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Sep 12, 2019

Tigers in the NFL: Week 1

By: Cole Little

Each week during the NFL season, breaks down how former Clemson standouts are faring in the NFL. The following is a summary of what transpired in Week 1 of the 2019 slate, including a table with updated roster information and statistics.

The inception of the 2019 NFL season featured a slew of notable performances by former Clemson Tigers. Week 1 of the NFL slate included electrifying outings by Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins and Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson as well as impressive debuts from erstwhile Tigers suiting up for new teams at the professional level. Entering Week 1, 36 former Clemson gridders held NFL roster spots, with 28 of them on active rosters and 10 of them taking part in their rookie seasons.

A veteran Tiger of yore stole the show out of the gate, though, as Watkins experienced arguably the best game of his career in a 40-26 Chiefs win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. With a career-high 198 receiving yards on nine receptions, Watkins lit up the Jaguars’ secondary and scored a career-best three receiving touchdowns. The 198 yards and three scores led all receivers around the NFL in Week 1. Watkins used his signature speed to open the scoring by way of a 68-yard touchdown in the first quarter, with the electrifying wideout catching a pass over the middle and darting down the field to put the Chiefs on the scoreboard.

Later in the opening quarter, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes found Watkins open in the flat and connected with him for a 49-yard touchdown. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Watkins became only the second receiver in the last 25 years to tally 150-plus receiving yards in the first quarter while also becoming the first player in NFL history to amass at least 175 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns in a season opener. The trio of touchdown grabs equaled Watkins’ total of touchdown catches from all of last season. For good measure, Watkins snatched a 3-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter to put a bow on his marvelous performance.

After establishing themselves as one of the league’s best quarterback-wideout combinations in 2018, Watson and Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins got off to a fantastic start to the 2019 season. In the Monday Night Football thriller between the Texans and the New Orleans Saints, Watson was responsible for 268 yards and three touchdowns through the air and 40 yards and one touchdown on the ground. Going 20-for-30 in the passing department and carrying the ball four times, Watson, who was taking part in his 24thcareer NFL contest, became the fastest player in NFL history to collect at least 6,000 passing yards and 800 rushing yards.

As for “Nuk,” he hauled in eight receptions for 111 yards and was on the receiving end of two of Watson’s three touchdown passes. Hopkins also made history, as he extended his streak of consecutive games with a catch to start his career to 96, which is the longest such streak in Texans history and the longest active streak in the NFL. In the second quarter, Watson threw a dart to Hopkins in the back of the end zone for a 2-yard score. Hopkins later caught a 16-yard pass over the middle and burst across the goal line for his second touchdown.

The third and final touchdown pass thrown by Watson was a clutch 37-yard dime to Kenny Stills that provided the Texans with a lead in the final minute of play. Despite Watson’s dominance, the Saints were able to pull out the win via a game-winning field goal that sailed through the uprights as time expired. Watson manufactured the first scoring play of the evening by way of his legs, as he raced for a 21-yard rushing score in the second quarter. Absorbing the contact from an attempted tackler after leaping toward the end zone, Watson spun in midair and landed inside of the pylon for a gutsy touchdown run. Helping set up the mad dash toward the goal line was a magnificent 54-yard pass to Will Fuller V. Fuller pulled off an early candidate for catch of the year by snagging the deep ball behind a defender’s back and hanging on to it while going to the ground.

Monday’s other matchup marked the professional debuts of three former Clemson stars who kicked off their rookie seasons with the Oakland Raiders. In the Raiders’ triumph versus the Denver Broncos, defensive end Clelin Ferrell proved that his collegiate pass-rushing dominance translates well to the NFL by bulldozing his way into the backfield for his first career sack. At cornerback for the Raiders, Trayvon Mullen took the field and was credited with a tackle, and Clemson legend Hunter Renfrow, who is now a Raiders wideout, nabbed two catches for 13 receiving yards.

In addition to the aforementioned Oakland newcomers, several Clemson football alumni made debuts for new squads in Week 1, including Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Deon Cain. While Cain was a member of the Colts in 2018, his rookie campaign was cut short when the pass catcher suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp. Therefore, Cain played in his first regular-season game with the Colts on Sunday, and he caught two passes for 35 yards. Cornerback Bashaud Breeland was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs in the offseason, and he recovered a fumble deep in Kansas City territory during his Chiefs debut, helping set up a touchdown drive by the Chiefs.

Clemson’s iconic dynamic duo of defensive tackles Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins was introduced to the NFL on Sunday. Lawrence started for the New York Giants and picked up a tackle, while Wilkins started for the Miami Dolphins and was in on four combined tackles. Other debuts included three starters on special teams in punter Bradley Pinion and return specialists Adam Humphries and Ray-Ray McCloud. Pinion suited up for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the first time since joining the organization as a free agent this past offseason, and he netted 42 punting yards on two punts. Humphries, who is also a valuable slot receiver, joined the Tennessee Titans in the offseason, and he began his Titans tenure by handling return duties and notching a 5-yard reception. McCloud, who is also an effective pass catcher, was recently inked to a deal by the Panthers, and, in Week 1, he returned two kicks and two punts for a total of 81 return yards.

