Since Chad Morris’ arrival on campus three years ago, the Clemson passing attack has run like a well-oiled machine and helped catapult several talented Tiger receivers into the high-paying ranks of the NFL – leading some to begin referring to the school as "Wide Receiver U." While it may take a few more wide-outs putting up eye-popping numbers for that moniker to be truly legitimate, there’s no question that elite playmakers on the outside has been a staple of the Clemson offense since 2011.
2014, however, brings the first season since that first one under Morris that there is true uncertainty at the wide receiver position. There are returning players who have had some success, but the looming lack of a primary pass-catching target has many fans worried, and rightfully so. Clemson has eight scholarship receivers on the roster, but half are true freshmen. This young corps will have to grow up fast in order to help out quarterback Cole Stoudt and keep the Tigers’ offense from suffering a drop-off after a torrid three-year stretch. With that said, let’s take a look at the Clemson wide receivers:
Peake suffered a torn ACL two games into last season when it seemed he was really starting to come into his own. In fact, he was everything Martavis Bryant wasn’t when it came to catching the football in the opener against Georgia. He was set to begin fall camp fully recovered before undergoing minor knee surgery in July. That delayed his return, but he began participating fully in practice last week. It’s in Clemson’s best interest for Peake to regain the form he was in at the beginning of the 2013 season, as he is a relative veteran in a very young wide receiving corps. If he does, he should be quite the valuable weapon—good size, good speed and a reliable pair of hands.
Hopper has had his share of transgressions thus far in his career, and hopefully he is finally proving to the coaches that he is committed both on and off the field. He saw limited playing time last year but had flashes where he looked capable. With good speed and quickness, Hopper makes for an elusive threat if he can get into the open field. He could also play in the slot as his size and athletic makeup fit the billing for that position.
Priester spent a year at Fork Union Military and participated in spring practice this year. He will be in competition with Hopper to serve as Peake's backup. Priester is not an overwhelming athlete, but he is a smart receiver who is pretty polished as far as freshmen go. He sells his moves well to make people miss and maximizes yards after the catch. He isn't as fast as Hopper, but he brings a bigger body to the position.
You know what you’re getting with Humphries at this point in his career. He’s going to have 40 catches for 500 yards, give or take. If you throw him a catchable ball, he will typically reel it in. Humphries should be as familiar with the offense as any player on the roster. He typically serves as the safety valve over the middle, but he has shown that he can beat you deep if you ignore him (Hey, Syracuse). He is probably the best blocking wide receiver on the team, and that, combined with his surehandedness, makes him a valuable asset.
One of three freshmen receivers to enroll early and participate in spring practice, Scott will begin his Clemson career playing behind the veteran Humphries. You can expect to see plenty of Scott this year, though, as he possesses the athleticism and wiggle coaches love to have in a slot receiver. He has great speed, but what really stands out is this guy's quickness. His get-off is incredibly quick, and his agility in tight spaces makes him a pain to cover. He is very shifty with the ball in his hands and evades tacklers well. The staff simply won't be able to keep Scott off the field.
This is a player the coaching staff is hoping will take a big step forward this season. He has drawn comparisons to Nuk Hopkins because of his ability to go up and snatch the ball out of the air, although Williams has a ways to go to resemble Nuk in the route-running and physicality departments. However, he has flashed the ability to go over top of people to make catches, something perhaps no other receiver on the roster can offer at this point. The success of the Clemson passing game this season could quite possibly hinge on how rapidly he develops as a go-to target.
Kitt is a very talented receiver who enrolled in the spring semester. He is equipped with a solid pair of hands, runs solid routes and gains yards after the catch. He is not a burner, but he's not easy to run down if he breaks away either. Kitt should see the field a good bit as a freshman because the staff seems to be impressed with him, and hopefully he will push Williams to be a better player as well.
Thompson is the fourth member of the freshman wide receiver class. He is the most likely candidate for a redshirt, but he may actually possess the most upside of the group. Depending on his development, he could avoid redshirting if the staff feels he can be a contributor right away. He is a big target that can stretch the field vertically or snag passes in traffic over the middle. He is elusive for his size and provides a versatile threat as a pass-catcher. Thompson is certainly a player to keep an eye on as the season progresses.