Corey Clement should have been selected in the 2017 NFL Draft, but as some other former Wisconsin Badgers standouts like Jim Leonhard and Chris Maragos have shown, that’s not the end all, be all for making your way into the NFL.
The former Badger running back told himself he knew he could do that.
“For anybody, I’m pretty sure if you didn’t get drafted, you kind of question, ‘Well, damn, am I not that good? I know I’m better than this guy,’” Clement told SB Nation’s Louis Bien on Thursday. “But at the same time, you want to remain humble at the same time, so you don’t want to put yourself over somebody. But mentally you can say that I have another opportunity to let that organization know that you got a great guy, not just football-wise but a great character who can elevate this team whether it’s special teams or offense for me.”
Signing with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent, Clement did just that, earning a spot on the active roster before becoming a frequent contributor to Doug Pederson’s offense. Now, he’s just one game away from becoming a Super Bowl champion.
Clement rushed for 321 yards on 4.3 yards per carry with four touchdowns during the 2017 regular season. His abilities carrying the rock have never been disputed, but he also added 10 receptions for 123 yards and reeled in two touchdown catches as well. Three receptions went for over 20 yards, with six moving the chains for first downs for a team that went 13–3 in the regular season and dispatched the likes of the Atlanta Falcons and the Minnesota Vikings in the playoffs.
“I mean, Corey is a just good all-around back, man,” Philadelphia defensive tackle and former Wisconsin teammate Beau Allen said on Jan. 25. “He’s got excellent, I think physically, balance, patience, vision, stuff like that. I think a lot of that can be attributed to things that we did at Wisconsin, especially when he was there.”
The key to Clement contributing so early in his young professional career has been focus.
“At the end of the day, you got great athletes on this team. The only thing you got to do is just believe,” Clement said. “If you believe, stay focused, minimize the distractions, really the sky’s the limit for anybody, so you really got to stick to your assignments and just play fast in whatever you do.”
Maragos, who was not selected in the 2010 NFL Draft, has gone on to an eight-year career and has seen firsthand Clement’s rise in Philadelphia as one of his teammates.
“He came in with just a professional approach,” Maragos, one of Philadelphia’s team captains, said on Jan. 26. “He’s got that Wisconsin way about him. It’s, ‘I’m going to work, I’m going to grind. I’m going to play hard. I’m going to do the little things. I’m going to take care of the details.’ He’s just been a great teammate. He’s a great guy who is committed to doing things the Eagle way and to be accountable to the guys around him, and he’s really worked his tail off, and you obviously see the fruits of it this season.
“For him to have this much of a jump this early in his career as a rookie is really, really impressive, and really the sky’s the limit on what he can do as a player and I’m really excited to see his progression, his development in this league, because what he’s been able to do accomplish just in his first year is pretty remarkable. He’s only going to get more comfortable and more experience as time goes on.”
Maragos recalled Clement being a “ball player” on special teams.
“This guy ran down on kickoff, he made the first play of our season on the kickoff—he made a big hit on the returner and really sparked our team,” Maragos said. “It just showed me that the moment wasn’t too big for him, and a guy that can go down there and run there with athleticism and to have the ability, to have the strength and the size and the speed and all the quickness and awareness to run down the field on special teams.
“I mean, you can run the ball on offense right and left, that’s the easy part, and so you really saw his versatility very, very early in his progression and development with our team and obviously you’ve seen him continue to just make strides.”
Clement will play alongside Allen for a chance to bring to Philadelphia its first Super Bowl championship in what will be the organization’s third opportunity to do so.
Playing on the opposite sideline is another former Badger teammate in fellow running back James White, who himself has carved out quite the career as one of the New England Patriots’ main offensive threats and scored three touchdowns in last year’s comeback Super Bowl victory over Atlanta.
Clement said that he spoke with White, but admitted he has talked more with his former teammate Melvin Gordon ,describing the current Los Angeles Chargers running back as a “middle man” as he understands White is trying to focus before the Super Bowl.
The trio of Wisconsin products has shown a new generation of UW running backs can thrive in the NFL. For Clement, the journey to playing on Sundays started after his collegiate career in Madison, one in which he rushed for 3,092 yards and accumulated 38 total touchdowns as a Badger.
