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2016 Clemson Football Review: Tight Ends

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NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It has been said numerous times, that the effectiveness of the tight end is a good barometer of just how well the Clemson offense is running. After a very underwhelming season in 2014 from the position group as a whole, the 2015 team saw a resurgence by the tight end group from primary tight end, Jordan Leggett. And while Leggett is indeed the primary target from the tight end position, there were others on the 2016 team that were destined to carve out a niche within the team.

Jordan Leggett, Senior, 46 Catches/736 Yards/16 YPC/7 TD/49.1 YPG

After starting his career by being admittedly lazy, Leggett built upon a solid 2015 season with another great receiving year by wracking up 736 yards on 46 catches for a stellar 16 yards per catch. His 7 TD’s were second in the ACC among TE’s, only second to Louisville’s Cole Hikutini (8 TDs). While he did seem to give up on routes at times where he thought he was covered (example, 4th quarter vs Bama), he seemed to give better effort on blocking in space than in years past.

Where we really needed Leggett to start blossoming even more in 2016 was in the running game by being both an effective blocker in space, and in line. Leggett’s blocking, much like 2015, did leave some to be desired once again. The Senior almost seemed to shy away from blocking on the line of scrimmage or pulling on wham blocks. In space he was a more effective blocker, but when you’re 6’6’’ and 255 pounds, you should be able to block DBs with ease. While the NFL game is moving towards TE’s like Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski that can play well in space, Leggett still needs to offer more than what we have seen so far while blocking to really up his NFL stock.

Leggett will move on from the program this year and while he was a sporadic blocker, his overall versatility that allowed Clemson to be so multiple with 11 personnel will be missed.

From the 2016 Season Preview:

How did we do?

Leggett ended the season 3rd in receptions for a tight end (46 receptions compared to 48 for Bucky Hodges and 50 for Hikutini), 1st in yards, and tied for 2nd in TD’s (only one behind Hikutini). Sure, he had 2 extra games to do it compared to the others, but were going to count it, damnit.

He was a finalist for the Mackey Award along with Jake Butt of Michigan (who won on due to a hilarious name) and OJ Howard of Alabama (who was the least deserving finalist for any award this year, he only carves up Clemson and this is a regular season award). And while he didn’t necessarily destroy people while blocking, it was adequate enough. Leggett earns a superb A in his final campaign.

Garrett Williams, Sophomore, 2 Catches/19 Yards/9.5 YPC/0 TD/1.3 YPG

Whereas Leggett excels as a receiver, Garrett Williams excels as a blocker. He finally logged his first career receptions this year, but Williams was used almost exclusively as an in line blocker again this year over 14 games with a snap total of 142.

What’s great about Williams, is that he really enjoys blocking. He does not need to ball in his hands in order to have a good time, he just needs to be cracking pads in order to get himself and all of us riled up. He typically lined up as an H-Back but also was seen flexed out wide at times this year.

Williams will need to start proving he can be a threat in space if he wishes to take over full responsibilities for Leggett in 2017.

From the 2016 Season Preview:

How did we do?

He definitely continued to excel as a blocker and while he only had 2 receptions, he did seem to run more pass patterns than in 2015. Continued growth will do him well. Williams garners a B+ for his performance this year, but in 2017 we will need to see more from his passing game production.

Milan Richard, RS Sophomore, 1 Catch/9 Yards/9 YPC/O TD/0.6 YPG

Going into the 2015 season, I was really high on the potential of Richard. He reminded of me of Dwayne Allen as a compact TE with good receiving skills. But, unlike Allen, Richard has been held back to this point in his college career, mostly due to sitting behind Jordan Leggett. Although he did log action in all 14 games prior to National Championship game to a tune of 142 snaps (somehow exactly equaling Williams).

Richard has the ability to flex out wide and also move into the backfield as an H-Back. This type of flexibility is something that we really need in our TE in this offense in order to really hum along with 11 personnel. But, while Richard has the ability to be a threat as both a receiver and a blocker, he really needs to commit to being a willful blocker. I don’t know if it’s tentativeness to block due to laziness or being uncomfortable in his skills, either way, Milan needs to improve as a blocker or he risks not taking his share of snaps as a RS Junior.

From the 2016 Season Preview:

How did we do?

He still showed his Jane side at moments, and really hasn’t separated himself from the other underclassman at this point. This spring will be crucial for him. Richard gets a B- as he really needs to focus on becoming a better blocker.

Cannon Smith, RS Sophomore, 2 Catches/25 Yards/12.5 YPC/0 TD/1.7 YPG

Cannon Smith brought me one hell of an enjoyable play this season during mop up duty. In what would be the first catch of his career, Smith took a play action pass to the flats vs SCSt and turned it into a bone crunching run. On the play (going by bourbon fueled memory here so feel free to fact check) Cannon really fired the cannons by: Trucking a defender, running straight ahead and trucking another and losing his helment, and then finishing the run helmetless and still fighting for yards.

I. LOVE. THIS. S*!#.

That’s the type of fire I love to see from young guys when given the chance. Now, Smith doesn’t offer the athletic upside of a Leggett or Richard, and probably isn’t as good an H-Back blocker as Williams. But with the size of a mountain and a fire in his belly, I wouldn’t count out Smith to be heavily used in typical 11 personnel this coming season. He just needs to refine his route running and catching, because as an in line blocker, he’s essentially another OT at 6’5’’ and 260. He logged action in 9 different games this year for a total of 38 snaps.

From the 2016 Season Preview:

How did we do?

Well, he did play in the jumbo a lot and did log time in regular 11 personnel, and provided me with tons of excitement on one mop up play. I’ll take it. B+ in limited duty for Smith.

DJ Greenlee, RS Junior, Straight 0’s

DJ played some on special teams and earned a national championship ring. If I’m not mistaken, he even got on the field in the 31-0 domination of t0SU. (Did some research, he apparently didn’t play in this game but did play in 4 others).

From the 2016 Season Prediction:

How did we do?

We may have gotten out early of this engagement. Did we? Did he run The Hill at Senior Day? No clue.

Shaddell Bell, RS Freshman, More 0’s

Bell is completely new to the TE position after moving over from the log jam at WR. Hopes to potentially take the Brandon Ford trajectory and become a decent receiving TE. He got some action in mop up duties (2 games) and clearly does not have the physicality to be an effective TE at this time, but this was anticipated. He did seem willing to block which is encouraging.

From the 2016 Season Preview:

How did we do?

Ask me at the spring game when his playing weight is released for the game for a final assessment.

J.C. Chalk, Freshman, 3* Recruit

Chalk spent the 2016 season redshirting and the 3* grandson of former Alabama coach Gene Stallings will look to potentially supplant one of the older members of the current TE rotation this coming fall. He appears to offer a little bit of everything good, but not elite singular tools. His development is one to watch for 2018.

From the 2016 Season Preview:

How did we do?

Yes he redshirted and we will use the spring game as a barometer for Chalk. Another grade deferral here.

Final Assessment and the Look Ahead

Leggett’s high level of play in the receiving game was one of the deciding factors that not only helped this offense click, but also helped us on our game winning drive against Alabama. His acrobatic catch made up for a give up and drop on a wide open route earlier in the 4th quarter. His versatility and athleticism will be sorely missed.

With no committed players at the TE position for 2017, the new starter at TE will definitely come from the group listed above. As of right now no one has separated themselves from the pack to be the heir apparent for the TE slot. It will be an interesting spring to see this position battle as each one of the potential replacements offers something a little different from the others.

Final Grade: A+ in receiving, and a B in blocking, and we’ll round up for an A average