Clemson Has Something Special, and the NFL Knows It

Zach Lentz

CLEMSON—The Clemson football program has built itself around doing things the right way under head coach Dabo Swinney.

Whether on the field, off the field, in the classroom or in the workplace, the Clemson program prides itself on developing great football players and great people. The reputation is a reason that the Tigers have become one of the hottest teams for placing players in the NFL.

It is that reputation that has Clemson at the top, at least according to Jordan Palmer, brother of former Southern California and current Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer and current personal coach to former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.

“I do a lot of pro days and I’ve been around a lot of guys, which means I’ve been around a lot of programs. And I hear, behind closed doors, what guys really think about their coaches and all of this stuff. I think I’m as impressed with Clemson as I have been with any school,” Palmer said. “I grew up in the locker room at USC (Southern California) when my older brother was playing, and I think that this is the most impressive program in the country when it comes to developing young men.”

Clemson has had at least one first-round draft choice six of the last seven years, set a school record with three first-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft and tied a school record with four players selected in the first two rounds. 

In 2019, Clemson produced three players selected as defensive linemen from a single school in a single draft for the first time in NFL Draft history.

Clemson’s entire starting defensive line from 2018 was drafted in the first four rounds in a span of the draft’s first 117 picks and pushed its total of defensive linemen selected in the Swinney era (since the 2009 NFL Draft) to 17. 

Since his first full season in 2009, Head Coach Dabo Swinney has presided over 57 draft picks, the second-most of any active head coach. 

But accolades aside, for Palmer, what sets the Tiger program apart is the consistency that starts at the top.

It is a consistency that states very clearly that it does not matter if you are a five-star kid or a walk-on, you will be treated the same. It is something that for Palmer sets the stage for the development of player into the best that they can possibly be.

“Deshaun has told me how things have been handled here and how really good players who make mistakes don’t play. That’s easy to say, that’s hard to do,” Palmer said. “I think Clemson is as good of a program as I’ve seen at developing young talent.”

Because of the type of program that Swinney has built at Clemson, it continues to attract the likes of the biggest names in the NFL to make the trip down South — when many teams choose to send college scouting directors or assistant coaches. That is a fact not lost on Swinney.

“I appreciate those guys coming down here. It’s always good for our players to see that type of interest,” Swinney said. “I know it is not like this everywhere.”

Swinney understands that the type of exposure offered to draft-eligible players at Clemson is not only a plus for those players, who are hoping to hear their name called and their dream realized, but for the recruiting of elite talent who may hope to follow in the footsteps of those players before them.

“Not just these guys (that have signed NFL contracts), but future players to know that, ‘Hey, you put the work in, you pay the price,’” Swinney said. “A lot of these guys (NFL representatives), they have seen these guys mature and grow up and to know that you’re going to have those types of folks from the NFL, the GMs — a lot of GMs here today, a lot of head coaches — again, I think that it means that they’re serious about evaluating these guys.”

Swinney is forever grateful that so many of the league’s top brass chose to attend. All 32 teams were represented at Clemson last spring at Clemson's pro day, because that means that every player that worked out got a chance to highlight what they can bring to their respective program.

A chance is all any player can ask for.

“At the end of the day, you just want a chance. You want to be evaluated,” Swinney said. 

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

I get this feeling there will be a few surprises this year come spring. Seems like we are all of a sudden jamming a few new offers out for the 2020 class for that reason. I wonder if we'll still see 32 reps this time.