Advantage, Tigers: Comparing Clemson to South Carolina underclassmen in the NFL Draft

Clemson players Martavis Bryant, left, Charone Peake, and Zac Brooks congratulate Sammy Watkins (2) for a first quarter touchdown during an NCAA college football game against Georgia Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C.

CLEMSON - About eight months from now, media momentum for the 2015 NFL Draft will kick into high gear, and again the debate will rage on about underclassmen - or graduates with a year of NCAA eligibility remaining - fleeing for the NFL before they're ready.

It was estimated by football lifers such as Alabama head coach Nick Saban and former Colts GM Bill Polian that, of the 102 early entrants in the 2014 draft pool, 30 percent would not be selected with one of the 256 picks.

They were wrong. It ended up being 38 percent, a staggering reality to more than a third of underclassmen who thought it was time to turn professional yet will scrap and claw just for an outside shot at earning a roster spot.

Focusing the microscope on this state, a look at the past five years of early entrants shows Clemson departures have had mixed results, but some of South Carolina's players should have more seriously considered their future.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has been one of the more poignant speakers in college football pooh-poohing the exodus of younger players to the NFL.

"I just have never been a guy that, if you're not a first-rounder, I just don't think it's to your benefit to come out and give up school and an opportunity to improve your stock," Swinney said Nov. 18, oft-repeating that sentiment through the offseason. "I've always felt that way and still do."

Since the 2010 draft, seven players have left Clemson early. Two wide receivers ended up drafted in the first round (Sammy Watkins fourth overall this year, DeAndre Hopkins 27th last year), two Tigers were second-rounders (DE Da'Quan Bowers, TE Dwayne Allen) and the other three went in the fourth round: RB Jamie Harper, CB Bashaud Breeland and WR Martavis Bryant.

It's been a different story in the Midcountry. Ten Gamecocks have made the choice to jump in the past five years, and here's a rundown:

Three went in the top 50 picks, including two top-10 selections in DE Jadeveon Clowney and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, plus 2013 Pro Bowl WR Alshon Jeffery.

Four were selected outside the top 100 - receiver Bruce Ellington was No. 106 Saturday.

Three went undrafted. Kelcy Quarles and Victor Hampton were in Indianapolis for the NFL Combine in February, yet Quarles signed a free-agent deal with the Giants and Hampton's still looking for a team.

So, South Carolina players have been just as likely to being their pro career on the unemployment line as they are to guarantee multiple millions on their first contract.

"Everybody makes decisions for different reasons," Swinney said last November. "If guys decide to do that, you deal with it and move on, wish them well."

Who's on the watch list for 2015? These things always change based on how 2014 plays out, but keep an eye on South Carolina running back Mike Davis and wide receiver Shaq Roland in particular. Clemson's junior class is a bit thinner, but with good years, tailback Zac Brooks or center Ryan Norton could test the waters.

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Early entrants to the last five NFL Drafts:

2011: Da'Quan Bowers, DE - 2nd round, No. 51

2011: Jamie Harper, RB - 4th round, No. 130

2012: Dwayne Allen, TE - 2nd round, No. 64

2013: DeAndre Hopkins, WR - 1st round, No. 27

2014: Sammy Watkins, WR - 1st round, No. 4

2014: Bashaud Breeland, CB - 4th round, No. 102

2014: Martavis Bryant, WR - 4th round, No. 118

2010: Clifton Geathers, DE - 6th round, No. 186

2011: Tori Gurley, WR - undrafted

2012: Stephon Gilmore, CB - 1st round, No. 10

2012: Alshon Jeffery, WR - 2nd round, No. 45

2013: Ace Sanders, WR - 4th round, No. 101

2013: Marcus Lattimore, RB - 4th round, No. 131

2014: Jadeveon Clowney, DE - 1st round, No. 1

2014: Bruce Ellington, WR - 4th round, No. 106

2014: Kelcy Quarles, DT - undrafted

2014: Victor Hampton, CB - undrafted