The tight end position has quickly changed college football. Now a TE can rip apart an opposing defense for a huge score by creating mismatches with linebackers or the secondary (see: O.J. Howard). The past few seasons, Clemson has their share of tight ends, though it wasn’t until Dwayne Allen that the Tigers finally began drawing in athletic, high caliber tight ends. Jordan Leggett, despite his questionable work ethic and blocking skills, left no doubt on his ability to exploit defenses in the passing game. Come 2017, Clemson exited the spring with pretty good idea as to where the position could head this year.
Without Leggett, the Tigers are left with several options at the position. As it stands, those options include Milan Richard, Garrett Williams, and Cannon Smith. Clemson does not use a lot of two-tight end sets often (likely thanks to the plethora of playmakers it has at receiver), so most of the snaps go to a single TE all year. The tight end snap participation is clear on that, as Leggett was used far more than the rest of his fellow TEs.
Heading into the spring, one of those guys was expected to be Garrett Williams. While used mainly as an H-back in blocking and short-yardage situations, Williams was pretty good as a pass catcher coming out of high school. With no Leggett, fans might have seen him used a bit more in the passing game. However, Williams suffered an ACL injury in the Orange & White Spring Game. While Dabo’s optimistic about his return (which is still very possible), he will be out for a prolonged period, leaving the Tigers down one tight end. Fortunately, Clemson has plenty of options to go with. Right now, that next step is Milan Richard.
Right now, Richard is largely an unknown. The nephew of Herschel Walker, it’s easy to see that his athletic body type could be a great asset in the passing game. Richard has the most upside of Clemson’s current crop of tight ends, though consistency will be his biggest concern heading into 2017, as will be his blocking ability. Leggett and Allen have shown what a tight end can do for an offense, and with the Tigers breaking in a new quarterback, it will be important for the tight ends to remain involved in the passing game.
On the other side, Williams has been largely used as an H-Back blocking tight end in goal line and short yardage situations. He hasn’t really factored into the passing game his first two years and hasn’t really been required to do so with Leggett taking those duties. Now, with the knee injury he suffered during the spring, this could change the plan for what the Tigers do with the position, outside of Richard likely getting more snaps as the featured guy.
Fortunately, Clemson has numbers at the position. At 6’5, 265 pounds, Cannon Smith might be asked take over more of the blocking and short yardage duties in Williams’ place. He isn’t one to shy away from contact and is a physical player, and Clemson has shown that an increased willingness to block will get you on the field. Heading into fall camp, Smith has a good opportunity to establish himself.
A name to keep an eye on is Shadell Bell. A converted wide receiver, Bell is still growing into the role and likely won’t do much good as a blocker, but he could factor in on passing situations and be used as more of a flex-option. Having made the move last August, Bell has had a full offseason at the position, and could find his chance coming sooner rather than later.
DJ Greenlee is another option the Tigers have , but he has struggled to stay healthy and hasn’t really broken through the rotation in any way outside of special teams. Prior to the Williams injury, it was hard to see Greenlee being a factor, and it’s hard to see so now even with this recent development. JC Chalk will be coming off of a redshirt year and could factor in, though numbers and experience indicate he likely won’t factor in quite yet.
The way it stands now, Clemson has plenty of options at tight end. Given their lack of multiple tight end sets, the Tigers are still pretty solid at this position. With Williams down for an unknown period, expect Richard to step into the main role, with Smith providing support as the next guy.