2012 NFL Draft Preview: Clemson

Clemson’s Andre Branch Looks To Be An Early First-Rounder and Should Contribute Immediately

Leading up to April’s NFL Draft, we’ll be taking a look at each ACC‘s school’s prospects and where they’re slated to be chosen. While 43 ACC players were invited to the NFL Draft Combine, those not in attendance also have ample opportunity to hear their name called between April 26 and 28.

Our next featured team, Clemson, could have as many as nine players selected on draft weekend, so let’s get right to it:

Andre Branch, DE, Senior

The agile, yet physical Branch is seen as a top-flight prospect, and someone who could end up as a top-15 selection. During his career at Clemson, he showed a penchant for pursuing the quarterback, and though mildly undersized for a defensive end, still managed to get his fair share of sacks. Most intriguing, beyond his combination of decent speed (4.7 40) and strength, could be his ability to make tackles in various parts of the field. Scouts have him pegged as a possible switch to outside linebacker, similar to current Ravens star Terrell Suggs’ move upon entering the league. While needing some polish, Branch is NFL-ready and should anchor the line of whichever team drafts him.

Brandon Thompson, DT, Senior

Distinctly benefiting from his cohort above’s presence on the Tigers’ line, Thompson was given ample opportunity to make plays. Even in the shadow of his more-hyped teammate though, Thompson made waves and has continued to impress scouts as an enormous talent, despite a higher 40 time (5.24). On the other hand, Thompson can also push out 35 bench reps at 225 lbs. — the type of strength you can’t really teach. He may struggle against quicker offensive lines, but with a quick first step, could have a real advantage against the average pro line. Some lucky team could take a flier in the late-first, otherwise he’ll be snatched up early in the second.

Dwayne Allen, TE, Junior

As evidenced by his John Mackey Award in 2011, Allen was the country’s best tight end last year. And not only is he a great receiver, but he’s also an excellent blocker whose quick feet allow him to beat defenses to the point of contact regardless of the situation. Ideally, Allen would be well-suited for a west-coast offense where both aspects of his skill set could be of service. However, any team that drafts him will be inheriting a key fixture of their offense. Though he’s probably a mid second-round pick on most boards, a sudden run on receivers could allow him to move up into late-first/early second-round territory.

Coty Sensabaugh, CB, Senior

A versatile, multi-faceted corner, Sensabaugh played to whatever the situation called for while at Clemson, excelling as both a tackler and pass-defender. In a league increasingly reliant on the pass, he may need to convince teams that he’s got the skills to keep up with NFL receivers — something his size (5’11”, 189 pounds) and average speed (4.42 40) put in doubt. Teams may not evaluate players as part of a total defense, but he was also part of a disastrous unit last season; another reason he could potentially drop. Like many in the draft, one run on defensive backs could be the difference between Sensabaugh going in the late-fifth and the late-sixth rounds.

Landon Walker, OT, Senior

With average speed and tremendous size for his position, Walker made his presence felt while starting for the Tigers. Whether he can deliver that level of physicality at the pro level is a different story, though. One concern for scouts is the fact that he may even be too tall for his position, standing at 6’5″ and at a disadvantage to get positioning against smaller defensive linemen. Still, with his size, it’s hard to ignore what he could do with even limited opportunity. He may go undrafted, but should quickly sign soon after.

Antoine McClain, OG, Senior

Like Walker, McClain has a ton of size, and even more weight on him. Unfortunately, that weight also translates to slower reaction times, lack of leaping ability and the simple lack of speed that’s needed to beat increasingly nimble defensive linemen on the snap. McClain struggled against sets that emphasized a quick pass-rush, though he excelled against run blitzes. If scouts can look past the flaws, he’s a seventh-round project or an undrafted gamble. Could very well be worth it, though.

Chad Diehl, FB, Senor

Serving primarily as a blocking back, Diehl was effective at Clemson. Lucky for him, the fullback role continues to evolve just for that purpose, which increases his demand (limited) going in. Working against him would be the general lack of urgency to draft his position and his lack of real speed. Any number of things could/couldn’t happen for him on draft day, but anything from the late-sixth to undrafted are possible. It’s likely he’d pan out as a fullback, special-set linebacker and/or special-teamer.

Mason Cloy, C, Senior

Most of Cloy’s resume is average at best, though he still rates among the best 10-15 centers in this draft class. One of the biggest deterrents for drafting him is a 2011 leg injury that limited him, as well as his expected commitment to join the military post-graduation. I commend his desire to take that route from a personal standpoint, but that said, it may be another mental road block to teams considering drafting him late in the seventh round.

Rennie Moore, DE, Senior

Moore was an active part of the Tigers’ defensive line last season, however his overall attributes seem to pale in comparison to his competition at both defensive end and defensive tackle. For all his size (6’3″, 268 pounds), he lacks the strength to make an NFL impact and his speed doesn’t do him any favors either. Even if switched to a linebacker position, his lack of speed (5.12 40) leaves him at a distinct disadvantage. He won’t be drafted, but will be invited to someone’s training camp, I’m sure.

Previously: Boston College

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