ACC Championship Football

Clemson's Ray-Ray McCloud (21) will declare for the 2018 NFL Draft. AP Photo/Bob Leverone

CLEMSON — Six days after No. 1 Clemson's football season came to an end, Ray-Ray McCloud has made the decision he will not return to the program for 2018. 

McCloud, a junior wide receiver from Tampa, Fla., will forego his final year of eligibility with the Tigers in what would have been his senior season and instead declare for the 2018 NFL Draft. McCloud announced the news Sunday and Clemson made it public via the university's football Twitter account. He will likely be joined by several others announcing their intentions to leave in the coming days, and he joins offensive lineman Taylor Hearn in already making it public. 

McCloud indicated he spent the last several days reflecting with family, coaches and friends. 

"My decision to come to Clemson was one of the best decisions of my life. The amount of success we've had as a team has been unbelievable and something that I will always cherish and never forget," he wrote. "I'd like to thank my teammates for all the support and hard work they put in to help this program be a championship contender year-in and year-out (and) my coaches for pushing me each and every day to be a better man first and foremost and to develop into the player I am today." 

McCloud's announcement comes as a bit of a surprise and he likely could have benefited from another year in college, although he does have the speed and the hands that bode well for the NFL. McCloud finished his junior season with 49 catches for 503 yards and just one receiving touchdown in Clemson's run-heavy offense behind quarterback Kelly Bryant. He averaged 10.3 yards per catch. The junior receiver was also was a mainstay for Clemson with punt returning duties and even experimented on the defensive side of the ball as a cornerback when coaches decided they wanted to try something different. 

What McCloud will bring to the NFL will be that athleticism, that versatility, that selflessness to try something new for the greater good of the team and that natural, raw ability teams crave. He appeared to be well-liked among his teammates and has always had a very natural, easy-going personality. From an athletic standpoint, he should perform well at the NFL Combine. 

But on several occasions over the course of his career, McCloud was on the receiving end of frequent tough love from Swinney, who pushed him from a maturity standpoint. Recognizing that McCloud had as much natural ability as anyone, Swinney at times thought McCloud lacked consistency. In 2016, for example, McCloud infamously dropped the football at the goal line ahead of what would have been a guaranteed touchdown against Troy on a dazzling punt return. Early in McCloud's career, Swinney said, one mistake would catalyze "three more" and playing at the collegiate level seemed to humble him. 

When he arrived at Clemson, McCloud could no longer rely on just his natural gifts and instead he had to really learn how to perform on a level where almost everyone was as talented as he was. He made major progress with that in 2017.

"He thinks he’s 6-4, 220. He really does. He has that type of mentality. I love that. He is tough as they come," Swinney said this season. "But he’s just had a lot to learn about football and defense and route running and just being a receiver. If that’s really what you want to do, let’s be great at it. Let’s don’t just go out and try to out-athlete people. So just getting the mindset that it takes and the maturity has been fun to see take shape with him." 

According to a draft profile from NBC, McCloud is expected to perhaps go late on Day 3 of the NFL Draft, which features rounds four through seven. In his announcement, McCloud took a moment to thank the Clemson fans who have supported him over the years. He leaves having competed in three College Football Playoffs with one national championship under his belt. 

"Y'all have truly been a blessing in my life and to whom I feel I owe a great deal of gratitude for all of the love and support you've shown me from Day 1," he wrote. "I am truly thankful for all the memories we share and I will always bleed orange and purple. I salute you all." 

Follow Grace Raynor on Twitter @gmraynor

Grace is the Post and Courier's Clemson reporter. She graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in journalism.