NASHVILLE, Tenn. — They couldn’t leave without setting one more first.
A record three Clemson Tigers were picked in the first round of the NFL Draft Thursday, as most of the national champions’ vaunted “Power Rangers” defensive line was taken within the first 17 picks. Clelin Ferrell went first, going No. 4 to the Oakland Raiders, while Christian Wilkins went to the Miami Dolphins with the 13th pick and Dexter Lawrence went 17th to the New York Giants.
After turning down the NFL for another year in college, the three anchored a defensive line that helped become the first team to win four straight ACC championship games and the first modern-era team in college football to boast a 15-0 season. They weren’t part of Clemson’s first national champion, but being linchpins of the second and third championships over the past three years were wonderful runner-up prizes.
Ferrell, the winner of the Ted Hendricks Award given to the nation’s most outstanding defensive end, was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year after collecting 11.5 sacks among his 19.5 tackles for loss. He also forced three fumbles.
Many were surprised at the pick, as Ferrell was projected at the bottom of the first round or the start of the second. The Raiders were in need of a pass-rusher after trading Khalil Mack last year, but with two other first-round picks, Ferrell probably would have been available when the Raiders’ next turn arrived.
Ferrell tied Banks McFadden, Gaines Adams and Sammy Watkins as the highest-drafted players in Clemson history. He stands to sign a contract worth $31 million.
Wilkins, the “White Ranger” of the group that had the character’s logo stitched inside his new jacket for the draft, played in 59 games during four years and was a unanimous All-American. A force inside and at end, Wilkins completed his Clemson career as one of the most popular players in school history.
“The Dolphins going to get everything out of me,” he said in a tearful TV interview moments after being drafted. “It’s just great. I’m just ready to tear this league up, be part of something bigger than myself … and make the Dolphins a better organization.”
Wilkins’ contract is estimated to be $15 million.
Lawrence was a three-time All-ACC selection and a first-team All-American. He had 44 tackles, 7.5 for loss, last year but was suspended for Clemson’s two College Football Playoff games after testing positive for ostarine.
The investigation of how the drug got into Lawrence’s system remains unconcluded but it didn’t cost him any draft stock. He answered every question about it during his draft preparation.
“There’s no reason for me to do a selfish thing like that,” Lawrence said at the NFL Combine. “Just unfortunate that it happened and all I could do was be positive.”
Lawrence should sign a deal worth $13 million.
Clemson joined N.C. State in 2006 as the only teams to have three defensive linemen drafted in the first round.
The NFL Draft continues at 7 p.m. Friday with Rounds 2-3. South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel is expected to go early while Clemson continues its pursuit of its own school record of 10 players taken in one draft.