The Washington Redskins currently have no player on their roster from Clemson. Given their propensity for drafting from big name schools, I suspect that could soon change.
As part of Hogs Haven’s pre-draft coverage, I am going to preview one team per week (either Friday or Saturday) throughout the college football season. One of the biggest games this week will be a battle between Clemson and Texas A&M. If watching this Saturday’s showdown, here are a few of the Clemson players to watch.
1. Travis Etienne, Running Back, Jr. (1st Round)
Etienne enters his junior season as defending ACC Player of the Year, and arguably the top running back prospect in the nation (While some view him as the top ranked running he was ranked RB3 in The Athletic’s Dane Brugler’s pre-season rankings).
Draft Analyst Tony Pauline describes Etienne as a tougher more physical version of former Clemson RB C.J. Spiller.
In Week 1, Etienne set a career high with 205 rushing yards and tied a career high with three touchdowns in Clemson’s win over Georgia Tech. His first touchdown went for 90 yards which tied a Clemson record for the longest run in school history.
In a day and age where running backs are widely considered replaceable, a back must prove his worth in the passing game in order to justify a first round grade. Over his first two seasons, Etienne has caught only 17 balls for 135 yards combined. According to Pro Football Focus, Etienne was charted with two sacks allowed, but his overall pass-pro grade was a respectable 72.2.
2. Isaiah Simmons, LB/S, RS-Jr. (1st Round)
In 2018, Simmons had a team-best 97 tackles, including 9.5 for loss, with 1.5 sacks. Additionally, he added seven pass breakups, three forced fumbles, and one interception.
It seems like every summer Clemson has a highly touted linebacker prospect whose draft stock plummets by April (Ben Boulware, Tre Lamar, and Kendall Joseph). I don’t expect that to occur with Simmons, who started his career as a safety before transitioning to linebacker. As a hybrid defender, he is exactly what NFL teams are looking for.
Simmons came in fourth in Bruce Feldman’s annual “Freaks List”. Feldman reports Simmons ran a sub-4.4 40 this past off-season, has a 40 inch vertical and broad jumps 11-0.
In last year’s playoff win over Notre Dame, Simmons showed his vast array of skills, finishing with five tackles, including a sack, plus adding two passes defended (including one while in coverage against 2019 3rd round WR Miles Boykin, one of the biggest “freaks” at the 2019 NFL Combine).
For the Redskins, Simmons profiles as a new and improved version of Josh Harvey-Clemons, who had a similar career path at Louisville.
3. Tee Higgins, Wide Receiver, 6’4/205, Jr. (Round 1-2)
It seems as though every year, Clemson sends two or three wide receivers to the pros. No other Clemson position group has sent as many players to the NFL. The recent list includes DeAndre Hopkins and Jaron Brown, (2013), Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant (2014), Adam Humphries (2015), Charone Peake (2016), Mike Williams and Artavis Scott (2017), Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud (2018), and Hunter Renfrow (2019).
Expect two or three more to be drafted in 2020, led by Tee Higgins, who came to Clemson rated as high as the #15 overall recruit in the nation (by Rivals).
Higgins enters 2019 with 76 career receptions for 1,281 yards with 14 receiving touchdowns (59/936/12 in 2018). Last season, he converted 8-of-11 red zone receptions into touchdowns, the second-best rate (per PFF) among returning FBS receivers.
Higgins’ best assets are his exceptional catch radius and leaping ability, but I have concerns about his speed. At roughly 6-foot-4, (long and somewhat skinny) he has the build of a classic “X” receiver.
Purely as a prospect, Higgins reminds me a little of DeVante Parker when he went 14th overall coming out of Louisville. While Parker has not exactly worked out for the Dolphins, that shouldn’t dissuade NFL teams from taking Higgins early.
4. AJ Terrell, Cornerback, 6’1/190, Jr. (2nd Round)
In 2018, Terrell started all 15 games for Clemson’s national championship winning team. Along the way, he faced off against a bunch of NFL prospects, including the Redskins’ Kelvin Harmon, Deebo Samuel (South Carolina, 49ers), Miles Boykin (Notre Dame, Ravens), and the group of Alabama receivers like Jerry Jeudy.
His pick-six was the first score in Clemson’s win over Alabama in the National Championship game.
A.J. Terrell is important piece in a retooled and reloaded Clemson defense. pic.twitter.com/cxUzykF9M8— PFF College (@PFF_College) August 11, 2019
There is still plenty of inconsistency to his game, but I optimistically have him as a potential second round prospect.
5. Amari Rodgers, Wide Receiver, 5’10/210, Jr. (Round 4-5)
Rodgers suffered a torn ACL during spring camp, but is rumored to be ahead of schedule and could see the field as early as late September. (EDIT: Coaches are hopeful he will play in the Aggies game).
