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2017 Clemson Football Season Preview: Tight Ends

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NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Alabama vs Clemson Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Overview:

Tight End will be the weakest overall position group on the offensive side of the ball. Jordan Leggett is gone and Garrett Williams is out with an ACL injury for the foreseeable future. Leggett served as the security blanket for Deshaun Watson and came up with big catch after big catch late in games. Leggett really made life difficult for opposing defensive coordinators who tried to bracket Mike Williams with a Safety over the top, leaving Leggett in man to man coverage against a LB or Safety. It was a matchup that Clemson frequently won, especially when they got the tempo rolling in the two minute drill.

Traditionally in the smashmouth spread the TE or ‘3’ position is a jack of all trades who can block on the line, flex out, and even run the ball in the backfield. This year the TE position will be less of a receiving threat down the field and you will see more four wide formations. All of these guys need game experience and will have some developmental bumps in the road.

RJr Milan Richard (6’2.5, 256)

Milan is going to be the guy. At 6’2 Richard isn’t the tallest TE, but he does have longer arms. He is a decent receiver, but has hardly caught any balls in his entire career despite logging 172 snaps for his career. His only catch was a 9 yard reception against SC State last year. I don’t care how well you have performed in the Spring or Fall camp—that is a startling lack of production for a guy who has been on the field that many snaps compared to the production of your departed starter. I mean Leggett had 46 receptions last year and over a hundred for his career with over a thousand receiving yards. We are replacing that with one catch for nine yards. I’m not trying to be too hard on Richard specifically because he is head and shoulders better than our other tight end options, but I do want folks to realize just how much production Clemson has lost at the position.

Richard can be serviceable as a receiver and knows the position in his fourth year. He doesn’t have great open field speed or elusiveness, but he doesn’t have any major deficiencies physically. What frustrated me last year was Richard’s blocking. For example, after Leggett got dinged in the Ohio State game, Richard came in near the goal-line on a rushing play to Richard’s side and he missed his blocking assignment, which allowed the Buckeye defense to blow Gallman up. Gallman was not happy and called Richard out. If you go back and watch tape on Richard throughout the season he misses a lot of blocks. Supposedly he has been better during camp, but there is a reason that Williams and Smith are your blocking TEs.

Richard has the physical tools to be a dependable, serviceable tight end that is decent all around. That can be very valuable if he doesn’t miss any blocking assignments or run incorrect routes.

RJr Cannon Smith (6’5, 269)

Clemson really needs Cannon to make a jump this year. Cannon only managed 38 snaps last year and two catches for 25 yards. Smith has mainly been used as a blocker when he gets into games. He does possess reliable hands and can catch the ball, but he doesn’t have the athleticism to consistently stretch the field. Smith can be a valuable part of the run game with the absence of Garrett Williams.

RSr DJ Greenlee (6’1, 246)

Next you have Greenlee. Yep, I can’t believe I am writing this, but in his redshirt senior year Greenlee could be looking at a role where he logs over or close to a hundred snaps. He played 25 snaps last year with 9 of those being against SC State. He has even played sparingly on special teams throughout his career. I couldn’t find any statistics for him. I thought he had caught at least one pass during his career, but that doesn’t look to be the case.

Greenlee is a similar all around player to Richard. He just is a couple notches below him athletically and physically (Greenlee suffered an ACL injury in 2014). Greenlee does know the offense though.

RSo Shadell Bell (6’1, 230)

Bell made great strides this offseason, putting on ten-fifteen pounds of good weight. He can play the position at 230 pounds. As a former receiver he has the receiving skills with route running and the hands to play TE, but he is still progressing as a blocker and putting everything together mentally. He was hampered by a calf injury in camp. He is also adjusting to the added weight a bit. Bell gives you an interesting receiving option in your tight end group, but hasn’t earned the trust of coaches yet. He only played 7 snaps last year because he was just too small.

RFr JC Chalk (6’2, 249)

Chalk is going to be a contributor in the future at Clemson. He has the size to play on the line and decent enough athleticism to flex out. Chalk is still swimming mentally though and will need some more time to be trusted on the field. Hopefully as the season progresses he can find the field and gain experience.

Injured: Jr Garrett Williams (6’3, 245)

Williams, in my book, is the best tight end on the roster. He is the best blocker by far and developing as a pass catching threat. He gives maximum effort on every play. He would have split time with Richard as the two main tight ends this year if he hadn’t gone down with an ACL injury.

Despite the injury he is still working and is trying to rehab for this season. I think he should just use his redshirt year, but we will see how the season progresses.

On the horizon we have Braden Galloway committed in the class of 2018, who is an underrated 6’6 athlete who is just learning to play football. We also are still in the hunt for Mustapha Muhammad as an oversign target and should get an official visit from him in the fall.