2014 NFL Draft Prospect Preview: Clemson vs. Florida State

Tajh Boyd’s performance versus Florida State on Saturday will be an important game in determing his stock for the 2014 NFL draft. (Photo: Melina Vastola — USA Today Sports)

BBD Staff Writer: Joseph Curtis
BBD Staff Writer: Joe Marino

After a tough matchup and nearly getting upset by Boston College, but ultimately winning 24-14, No. 3 Clemson will face No. 5 Florida State, who won their most recent game against Maryland on Oct. 5 by a 63-0 score, on a Saturday in a game likely to decide the winner of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Atlantic Division.

With both teams ranked in the top five of both major polls, a possible national title shot is at stake as well.

Both teams boast talented rosters filled with future NFL players, so scouts have their sights set on this game.

Clemson’s top five draft-eligible prospects are analyzed on page 1, while seven potential 2014 NFL draft selections from Florida State can be found on page 2.

Note: All listed heights and weights have been taken from Clemson’s official athletics website and Florida State’s official athletics website unless otherwise noted.

Clemson (by Joseph Curtis)

Stephone Anthony, LB, Jr. (6’2”, 245lbs)

A top linebacker prospect coming out of high school, Anthony is finally putting it all together in his junior season.

Anthony began last season as the starting middle linebacker, starting the first six games, before losing the job and sharing it throughout the rest of the season. He is back in the starting job this year, and is second on Clemson with 42 tackles and eight tackles for loss through six games.

A good athlete in the middle of the Clemson defense, he displays sideline-to-sideline speed and the strength to take on bigger blockers in the run game. He also displays great instincts and a good first step.

Defending the pass, he drops into coverage quickly. He has decently fluid hips which he uses to change direction, and enough speed to keep up with tight ends and pick up backs coming out of the backfield. He has also shown himself to be a good inside pass-rusher, displaying the ability to work around blocks while recording 3.5 sacks this season.

Against the run, he looks to make plays in the backfield, is stout at the point-of-attack and fills gaps. He has the size and strength to take on offensive linemen when attacking the line. He does a good job of avoiding blockers in pursuit of the ball carrier, but he is capable of using his hands and athleticism to shed blocks.

Anthony is a great tackler with good form. He shows the ability to deliver hard hits and looks to knock the ball loose at times, including two forced fumbles this season.

Anthony has the ability to play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 system at numerous linebacker spots. He’s having a good season and could be the top inside linebacker in this draft class if he declares.

Vic Beasley, DE, Jr. (6’2”, 235lbs)

Leading the nation with nine sacks, Beasley’s breakout season is garnering the attention of the draft community.

Beasley has good first-step quickness and burst off the line. He frequently uses his speed off the edge displaying good flexibility to dip around taller offensive tackles.

He occasionally shows off a good bull rush and despite his size, he has power in the lower half of his body, which he combines with his built-up speed to move linemen around. He also flashes a good inside swim move.

That said, Beasley needs to vary his pass-rushing repertoire a bit more. He needs to adjust to blockers and learn to combine moves to maximize his rushing potential.

Against the run, Beasley is very much hit or miss. He makes plays in the backfield when he can get an inside step and swim through the line, but that is not a common occurrence.

When blockers get to him quickly, they can exploit his lack of size and easily overwhelm him. He does not stop fighting against blockers but has a really hard time getting off blocks. Once a play gets to the second level, he doesn’t always hustle as much as one would like in pursuit.

He will be looked at as a 3-4 outside linebacker candidate at the next level, but is a liability against the run and hasn’t had much experience in coverage. He needs to add bulk to his frame no matter where he plays.

Beasley is raw at this point, but his pass-rush abilities and untapped potential will make him a valuable commodity on draft day.

Tajh Boyd, QB, Sr. (6’1”, 225lbs)

Boyd is in the midst of another impressive season after setting the ACC single-season mark with 36 passing touchdowns in 2012. With impressive performances as a junior and senior, he has garnered attention as a possible first-round draft selection.

Tajh Boyd’s passing chart for the first six games of his 2013 season.

Boyd has good mechanics for the most part. He has good footwork in the pocket, although he does not consistently set his feet when throwing. As a result, he sometimes throws off his back foot and throws some jumping “fadeaway” passes. He has a low release point and looks to throw from more of a three-quarter release, though he does change his arm angle at times, sometimes unnecessarily.

