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The Review of 2017’s Wide Receiver U

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Without a true #1, WRU was in a state of flux all season

NCAA Football: Clemson at South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson’s got the power rangers, but the long-time bread and butter of this team is the WR corps, so much so that Clemson’s claimed the mantle of “WRU” due to the number of NFL receivers produced. So how did that hallowed group perform in 2017?

The Main Guys

Clemson’s primary receivers in 2017 were Deon Cain, Ray-Ray McCloud, and our lord and savior Hunter Renfrow. Cain was the #1 guy, with Ray-Ray and Renfrow alternating work at #2 and slot.

Deon Cain

From our preview of the 2017 WR corps:

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.

That didn’t really happen in 2017 for the former 5 star out of Tampa. Yes, Cain’s catch totals went up from 38 to 58, but the big plays dried up. His longest reception (outside of the cupcake games, Kent State and Citadel) was 38 yards, and his yardage on the season was almost identical to 2016, at 734. He had one game over 100 yards receiving, the Citadel–his YPC obviously went down, from 19.1 to 12.7, and he caught 3 fewer TDs on the year.

Whether it was more the fault of being without a Mike Williams to take the eye of the defense off Cain, or not having a Deshaun Watson to throw for 4000+ yards and almost 40 TDs isn’t clear, but not having either makes the drop understandable.

Speaking of drops, that’s where most of the talk around Deon Cain was centered. Cain, in 2017 especially, seemed to drop balls at the most crucial of times and most baffling situations. He could make an incredible catch one play where you don’t quite understand how he managed to grab that pass and go out the next play and drop a wide open pass down the sideline. One of the most notable and painful examples of his drops can be found [CLEMSON FANS LOOK AWAY] here:

Get rid of drops like that and Deon Cain is an every-down receiver. It isn’t hopeless since Cain has only been a WR for a couple of seasons, but he’ll have to fix his problems at the next level, since he declared for the NFL Draft following the Sugar Bowl.

Season grade: C+

Ray-Ray McCloud

Another former 5 star recruit out of Tampa, Ray-Ray started this year as “the guy” for the slot after Artavis Scott’s departure, but he left a lot to be desired, especially in the second half of the year.

After a strong showing against Auburn, where he managed 6 catches for 81 yards in a game where only 20 total points where scored, and Louisville, highlighted by a 79-yard TD catch, it seemed like Ray-Ray had made his leap. But following those two performances, Ray-Ray wouldn’t cross 50 yards in a game again until the ACC title. His 79-yard TD was the only TD he caught all year, the only other score coming on his amazing 77-yard punt return TD against NC State.

Perhaps this is a bit unfair on Ray-Ray, after all, you can’t expect a slot WR to be hauling in massive yardage totals, especially considering the run-first approach Clemson had in 2017. But the complete drop off after the Auburn game (save flashes against Louisville and Miami) leaves many Clemson fans with a sour taste in their mouth, only really being able to look to DB/Punt Returner Ray-Ray McCloud when thinking of what he did this season. (It’s really hard not to think of this beautiful punt return when thinking of Ray-Ray.)

His time at DB left many hoping he would move there full-time, as he showed potential in his limited action, but Ray-Ray’s decided to join Cain in the NFL Draft instead.

Season grade: C (as a receiver), B- (as a WR/CB/PR)

The Magnificent and Wonderful Human Being, Hunter Renfrow

The 2017 campaign for the most amazing man on Earth was solid, smart, and reliable, just like Renfrow himself.

He managed to go a long time without finding the endzone, scoring only against the Citadel and twice against South Carolina, but he was far from absent when it mattered. The majority of his best games came against Clemson’s best opponents and, while his YPC and TDs went down, his catch total and total yards increased enough to compensate for lost production. Without a pass-first offense, Renfrow will likely always be someone that matters more on the field than in the stat sheet.

Here’s that long TD he had versus South Carolina, just to make you feel good:

His tendency to show up when it matters is what bumps his grade up, but he may always be limited by physical traits.

Season grade: A++ (B in Renfrow-adjusted terms)

The Backups

There’s an absurd amount of raw talent in last season’s wide receiving corps and that just makes thinking about 2018 all the more exciting.

Tee Higgins

Tee Higgins is a good reason for Clemson fans to get excited, he’s got Martavis Bryant’s size, with Nuk Hopkins’ hands, Sammy Watkins’ physicality, and so on and so forth.

In reality, though, he’s still quite young and unproven. The vast majority of his yards came against The Citadel and South Carolina (sensing the trend yet?), and after the South Carolina game, the only impact he really made was being interfered with against Alabama on a would-be TD.

Most of the excitement around Higgins is based off of recruiting rankings or flashes of talent, but it’s very hard not to be encouraged. Especially after seeing catches like this:

Yes, I’m aware that this was against The Citadel

He only showed it a bit in 2017, needing time to acclimate like most freshmen do. He did about as much as you could expect from him, but in 2018, he really could be something special.

Season grade: B+

Trevion Thompson

Seemingly forever a backup, Thompson got somewhat lost in the shuffle this season, managing only 11 catches for 94 yards, but he’s far from a weak link in the WR corps. With Cain and McCloud leaving look for Thompson to finally get a time to shine in the passing game, like most of the other receivers here, the shift to run-based offense didn’t help his numbers.

Season grade: C

Amari Rodgers

Another young guy to be excited about, Amari Rodgers seems like a carbon copy of Artavis Scott. They’re about the same height, the same number and do about the same stuff on the field, Rodgers is listed as a bit beefier weight-wise, but all-in-all it seems like he’ll be a nice fit in the offense.

Rodgers will also be a nice pair with Tee Higgins, the thunder to his lightning, plus that weird Tee Martin connection they both have gives them a bit of an incentive to like each other.

Rodgers was used more than Tee Higgins, catching a pass in almost every game, but he never caught more than two or three passes in a game. Look for his role to increase big time with the departure of McCloud and the added year of maturity.

Season grade: B

Diondre Overton

The last WR I’ll review here is Diondre Overton out of Greensboro, NC. Overton is another super-lanky-and-also-fast guys that we keep managing to find and, along with Tee Higgins, could make Clemson incredibly hard to stop in the red zone.

In 2017, he never caught more than two passes in a game, but with the aforementioned run-first offense and Tee Higgins essentially playing the same role, this lack of flashy production is understandable.

Season grade: B-

Overall

The 2017 edition of #WRU was just as talented as many of the previous squads but had to deal with a different offense and a lack of a true dominant #1 WR. Take this WR corps and give them a dominant #1 and you’ve got a classic WRU corps. That #1 may appear in 2018, but since this is the 2017 review, I’m forced to give this corps a B- grade overall. Yes, Clemson shifted how its offense works and threw for far fewer yards in 2017, but at the end of the day, Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud didn’t produce at the level many were hoping (the level Clemson would need to repeat in the CFP NCG). And while Tee Higgins showed that he could be the next Watkins/Hopkins/Williams/etc, he isn’t there quite yet.

The future is bright for Clemson at WR, but that is still just the future for right now.