC this season, from no. 25 to no. 1. Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus completely bulletproof, obviously — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 23, Andre Ellington, RB/Clemson (Preseason Rank: 9)

Don’t see the drop in Ellington’s ranking from preseason to now as a knock on his efforts this season; rather, it’s a testament to the quality of individual play from the ACC this year. While QB Tajh Boyd certainly stole the show for Clemson, in many ways, it was Ellington whose performance ultimately made the difference between a Tigers’ win or loss. As part of a pass-happy offense, Ellington was tasked with being the balance, and in this regard, he largely succeeded. Averaging over five yards per carry, he managed nearly 1,100 rushing yards on just 212 touches. Going into 2012, Ellington’s big focus was to make himself a better pass-catching option out of the backfield. And while he failed to catch more passes (just 14, versus 22 last year), he more than doubled his yardage (231, versus just 109 in 2011) and equaled his career total for touchdown receptions (one). He’ll be missed next season, but after a strong showing this year, fans will certainly see him on Sundays.

Previously:

#24, Nick Clancy, LB/Boston College

#25, Aaron Donald, DT/Pittsburgh

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Chick-fil-a Bowl Preview: Clemson Tigers vs. LSU Tigers

Clemson's High-Powered Passing Attack Meets A Formidable Foe in LSU's Defense

Clemson’s High-Powered Passing Attack Meets A Formidable Foe in LSU’s Defense

Both 10-2, Clemson and LSU appear to be worlds apart in terms of perceived success. While the former dropped their major rivalry game (and a possible BCS bid) in the year’s final contest, the latter’s only losses were close calls to the second- and third-ranked teams in the country (Alabama and Florida, respectively).

Bowl Game: Chick-fil-a Bowl

Location: Atlanta, Ga.

First Year: 1968 (Peach Bowl)

2012 Participants: Clemson Tigers (10-2) vs. LSU Tigers (10-2)

Last Meeting: LSU over Clemson, 10-7 (1996 Peach Bowl)

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Clemson (previous bowl game: 70-33 loss vs. West Virginia in 2012 Orange Bowl)

The talk out of the Clemson camp leading up to this game has been all about learning from last year’s blowout postseason loss. Now, the Tigers will be tasked with turning that talk into action against an elite LSU defense. While the 2012 season was a phenomenal one for Clemson on offense, there are no guarantees they’ll be able to replicate the 42.3 points per game they averaged all season (6th in the FBS). In the team’s other two games against top-11 total defenses (Florida State and South Carolina), Clemson’s scoring average dips to just 27 points per game. In part, this is due to Tajh Boyd‘s struggles against extreme pressure — especially with a fairly young offensive line. But there’s also the issue of the Tigers’ reduced number of plays run under this duress. On average, Clemson calls 83.5 plays from scrimmage, yet against South Carolina, they ran just 57 (including just 16 in the second half). If the Tigers hope to move the ball against LSU, which runs a very similar defense to the Gamecocks, they’ll need to figure out a way to continue moving the ball as the pressure ramps up. In particular, this is where senior halfback Andre Ellington makes a huge difference. If he, and the rest of the Clemson backfield can move the ball effectively on the ground, they’ll be able to combat LSU’s pressure with at least moderate success. Contrary to Clemson’s typical play-calling, ball control may be their best offensive and defensive strategy.

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ACC Bowl Matchups: Keys to Success

Will Andre Ellington and the Clemson Run Game Be the Key to the Tigers' Bowl Success?

Will Andre Ellington and the Clemson Run Game Be the Keys to the Tigers’ Bowl Success?

We’ll be previewing each ACC bowl matchup individually as the games get closer, but for now, it’s worth at least taking a top-level look. Once again, the ACC’s up against a pretty formidable group of opponents, but all isn’t lost just yet.

Below, you’ll find the keys to each game laid out, along with the easiest path for the respective ACC teams to find success. Obviously, none of these are guaranteed results, and there’s still plenty more left to discuss (and we will as December wears on).

Keys to Success

Belk Bowl (Duke vs. Cincinnati): For Duke, it’s all about executing their passing game against a Cincinnati defense that will be reeling without head coach Butch Jones in the picture. The Bearcats, while very formidable on defense overall, ranked just 73rd in the FBS in passing yards allowed per game (243.5). They got by, however, forcing turnovers in the passing game, and buckling down in the red zone. Cincinnati’s defense allowed just 11 passing scores, compared to 14 picks. If Duke can avoid errors while throwing the football, and live up to their 32nd overall ranking in that department, they can find a clear path to victory.

Russell Athletic Bowl (Virginia Tech vs. Rutgers): The best way to beat Rutgers is by controlling the pace of the game; something Tech has struggled with significantly this entire season. For as well as that defense has played this year, the offense has been another story. Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas will be relied upon to lead a brisk attack and make the Scarlet Knights play from behind. Virginia Tech was also 4-1 when scoring 30 or more points this year, while Rutgers was 0-1 in the only contest where their opponents reached that mark.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Syracuse vs. West Virginia): While Syracuse has benefited from a torrid pace in many of their wins this year, the key this time around will be generating a significant pass rush to pressure WVU quarterback Geno Smith. As the second half of the Mountaineers season and last year’s SU/WVU game proved, Smith still struggles when forced to deliver a quick ball under duress. If Syracuse allows him to stand and deliver to Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin all game, the Orange are certain to lose. But if SU’s Brandon Sharpe and Jay Bromley can put heat on Smith, that’s when the mistakes begin.

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ACC Football Player of the Week, Week 10: Tajh Boyd, Clemson

Clemson Quarterback Tajh Boyd is the ACC Player of the Week for Week 10

Each week, we’ll be identifying the best ACC player from that weekend’s games. As always, it’s a completely arbitrary award with no specific criteria beyond the vague concept of “excellence.” No, we don’t take write-ins.

ACC Player of the Week, Week 10: Tajh Boyd, QB/Clemson

Tajh Boyd has been on a tear of late, punishing opposing defenses both through the air and on the ground. And this past Saturday against Duke, he may have put on his most complete performance yet (interceptions aside). Throwing just 23 passes, the junior compiled 344 yards and five touchdowns. On the ground, nine rushes for 72 yards and another score. We’ve mentioned it time and time again, but the big differences in Boyd’s abilities this year versus last lie in his weight loss and improved accuracy. With starting running back Andre Ellington out for most of Saturday’s 56-20 victory, Boyd took it upon himself to keep the ground game a major factor. Taking notes from last year’s second-half swoon, he’s now a better passer, runner and leader, and it shows in the Tigers’ results.

Honorable Mention:

Michael Campanaro, WR/Wake Forest (16 catches, 123 yards, 3 TD)

Jeremiah Attaochu, LB/Georgia Tech (6 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 FF, 1 fumble recovery)

DeAndre Hopkins, WR/Clemson (4 catches, 128 yards, 3 TD)

Ray Graham, RB/Pittsburgh (197 total yards, 1 TD)

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