CLEMSON -- Dabo Swinney had C.J. Spiller sign the back of a business card some five years ago, agreeing in writing to visit Clemson. The Tigers' coach still keeps the card in his office as a memento of the signature player he brought to Clemson.
During the first round of the NFL draft tonight, Spiller will almost assuredly hear his name called off another card, which an NFL franchise hopes will become another valuable memorabilia item.
As the only consensus first-round running back in the draft, Spiller has a chance to become the sixth Tiger to be selected in the top 10 of the draft, and just the second since 1982.
Clemson has produced five top 10 picks: Banks McFadden (4th overall, Dodgers, 1939); Bobby Gage (6th overall, Steelers, 1949); Jerry Butler (5th overall, Bills, 1979), Jeff Bryant (6th overall, Seahawks, 1982) and the late Gaines Adams, who was selected fourth by the Buccaneers in 2007.
Spiller will be in New York tonight along with family and Swinney, who
Spiller invited. Spiller says he does not have a sense of when he will be taken.
"I don't really follow that," Spiller said. "I'm just going to wait until the draft starts. Just wait for my name to be called, that's what I tell everyone."
National analysts have Spiller going as high as No. 6 to Seattle and as low as 20th to Houston.
Spiller helped himself with a 4.37 second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, and a 20-yard split time that tied Tennessee Titans star running back Chris Johnson for the fastest ever recorded at the combine.
"He can hurt you out of the backfield, with his receiving skills and as a kick returner," one AFC personnel director told ESPN. "And when he gets to the second level, there aren't many people who are going to catch him. People talk about how great Chris Johnson is right now, but this kid is better than Johnson was at this point in his career."
Spiller is coming off an ACC player of the year campaign when he gained 1,715 yards from scrimmage. He was the only player in the Football Bowl Subdivision to score in every game last fall. NFL evaluators like his versatility, scoring a touchdown five different ways. Spiller set an NCAA record with his seventh career kick return for a touchdown this fall.
Spiller was projected as a late first-round to mid- second round prospect last year when he elected to return for his senior season. The decision surprised many, but if Spiller is selected in the top 10, he'll have increased his guaranteed dollars by millions.
Last year's 32nd overall pick, Ziggy Hood, signed a five-year, $11.3 million deal with $6.1 million guaranteed. The 10th overall pick, Michael Crabtree, signed a six-year, $32 million deal with $17.7 million guaranteed.
"I always knew it was the best decision to come back. I never questioned that at all," Spiller said. "Even if I wasn't going through this (improved draft stock), it still would have been the right decision because my main priority was to graduate.
"You just stay humble. You know it can be taken away at any moment."
Other draft hopefuls
OLB/DE Ricky Sapp is expected to be drafted in the top three rounds. Receiver Jacoby Ford, linebacker Kavell Conner and cornerbacks Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor are viewed as third-day prospects. Center/guard Thomas Austin and tight end Michael Palmer are late-round prospects who could go undrafted.
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