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High Class


Since Dabo Swinney took over the Clemson football program in 2008, the school has begun to churn out NFL-caliber players.

Clemson has seen a rise in the number of players drafted recently and 2012 may be their best year yet.

Considering that the Falcons have a couple of positions of need that Clemson could fill, it's a draft class — particularly with defensive end Andre Branch and defensive tackle Brandon Thompson — to pay attention to.

Both players are ranked by most draft websites as second round picks and many believe Branch's pass-rushing prowess will land him in the first round. If Branch is selected in the first round of this year's draft, he'll be the first Clemson player taken in round one since C.J. Spiller was selected in the first round by Buffalo in 2010.

The Falcons don't select in this year's draft until pick No. 55 in the second round, but both players appear to be on Atlanta's radar. Branch was recently spotlighted by Thompson's stock has risen during the offseason scouting process carried by a Combine performance that showcased the 6-foot-2, 314-pound tackle's strength. He is also considered a smart player and could be an excellent second-round pick. Defensive tackle is considered by many a position of consideration in this year's draft for the Falcons.

In addition to Thompson and Branch, tight end Dwayne Allen is another player projected to be selected in the second round this year. We also spotlighted Allen recently. No reports have directly linked Allen to the Falcons as of yet, but tight end is another position many mock-draft makers have pegged as a position Atlanta may be interested in improving in 2012.

After those three, Clemson has eight other players that could be selected in this year's draft, headlined by cornerback Coty Sensabaugh. If just half of the remaining players get drafted, in addition to Allen, Thompson and Branch, the Clemson program will be sending the highest number of players to the NFL in their recent history. Last year, six players were drafted out of Clemson, including three in the second round, Jarvis Jenkins, Marcus Gilchrist and Da'Quan Bowers.

Since 2008 under Swinney, the number of players selected from the Clemson program has gone up each season. In 2008, two were selected. That number improved to four in 2009 and five in 2010.

The presence of Branch and Thompson on this list shows Clemson has put an exceptionally high number of defensive linemen into the NFL in recent years. Jenkins is a defensive tackle and Bowers is a defensive end. Defensive end Ricky Sapp was selected in the fourth round in the 2010 draft. Darrell Scott, a defensive tackle, was taken in the fourth round in 2009. Phillip Merling, a defensive end, was taken in the second round in 2008.

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