CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins did his best to push himself into the NFL Draft’s first round, bettering his 40-yard dash time Thursday and putting on a solid pass-catching show in front of New York Jets coach Rex Ryan and personnel from 31 pro teams.
Hopkins put up a 4.41-second time in his second 40-yard run at the Tigers recently opened indoor football facility. Hopkins’ first-run time of 4.46 seconds was also faster than his NFL combine time of 4.57 seconds.
The 6-foot-1, 214-pound Hopkins decided to skip his senior year at Clemson. He is considered to be a late first-round or possibly second-second pick – and he gave team officials plenty to think about with his performance.
Hopkins spoke with Ryan several times during the session. The Chicago Bears were the only team not represented, Clemson said.
About the only thing Hopkins didn’t do was talk about his day. “Sorry, man, I can’t right now,” Hopkins said as he breezed past a group of reporters.
Hopkins was mostly overlooked his first two seasons with the Tigers before becoming an offensive star last fall. He led the team with 52 catches for 637 yards as a freshman in 2010, but the Tigers were just 6-7.
Hopkins came back in 2011 with 72 catches for 978 yards. Still, his efforts were overshadowed by freshman teammate Sammy Watkins, who became an All-American with his 82 receptions for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Last fall, Hopkins became Clemson’s unquestioned receiving leader. His best game, though, may have come in the Chick-fil-A Bowl when he set a bowl mark with 13 catches for 191 yards. Among the grabs was a sliding 26-yard reception with the Tigers facing fourth-and-16 on what became the team’s winning drive in a 25-24 victory over Louisiana State.
Not everything went perfectly for Hopkins during Thursday’s workout. He dropped two passes during position drills, then promptly did 20 pushups for the pair of miscues.
Several of Hopkins former Clemson teammates were also hoping to impress NFL eyes at the three-hour session.
Clemson tailback Andre Ellington, who’s twice rushed for more than 1,000 yards, did not take part because of a hamstring injury.
Ellington plans to hold his own workout for scouts on March 29.
Players were measured for height, weight, hand size and wing span. Some took part in weight lifting drills, bench-pressing 225-pounds as often as they could with Clemson’s strength coach Joey Batson urging them on. There were the 40-yard dash runs, broad jumps and vertical leaps before cone drills and position workouts <0x2014> all under the steady stares of NFL scouts watching for flaws.
“It’s pretty nerve wracking,” Clemson receiver Jaron Brown said.
Brown was the fastest of the 12 players taking part with a 40-yard time of 4.29 seconds. He said he worked hard during his training on getting faster since the bowl game. “I was glad to see it pay off,” he said.
Brown and tight end Brandon Ford alternated with Hopkins on the pass-catching workouts. The three were asked to make several hard cuts and quickly locate the ball in the air.
Ford was not invited to the NFL combine and was eager to show NFL people he was ready for the pros. Ford compared it to playing major opponents like Florida State, South Carolina or LSU when scouts fill the press boxes. “They’re there for a reason. They want to see what guys can do against the best guys that are out there,” Ford said. “Today, I knew there were going to be a lot of guys because Clemson always has a good pro day with a lot of people.”
The players took part in some interviews, too. Brown said he was asked by one team if he’d draft Hopkins, nicknamed ‘Nuk,’ or Watkins, given the choice of one. Brown’s answer? “I told them ‘Nuk’ because he’s eligible for the draft,” he said, laughing.
Watkins, a sophomore this season, has at least one more season left at Clemson before starting a pro career.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said it was fun seeing his old players again, most who’d been off training for the pros since the season ended.
“This is a big day for them and I’m glad to see them perform at their highest level,” Swinney said.