On the defensive side of the ball, multiple former Tigers showed out, and three of them took the field for the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Minnesota Vikings. With perhaps the top performance of his young career, Vikings safety Jayron Kearse finished tied for the game high in combined tackles at nine, which served as a new career high for him, and also defended a pass. Fellow Falcons pass rushers Vic Beasley Jr. and Grady Jarrett made a mark, as well, with Jarrett epitomizing what makes him such a phenomenal defensive tackle in his first regular-season action since receiving a lucrative contract extension in the offseason. Jarrett forced a fumble as part of a strip sack and also blew up a Vikings run play by laying out an opposing running back behind the line of scrimmage.

Beasley, who is a starting linebacker for Atlanta, registered three combined tackles, and Buffalo Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson, who played alongside Beasley and Jarrett in the Tigers’ front seven, tabbed four combined tackles to go along with one sack and one pass break-up. Offensively, New York Giants running back Wayne Gallman scored from two yards out for the second rushing touchdown of his career. On top of his two carries for 17 yards, Gallman recorded three receptions for 24 yards. Speaking of receiving, Los Angeles Chargers wideout Mike Williams made two catches for 29 yards in the Chargers’ thrilling overtime victory.

Mackensie AlexanderMinnesota VikingsCB2014-15active1 game played, 1 solo tackle
Vic Beasley Jr.Atlanta FalconsLB2011-14active1 game played, 1 game started, 3 combined tackles (2 solo, 1 assisted)
Bashaud BreelandKansas City ChiefsCB2010-13active1 game played, 1 game started, 1 fumble recovered, 1 pass defended
Jaron BrownSeattle SeahawksWR2009-12active1 game played, 1 game started
Austin BryantDetroit LionsDE2015-18reserve/injuredinactive
Deon CainIndianapolis ColtsWR2015-17active1 game played, 2 receptions, 35 receiving yards
Adam ChoiceSeattle SeahawksRB2014-18reserve/injuredinactive
Clelin FerrellOakland RaidersDE2015-18active1 game played, 1 game started, 3 combined tackles (1 solo, 2 assisted), 1 sack, 1 pass defended
Mark FieldsMinnesota VikingsCB2015-18active1 game played
Wayne GallmanNew York GiantsRB2014-16active1 game played, 2 rush attempts, 17 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown, 3 receptions, 24 receiving yards
B.J. GoodsonGreen Bay PackersLB2012-15active1 game played
T.J. GreenNew Orleans SaintsS2012-15practice squadinactive
DeAndre HopkinsHouston TexansWR2010-12active1 game played, 1 game started, 8 receptions, 111 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns
Albert HugginsHouston TexansDE2015-18practice squadinactive
Adam HumphriesTennessee TitansWR2011-14active1 game played, 1 reception, 5 receiving yards
Mitch HyattDallas CowboysOT2015-18practice squadinactive
Grady JarrettAtlanta FalconsDT2011-14active1 game played, 1 game started, 5 combined tackles (3 solo, 2 assisted), 1 sack, 1 fumble forced
Jayron KearseMinnesota VikingsS2013-15active1 game played, 9 combined tackles (6 solo, 3 assisted), 1 pass defended
Dexter LawrenceNew York GiantsDT2016-18active1 game played, 1 game started, 1 assisted tackle
Shaq LawsonBuffalo BillsDE2013-15active1 game played, 4 combined tackles (1 solo, 3 assisted), 1 sack, 1 pass defended
Jordan LeggettTampa Bay BuccaneersTE2013-16practice squadinactive
Ray-Ray McCloudCarolina PanthersWR2015-17active1 game played, 2 kickoff returns, 51 kickoff return yards, long kickoff return of 26 yards, 2 punt returns, 30 punt return yards, long punt return of 16 yards
Trayvon MullenOakland RaidersCB2016-18active1 game played, 1 assisted tackle
Dorian O'DanielKansas City ChiefsLB2014-2017active1 game played, 1 solo tackle
Bradley PinionTampa Bay BuccaneersP2012-14active1 game played, 2 punts, 42 punting yards, 1 punt inside the 20-yard line, long punt of 39 yards
D.J. ReaderHouston TexansDT2012-15active1 game played, 1 game started, 1 solo tackle
Hunter RenfrowOakland RaidersWR2014-18active1 game played, 2 receptions, 13 receiving yards
Artavis ScottLos Angeles ChargersWR2014-16practice squad/injuredinactive
Tyler ShatleyJacksonville JaguarsC2010-13active1 game played
Cordrea TankersleyMiami DolphinsCB2013-16reserve/physically unable to performinactive
Brandon ThomasJacksonville JaguarsOG2009-13activeinactive
Carlos WatkinsHouston TexansDE2012-16active1 game played, 2 assisted tackles, 1 pass defended
Sammy WatkinsKansas City ChiefsWR2011-13active1 game played, 1 game started, 9 receptions, 198 receiving yards, 3 receiving touchdowns
Deshaun WatsonHouston TexansQB2014-16active1 game played, 1 game started, 20 pass completions, 30 pass attempts, 268 passing yards, 3 passing touchdowns, 1 interception, 4 rush attempts, 40 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown
Christian WilkinsMiami DolphinsDT2015-18active1 game played, 1 game started, 4 combined tackles (2 solo, 2 assisted)
Mike WilliamsLos Angeles ChargersWR2013-16active1 game played, 1 game started, 2 receptions, 29 receiving yards