Clemson’s 6-foot-1, 205-pound junior from Fort Myers, Fla., confirmed reports that he’s leaving school, saying Monday that he is entering May’s NFL Draft.
“After much prayerful consideration, I have decided to take the next step in pursuing my lifelong dream of playing in the NFL,” Watkins said in a statement released by Clemson.
Watkins has set 23 school records in three seasons. He finished his career as the most outstanding player of the Orange Bowl. He caught 16 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns in No. 12 Clemson’s 40-35 win over seventh-ranked Ohio State.
Watkins is considered the top receiving prospect available and a top-15 selection in the NFL Draft.
Watkins leaves as the school’s all-time leader with 240 receptions, 3,391 receiving yards and 15 games with 100 or more yards. His 27 career touchdowns tied the Clemson mark of former teammate DeAndre Hopkins, who left after his junior season and became a first-round draft pick of the Houston Texans.
Watkins was an instant sensation from the moment he walked on campus in 2011, helping the Tigers to an 8-0 start and their first Atlantic Coast Conference title in two decades. He was an AP All-American that season with 82 catches, 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Things took a turn as a sophomore due to injuries and a two-game suspension to start the season after an offseason drug arrest. Watkins pledged to rededicate himself to football and the Tigers and that showed this past fall with single-season school marks of 101 catches and 1,464 yards.
“I would not have this opportunity without the support and encouragement of my family, coaches, teammates, and the best fans in college football. No matter where my next steps may lead, I will always take pride” in Clemson, Watkins said.
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said Monday that Watkins has shown what can be accomplished when you combine talent and work ethic.
“We have won 32 games, the ACC and the Orange Bowl since he arrived,” Swinney said. “Pretty obvious the impact he has had.”
Clemson’s Martavis Bryant and Baushad Breeland have both announced they’ve given up their final seasons for the NFL draft.