It has been a while since our last installment of a specific school’s top prospects, and it’s time to bring it back. For this segment, we will be taking a look at the Clemson Tigers, who have certainly sent some solid players to the NFL throughout the years, and with better recruiting, that figures to only improve over the next couple of years, and hopefully for them, far into the future.
For now, here are their top prospects available for the 2012 NFL Draft.
23 Andre Ellington, RB, 5’10” 190 (RS Junior)
Ellington is a shifty back with excellent vision and speed, and he led the Tigers with 10 rushing touchdowns last year on only 118 carries. Simply put, Ellington is one of the best backs in the ACC, and he is a threat to score the ball any time he touches it. In addition to his 718 rushing yards last year, he caught 12 passes for 109 yards and another score. Very hard to track down in space, and he always keeps his legs moving. Definitely not a power back, but slippery between the tackles and not easy to tackle. That is evidenced by his 5.8 yard per carry average last year after being named to the ACC Freshman team in 2009. Not only is Ellington blossoming as a runner and receiver, he also saw limited duty as a kick returner last year, but he made the most of it, averaging 34 yards per return and taking one of his seven returns to the house for six. This guy is just a great football player. He has vision, instincts, and loads of speed, not unlike the guys who preceded him at Clemson in C.J. Spiller and Jamie Harper. This guy undoubtedly has an NFL future, and he should be a pretty high pick if he can keep pace from his numbers as a sophomore.
98 Brandon Thompson, NT, 6’2″ 310 (Senior)
Big nose tackle prospect who played on an extremely talented defensive line last year, but with Jarvis Jenkins and Da’Quan Bowers moved on to the NFL, he will assume a much larger role on a pretty young Clemson defense. As a junior, he tallied a whopping 56 tackles to go along with 6.5 for a loss and one sack. He also hurried the quarterback 15 times, so he made the most of the talented defensive line. Last year, he was quite an opportunist, and when he leaves Clemson, he will have a lot of games started under his belt provided he can stay healthy. The question becomes whether or not Thompson can break through to the next level this year. Can he become a dominant force on a much less talented, or at least experienced defensive line and stand out on his own? Some have him rated as the top senior defensive tackle available in this year’s draft, and that could wind up being so. The key for Thompson is that he is opportunistic while opening plays for others, meaning he will take on double teams and clean up what’s left. He could fit in the NFL in either a 3-4 or 4-3 system, though he is doing quite well in the latter.
40 Andre Branch, DE, 6’5″ 265 (Senior)
Much like his teammate Brandon Thompson, Branch will have a very increased role on the Clemson defense this year with the departures of Jarvis Jenkins and Da’Quan Bowers. Branch had an OK year last year as a junior when he had 55 tackles, five sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss, an astounding seven passes broken up, and 16 hurries on the quarterback. He has all the talent needed to make an impact in the NFL, but will he have the elite production to back it up? Branch’s 6’5″ 265 pound frame is absolutely ideal for the position going forward in a 4-3 scheme. He’s pretty quick for his size, and he definitely knows how to close in on a play. Obviously there are only so many sacks to go around, and Bowers used up a lot of them, but I expect Branch’s number to increase in 2011 as he emerges into a leadership role on the Clemson defense.
83 Dwayne Allen, TE, 6’4″ 255 (Junior)
Allen is an emerging tight end prospect who had a pretty solid sophomore season following a freshman campaign where he caught three touchdown passes. Last year, he finished third on the team with 33 receptions and had 373 yards and a touchdown through the air. He’s a pretty good receiver but more of an outlet than a primary target in the passing game, and he really excels in blocking. He has the potential to be a “five tool” type of player at the tight end position, and you’ve seen flashes if you watch any Clemson games. He will still drop passes here or there, but the size and potential are there for him to be a good NFL player.
31 Rashard Hall, FS, 6’2″ 200 (RS Junior)
Hall started as a redshirt freshman two years ago, and to say he did not disappoint would be a vast understatement. Hall tallied 55 tackles and six interceptions as a freshman, and followed it up with a very solid sophomore campaign. Last year, he was fifth on the team with 65 tackles and one for a loss, three passes broken up, and two more interceptions, one that went for a touchdown. Hall has great size and pretty good speed, and he definitely knows what to do with the ball in his hands. Good special teams player and a hard hitter who can contribute in that regard right away as an NFL player should he decide to leave with one year of eligibility remaining.