CLEMSON – Brent Venables didn’t have to search very far for an example of a freak.
In one of his more animated media sitdowns of the season Nov. 19 — there was some dead time during the nine-day preparation period for The Citadel — Clemson’s defensive coordinator was asked who fits the profile of an underclassman who deserves to turn in his collegiate eligibility for a shot at the pros.
“If he’s a for-sure slam-dunk freak … and listen, you better be a freak. Well, freak’s Adrian Peterson. Freak’s probably a guy …”
And then Venables scanned the room.
Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins was standing nearby, idling before he replaced Venables in the seat before the cameras for his own interview.
Laughter filled the room. Watkins has long been considered a lock to leave Clemson after his junior and third year on campus, since he’s unanimously pegged a first-half-of-the-first-round talent in the 2014 NFL Draft.
For his part, Watkins shared a sheepish smile. He’s yet to declare his plans.
Venables went on, first referring to Jadeveon Clowney, “Freak’s over at South Carolina. Those guys are freaks. If you’re not the freak, then it’s a no-brainer. To me. That’s me. But to each his own.”
It was an interesting discussion with Venables, since on his unit he’s got one marquee guy (defensive end Vic Beasley) and a whole bunch of other juniors maybe, just maybe could test those waters.
Senior linebacker Spencer Shuey led the Tigers with 89 tackles this regular season. The five guys next in line on the tackle sheet are all juniors: linebacker Stephone Anthony, safety Robert Smith, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, cornerback Bashaud Breeland and defensive end Corey Crawford. Breeland redshirted in 2010; the others are all third-year Tigers.
Then there’s Martavis Bryant on the offensive side of the ball, who caught 39 balls for 800 yards and five touchdowns in 12 games.
While Watkins is presumed gone and Beasley’s likely (but not sure) to go, there’s no harm in Bryant and the five defenders at least seeing what type of draft positioning they’d be looking at.
Underclassmen who have completed three years in college have until Dec. 16 to submit paperwork to the NFL Draft Advisory council, who will review statistics, measurables and game film before returning an estimated draft grade to each interested player. Then they have until mid-February to declare for the draft or return to school.
What irks Venables is when talking heads on television and websites, in his view, pretend to know more about the process than coaches do.
“Listen, I’ve had the guys that think (they’re a first-round guy.) I know exactly what they’re being told,” Venables said. “I’m like, you’re not really there. They’re like, well, everybody’s talked to these guys and my agent’s talked to these people, and I’m a first or second round at worst. And next thing you know, you don’t get drafted, and they’re like, what do I do?
“I still get calls from guys that gave up something so pure and innocent, and you don’t ever get that back. You better be sure, you better be sure, you better be sure.”
Venables’ stance falls pretty similarly in line with his boss of the past two years. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney’s been on record as opining he doesn’t believe in leaving school early for players not bound for the first round.
“I don’t think any of those guys should come out other than maybe Sammy,” Swinney said. “I think all those guys need another year. I don’t think there’s any question about it. If anybody’s telling them otherwise, they’re not very well-informed.
“But could those guys come out? Absolutely. Play on the next level, maximize their opportunity. The only guy that I could say fits in that category to me is Sammy.”