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2015 Clemson Football Season Preview: Wide Receivers

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Feel sorry for opposing secondaries. Very sorry.

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

In the 2014 receiver preview, we labeled Clemson's receiver group a question mark despite its obvious talent because the group featured young, unproven, or perpetually injured players. There were simply no proven replacements for the G.O.A.T. Sammy Watkins or the inhuman combination of size and speed which Martavis Bryant presented as a vertical threat. Talent remained; we did not know who would meet expectations or who would emerge and exceed them.

Presently, we find ourselves with an embarrassment of riches at the receiver position. Mike Williams and Artavis Scott emerged and are considered the top two receivers in the league. First, the losses: the overachieving Adam Humphries graduated and currently plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. True freshman Demarre Kitt left the program at the conclusion of 2014 and will spend this season at Mississippi Gulf Coast CC. Kyrin Priester got the boot from Dabo shortly after the opener against UGA last year, but found a home at Washington State.

We replace those three with elite playmakers Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud III, plus composite 3-star Shadell Bell. However, with all of the proven talent returning from 2014, don't expect Cain or McCloud to light the world on fire like Sammy did back in 2011. Watkins and the 2011 receiver renaissance raised our talent level; in 2015, Cain and McCloud sustain it.

Player Year Height Weight Stars Games Starts Receptions Yards Touchdowns
Mike Williams Junior 6'4" 213 4 13 11 57 1030 6
Artavis Scott Sophomore 5'10" 191 4 13 6 76 965 8
Charone Peake RS Graduate 6'2" 214 4 7 4 12 129 2
Germone Hopper RS Junior 5'10" 175 4 13 3 27 331 3
Adrien Dunn RS Sophomore Walk-on 5'7" 178 0 4 0 3 28 0
Trevion Thompson RS Freshman 6'2" 195 4
Deon Cain Freshman 6'2" 197 5
Ray-Ray McCloud III Freshman 5'10" 181 4
Shadell Bell Freshman 6'3" 188 3

I deplore all the #WeTooDeep and #WRU slogans/posturing, but if there is a position group at Clemson which is, in fact, "too deep" with talent it is our receiver corps -- but don't get me started on our lack of depth everywhere else OH GOD NO.

I broke down the depth chart for you based on position, but keep in mind we often rotate different receivers into the different positions, particularly the slot and field receivers. For example, the summer depth chart listed Germone Hopper as the backup at both the field and slot positions. To help you visualize how each position generally lines up, consult the chart below and take note of the 2, 5, and 9. In our base 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end, 3 receivers) the 3 is the H-Back or Tight End which we will highlight (actually lament) in the next position preview.

Boundary Receiver -  or more commonly the "9" in Clemson's offense.

Mike Williams, #7, Junior, 6'4" 210 pounds.

We start with Mike Williams, a prototypical boundary target. In 2013, he backed up Martavis Bryant quite well -- and was arguably a better pass catcher. Williams overcame a few drops early last season and truly emerged with Deshaun Watson at the helm vs FSU, becoming Clemson's most reliable intermediate and downfield target. If there is a weakness in his game, it is his lack of elite speed. Fortunately, he has the size and strength to separate from defenders without outrunning them.

Sans Watson, Williams bore little fruit for his labor, save for the BC game and the rout of Oklahoma. Williams is best suited to play the role of vertical threat. He is a physical ball-hawk with a skill set very similar to Nuk Hopkins. If his progression continues -- I expect a 75 reception, 1200 yard campaign with 8 to 10 touchdowns -- Williams will be a first or second rounder in 2016.

Trevion Thompson, #1, RS Freshman, 6'2" 195 pounds

By all accounts, Thompson has the desired physical tools to excel at the boundary in relief of Williams. A relative unknown, reports from bowl and spring practices were positive, and he continued his development with an outstanding fall camp, holding off 5 star Deon Cain to remain second-string. I expect Thompson will show his quality on the boundary much like Williams did in 2013 with around 200 yards and a couple of scores.

Deon Cain, #8, Freshman, 6'2" 205 pounds

Cain is the incoming stud who I believe will be a force by the end of the season. This is a Sammy Watkins-level talent, but unlike 2011, we already have established stars and quality depth. It remains to be seen if Cain is as mentally ferocious or technically sound as Watkins was when he arrived, since Cain played zone read quarterback in high school. Again, with the constant rotating of receivers, Cain will still get playing time and contribute from the outset.

