Clemson's wide receivers coach and new co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott has smartly used outgoing pro prospects and current talent to brand Clemson as #WRU on social media. Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant left early for the NFL following the 2013 season, combining to score 14 touchdowns in their rookie seasons. They joined DeAndre Hopkins and Jaron Brown as active Tiger receivers in the league.
Still, departures at WR and inexperience at quarterback created an uphill battle for Clemson's receivers in 2014. Only one receiver with a 40-catch season under his belt, Adam Humphries, returned for the Tigers which forced some less experienced players into action.
How did the wide receivers fare in 2014 and where might the position be heading for Clemson?
2014's Receiver Performances
Notes: Snap counts via Clemson. All other stats from cfbstats.com. While Jordan Leggett and the other players listed as tight ends are important parts of the offense, we'll stick to players listed at WR for this piece. Class listed in parenthesis is from 2014 season.
Mike Williams (SO): 57 receptions, 1030 yards, 6 TD on 749 snaps
Mike Williams more than doubled his 2013 output on the way to earning second-team All-ACC honors in his sophomore season. He hauled in at least five passes in seven different games, and was the fifth-leading player in terms of YPC in the conference. Williams recorded 15 plays of 25+ yards to help his 18 yards/catch. He caught just four passes and one touchdown, however, on plays that originated in the opponent's red zone, which is further evidence on Clemson's disappointing red zone offense. Williams provides a good downfield threat, yet he could use his size to become even more physical.
"I'm real close to taking that next step," Williams told media back in October. He was correct, but there appear to be more steps remaining. Another Clemson receiver exiting early for the NFL doesn't seem far-fetched if the 6-4, 210-pound Williams continues his ascent.
Artavis Scott (FR): 76 receptions, 965 yards, 8 TD on 550 snaps
Artavis Scott was just a freshman in 2014. This fact should be yelled at DJ Khaled levels throughout every highlight of his debut season. Between his opening score in the bowl game, two touchdowns against the in-state rivals, the game-breaking touchdown against Wake, and everything else, there were plenty of moments to make Dabo yell like a hypeman. Scott led the ACC's freshman receivers in the three main categories and earned a slot on a couple freshman All-America teams.
Listed at 5-10, Scott's definitely not tall but he plays with far more physicality than most receivers his size. A lot of Scott's yardage comes in the screen game and on the jet play that wreaked havoc on a few Clemson opponents, allowing a more direct way to get the ball in the freshman's hands. 2014 was an impressive year for rookies nationally and in the conference--Watson, FSU's Dalvin Cook, Miami's Brad Kaaya, to name a few--so Scott's lack of national hype is understandable. That doesn't particularly matter, though, and in Scott the Tigers have a young playmaker capable of providing a ton of offensive flexibility.
If you're wondering how Dabo feels about Scott's future, his face here probably covers it.
Adam Humphries (SR): 30 receptions, 204 yards, 0 TD on 582 snaps
Other than breaking Clemson's all-time record for career appearances by a wide receiver, Humphries didn't have the most memorable senior campaign. He posted his lowest reception total since his freshman year in 2011, with his yards per catch also dipping nearly five yards to 6.8. His 582 snaps placed him behind only Williams for Clemson receivers, yet the senior was never as involved as he had been in the two seasons prior. What kind of odds, if something like this were on the books, could you have gotten before the season on Humphries scoring more punt returns (1) than receptions (0)? I'll particularly miss the way the ladies next to me in Death Valley yelled "HUMP" every time he did anything--but the loss of the Spartanburg native is not one that will doom the Tigers.
Germone Hopper (RS SO): 27 receptions, 331 yards, 3 TD on 424 snaps
In his redshirt-sophomore season, Hopper found himself just outside Clemson's top three receivers in terms of snaps but earned the third-most yards. Though Hopper's 331 receiving yards were third on the team by more than 100 yards, it was also the first time Clemson's third receiver in terms of yardage failed to reach 450 yards since 2010. He scored three times--twice in the offensive explosion against UNC and another in the bowl game--flashing, on occasion, the talent that earned him a top-15 receiver ranking coming out of high school. As the rotation grows more crowded, Hopper will need to make the most of his two remaining seasons of eligibility to avoid being edged out.
Charone Peake (RS JR): 12 receptions, 129 yards, 2 TD on 221 snaps
Whether injury or an unenviable place on the depth chart, Peake's first four years at Clemson each had some type of misfortune. He was overshadowed by Watkins and Hopkins early in his career--then the misfortune switched to injuries. After tearing his ACL in 2013, Peake scored on Watson's first-career touchdown pass in the 2014 opener and was getting a lot of playing time, but more injury complications caused him to miss six games. Had he gotten healthy, Peake could've had a nice year, giving the coaches flexibility as someone who'd been around the offense a while. He graduated in December 2014 but will play his final season in orange this fall. Since we know Dabo has no problems giving seniors chances, he will have his opportunities in '15 if he's able to return to full health.
Outlook for 2015 and beyond
Departures: Adam Humphries, Demarre Kitt (transferred to Mississippi Gulf Coast CC), Kyrin Priester (dismissed after UGA game), Daniel Rodriguez, Andrew Maass
2015 Signees: Deon Cain, Ray Ray McCloud, Shadell Bell
Current 2016 verbals: Tavares Chase, Cornell Powell
Listed as a five-star on 247 and Rivals, Cain (6-1.5, 190) was 2015's composite No. 2 receiver even though he played quarterback in high school. Assuming he can quickly make the transition to the position full-time, I'd definitely enjoy seeing the smooth receiver play early. Recruiting services listed McCloud at athlete or running back, but Clemson already lists him at wide receiver on the roster. Considering his size (5-9, 175) and quickness, he's suited to have a fluid role in the Tigers' offense. Bell lacks a similar hype to the Tampa guys, but he has good size (6-3, 190) and enrolled early, which is especially helpful for receivers. He could provide much-needed depth for the Tigers in the future. QT further broke down WR recruiting yesterday in part two of his 2015 evaluation.
Going forward, only Humphries leaves from the 2014 rotation that managed to feature two pretty stellar seasons from Scott and Williams in spite of inconsistency at quarterback. The departures of Kitt and Priester, who were both 2014 recruits, hits harder than that of Humphries. Scott and redshirt freshman Trevion Thompson--whose redshirt progress was described by Dabo as "night and day"--will be the only second-year scholarship receivers this fall. Peake will depart after the 2015 season, and if Williams can turn another good year into an NFL contract, he'll be gone as well, making some of the depth for the future a bit misleading. But for 2015, Clemson essentially swaps out Humphries for Thompson and the three true freshmen, which seems like a pretty decent deal on paper. Let's also hope the 2015 Tigers can avoid the seemingly-annual wide receiver transfer.
With Watson hopefully healthy and as dynamic as he showed he could be, the receivers as a whole could take another leap during the quarterback's sophomore year. It's impossible to ignore the replacement of Chad Morris with co-offensive coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott and how that will play out over the course of the season. Both co-coordinators and Dabo all played and have coached the position before, so at least in theory the offense will be very receiver-friendly. Distributing Humphries' snaps and the amount of playing time for the freshmen are among the selection dilemmas on their hands--not to mention managing the rest of the offense. If the receivers can avoid the silly drops, they'll easily take the
Intercontinental Interpositional Championship belt for the team's strongest position group--currently held by last season's defensive line. #WRU may be a clever recruiting ploy, but a strong 2015 from the Clemson receivers would make the case even more legitimate.