Rodgers is the son of former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin, who led the Vols to the 1998 National Championship and is now the receivers coach at USC.
As a sophomore, Rodgers was targeted 71 times (third most on the team) with 55 catches for 575 yards (10.5 yards per catch; catch rate of 77.5 percent). Additionally, he adds value as a punt returner.
Don't let Amari Rodgers in the open field ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/J75CpcpvmW— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) November 11, 2018
While Rodgers benefits from having a quarterback like Trevor Lawrence, he also has to fight for targets with, not only Higgins, but also true sophomore, Justyn Ross.
Despite that, draft analyst Tony Pauline gave Rodgers a higher pre-season grade than Higgins over the summer (Rd3). That seems much too high for my taste.
He is short and his body looks more like a running back. His measurables are relatively ordinary and I don’t expect him to test particularly well at the NFL Combine.
Somewhat undersized, Rodgers physical profile appears more similar to Ray-Ray McCloud and Artavis Scott than Mike Williams or DeAndre Hopkins, and a Top-100 selection might be a tad optimistic.
6. John Simpson, Guard, 6’4/330, Sr. (Round 3-4)
According to Reese’s Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy, Clemson has gone five years without an offensive lineman being taken in the NFL Draft.
Hard to believe considering how the program has elevated in recent years but @ClemsonFB hasn’t had an OL drafted in 5 years and only 5 OL have been selected since 2000. That trend should end this year with guards John Simpson and Gage Cervenka. #thedraftstartsinMobile #whosnext pic.twitter.com/gcAh09jJjq— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) August 14, 2019
I expect that to change in 2020. Probably Clemson’s most talented interior lineman, Simpson entered the 2019 season with 15 starts over 36 career games. Over the summer, draft analyst Tony Pauline stamped Simpson with a third round grade.
In addition to Clemson’s opponents, Simpson got to practice against Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence for three years.
Simpson reminds me of other wide-body guards like Laken Tomlinson and Gabe Jackson.
7. K’Von Wallace, Safety, 5’11/210, Sr. (Round 4-6)
PFF notes that by returning their top four safeties, the Tigers return four of the ACC’s top-10 in terms of overall grade at the safety position. My favorite is Wallace, who already has 21 starts. He enters 2019 with 97 career tackles, 12 passes broken up, three interceptions, and two forced fumbles.
In last year’s Clemson-Texas A&M game, the Aggies came from behind, scoring a late touchdown with 46 seconds left in the game to cut the Clemson lead to just two points. It was Wallace who made the game-sealing interception to foil TA&M’s attempted game-tying two-point conversion.
It seems Clemson fans are not as high on the Tigers’ safeties, but, in Wallace, I see a player with strengths and weaknesses that are similar to Deionte Thompson, who was a 5th round pick out of Alabama last spring.
8. Tanner Muse, Safety, 6’2/230, Sr. (Round 6-7)
With 24 career starts, Muse entered the 2019 season with 164 career tackles, 2 sacks, 10 pass break-ups, and three interceptions.
Listed at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Muse is yet another hybrid defender, who is a three-year starting safety with linebacker size.
9. Sean Pollard, Center, 6’5/320, Sr. (Round 6-7)
A consensus Top-200 recruit, Pollard started 7 games as a true freshman, and enters his final season with 23 career starts. After playing both guard and tackle during his first three seasons, Pollard has transitioned to center for his senior season.
#Clemson starting offensive lineman Sean Pollard hosting his second annual "All Off For Cancer" event, which raises money for pediatric cancer research.— Marcel Louis-Jacques (@Marcel_LJ) July 11, 2018
You can donate by following this link: https://t.co/Aq7n4j0UYs pic.twitter.com/L2vise4lt6
According to his Clemson bio, Pollard has his own foundation that raises money for pediatric cancer research. Each summer, Pollard hosts the “All Off for Cancer” event to raise money for research and assistance for families combatting pediatric cancer. Donors sponsor Pollard, his teammates on the football team and players from other Clemson sports to shave their heads.
10. Gage Cervenka, Guard, 6’3/325, RS-Sr. (Round 6-7)
Ranked 45th on Bruce Feldman’s annual “Freaks List”, Cervenka reportedly can do 43 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, which was four more than any offensive lineman at this past year’s NFL Combine.
Additionally, Cervenka was a standout wrestler, compiling a record of 199-1 in his career at Emerald and becoming the only heavyweight in South Carolina state history to win four state titles.
.@GageCervenka, who helped @ClemsonFB win the national title on Monday, was a four-time South Carolina state wrestling champion, finishing with a career record of 199-1 and becoming the only four-time heavyweight champion in state history. #SportForAll #AnyBODYCanWrestle pic.twitter.com/JkL3LdxenG— NWHOF (@NWHOF) January 8, 2019
Unfortunately, his accomplishments on the football field pale in comparison, as he enters his fifth and final season as a fringe draftable prospect.