WR/RB Chase Clayton, University of New Mexico
Out of the University of New Mexico, wide receiver-running back combination Chase Clayton can do it all. During his days at the UNM, Clayton was able to do some pretty impressive things through the air as well as on the ground. For instance, during his great 2012 season, Clayton was able to rush for 209 yards on 32 carries (6.5 yards per carry average), catch four passes for 43 yards and return 20 kicks for 608 yards (a whopping 30.8 yards per return). During his college career, Clayton was able to be nominated for multiple awards and recognitions ranging from 2012 All-Mountain West Honorable Mention to 2013 All-Mountain West Pre-Season First Team and Special Teams Player of the Year to even the 2013 Jet Award Watch List. For many who don’t know about the Jet Award, according to the Johnny Rodgers Youth Foundation, “The Jet Award honors the best return specialist in college football. Drawing its name from former Heisman trophy winner Johnny “The Jet” Rodgers, the Jet Award will be voted on by a selection committee, featuring football writers and broadcasters from around the country, as well as Rodgers. To be considered for the Jet Award, players must be a primary kick or punt returner for his team. They must be among the national leaders in return categories and show leadership, courage, desire and respect for authority and discipline.” 2012 saw Clayton absolutely tear up opposing special teams with his kick returns. I believe that in this situation, Clayton will most likely be selected by a team who needs a receiver and returning. For starters, Buffalo (20.4 yards per return), New Orleans (23 yards per return), Arizona (20 yards per return) and especially Carolina (21.9 yards per return) definitely need better return games seeing as that they were ranked in the bottom four in returning yards in 2013.
However, I believe that the Carolina Panthers would be the best fit for Clayton. Last season the Panthers ranked 27th in the NFL in receiving. Not to mention, franchise WR Steve Smith (64 receptions for 745 yards and four touchdowns in 2013), Brandon LaFell (49 receptions for 627 yards and five touchdowns) and returner-wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (595 yards returning and 556 yards receiving with five touchdowns) left the team to pursue other NFL interests. Now they do have other receivers, however at the moment, former sixth-round pick Benjon Barner will be taking over the returning duties. Don’t get me wrong Barner had a great career at Oregon (905.75 rushing yards, 147.75 receiving yards and 12.5 total touchdowns per season during his four year career at UO). The thing is though, Barner only returned kicks during his freshman and sophomore season. His freshman season saw some great numbers as he returned 41 kicks for 1,020 yards (24.8 yards per return), while he took back 21 punts for 137 yards (6.5 yards per return). I believe that Barner is more valuable at running back than he is at kick returning seeing that he is just 5’9″. With Clayton, the Panthers would be getting a 6’3″ behemoth who specializes in kick returns. 30 yards per return is a stat that you can’t ignore. Perhaps if he does get picked by Carolina, Clayton could be seeing time at receiver. Regardless though, Barner’s 1,767 yards, 6.4 yards per carry average, 21 rushing touchdowns and 256 receiving yards prove that he is meant to be a running back, not a return man. In the situation that Clayton does go to Carolina, I think that the two young players could split returns (depending on who is playing better). Clayton is a multi-tool guy with height and moderate speed. Carolina should make a serious consideration in drafting him.