Listed in the boundary initially, I expect us to also utilize Cain at the field position (where I had him pegged until seeing the depth chart). Cain likely has the highest ceiling of all our receivers, and we simply cannot keep him off the field for long, no matter where he lines up.

Field Receiver - or more commonly the "2" in Clemson's offense.

Scott vs Scar

Artavis Scott, #3, Sophomore, 5'10" 190 pounds.

Scott showed us very early that he should start instead of Adam Humphries. The coaching staff caught on, and Scott siphoned more snaps throughout the year. Scott's most memorable games came against South Carolina and Oklahoma, but let's not forget, he had stellar performances against UGA, SC State, and UNC earlier in the year.

Lined up in space, Scott emerged in the role I hoped Charone Peake would fill, which made him the the closest thing to a replacement for Sammy Watkins we could get. While Scott lacks Watkins' size and top end speed, he emulates Watkins' physical yet elusive style after the catch, which made him our top home run threat a year ago. I expect more of the same this year, but with more room to operate underneath, since defenses will have to worry about Watson hitting Williams deep far more than they did a year ago when Cole Stoudt took two thirds of the snaps.

Matching 2014's statistics is a tall order with the attention Scott is bound to receive, but with so many other threats, defenses won't be able to key on him without getting burned elsewhere. I expect Scott to reach 1000 yards as Clemson's main playmaking threat.

Clemtoes

#rekt

Ray-Ray McCloud III, #34, Freshman, 5'9" 185 pounds

RRMIII is the other elite freshman talent, but unlike Cain he is more of an all-purpose threat than a complete WR stud. McCloud will also get time in a crowded backfield, not to mention the jet sweep we used with Artavis Scott to destroy South Carolina (see gifs). McCloud is a smooth runner with elite quickness; an undeniable playmaker who reminds me of CJ Spiller, although he lacks the burst which made Spiller an all-time great.

McCloud reportedly had an outstanding camp and will contribute from the start. You can expect plenty of touches for McCloud this season as Clemson continues to stress defenses both vertically and horizontally -- especially if the offensive line and our run-game struggles continue. With Scott and McCloud relieving one another, there will be no chance for a defense to catch a break.

Slot Receiver - also called the "5" in Clemson's offense.

Charone Peake, #19 RS Senior, 6'2" 214 pounds.

Peake arrived at Clemson rated higher than Sammy Watkins by ESPN (not kidding). He performed quite well as a backup his first two seasons only to suffer a torn ACL in week 2 of 2013 after a career game in the opener vs UGA. He redshirted 2013 and then barely played from week 4 until the bowl game last year, after it was apparent his knee had not fully healed.

Deemed the starter in the slot, Peake is another matchup nightmare for defenders and touted weapon for Watson -- if they can remain healthy. He is the fastest man on the team and has a long, powerful frame to complement his speed. With essentially two full years to heal and add muscle to his frame, I expect Peake to surpass his current career totals in receptions and yards.

Germone Hopper, #5, RS Junior, 5'11" 175 pounds.

If Cain or McCloud take considerable snaps away from a veteran, Hopper is the safest bet. Mired by frequent drops, inability to gain quality weight, and what I choose to call a "lack of focus" throughout this career, Hopper continually underwhelmed -- with only a handful of highlight-worthy plays.

However, just when I considered him a suspect for a likely transfer (it ended up being Kitt), Hopper goes and catches the best throw of Stoudt's career to make it 40-0 in the bowl game. Hopper certainly has wheels and some of the best moves on the team. He is fast enough to get separation and is a legitimate YAC threat, but entering his 4th year in the program, he needs to keep himself on the field, and the ball off of it.

My Take

This is clearly the top position group on the team and arguably the top receiver group in the country. Quarterback has an elite talent in Deshaun Watson (also likely the best in the country), but zero depth behind him. Running Back has plenty of depth, but the talent level is merely above average. Only Wide Receiver has elite talent and depth. With the most talented quarterback in Clemson history to distribute the ball, the potential for this position group rivals that of 2011 and 2012 -- which boasted four current NFL starters in Sammy Watkins, Deandre Hopkins, Martavis Bryant, and Jaron Brown. If the offense runs as it is supposed to, Clemson will not lead the nation in passing. But Clemson will still possess the most dangerous and efficient aerial attack in college football.