CLEMSON — As former Clemson defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd sweat out the final moments of an uncertain future — with cameras broadcasting their every move on national television, no less — here’s some important advice from some old teammates who have been through the process.
“When” you are selected in the NFL draft is not nearly as important as “where” you will be playing.
“I was really anxious about where I was going to play, because I don’t want to go to no sorry team,” said former Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, taken fourth overall by the Buffalo Bills two years ago. “That’s what I’m really thinking about. I want to be on a good team, but a team that is drafting in the top 5, top 10, they have a bad record.
“‘When’ doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day, yeah, there’s money differences, but you still have to go play for another contract.”
Watkins would know, and so would Vic Beasley, the eighth pick of last year’s draft courtesy of his hometown Atlanta Falcons.
On Thursday, Lawson, Dodd and 23 other pro prospects will be in the famous “green room” backstage at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago for the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
“I had met with pretty much every team before the Falcons picked, so it was a toss-up,” Beasley said. “I didn’t know where I was going to land. I was just waiting, and when I got my name called, it was an amazing feeling.”
Each team gets five minutes to make their pick, with additional time granted for trades, meaning more than half the crop of prospects on hand will almost certainly wring their hands for over an hour Thursday night. Chances are, one or more will awkwardly fall out of the first round, going to bed without a team and waiting to get drafted in the second round Friday.
Lawson and Dodd, who nationally ranked 1-2 in tackles for a loss (a combined 49 TFLs) during Clemson’s run to the 2016 College Football Playoff championship game, are expected to hear their names called somewhere in the middle of the first round Thursday.
Many prognostications have Lawson getting picked No. 10 (New York Giants) or No. 11 (Chicago Bears), which would send the Daniel High product to one of America’s two largest markets. If Lawson gets snagged by the Bears, he’ll receive a warm welcome in the Auditorium Theatre, which is hosting the draft for a second consecutive year.
Meanwhile, Dodd has been a rumored interest of multiple teams picking between No. 12 and No. 19, including the Saints at 12, Dolphins at 13, Lions at 16 and Watkins’ Bills at 19. Watkins made a splash by taking a selfie with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell moments after Goodell announced Watkins as the Bills’ choice.
Green Room invitees get their own private table backstage, plus five complimentary tickets in the audience. Besides their families, Dodd and Lawson are expected to be supported in the crowd by Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, defensive coordinator Brent Venables and defensive ends coach Marion Hobby among others.
“It’s a great moment to be a part of, because as coaches, you know where it started,” Swinney said. “It just never gets old seeing these guys reach their potential, whether it’s off the field or (if) they have the ability to go play at the highest level. These are two great young men, and I’m really looking forward to being a part of a special moment.”
Watkins and Beasley lent some advice to their fellow former Tigers.
“I loved it. Everything’s running through your mind — you’re sweating, you’re really anxious to see where you’re going to spend hopefully the rest of your career,” Watkins said. “You don’t know what’s going on, really. But it’s a life-changing moment. You got the people you love, got your parents, got your agent. It’s a great experience. You’ve got to really soak it in and have fun. Because once you get to actually playing, that’s when you realize this is real. This is business, this is what the game’s about, and you’ve got to love it.”
This year’s top pick is projected to sign a four-year contract worth $27 million, with the 10th pick in line to earn $15 million, per OverTheCap.com. Players picked in the 20s are expected to sign four-year deals worth between $8 million and $10 million.
“You might not go top 5, top 10, top 15. Don’t get caught up in the money thing, because money doesn’t make you happy,” Watkins said. “Your spirit, your joy, your love for the game, that’s what makes you happy.”
Said Beasley, “I told them to just look forward to the experience. I know they’re going to have their families up there and they’re both pretty close themselves, so they’ll enjoy each other’s company. I’m anxious to see where both of them land.”