Carolina Panthers

Clemson DE Kevin Dodd could rise into NFL draft’s first round

NFL Combine: Clemson DE Kevin Dodd on the Tigers' football factory

At the NFL Scouting Combine, Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd speaks about the Tigers' depth on defense.
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At the NFL Scouting Combine, Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd speaks about the Tigers' depth on defense.

Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd burst onto the scene during the college football playoffs, with four sacks combined against Oklahoma and Alabama.

His play in those games earned him greater recognition, but left Dodd wondering where everyone had been.

“I just did what I did and I came hard every play like I did all season,” Dodd said Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “Fortunately I made some plays, some big plays, some critical plays, in both of those games.”

Dodd’s four sacks in the playoffs – including three against Alabama – gave him 12 for the season.

His play in the college football playoffs pushed his early entrance into April’s NFL draft, where he could be taken in the first round.

Overshadowed for most of his Clemson career by current Falcons defensive end Vic Beasley and All-America end Shaq Lawson, Dodd didn’t record a sack until his redshirt sophomore season in 2014. But in 2015, he blossomed with 62 tackles. Twenty-four of those went for a loss, second-best in the nation.

Maybe, some detractors could say, Dodd profited from one of the best defensive lines in college football, the statistics a product of teams focused on others, such as Lawson.

Dodd dismisses that idea.

“I’d tell those guys to look deeper into their homework next season because I was doing it all season and nothing change in the playoffs from the third game when I got my first sack,” Dodd said.

There’s no doubt having a quality end on the other side helped, Dodd said. But Lawson got something out of it too.

“I’d be crazy if I said Shaq didn’t help me, and Shaq would be crazy if he sat there and said I didn’t help him,” Dodd said. “We applied pressure each play. That was the goal and we did that a lot this season.”

Second-round grade?

Now Dodd, who received a second-round grade from the NFL committee before jumping into the draft, is in the conversation with Lawson as a first-round pick, and draft experts seem split on the two.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. recently called it a “hard call.”

“It’s a slim difference,” Kiper said on a recent teleconference. “I think workouts are going to be important; that’s going to determine whether you’re a mid first-round pick or maybe a late first-round.

“If you look at the body of work, you would go Lawson. If you look at this one year, and certainly the way he played in the championship game, you would go Dodd.”

Dodd’s film shows his great motor, but he needs to work on using his hands. With only one year of starting experience, he could improve there with more repetitions.

An older prospect

But Dodd will be 24 by the time training camp starts. He went to Hargrave Military Academy for a year before Clemson, and then he took a medical redshirt. It’s possible that if he didn’t have the breakout in the playoffs, he’d be back at Clemson for his redshirt senior year and not make it to the NFL until he’s 25.

Dodd said his age gives him maturity. But an NFL decision-maker could see an older, green player with too much mileage on him as a rookie.

“I mean, you factor in the age,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said this week about drafting defensive ends. “Obviously, the younger the guy, they may have more upside. The older, they’re more mature and ready to go. So, I think it can go either way and we won’t value one over the other.

“We’ll just value the total concept of who that player is. And understand that the young one may have an extra year, but it may take him an extra year. So, are you really gaining anything?”

A potential Panther?

From Taylors, S.C., Dodd knows he could be a potential Panthers target at No. 30.

“I’m going to be blessed to get an opportunity to play for a team but staying at home, I can’t complain about being close to home,” Dodd said. “I love it. I love the Carolinas.”

A few questions later he was asked what pass rusher he likes to mimic.

Dodd paused, then laughed.

“I enjoyed watching Von Miller in the Super Bowl,” Dodd said.

Jonathan Jones: 704-358-5323, @jjones9

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