By Mark Eckel, Player Engagement Insider
When T.J. Clemmings was a senior at Paterson Catholic High School in Northern New Jersey he had as many Division I scholarship offers for basketball as he did for football.
Right around day two of the 2015 NFL Draft Clemmings, now the starting right tackle for the Minnesota Vikings, had to start to wonder if he had picked the right sport.
Coming out of the University of Pittsburgh, Clemmings was projected as a low first-round, early second-round, NFL Draft pick. Then the Draft began and the picks started coming off the board.
Seven offensive linemen went in the first round, Clemmings was still available.
“After the first round went by, I was a little disappointed, but still OK,’’ Clemmings said. “I knew the second round was the next day and I thought maybe I’ll be one of the first 10 picks, or so, of the second round.’’
One team even told Clemmings’ agent, Mike McCartney, of Priority Sports, they would definitely take his client in the second round. They didn’t.
Six more offensive linemen went in the second round and another six went in the third round. Clemmings’ name had not been called.
“Second round came and went and I started to get worried, then the third round. I started to think maybe I won’t get drafted,’’ Clemmings said. “Saturday morning before the fourth round started I went to go work out. My dad and I went to the park (near their home in North Jersey).
“It was a really nice day and I told my dad whatever happens, happens. At that point I just put my trust in God. Sure enough the Draft started and around 110 I saw ‘Minnesota.’ And that was a team I wasn’t even thinking about.’’
With the 110th pick, and after 20 other offensive linemen had been selected, the Vikings took Clemmings. He repaid them by winning the starting right tackle job when Phil Loadholt went down with an injury.
In his rookie year, Clemmings started all 16 games and a playoff game for the NFC North champions.
“When the Draft started of course I was nervous, excited, the natural emotions of anyone entering the draft,’’ Clemmings said. “I was pretty confident in the work that I had done in a short amount of time. I knew some teams had questions based off only playing the position two years, (he began his college career on the defensive side of the ball). Some teams worried about that. At the end of the day my hope was to go to the right place.’’
What caused Clemmings to drop in the mind of some teams was an old foot injury from his basketball days, something that he doesn’t really remember and isn’t something that bothers him.
“I thought I would go a little higher. If not first round, at least early second,’’ Clemmings said. “It didn’t happen that way and I’m pretty sure it was because of the supposed foot injury. Honestly, I played basketball all through high school, so it had to have been an old injury. Since I played football, I had no issues with my foot, none at all.’’
Fourth-round Draft picks don’t always get the opportunity to start as rookies, especially for playoff teams. Clemmings got that chance and made the most of it.
“Things worked out for me,’’ he said. “I was able to show that there was no reason to worry. Really, I couldn't have written a better script for the way things played out.’’
The big tackle isn’t bitter, but he does gain a sense of redemption every time he faces an opponent who passed on him in the Draft.
“Absolutely,’’ Clemmings said, “Every game I went out there and anybody I played, everyone I lined up against, I wanted to show them I belonged. My confidence built week to week. As the season went on I felt more and more relaxed. I wanted to show that I could play in this league. I think I did.’’