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Apr 26, 2021

Next Level

By: Ross Taylor

Clemson welcomed NFL personnel for multiple Pro Day workouts in 2021, highlighting a group of former Tigers ready to make an impact in the pros

Note: The following appears in the May issue of Orange: The Experience. For full access to all of the publication’s content, join IPTAY today by calling 864-656-2115.

Clemson’s reputation as a premier destination for football student-athletes has been illustrated in part by its recent recruiting success. Clemson is presently one of seven schools — along with Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Notre Dame and Ohio State — to have had each of its last 11 recruiting classes rank in the Top 15 according to at least one major recruiting service.

That reputation for talent acquisition and the on-field success stemming from Clemson’s commitment to on-field and off-field development has also resulted in Clemson furthering its reputation as a premier destination for pro scouts as well.

Unique circumstances resulted in Clemson welcoming NFL scouting personnel three separate times in the spring of 2021, including Clemson’s annual Pro Day in March as well as separate workouts for quarterback Trevor Lawrence and offensive lineman Jackson Carman as a function of their surgery and rehab schedules.

Lawrence was initially expected to show off for NFL scouts and coaches at Pro Day in March, but upon opting to have a minor procedure on his non-throwing shoulder, he and Clemson quickly assembled a workout for Feb. 12. Personnel from more than half of the teams in the NFL were in attendance, including a larger delegation from the Jacksonville Jaguars, who held the No. 1 overall pick and sent new coach Urban Meyer among others to view the workout first-hand.

“Trevor, it’s like God said, ‘I’m going to go put me together a quarterback,’” Meyer said. “And then, by the way, give him all of what we call the ‘mindset grades,’ and that’s competitiveness, toughness, high character and being a great leader.”

The workout was carried live on three networks, including ACC Network, ESPN2 and NFL Network, showcasing Clemson’s program and player development on a national scale. Despite a short preparation window and Lawrence’s perceived leverage as the presumed No. 1 pick, it was important to Lawrence to go through the process, as he told ESPN’s Rece Davis following the workout.

“Just to show I’m no different than anybody else,” Lawrence said of why he still elected to conduct a workout. “I still want to do the process the right way. Obviously, the original plan was to have two months of training out in California and then come back in March and put on a show and do all that, but life happens sometimes. Just having to adjust and showing I’m able to adjust and adapt and still be willing to come out here and throw and give teams a chance to see me, that was important to me and important to my team to make sure we made that happen. It wasn’t necessarily the ideal situation and circumstances, but I think we did a great job of maneuvering and navigating through all that.”

Meyer and Head Coach Dabo Swinney stood front and center for the duration of Lawrence’s workout. Lawrence’s impressive performance came as no surprise to Swinney.

“This is about as easy an evaluation of a throwing session as you can have,” Swinney told ESPN’s Davis. “It’s a beautiful thing to watch. It’s like watching Steph Curry shoot a basketball, right? It’s just fun to watch.”

The NFL contingent returned March 11 to watch draft-eligible prospects Travis Etienne, Amari Rodgers, Cornell Powell and others go through a battery of measurements and on-field tests while Carman was still sidelined following postseason surgery. Nearly every team was in attendance, as the RSVP list was full of notable names that included Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin, Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert, Bills General Manager Brandon Beane, Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim, Dolphins General Manager Chris Grier and others.

Pro Day was also carried live by ACC Network and shown later in the day by NFL Network, including a viral moment on ACC Network when studio host Jordan Cornette, to the delight of social media, remarked at the image of Powell’s chiseled physique, “It looks like Cornell Powell hasn’t had a carb in a decade.”

Beyond impressive measurements and testing numbers, the Pro Day offered several Clemson players an opportunity to showcase their versatility. Rodgers, a wide receiver throughout his Clemson career, also participating in running back drills for teams wanting to see his comfort operating out of the backfield. Etienne, who recorded one career punt return at Clemson, also participated in punt return work in addition to running back drills.

For Etienne in particular, who came to Clemson in 2017 with little experience catching the football out of an option-heavy Wing-T offense in high school, his growth into one of the nation’s most versatile running backs was a point of pride.

“I’m able to do it all,” Etienne said. “You’ve seen the film. I’m able to be out there all three downs, been able to play special teams. So just being able to impact a team each and every down makes me different.”

After the workout, Rodgers reflected on how Clemson helped prepare him for the next level.

“Clemson prepares you from Day 1 because everybody that comes here is four- or five-stars, so you’ve got to be on your P’s and Q’s from Day 1 or you’re going to get embarrassed,” Rodgers said. “It was challenging at first, but once you get used to it, you start excelling at your game because you’re going against the best every single day, and Coach Swinney does a great job of making sure we compete in practice and push each other. Coming and playing here at Clemson got the best out of me every single day, and I always appreciate it.”