Entering 2013, most observers outside the Clemson football program assumed this would be Sammy Watkins‘ final season with the Tigers.
Tuesday, one of the most in-the-know individuals inside the program concurred with that assumption.
As it does every year around this time with the clock wing down on another season, the questioning of head coach Dabo Swinney turned to Watkins and the wide receiver’s future in Orange & White. Instead of hemming and hawing around the issue, Swinney was blunt in his assessment of where he thinks Watkins will wind up playing football in 2014.
“He’s a Top 10 pick to me,” Swinney said of the April 2014 NFL draft. “I’d be surprised if he came back, but who knows? I didn’t think C.J. Spiller was coming back.”
Spiller surprised most everyone, including those close to him, by returning to Clemson for his senior season and eschewing what would’ve been a first-round spot in the 2009 NFL draft; he was the No. 9 pick in the 2010 draft.
It’s highly doubtful, though, lightning will strike twice for Swinney.
Watkins, eligible for the 2014 draft as he’ll be three years removed from high school, is widely viewed as one of the top receivers who could possibly be available next April. Most mock drafts have Watkins slotted comfortably inside the Top 15, with stock that’s expected to do nothing but rise once combine season rolls around.
For his part, Watkins, who is closing in on yet another handful of school receiving records, is not giving much public lip service to next year quite yet. He does, though, sound like a player who knows he’s in the midst of a season-long audition.
“As a coach and as a player, we don’t know where I would go in the draft. It’s kind of a tricky system,” Watkins said. “All I can do is keep playing hard and give the scouts what they’re looking for, and everything will work out in the end.”
Watkins, as will be the case with multiple other draft-eligible players in a similar situation, will likely submit his paperwork to the NFL draft advisory council at some point in the near future. Those players, including Watkins, will have until mid-January to formally declare their intention to leave eligibility on the table and enter the draft or return for another season at the collegiate level.