Head coach Dabo Swinney deserves a round of applause because as of now, 37 Clemson tigers are contracted in the NFL, 36 of which were coached by Swinney himself. In this year alone, five of those players were drafted and three were picked up as free agents. The players are distributed among 16 teams, and for the first time, six former Clemson players will be playing together on the same NFL team.
With their newest edition, first round draft pick Sammy Watkins, the Buffalo Bills take the lead for having the most players from Clemson at the same time. Alongside wide receiver Watkins is running back C.J. Spiller, safety Jonathon Meeks, guard Antoine McClain, offensive lineman Chris Hairston, and free agent cornerback Darius Robinson.
Spiller has been a mentor to Watkins ever since he left Clemson. He has traveled to his Alma Mater’s games to watch Watkins play from the sidelines and to offer advise to his future teammate. Spiller has done well with his four years in the NFL, playing in 61 games to date and setting the record for the fewest carries needed to reach 1000 yards rushing. With a dynamic offensive duo like this, the Buffalo Bills will be a team to watch this coming season.
The Bills are not the only team that is stocking up on talented Clemson athletes. Seven other teams in the NFL now have three former Tigers on their team, and two other teams have two.
Tajh Boyd was drafted in the 6th round of this year’s NFL draft to join wide receiver Jacoby Ford and center Dalton Freeman on the New York Jets.
The Houston Texans added last year’s first round draft pick, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, to the mix with linebacker Ricky Sapp and strong safety Chris Clemons.
Last season, the Arizona Cardinals gained the talented running back Andre Ellington and wide receiver Jaron Brown. This year, they signed Clemson’s only kicker in the NFL, Chandler Cantanzaro, as a free agent.
Cornerback Bashaud Breeland will get to play next to defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins on the Washington Redskins. They also picked up offensive linebacker Quandon Christian this year as an undrafted free agent.
The San Diego Chargers roster features three past Clemson defensive players. Cornerback Crezdon Butler, linebacker Kavell Conner and defensive back Marcus Gilchrist have all been in the NFL for at least three years now.
This year, the Jacksonville Jaguars picked up offensive guard Tyler Shatley and linebacker Spencer Shuey as undrafted free agents to join defensive end Andre Branch.
The Tennessee Titans have acquired linebacker Jonathon Willard, cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, and quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. Out of the 37 past Clemson players in the NFL, Whitehurst is the most veteran player of the group, spending eight years in the NFL. However, this will be his first year on the Titans.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Indianapolis Colts both have two past Clemson Tigers playing together. The Indianapolis Colts added tight end Dwayne Allen in the third round of the 2012 draft to join center Thomas Austin. Wide receiver Martavis Bryant was drafted by the Steelers in this year’s fourth round, and will join tight end Michael Palmer.
One notable trend is the amount of talented wide receivers that have been drafted in top rounds from recent years. Four out of the five wide receivers from Clemson who are in the NFL today joined within the last two years.
Watkins takes the lead out of the drafted players for being the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft. The Bills traded their 2015 1st round and 4th round draft picks among others to add Watkins to their team. However, DeAndre Hopkins is a close second getting drafted in the first round of the previous year as the 27th overall pick.
Fourth round draft pick, Jacoby Ford, entered the NFL four years ago. Ford was drafted by the Oakland Raiders as the 108th pick but is now playing for the Jets. The Cardinals signed Jaron Brown last year as an undrafted free agent.
Martavis Bryant was selected in this year’s fourth round. He averaged 22.2 yards per catch and runs a 4.42 forty-yard dash, which is actually a fraction faster than Watkins’ 4.43 forty-yard dash. With a height of 6’5’’ and his breakaway speed, he has the potential to contribute greatly to the Steelers’ offense. Bryant possesses the qualities that Ben Roethlisberger has been asking the Steelers’ management to draft for years, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Bryant quickly becomes a favorite target for Roethlisberger.