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2017 Clemson Football Season Preview: Wide Receiver

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NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Ohio State vs Clemson Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson Football 2017 Preview: Wide Receivers

For what seems to be a continually stacked position for the Tigers every year since 2011, wide receivers have been the bread and butter that has made Clemson’s offense thrive. Even when injuries have hit key players at this position, the offense has continued to thrive thanks to the fortunate amount depth and talent the Tigers have accumulated. Even with the loss of leading receiver Mike Williams and veteran leader Artavis Scott, this group should still be among Clemson’s best in 2017 and provide whoever keeps the quarterback job with plenty of help.

Deon Cain

Widely expected to step into the role of No. 1 receiver in 2017, Cain will be following in the footsteps of guys like Sammy Watkins, Deandre Hopkins, and the recently departed Williams. At 6’1, 210 pounds, Cain not only has the size and frame to succeed, but he has proven his big play ability in a backup role his first two seasons. His speed on the outside turned him into Clemson’s best deep threat, as the Florida native hauled in 38 receptions for 724 yards and seven touchdowns.

No matter who eventually reigns full-time at quarterback, having Cain on the outside will be a tremendous help to stretch opposing defenses.

There were plenty of promising signs in 2016 of Cain further expanding his game beyond fly routes, as he showed plenty of willingness and adept ability at catching screen passes and doing damage in the middle of the field. Cain was on many First-Team preseason ACC ballots for a reason, and expecting him to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark should come as no surprise.

Ray-Ray McCloud

Taking the opposing spot left by Artavis Scott, McCloud gained a bit of unfortunate attention for his special teams blunder against Troy.

The biggest obstacle for McCloud the past two years has been his maturity level, an avenue in which he began making strides in last season. He filled in admirably for Renfrow when the latter missed a month of play and finished the 2016 season with 49 receptions for 472 yards and two touchdowns. McCloud’s speed has yet to be fully integrated into Clemson’s game plan, but that should change come 2017.

The spring game saw the return of the pitch sweep, in which McCloud got to use his speed to its best advantage. These were few and in between last season, but with a new quarterback to break in, this play will take much-needed pressure off of the passer while providing a quick play to get the ball into the hands of the offense’s best playmakers.

A big play threat waiting to happen, McCloud has been waiting in the wings for his time to shine, and 2017 could be the year the junior finally gets the chance to spread his wings and fly.

Hunter Renfrow

The name that will be forever immortalized in Clemson football history alongside arguably its greatest player in Deshaun Watson, Renfrow has become something of a folk hero in Tigertown. People can’t enough of the guy, and having him back again is a blessing for both fans and the receiving corps.

If the Tigers needed a big third conversion, it was going to one of three guys. Williams, Jordan Leggett, or Renfrow. With two of those guys gone, Renfrow’s the main guy out of the slot to attack opposing defenses. Probably the most sure-handed of Clemson’s receivers, Renfrow’s deceptive athleticism and burst out of the slot makes him dangerous and difficult to cover.

There isn’t much to say about this guy that hasn’t already been said. From former walk-on to national championship receiver, Renfrow should have his name called early and often.

Trevion Thompson

One of the more forgotten guys in the receiving corps, Thompson is a guy who just steps on the field and does whatever is asked of him. He will perhaps be most remembered for the vaunted 3rd and 24 back in 2015 against South Carolina, in which he hauled in the catch for a first down that sealed an undefeated regular season for the Tigers.

Listed as the primary backup to Cain in the summer depth chart, Thompson provides valuable veteran depth for the receiving corps. This is, however, not likely to stand for long, as young studs like Powell and Overton are likely to overtake Thompson for said backup role sooner rather than later, given their upside and full year learning the offense after earning time as true freshmen last season. Regardless, it doesn’t hurt to have a capable veteran in the wings, as it does give the Tigers an opportunity to redshirt at least one of their incoming receiving recruits.

Cornell Powell

Earning over 100 snaps as a true freshman a season ago, Powell is one of the two guys ready to take that next step for an increased role amongst this crowded receiving corps. At 6’0, 200 pounds, Powell is built in the mold of an Artavis Scott and is a strong, physical receiver with good speed and elusiveness in the open field.

While he doesn’t possess the elite speed of guys like Cain or McCloud, he does a lot of things well and is the sure-handed kind of receiver that Scott was for three years. Listed as the primary backup behind McCloud, Powell should bring a solid mix of physical play to the receiving corps.

Diondre Overton

Another guy who avoided a redshirt last season and earned over 100 snaps as a true freshmen, Overton is the guy who could quickly sneak up to steal snaps from Thompson and spell time for Cain. At 6’5, 200 pounds, Overton provides the kind of length and athleticism that has made Clemson WRU over the last few years.

While not boasting the kind of deep threat speed Cain has, he has shown potential to get open downfield. He showcased this in the spring game as he snagged the lone touchdown pass from Hunter Johnson.

Overton’s height and frame could make him a much-needed redzone threat over the course of the season and provide a one-two punch at the 9 position alongside Cain. It shouldn’t take for him to eclipse Thompson on the depth chart.

T.J. Chase

One of the three receiving signees alongside Powell and Overton last season, Chase was the lone member of the trio to get slapped with a redshirt last season. Coming in at around 168 pounds, Chase needed to add some weight to his more slender frame to become more physically ready for playing time.

Listed in the slot behind Renfrow, Chase is easily the fastest of last year’s receiver trio. Another receiver snagged from the state of Florida, the redshirt freshman adds yet another gear to Clemson’s fast receiving corps. At 6’1, he brings decent size to the position. Fortunately, he has the opportunity to learn from one of the best and should function in a similar role to Powell and Overton last season.

Others

The biggest newcomers on the block to take notice of are the highly touted recruits from Tennessee in Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers. The fact that Clemson managed to pull them away from the watchful eyes of their home state Volunteers speaks volumes.

Measuring at 6’4 and around 190, Higgins possesses a unique combination of both size and speed and is expected to contribute right away. A consensus five-star by many recruiting services, Higgins makes the Clemson-rich receiving corps even richer. Slated to play at the 9 spot, there is no doubt Higgins will see time on the field. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

On the other side, his teammate Rodgers drew comparisons as an “Artavis Scott clone” from our own QT at STS. Like his teammate Higgins, Rodgers is expected to come in and compete in a receiving corps chock full of talent. While he hasn’t come in with as much fanfare as Higgins, expect Rodgers to bring the kind of steady and physical, hard-working play Scott became known for in his three years as the starter.

Final Verdict:

Clemson will no doubt miss Williams on the outside and Scott’s veteran leadership. However, Cain and McCloud should not provide much of a drop-off, especially given that both are faster threats on the outside than both of their predecessors. Depth continues to be solid as well, with the likes of Powell, Overton, Thompson and Chase to round out a solid rotation. How soon the highly touted Volunteer state recruits in Higgins and Rodgers see the field remains to be seen, though it is likely that both avoid redshirts and wind up seeing the field in meaningful time this season. In 2017, WRU is still going strong in Tigertown.