“It’s basically been a year process for me. I haven’t taken the foot off the gas yet,” Clement said. “I’m really just stoked to play in this big game at the Super Bowl. I’ve talked to my roommates, T.J. Watt, Alec James—he’s going to be entering the draft this year—and Alec said, ‘It’d be some stuff if you go to the Super Bowl in your first year,’ and I actually texted him last week.
“I said, ‘Yo, whatever you said about three months ago, it really came into action.’ It’s pretty awesome. My friends and family are cheering for the Eagles so it’s pretty awesome, and they’re just wishing us to do the best, that’s all.”
Maragos still making presence felt despite season-ending injury
Just because Maragos will not play in Sunday’s Super Bowl due to a PCL injury that ended his season back in October, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t imparted wisdom to his teammates during this period.
“I think before our first playoff game against the Falcons, he got up and addressed the team,” Allen said, “and just kind of talked about what it means to be in the playoffs and what it means to be on a Super Bowl team and stuff like that. I think we have someone that’s been there before and been successful—for him to share his wisdom with the rest of the guys, it’s really cool.
“He’s a great speaker, so whenever he gets in front of the team, it’s something really cool, so he’s a really great leader for us.”
Maragos, who won a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks during the 2013 season, still lends advice to help players on the field with their technique and placement of their eyes down the field in particular situations—yet he also wants to foreshadow what’s to come and that this game is really, just another game.
“There’s a lot of unknowns, especially as a player. I think that sometimes you sensationalize these moments, whether it’s the playoffs or the Super Bowl or whatever it might be,” Maragos said. “It’s like, ‘Man, it’s another game.’ You’re playing the same players that you would play against in the regular season, you’re just playing in the Super Bowl. You make it such a big thing when it’s really not, so you just go in there and you just got to explain to the guys what they’re going to step into. The things that they can do, the do’s and the don’t’s, what it might be. That’s really what it comes down to.”
According to Maragos, his teammates have bought in.
“They’ve bought into the process,” Maragos said. “They’re very receptive and they listen and for that reason, they’re able to be ahead of the game when it comes to maybe of lack of experience of actually physically doing it, but since they are so open and so receptive to the voices in the locker room who have been there, it kind of gives them a little bit of edge.”
While stepping back from the game due to his injury, Maragos said he has been able to look at a bigger picture, expanding his point of view to a broader perspective in hopes of putting his Eagles teammates in better position to succeed.
It has been widely noted how the injury bug hit Philadelphia hard this year, with the likes of Maragos, left tackle Jason Peters, quarterback Carson Wentz, linebacker Jordan Hicks, and running back Darren Sproles, among others, not being able to finish their season.
Eagles IR vs. ANYONE!!! @cj_wentz @JordanHicks @DarrenSproles #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/QnBX2IFUuT— Chris Maragos (@ChrisMaragos) February 2, 2018
To overcome the loss of those players at key positions, Maragos points to the character and culture that’s been established in Philadelphia.
“You don’t overcome adversity and get through difficult things if you don’t have high-character individuals, high-character players, guys who care about one another, and that’s exactly what our team has,” Maragos said. “We have guys who strive for a commitment to one another, guys who strive to excel and make sure that they’re doing everything they can for that person that they’re fighting next to them, and it’s a special group that really is committed and that cares. When tough times hit, it’s a lot of high-character guys who are willing to work through it and find ways to overcome whatever it is that we’re dealing with.”
Maragos, who played in six games before the PCL injury against the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 12, noted his rehab’s been going well and at the moment, the plan is to be back around training camp for the 2018 season.
While he works back to get on the field, one can only imagine what a Super Bowl win on Sunday night could mean not just to Maragos but to the organization and city of Philadelphia.
“Aw man, it would be crazy around here. I can’t even imagine what this city would be like,” Maragos said. “It would be off the chain, man, just knowing how these people would act and respond and how excited they would be. These fans out here are so passionate and they’re so in love with the team all year round. It’s March, and it’s the dead part of the year when it comes to football, they’re taking about the team and they know all of the guys and their roles. They eat, breathe, and sleep football all year around, and for them to get a championship, I know our guys are doing everything they can to give this city what it deserves and we’re going to put our best foot forward next Sunday and hopefully walk out of there with a win.”
SB Nation’s Louis Bien contributed reporting to this story.