Clemson offense set to step forward, led by Deshaun Watson
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Clemson's defense made a strong impression on the NFL with seven players selected in last week's draft. Next season, it looks like Tigers offensive stars led by quarterback Deshaun Watson will take center stage when pro teams come calling.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. expects Watson will be among the top NFL prospects next year should he give up his senior season.
And Watson won't be alone.
Other Tiger prospects include tight end Jordan Leggett, running back Wayne Gallman and receivers Mike Williams and Artavis Scott. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said the programs that stay on top in college football are those that recruit, evaluate and develop consistently strong players. ''We have done as good a job of that as anybody,'' he said.
Especially on defense, where the Tigers were No. 1 in the country in 2014 and a top-10 program this past fall on the way to the Atlantic Coast Conference title and College Football Playoff.
There were seven members of the unit taken by NFL teams last week, led by defensive end Shaq Lawson, who led the country in tackles for loss (25.5) last season. He was picked No. 19 overall by the Buffalo Bills.
Lawson's pass rushing partner Kevin Dodd was second to Lawson nationally with 23.5 tackles for loss and picked by Tennessee in the second round, No. 33 overall. Defensive backs Mackensie Alexander and T.J. Green were also second-round selections, Alexander by Minnesota and Green by the Colts.
The nine players selected overall were second only to Ohio State's 12.
Now, it's the offense's turn to shine while Clemson's defense reloads.
The centerpiece will be Watson, the 6-foot-3 sophomore who finished third in Heisman Trophy balloting last year. Watson has said his focus is on bringing Clemson back to the championship game where it lost 45-40 to Alabama last January and graduating next December. Accomplish that and he said he'll strongly consider following his NFL dream.
''I just focus on what I can do now,'' Watson said. ''All that stuff is going to take care of itself. All of it changes.''
Watson won't get all the NFL attention for Clemson, which has produced several offensive first-rounders under Swinney including running back C.J. Spiller (2010) and receivers DeAndre Hopkins (2013) and Sammy Watkins (2014).
Leggett is a 6-4, 255 pound junior who thought about going pro this spring after catching 40 passes for 525 yards and eight touchdowns. One more go round with Watson should only improve Leggett's early round prospects.
Tailback Gallman, who set Clemson's single-season rushing mark last year with 1,527 yards, is considered a second-round prospect in a draft that could include high-profile runners like LSU's Leonard Fournette, Florida State's Dalvin Cook, Stanford's Christian McCaffrey and Georgia's Nick Chubb.
Gallman, a third-year sophomore, also toyed with going pro after Clemson's national title game loss before deciding to come back.
Williams was considered a first-round receiver this past season until a neck injury in the season opener sidelined him all year. Williams and his coaches say he's back to full strength and ready to show off his skills again this fall. He caught 57 passes for 1,030 yards in 2014 and figures to benefit from Watson's accurate throws.
Scott has caught 169 passes for 1,864 yards and 14 touchdowns his first two seasons with the Tigers and is thought to be a mid-round pick should he leave early.
Next fall's offensive group should give Clemson the opportunity to overcome defensive mistakes made by that unit's new starters.
''We're not worried about our defense,'' Tigers center Jay Guillermo said. ''We know our job is to score points and that's what we're going to do.''