A person familiar with the wideout’s decision said the record-setting Watkins would give up his final year with the Tigers to enter the NFL draft. The person requested anonymity since the school had not officially announced Watkins’ intentions.
The source also said two other Tigers, receiver Martavis Bryant and cornerback Bashaud Breeland, were also giving up the rest of their college eligibility for the NFL.
Watkins, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound junior from Fort Myers, Fla., has been an electrifying performer since he arrived on campus before the 2011 season. He had 82 catches for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman to help Clemson win its first Atlantic Coast Conference title in two decades.
Watkins tailed off as a sophomore because of a drug-related suspension and illness but was back to his first-year form this past fall. He set a Clemson record with 101 catches for 1,464 yards. His receptions topped the school mark of 88 set by Aaron Kelly in 2007.
Watkins’ yards moved him past former teammate DeAndre Hopkins, who left a year early after the 2012 season and became a first-round draft pick of the Houston Texans.
Watkins saved one of his best showings for last, finishing with 16 catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns in No. 12 Clemson’s 40-35 victory over No. 7 Ohio State in the Orange Bowl for the Tigers’ first win in a BCS bowl.
“I’ve definitely been blessed with great coaches and a great quarterback (Tajh Boyd) the past three years,” Watkins said after the Orange Bowl. “It’s not all about me.”
Watkins is considered the top receiving prospect in this year’s draft and has been among the top 10 overall picks in mock drafts.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney joked Friday night that if Watkins wanted to talk about his future, “it would be a short conversation with me.”
Swinney has long said that if his players are considered first-round picks, they should head to the NFL with his full support.
Bryant is a 6-5, 200-pound junior from Calhoun Falls. He is considered one of the fastest players on the team who had struggled to keep up with the production of receiving leaders in Hopkins and Watkins.
Bryant came into the year with 19 catches and six touchdowns his first two seasons. He had 42 receptions for seven TDs this fall, including two in the Orange Bowl win.
Breeland, a 6-foot, 195-pound cornerback from Allendale, missed three games as a sophomore but rebounded from injury this season to finish with 70 tackles. He had four stops in the Orange Bowl, including a sack and a forced fumble.
With Watkins and Bryant leaving, the Tigers will look to a remade receiving group. Charone Peake, a starter this season who was lost in September because of a knee injury, is expected to make a full recovery.
Clemson will also count on senior Adam Humphries along with young wideouts Mike Williams, T.J. Green and Germone Hopper.