CLEMSON - As juniors wrapping up All-American campaigns, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins and defensive end Vic Beasley stood 10 feet apart and answered the expected questions about their futures Saturday.
2014 Discover Orange Bowl
Who: No. 12 Clemson vs. No. 7 Ohio State
Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.
When: Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m.
Records: Clemson (10-2, 7-1 ACC); Ohio State (12-1, 8-0 Big Ten)
Last year's result: Florida State 31, Northern Illinois 10
Following the Tigers' second bowl practice (and first in full pads) Saturday in preparation for the Orange Bowl against Ohio State, Watkins and Beasley say they don't know yet whether this will be their last game in a Clemson uniform.
Listening to both speak, it sounds like both are optimistic about their professional prospects.
Watkins is widely considered to be destined for the top half of the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. While scattered players around the country are announcing their intent to declare for the draft, Watkins will put off his announcement until after the Tigers' bowl game.
"I haven't made the decision. I haven't even talked to the coaches yet," Watkins said. "We're just putting it behind us until after the bowl game. I don't want to be a distraction on the team and coaches in the media."
Watkins added he has not yet submitted his paperwork that juniors may do for the NFL Draft Advisory Board, but will do so soon. The deadline is Monday.
Beasley has done that, and while he won't get a draft estimation until after the new year, he's anxious to find out whether some mock drafts are correct in pegging him a first-rounder.
"I'm leaning towards coming out," Beasley said. "But I haven't made a decision yet whether I'll come back or leave. It's definitely a consideration."
Beasley's performance in the Orange Bowl could affect his status. He figures as an outside linebacker at the next level, undersized as a defensive end.
"Some coaches tell me they think I should probably come out, some coaches think I should come back for another year to put on more weight and help out the team," Beasley said. "It's definitely a tough decision right now. I'm just holding off on it right now."
Watkins has caught 85 passes for 1,237 yards, named one of three Biletkinoff finalists for the nation's top wide receiver. Watkins spent a couple days in Orlando earlier this week for that awards show, though Oregon State's Brandin Cooks claimed the honor over Watkins and Texas A&M's Mike Evans.
Beasley has 19 tackles for loss and 12 sacks, and was named first-team All-American by the Walter Camp Foundation and USA Today Sports. Watkins was a second-teamer on both those squads.
Both Watkins and Beasley were first-team all-ACC.
Head coach Dabo Swinney has been doggedly supportive of Watkins' right to leave for the NFL, but less sure about Beasley, Bryant, Anthony and the rest of the group.
"Our role is to make sure they've got accurate information - not what some guy on TV says," Swinney said. "Here's really what the information is, submit your paperwork, see what it says, and you make a decision."
Former tailback C.J. Spiller got a first-round projection for the 2009 draft, and stayed in school, ultimately going ninth the next year. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins received a second-round grade last spring, decided to go out, and was selected 27th overall.
However, since NFL rookie cap scales were greatly reduced a few years ago, it's riskier to head on to professional football for players who aren't a sure thing.
"Really, it's not a good long-term decision. It's just not," Swinney said. "Especially where it is financially now, all these rookie contracts are 4-5 years. Only thing you're guaranteed is what you get on the front end. To get to a fourth or fifth year and get a second contract, the odds are really against you in that regard.
"I wouldn't go at a discount. I think we've got a few guys that if they came out now, they're not going to get what I think they're worth."
Watkins had some poignant advice for his fellow juniors - such as receiver Martavis Bryant and linebacker Stephone Anthony - who are also pondering their draft projection.
"You've just got to talk to your parents and make the right decisions," Watkins said. "Don't do it on things you can't control, such as, oh, I got a baby, or my family needs money. They've been living like that the past 2-3 years, so you definitely can sacrifice one more year, and come back and help your team."
Gifford Timothy done
Right tackle Gifford Timothy, a returning starter going into his junior year who ended up starting six games this season but played just four snaps his last three games, is retiring from football due to chronic knee issues.
"His knee is just too painful," Swinney said. "It has been a frustrating year for him because he just can't perform at the level he is accustomed to."
Sophomore Isaiah Battle started the Tigers' last two games at right tackle, and is expected to remain there for the bowl game.
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