Countdown to College Football Kickoff: Top NFL prospects at Clemson

Jan 13, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) throws a pass against the LSU Tigers first quarter in the College Football Playoff national championship game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Rob Rang

College football is scheduled to return Saturday, August 29. Each day until then, will be evaluating the rosters of the best teams in college football, including all 64 within the Power Five conferences.

Clemson Tigers

Head Coach: Dabo Swinney (13th season)

2019 Record: 14-1

2020 NFL Draft Picks: OLB Isaiah Simmons – Arizona Cardinals, First Round, 8 overall

CB A.J. Terrell – Atlanta Falcons, First Round, 16 overall

WR Tee Higgins – Cincinnati Bengals, Second Round, 33 overall

S/OLB Tanner Muse – Las Vegas Raiders, Third Round, 100 overall

OG John Simpson – Las Vegas Raiders, Fourth Round, 109 overall

S K’Von Wallace – Philadelphia Eagles, Fourth Round, 127 overall

OG Tremayne Anchrum – Los Angeles Rams, Seventh Round, 250 overall

Featured 2021 NFL Draft Prospect: Trevor Lawrence, QB, 6-6, 220, 4.60, JR

Checking off every box imaginable on and off the field dating back to high school, Lawrence enters his junior year at Clemson as the betting favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. He took over at Clemson just like he did at Carterville High School in the talent-rich state of Georgia, first wrestling the starting quarterback job away from an upperclassman just a few games into his true freshman season, and simply dominating thereafter. Lawrence went 52-2 in four years at Carterville and is 25-1 thus far at Clemson, with his only loss, of course, coming to the 2020 No. 1 overall pick, Joe Burrow, and LSU in last year’s national title game.

Quarterback wins are hardly the most reliable metric for predicting NFL success, but they are just the beginning of Lawrence’s eye-popping numbers. In 26 starts – including four playoff games - Lawrence has completed 65.5 of his passes for 6,945 yards and 66 touchdowns against just 12 interceptions. He’s also rushed for another 740 yards and 10 scores, nine of them coming last year. Lawrence’s athleticism and whip of an arm make him virtually impossible to defend in Clemson’s RPO-heavy offense, especially when complemented by fellow star, Travis Etienne, the leading returning rusher in college football and already the ACC’s all-time rushing touchdown king with 56 career scores.

Few teams have churned out NFL receivers with Clemson’s consistency but their depth will be tested this year with leading returning receiver Justyn Ross undergoing season-ending surgery on his spine earlier this month.

Strengths: Tall, broad shouldered athlete with the frame to easily add another 10-15 pounds. Quick set-up with balanced feet, clean weight transfer and a smooth, over-the-top delivery with a snappy release. The ball explodes out of Lawrence’s hand when he wants to throw with velocity, which he often does on in-cutting slants and post routes, as well as deep outs and back-shoulder fades – all staples of every NFL offense. Lawrence complements his fastball with beautiful touch, showing the ability to drop the ball in the bucket down the seam and sideline. 

Limber athlete who accelerates quickly and possesses excellent top-end speed for the position, especially given his height. 

Impressive accuracy on the move, often luring rushers towards him before firing accurate passes around or over them. Shows impressive poise and spatial awareness of the bodies around him, ducking and sliding and buying time while generally keeping his eyes downfield… 

Showed toughness in brushing off a big hit ruled targeting in the second quarter of the Fiesta Bowl to spark a comeback after falling behind 16-0 to Ohio State, throwing the game-winning touchdown with 1:49 remaining… Mature beyond his years. Two-time ACC Honor Roll member and won the 2019 Tim Bourret Award, given to the player who best represents himself, his teammates and Clemson University in the media.

Weaknesses: Takes more risks with the ball than his 12 career interceptions would suggest, staring down his target, at times, and trusting his receivers and his own arm to fit passes through tight windows. 

Consistently throws strikes but doesn’t show the elite accuracy to paint the corners, too often forcing receivers to alter their gaits to collect slightly off-target passes, sapping some run-after-catch possibilities for teammates. Much quicker to leave the pocket as a scrambler in 2019, which could lead to developing some bad habits and taking unnecessary punishment if this strategy continues.

NFL Player Comparison: John Elway, Hall of Fame, Denver Broncos – The expression “generational talent” gets thrown around a lot in the media but scouts rarely use it, if ever. They may have to with Lawrence, however, as there simply aren’t many quarterbacks in history with his combination of size, athleticism and arm. It is impossible to forecast if Lawrence will ever come close to matching Elway’s success in the NFL but he projects similarly as a No. 1 overall candidate and future franchise cornerstone.

Current NFL Draft Projection: Top 3

The Top 10 NFL Prospects at Clemson:

1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, 6-6, 220, 4.60, JR

2. Xavier Thomas, DE, 6-2, 265, 4.65, JR

3. Jackson Carman, OL, 6-5, 345, 5.20, JR

4. Travis Etienne, RB, 5-10, 210, 4.45, SR

5. Justyn Ross, WR, 6-3, 205, 4.50, JR – ruled out for 2020 due to spinal surgery

6. Jordan Williams, DT, 6-3, 310, 5.10, rJR

7. Nyles Pinckney, DT, 6-1, 295, 5.0, rSR

8. Amari Rodgers, WR, 5-10, 210, 4.55, SR

9. Derion Kendrick, CB, 6-0, 190, 4.45, JR

10. Justin Foster, DE, 6-2, 265, 4.75, SR

*All 40-yard dash times are estimates