Clemson’s coaching staff did not want to call out any draft-eligible players, but there is a sense around the Tigers program that some of last year’s upperclassmen might have been looking ahead to the NFL rather than focusing on winning the national title.
While Dabo Swinney, Brent Venables and others did not talk negatively about anyone on the 2015 team, they did say that focus has not and will not be a problem this year.
“Last year was last year,” Venables said. “We have been very focused on trying to be here and now with everything that we’re doing. Coach Swinney has really focused on that since the end of last year through the whole year, trying to help guys so that they don’t have to have any outside distractions, through education and different opportunities to take care of those things.”
Agents and financial advisors can cause distractions as April’s NFL draft gets closer.
At times they may be more concerned with their client staying healthy than playing his best football late.
But Swinney’s message to his team has been to play well down the stretch and worry about everything else after the season.
He pointed to Kevin Dodd last year and Sammy Watkins in 2013 as examples. Dodd had five tackles for loss, including three sacks, in last year’s national championship game. The performance caused his stock to rise and he was drafted No. 33 overall a few months later.
Watkins had 16 catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns in the Orange Bowl against Ohio State in the last game of his college career before being drafted No. 4 overall.
“You better finish. That’s why Kevin Dodd was a second-round pick, because he finished. That’s why Sammy Watkins went as high as he went because he finished,” Swinney said. “It’s a long way ‘til April and May. Right now all of these scouts are looking for all the bad in you. They’re looking for reasons to not pick you. I think you want to give them as many reasons to pick you as possible.”
Swinney said he has witnessed players in the past get distracted, which hurts the team and the player.
“I’ve seen it,” he said. “I’ve seen guys lose their focus and not play as well as they would like to play and it affects them.”
Tigers linebacker Ben Boulware, a captain and senior leader, said Clemson’s players are only thinking about the playoff and trying to win two more football games.
“They’re completely focused on Ohio State. We have guys up for first-round picks, but I know they’re not worried about that at all,” he said. “They’re making sure that they embrace this moment and make the most out of it.”
Who: Clemson (12-1) vs. Ohio State (11-1)
When: 7 p.m., Dec. 31
Where: Glendale, Ariz.
Line: OSU by 3