By PETE IACOBELLI
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Clemson’s national championship front four is off to the NFL.
All-American defensive end Clelin Ferrell made it a clean sweep of top-round prospects, joining All-American tackle Christian Wilkins, tackle Dexter Lawrence and end Austin Bryant in heading to the draft.
Ferrell, Wilkins and Bryant all passed on the pros last season for a final year in college. And the group made it count with a 15-0 season and a 44-16 beatdown of Alabama in the national title game Monday night.
Wilkins and Bryant were seniors this year while the suspended Lawrence, who missed Clemson’s two College Football Playoff games after testing positive for a banned substance, declared his intention to leave Wednesday.
The quartet was on a preseason cover of Sports Illustrated under the headlines, “Clemson’s D-line: The Best Ever.” And they lived up to the lofty billing, helping the Tigers lead the country with 54 sacks this season. Ferrell, the stunningly quick junior, led the team with 11.5 sacks. He had four tackles and 1 1/2 tackles for loss against the Crimson Tide. He led the Tigers this season with 11 1/2 sacks.
Ferrell is a 6-foot-4, 265-pound defender who is generally considered a top-10 NFL prospect and the first Tiger expected to be taken next spring.
Ferrell said Monday night when asked about his future how difficult it would be to leave Clemson, where he has helped the team win two national crowns in the past three seasons.
“Understand how hard it is for write a letter like this,” Ferrell said in announcing his choice. “Because it means the coming to an end of a truly life-changing experience.”
Clemson will have to replace at least seven starters on defense next season. Along with its four linemen, cornerback Trayvon Mullen and linebacker Tre Lamar gave up their final college season to turn pro.
Linebacker Kendall Joseph was a senior starter.
The group helped Clemson lead the country in sacks and was dominant up front in the Tigers’ win over Alabama.
Ferrell thanked Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and defensive coordinator Brent Venables, his teammates and Tiger fans for cheering him on the past four seasons. “My love for this team, program and school is everlasting and the memories it has given me will forever hold a special place in my heart,” he said.