- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Clemson has been through this before, losing top-tier talent to the NFL draft.
The twin losses of Watkins and Martavis Bryant to the NFL draft this year leave behind many more questions. Not only are the Tigers losing their top two receivers, they also are losing Boyd, their record-setting quarterback over the last three years.
That is a trifecta that could inevitably label 2014 a rebuilding year.
Watkins' decision to leave was a no-brainer. The talented junior proved in the Discover Orange Bowl win over Ohio State that he will be a top 10 draft pick. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper believes Watkins could go as high as No. 2 when the draft rolls around in May.
There was not much more for him to accomplish at Clemson, either. Watkins tied Hopkins for career touchdown receptions (27), holds the single-season receptions (101) and career receptions marks (240) and single-season record for receiving yards (1,464). He would have been foolish to return.
Bryant's decision is another matter entirely. There is little doubt he could have improved his draft stock had he returned to school for another year, but Bryant cited his family as the reason he decided to leave. Bryant ended the season with 42 catches for 828 yards and seven touchdowns, but he has been mostly inconsistent for the bulk of his career and has only one year as a starter.
His size (6-foot-5, 200 pounds) makes him an intriguing prospect, but he has work ahead of him to get noticed. ESPN.com does not even have Bryant rated on its receivers evaluation page.
Moving forward, Clemson should have plenty of position battles headed into the spring. Cole Stoudt, Chad Kelly and incoming freshman Deshaun Watson are all in the mix to replace Boyd. Without Watkins and Bryant, Clemson will rely on some combination of veteran Adam Humphries, Charone Peake, Mike Williams, Germone Hopper and T.J. Green.
Williams played as a freshman this season and has the same size as the departing Bryan. He showed flashes throughout the course of the season. Green also shows promise. Peake is coming off an ACL injury and should be healthy for the start of the season. Humphries has been dependable and will be expected to do more.
The player who needs to step up most has to be Hopper, rated one of the top receiver prospects in the 2012 class. He has not quite lived up to his potential yet, and 2014 provides him an opportunity to become a go-to receiver. Clemson coaches have waited on the light to go on for him, and that probably is the case again now more than ever.
What Clemson has moving forward is talent, but little in the way of game experience. The key to replacing the three big-name skill players who have departed is to grow these players up in a hurry. The opener at Georgia will be here in a blink.
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