Boyd has very good velocity on his throws and possesses enough arm strength to make any NFL throw. He does not seem to have fully harnessed his strength, however, as he has some issues overthrowing and underthrowing passes.

He gets the ball to his receivers, but he really struggles with ball placement especially with downfield throws. He also struggles with anticipation and regularly throws passes behind receivers on crossing routes.

In the pocket, he will face pressure coming right at him and make the throw but doesn’t have the best feel for outside pressure and will bail early. That said, he has elite elusiveness in the pocket to extend plays. Frankly, how he evades some rushers is just dumbfounding.

He improvises plays well when they break down, but he needs to more consistently keep his eyes downfield when scrambling. He loves to use the pump fake near the line of scrimmage to create more running room.

He is a tough runner who runs behind his pads and usually gets extra yards after contact. He’s not a threat to break big runs, but he can get a few yards in a pinch and can run the read option.

He shows a strong understanding of the game and is the leader of his team. He will likely be very impressive in interviews during the draft process.

Boyd may be taken during the first round this May, but he needs time to develop. He has the tools to succeed, but if forced to play too early, his issues at Clemson could result in turnovers in the NFL.

Brandon Thomas, OL, Sr. (6’3”, 315lbs)

A second-year starter at left tackle and a third-year starter on the Clemson offensive line, Thomas was a first-team all-ACC selection last season. He has played in 42 games and started 29 during his time at Clemson.

He looks awkward when he is one-on-one in space on the edge in pass protection. He has average lateral movement skills, but moves in more choppy shuffles or pivots rather than smooth slides. Some of his issues sliding can be attributed to him not bending much at the knees, but he lacks the length to truly deal with edge rushers and will overcompensate by lunging.

He shows the ability to hold up to bull-rushes due to his low center of gravity and wide base, but if he gets baited with a speed-to-power move, he has a hard time getting his feet set and can get put on skates.

Thomas struggles to move bigger linemen in the running game. He consistently gets in good position and holds his ground to create a quality seal to the running lane.

Thomas is an athletic lineman who moves well and can get to the second level. He takes good angles and does a good job of picking up defenders at the next level. But due to his lack of length and pass blocking weaknesses, he most likely will slide inside to guard in the NFL.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Jr. (6’1”, 205lbs)

Watkins had a big game against Florida State as a freshman in 2011, catching seven passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-30 victory. Last season, however, he failed to make much of an impact, hauling in just six catches for 24 yards in a losing effort.

Both of those performances epitomize each of Watkins’ first two seasons. He became just the third true freshman to be selected as a first-team All-American after an impressive debut campaign in 2011, but his sophomore season was, like his 2012 performance against Florida State, disappointing.

With 36 catches for 582 yards and four touchdowns, Watkins looks closer to his 2011 form this season.

His athleticism is the first thing to catch one’s eye. A high school state champion in the 200-meter sprint, most of the separation he gets is due to his speed, and he even displays a second gear to create more room and go get deep balls.

Watkins is explosive in and out of his cuts, but his overall route running leaves something to be desired. He flashes the ability to create separation with his routes, but too often relies on pure speed to create room for him.

He is a natural catcher with a good catch radius, though he has suffered from a few drops when he turns to run before he secures the catch.

Watkins isn’t much of a factor in jump-ball situations and rarely fights for the ball, which limits his red zone contributions. He doesn’t show much leaping ability and doesn’t play as physical as he should.

After the catch, Watkins can be a difference-maker. He accelerates quickly and is a threat to take it all the way anytime the ball is in his hands. He is an agile, shifty runner who makes defenders miss in space, while he can also put his shoulder down and run through traffic.

Watkins was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance and possession of marijuana prior to his sophomore season. He served a two-game suspension as a result.

Watkins is a dynamic, versatile athlete who plays out wide, in the slot and even takes handoffs out of the backfield. He is a first-round prospect, and if he puts on a strong showing against a tough Florida State defense and continues that through the rest of the season, he may just end up being a top-10 pick.

See page 2 for Florida State prospects.

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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, ACC, Brandon Thomas, Bryan Stork, Cameron Erving, Christian Jones, Clemson, Florida State, Game Previews, James Wilder, Lamarcus Joyner, Prospects to Watch, Sammy Watkins, Stephone Anthony, Tajh Boyd, Telvin Smith, Timmy Jernigan, Vic Beasley

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