CLEMSON Ė Who are the 20 most valuable Clemson football players? It might depend on how one defines the word valuable. But here's one reporter's list based on a combination of past production, remaining eligibility and projected upside.
Essentially, if you were ranking Clemson players for 2012 and beyond, what would the draft-board look like? With 60 of 85 scholarship players either freshmen or sophomores, inexperience ó and upside ó dominates the list.
1. WR Sammy Watkins, So.
With Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Trent Richardson departing for the NFL, might Watkins be the most valuable offensive commodity in college football? Consider Watkins became just the third true freshman named as a first-team All-American last season, joining Herschel Walker (1980) and Adrian Peterson (2004). Then consider the speedster wonít be eligible for the NFL Draft until 2014 and Clemson has a tremendously valuable asset.
2. QB Tajh Boyd, Jr.
Boyd looked like a Heisman candidate in the first half of last season, sporting a 24-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio during the teamís 8-0 start. Boyd regressed during a second-half slide when the team lost offensive balance, but if he can recapture his early season form he could own every major career passing record at Clemson. Boyd is accurate, driven and competitive and has two more years of eligibility.
3. LB Stephone Anthony, So.
Clemson hasnít produced a first-round NFL linebacker since Anthony Simmons in 1998. Anthony might be the teamís best linebacker prospect since Simmons. He led Clemson linebackers in tackles for loss in 2011 and caused a key fumble in the ACC title game. Anthony has the size, speed and instincts to be an All-ACC defender.
4. DT Carlos Watkins, Fr.
The Southeastern Conference has won six straight national titles in large part because of dominant defensive fronts. Joining the elite requires defensive line talent like the 6-4, 290-pound Watkins. Watkins should play in 2012 with Clemson graduating both defensive tackles.
5. CB/S Travis Blanks, Fr.
Many consider Blanks to be the top athlete in the Clemson 2012 class. He should be a multi-year starter on a team that needs help in the secondary. He has already made an impression with his work ethic in spring practice.
6. RB Andre Ellington, Sr.
Ellington has only one year of eligibility remaining or else he would rank higher. He has to prove durability to NFL scouts but has proven his value on the field at Clemson. Ellington is a more natural runner than C.J. Spiller and critical to Clemsonís 2012 success.
7. C Dalton Freeman, Sr.
Freeman is a key piece for the 2012 team as the only returning proven lineman. The senior could challenge to be the teamís first offensive lineman drafted in the top three rounds since 1979.
8. WR DeAndre Hopkins, Jr.
Hopkins was lost in the shadow of Watkins last year but nearly had a 1,000-yard season (978 yards) of his own. Hopkins has added strength, up to 212 pounds, and explosion to go along with his hands.
9. LB Tony Steward, So.
If Anthony isnít the top linebacker prospect at Clemson since Simmons, then Steward is. Steward might have more raw talent than Anthony, heís a fierce hitter with size and speed, but his freshman season was cut short due to a torn ACL. Steward will be back for summer practice and could team with Anthony to give Clemson its best linebacking corps in 15 years.
10. RB Mike Bellamy, So.
The early reports on Bellamy this spring have been encouraging. If Bellamy is indeed maturing his elite speed and acceleration could make him a star and at worst a home-run threat as a change-of-pace back.
11. QB Chad Kelly, Fr.
Kelly might redshirt in 2012. He also might be a star-level, multi-year starter at quarterback and a perfect dual-threat fit for the Chad Morris offense. He would rank higher if not for questions about his arm strength. ESPNís Trent Dilfer thinks Kelly has the most upside of the entire 2012 quarterback class.
12. DE Corey Crawford, So.
Crawford didnít make a major impact as a true freshman but heís still a 6-6, 270-pound presence and many pass rushers donít break out until their junior seasons.
13. OT Isaiah Battle, Fr.
This is what left tackles look like. The athletic, 6-7, 270-pounder could be a multi-year starter at left tackle and could help Clemson immediately on an offensive front which loses three starters.
14. WR Martavis Bryant, So.
This promising deep threat averaged 24.6 yards on his nine catches in 2011. He has excellent top-end speed and a wiry 6-4 frame.
15. OG/OT Brandon Thomas, Jr.
Coach Dabo Swinney called Thomas the MVP of the offseason and Clemson will need him to solidify left guard or left tackle as one of two linemen with starting experience returning.
16. DE Malliciah Goodman, Sr.
Thereís still some upside here. Goodman has the size and athleticism to brea kout and heís the only upperclassmen on the defensive front.
17. CB Bashaud Breeland, So.
Breelandís a physical, aggressive defensive back who has pleased defensive coordinator Brent Venables early in spring camp.
18. DT Tavaris Barnes, So.
The 6-4, 280-pound Barnes can play end or tackle but might be a better fit inside for Clemson.
ďWhen all is said and done he could be a special player,Ē Swinney said.
19. C Jay Guillermo, Fr.
A rare true center prospect who could be a multi-year starter at Clemson after Freeman graduates.
20. DT DeShawn Williams, So.
This 6-1, 290-pounder played as a true freshman and offers starting potential.
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