When Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence was suspended for testing positive for a performance enhancing substance just before the college football playoff, his backup Albert Huggins hurt for his teammate, but also knew his moment had arrived. As a senior who had rarely had a chance to start, Huggins knew he needed to put more on film for NFL scouts who had been paying more attention to his teammates Lawrence, defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and defensive end Clelin Ferrell, all of whom are likely first-round talent.
Backup isn’t really the right word for Huggins because he had been rotating in for Lawrence and Wilkins, allowing them to stay fresh while receiving a significant amount of playing time himself. Coach Dabo Swinney even dubbed Huggins a “co-starter.” According to Pro Football Focus, before the playoffs Lawrence played 465 snaps, Wilkins played 498 snaps, and Huggins played 306, which is a difference of between 13 and 15 snaps per game when compared to the other two. “When we heard the news about [the suspension], I felt like I was ready,” Huggins says. “I prepared myself all year for this opportunity, and it finally came. God works in a very weird way, but He works.”
Huggins, a stout run-stuffer, stood out with a five-tackle performance in Clemson’s national championship win. Several scouts said that game helped boost his draft stock. One scout said many teams had already been looking at Huggins—he was on the prospect list the scout received from his team last summer—but that Huggins helped himself by stepping up in the playoffs when Clemson needed him to start.
As a highly touted four-star recruit out of high school and the No. 1 recruit out of South Carolina, Huggins could have transferred to any major program and started, but he says it was important for him to honor his commitment to Clemson. “Coming out of high school, I thought I was that guy, until I got to Clemson and find out there's a lot of those guys,” he says. “Coming to Clemson humbled me a lot. It made me appreciate every little opportunity I got. It made me work harder.”
Huggins finished his college career with 69 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks, and his 2.5 sacks this year was higher than Lawrence’s total.
One scout said being a backup at a strong program like Clemson right now is more impressive than being a D-II All-America. Huggins received a combine invitation and is probably a Day 3 draft pick. The MMQB asked Huggins a few questions about how his unique role at Clemson has impacted his pre-draft process.
Do you feel like you have more to prove in this pre-draft process than a prospect who has several seasons as a starter? Is now finally your time to show teams who you are?
Of course, I feel like that. I've been Albert Huggins Jr. for 21 years now. I know that I might not have got as much publicity or as much playing time as Christian or Dex, but when my opportunity came I took advantage of it and I think a lot of coaches realize that.
Do you think playing at Clemson behind more talented players put you in a better position for an NFL future, or if you had transferred might you have had more name recognition and be better off in this draft?
Of course, going into my freshman year, things didn’t go my way. But I don’t regret coming here at all. I could have transferred and went anywhere else and probably been a starter, but I felt like, by me saying that I commit to Clemson and then staying here all four years, grinding hard, I feel like that opens a lot of eyes to coaches showing that he is a committed guy, he is here for the long run.
You said that it was a humbling experience for you. Did 18-year-old Albert the four-star recruit need to be humbled?
The 18 year old me? Yeah, that’s the only thing I would go back and change, be more humble and grind harder. Freshman year was a blur really. It went by so fast, and I really didn't know what I was getting myself into. I didn't take advantage of all my opportunities. I came back and learned from it, and I started really grinding my junior year.
What kind of questions have teams been asking you about your unique playing situation as a backup behind first-round talent?
They just ask, why did I stay and why do I do what I do? What is my purpose? And I tell them I made a commitment to Clemson and I signed those papers. Nobody put a gun to my head and told me I had to come here, you know? So for me, to make that commitment to Clemson and for them to have my back, there is no reason why I should go anywhere else. I felt at home here, and I know if I kept working hard, God has a plan for everyone. For the last two years I really became closer to God because of my situation. It made me an overall better person and better player.
Give us a scouting report on Clemson's defensive tackle prospects in this draft—Dexter, Christian and yourself.
Dexter is a freak of nature, 6’6, about 340 lbs. You don’t see that everywhere. He just understands football easier than everybody else. When they coach run-stopping, it is hard to move 340 pounds. I’ll tell you that. He is unbelievable when it comes to the run, and he has so much power when it comes to the pass. That's what makes him a great player.
Christian’s athleticism, his strength, his motor are unbelievable. He is a grinder, he loves to go get it. He is one of the most committed guys I ever met. He’s not going to whine, he’s just going to keep on grinding.
Yours truly, I’m a power guy. I am a pretty good run-stopper and also I like to switch it up with the pass rush—that's me, working speed to power, that’s how I am. I come off the ball fast and just power into the guy. That’s me.
You guys are competitive amongst each other, and Dexter beat you by one rep on the bench press at the combine, for the most reps among defensive linemen. What was that like?
I love to see my teammates achieve greatness.That’s how Clemson has brought us up. Going into it, I said well, I've got to set the tempo. By me going up there first and doing those 35 reps, I felt like I set the tempo, and it was untouchable. And then Dex went up there, and you know, your mind, no matter how tired your body is, your mind is going to tell you to keep going. He did 36, that was good, I’m proud of him. It was good to see two Clemson defensive tackles at the top. I feel like if I went second, I might have gotten more reps, who knows?
How much interest from teams have you had?
I worked out with the Falcons a couple weeks ago and then Cincinnati is coming down, and I go up to New York Jets in about a week or so, and whoever else calls, I'm ready to go. I’ll pack my bag and hop on a plane.
NEWS AND NOTES
• Arkansas-Pine Bluff punter Jamie “The Scottish Hammer” Gillan had himself a day Thursday at his pro day. Per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, only seven punters have done vertical jump at combine since 2003, the best 33 inches. Gillan jumped 36.5 inches. He grew up in a military family, his father is in the Royal Air Force, and he bounced around the United Kingdom as a child. Gillan earned a rugby scholarship to a boarding school in Edinburgh and played there for three years. Then his dad was transferred to a naval base in Maryland, and he followed his family to the U.S. for his last two years of high school. There, he was recruited for the American football team after he originally joined the soccer team. And now, he might be this draft’s Michael Dickson.
• At Ole Miss Pro Day today, all eyes were on two receivers—D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown. NFL Network’s James Palmer reported that Metcalf has visits with the Bills and Ravens, both teams looking to add a weapons on offense for their second-year quarterbacks, Josh Allen. Palmer also reported that Brown has met with the Patriots, Colts, Giants and Eagles, and will meet with the Bills and Packers.
NEXT WEEK IN PRO DAYS
The Pro Day circuit is wrapping up as we get closer to the draft:
Monday, April 1: Indiana State, 9 a.m., Washington, 2 p.m.
Tuesday April 2: Boise State, 12:30 p.m, Indiana, 11:45 a.m.
Wednesday, April 3: Ball State, 9 a.m., Washington State, 1 p.m.
Thursday, April 4: Eastern Washington, 1 p.m., Stanford, 12 p.m.
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