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2016 Clemson Football Season Preview: Wide Receivers

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North Carolina State v Clemson
He’s back
Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images

At the end-of-2015 wide receiver review, our own Alex Craft said that the 2016 unit would not quite match the level of the famed 2012 unit. I, however, disagree. I think the 2016 wide receivers have the potential to be better than the 2012 group. In fact, I think it could be the best positional unit in the history of the program.

Here is a quick refresher on Clemson’s wide receiver terminology and positions. The positions are the 9, the 5, the 2, and the 3. In practice, the 3 is usually a tight end that can split out in the slot or line up in the backfield. The 9 is the boundary receiver, the 2 is off the line of scrimmage (usually) and is the field (wide) receiver, and the 5 is on the line of scrimmage in the slot next to the 2. Because the 2 is off the line of scrimmage, he can run many of the sweep and motion plays that the Clemson offense uses. Clemson likes to cross-train receivers so quite a few players should see time at multiple positions.

The main source of my optimism is the return of the Mike. With the return of Mike Williams (RS Junior, 57/1030/6 in 2014), Clemson gets back the best receiver in college football and a player who will most likely be the first receiver drafted this coming spring. Mike Williams showed a special connection with Deshaun Watson in 2014, and hopefully that will continue in 2016. Williams is Clemson’s best deep threat and the offense notably suffered this past season in his absence, especially early in the season. He will slide right back in as Clemson’s undisputed starter as the 9. Williams may not have breakaway speed, but he has the ability to go up and get the ball and can outmuscle most defenders.

There is really no set backup to Williams at the 9. Deon Cain (Sophomore, 34/582/5) showed flashes there last season, especially later on, but Cain will most likely start at the 5. However, he could see some time at the boundary as Clemson rotates receivers throughout games and goes into their hurry-up. Freshman Diondre Overton (composite 4*, 247 top 200) is another option, particularly because of his 6’5 height. However, Overton will more than likely redshirt because of the depth Clemson has at receiver and so that he can gain some more weight.

Deon Cain is the most talented receiver Clemson has had since Sammy Watkins. Like Watkins, Cain has had some off-the-field issues early in his career. With those issues hopefully behind him, Cain should cement his position as the starter at the 5 position. Cain will be such a treat to watch this season as he continues to develop his technique and route running.

Cain’s “backup” should be Hunter Renfrow (RS Sophomore, 33/492/5). I use scare quotes because Renfrow isn’t a true backup. He is starter quality and will see substantial playing time. Renfrow was undoubtedly the breakout player of last season; I don’t think anyone expected the former walk-on to contribute as much as he did. Renfrow did hit a slump towards the end of the season, and could stand to work on his blocking, but the redshirt sophomore is a real technician when it comes to his route running. He is also very good at drawing pass interference penalties on his deep routes. The crowning moment of his season was definitely the two touchdowns against Alabama. Those two touchdowns also gave us this amazing moment.

Trevion Thompson (RS Sophomore, 10/115/0) and freshman Cornell Powell (composite 4*, 247 top 150) will also see time at the 5 this year. Thompson has been featured sparingly so far in his Clemson career, but he did have a vital catch in the South Carolina game. If he doesn’t make serious gains this season and next off-season, there is a good chance that he might be passed by some of the younger receivers. I think Powell will see increasing time in the receiver rotation as the year goes on. As we saw with Renfrow last season, a lot of the young receivers can hit a wall during the season. Powell is too dynamic with the ball to redshirt, and he should see time early on as a returner.

Artavis Scott (Junior, 93/901/6) is once again the definite starter at the 2. Scott is a deadly weapon on sweeps, screens, and other short routes because of his quickness and refusal to go down on first contact. Look for Artavis to have an even better season now that he is fully healthy. He played a decent bit of last season with a stubborn meniscus injury.

Ray-Ray McCloud (Sophomore, 29/251/1) will back up Scott at the 2. He also had a nagging knee injury at the end of the season. Ray-Ray is an explosive player and the word out of fall camp is that he looks pretty damn good. Expect him to really push for playing time this year. I’d like for him to also be one of the primary returners this year. He is always a threat with the ball in his hands, so I’m excited to see what the staff draws up to get him touches.

Departures

Charone Peake (RS Senior, 50/716/5) finished out his eligibility at Clemson and was drafted by the New York Jets this past April. Reports out of Jets camp are that Peake has been a steal and has a good chance at making the final roster. At the very least, he should be a practice squad player. Charone was never really able to live up to his potential at Clemson because of major knee problems. However, he always battled back and he was an important player this year when Mike Williams was injured. He had some growing pains at the 9, but he improved throughout the year and was also a tremendous blocker.

Germone Hopper (RS Junior, 21/317/1) left the program this offseason. He never really quite put it together while at Clemson but he developed into a good role player this past year. He would have been a reliable depth option at the 2 and the 5.

Arrivals

Cornell Powell is the freshmen most likely to avoid a redshirt. He’ll push for more and more snaps as the year goes on and I think he could see time at the 2 and the 5. Diondre Overton will most likely redshirt, but if he doesn’t, it will be because of his height. I just don’t think there are enough snaps available to justify playing him. I believe that TJ Chase (composite 4*, 247 #215) will almost certainly redshirt. He had a grade issue that delayed his enrollment until late in the summer, so he is behind the ball considerably when it comes to weight gain and playbook knowledge. A redshirt this year will be in his best interest. I think this kid will be an absolute baller at the 2 or the 5 in his time at Clemson.

Outlook

There are only one or two secondaries in college football that can slow this group of receivers. The amount of talent and experience present is insane. Oh, and by the way, Deshaun Watson just had his first healthy offseason to work with these guys. They are going to rewrite record books. Mike Williams will open the rest of the passing game up. With him back, and with Clemson’s strong running game, it will be a “pick your own poison” type of deal for opposing defenses. If you double team, say, Mike Williams, then Deon Cain and Artavis Scott are left with single coverage. If you try to prevent the big pass plays, Clemson is content to rip off five, six, and seven yard gains all day. And if you try to sell out to stop the run, then you’ll get beat over the top. This offense will be racking up yards and points all season... enjoy the ride, folks.