Clemson’s draft-eligible players made a decision at the beginning of the season to not worry about the NFL until the end of the season according to safety Jadar Johnson.
Johnson said via Rivals’ Tiger Illustrated that it was “obvious” some Clemson players were playing with their eyes on the NFL in 2015. Nine Clemson players were drafted in the 2016 NFL draft after the Tigers finished the season 14-1.
“It was obvious, man. You could see it in their play. You could see it in practice, guys not going hard. You could tell they were out there playing and trying not to get hurt. When we’d have the little extra meetings on the side, they’re not showing up. They’re saying they’ve got important meetings doing other things. It’s just the small things like that and it was obviously seen in the play. There’s no hiding it, no sugar-coating. Everybody saw what happened. That’s just something we didn’t want to do this year. All the leaders came together and made sure that wasn’t going to happen. We decided that the first meeting of the season. The first senior meeting of the season, we decided we were going to be more focused and we were going to make a statement to be focused.”
That meeting happened in January, after Clemson’s loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff Championship Game. Clemson is back in the College Football Playoff and could play the Tide again with a win over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
“[Linebacker Ben Boulware] was a guy who was real pissed off about last year, how we didn’t finish how we should’ve. He talked to everybody this year and was like: ‘Look, we’re not talking to no agents. Y’all can save that for after the season. Right now we need to worry about Clemson football.’
“I feel like the guys just respect him so much that everybody took heed to that and followed along with it.”
The players Johnson referenced in his comments aren’t directly referenced in the story.
NFL decisions for early-entry players have to be made not too long after the CFP title game, so most players have an idea if they’re heading to the NFL after the playoffs. Both Alabama coach Nick Saban and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney advocated for a pushback of the early-entry deadline during their pre-title game press conferences.
Moving the deadline back wouldn’t necessarily stop players from worrying about their NFL futures during the season, however. Especially given the financial windfall of a potential NFL career. Swinney said in November that quarterback Deshaun Watson, running back Wayne Gallman and wide receivers Artavis Scott and Mike Williams were “planning on moving on” to the NFL.
Former Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson said in December of 2015 he was heading pro and defensive backs Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse and T.J. Green also went to the NFL early after the season.
Players like LSU running back Leonard Fournette and Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey have made decisions to not play in meaningless bowl games to protect their NFL draft stock. While the decisions are justifiable, Fournette and McCaffrey would certainly be playing in their teams’ games if either LSU or Stanford were in the College Football Playoff.
For more Clemson news, visit TigerIllustrated.com.
– – – – – – –