Three members of the Clemson football team’s starting secondary from the 2015 season are vying to be selected in the 2016 NFL draft, and all three have made one thing clear about themselves: They don’t lack confidence.
Mackensie Alexander, a two-year starting cornerback for the Tigers, made headlines at the NFL Scouting Combine in February when he proclaimed himself to be the “best corner in this draft class.”
T.J. Green, in an interview after the combine, said he believes he has “the most upside of any safety in the draft class.”
Jayron Kearse, while speaking with the media after Clemson’s pro day this month, followed his former teammates’ lead.
“I think I’m the best DB in the draft class,” Kearse said. “That’s what I’m out to prove. I’m going to put in work every day, so when I get to that next level, I can go out there and show everybody that.”
Kearse’s self-assessment does not align with the opinions of most NFL draft analysts.
CBSSports.com ranks Kearse as the fifth-best strong safety and just the 152nd-best overall prospect in the 2016 draft class. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller ranks Kearse sixth among strong safeties and 109th among all prospects.
Kearse, a two-year starter at Clemson who opted to forgo his senior season to declare for this year’s draft, admits that he paid attention to the projections at first. Now, however, Kearse says his focus is not on what others are saying about him, but on how he can make himself better.
“It’s really just me trying to be the best that I can be, so when I do get the opportunity, I can go out and seize the moment,” Kearse said.
One of the most repeated criticisms of Kearse, from NFL draft analysts and Clemson fans alike, is that he failed to play up to his ability during his final season as a Tiger. Even Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, during a February press conference, said he did not think Kearse “finished like we all would have liked him to, and that he would have liked to.”
Kearse, in hindsight, acknowledges he lacked the focus needed to play at his best. He is determined not to let that happen again.
“Going through what I went through that past season,” Kearse said, “knowing the way I felt like I let the team down … I know that I have to go out there and give everything I’ve got every time that I’m on the field.”
Despite his shortcomings this past season, Kearse is garnering interest from at least a handful of NFL teams. In the weeks leading up to the draft, Kearse has scheduled visits with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers. He worked out with the Carolina Panthers this week.
One of the largest defensive backs in the 2016 draft class, at 6-foot-4 and 216 pounds, Kearse believes he has demonstrated in his pre-draft workouts that he has the athleticism to be a difference-maker at the next level.
“Me being a big guy, a lot of people don’t think I can move very well, a lot of people think I have stiff hips, so I was able to go out there and show everybody that I can move well for a big guy,” Kearse said. “I can make a lot of plays, I’m a smart player. I can do a lot for any team.”