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2018 Clemson Football Season Preview: Defensive Ends, Part 1

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Clelin Ferrell has a posse

Clemson v South Carolina Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Clemson defensive line has long been the pride and joy of the program, consistently stocked with future NFL talent well into the two-deep. The 2018 D-Line, though, is unbelievable even by that standard. For that reason, we’ve decided to not just preview the whole DL in one article, instead making it three parts: weak-side DE, strong-side DE, and DTs. First, well talk about Clelin Ferrell and his followers.

Clelin Ferrell

Oh Clelin, how I adore you. Your speed off the line is truly a sight to behold and your ability to judge a snap-count is unparalleled. It’s sometimes almost magical how you can be on your second stride before anyone else is out of their stance.

He’s the only one out of his stance here
Spot the Clelin

Pair that unnatural ability with his insane length (6’5” with the wingspan of 787 Dreamliner) and you have quite a special defensive end, further exemplified by that same play from above:

Barring injuries, Clelin is the most sure-fire 1st rounder that Clemson has on the line right now, and he will assuredly make an NFL team very happy come the 2019 NFL Draft.

Justin Foster

ACC Football Championship - Clemson v Miami
Foster (35)
Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

Originally a pass-rushing linebacker, sophomore Justin Foster has been the talk of the coaches throughout the spring and summer due to his rapid rise behind Ferrell. There’s not a ton of film on him, given his limited playing time in 2017, but from all accounts he’s as strong as an ox and intelligent to boot (Clelin Ferrell claimed at ACC media days that Foster fixes Ferrell’s car whenever needed). His name has come up over and over when coaches mention the most improved or impressive players, and it’s hard not to believe them at this point. Foster should benefit massively from being the sub-in for Ferrell instead of having to be the starter right away, which is just another reason to thank the starting lineman for coming back.

Xavier Kelly

ACC Football Championship - Clemson v Miami Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

Xavier Kelly became much more intriguing in the last few days, as Dabo announced his intentions to play Kelly at 3-technique to get him a bit more playing time this fall. The redshirt sophomore out of Kansas has had to deal with a very crowded DE spot his whole career, so the move to DT (even if it is just temporary) should allow him to see the field. He’s a lot lighter than all of the traditional tackles (weighed in at 262lbs compared to the lightest DT, Darnell Jefferies, at 282), so it will be interesting to see how Venables uses him. If I had to guess, he’ll be a sub for Christian Wilkins more often than not to bring some energy and speed to the interior defense when Wilkins gets tired.

K.J. Henry

NCAA Football: Clemson Practice
Henry (13)
Photo by Ken Ruinard/Anderson Independent Mail via USA TODAY NETWORK

The all-world recruit out of North Carolina has a lot of Clemson fans excited for the future on the line. Tall, but skinny, Henry will benefit massively from being in a college weight room. He weighed in at 251 on the (regrettably unfilmed) post-summer weigh-in and given a year as a backup, should only put on more muscle going into 2019. I see him as a future Clelin Ferrell, and I’d bet the coaches do too. Don’t look for Henry to be a game-breaker this year, but to try and catch the glimpses because there will undoubtedly be a few.

Richard Yeargin III

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Ohio State vs Clemson
Yeargin (49)
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I always hope to see more of Richard Yeargin, but bad luck has been his limiting factor. Missing all of 2017 due to a neck injury when his car hydroplaned and flipped, Yeargin looks to get back onto the field before his eligibility runs out. It won’t be easy, as you can tell by the guys listed ahead of him currently. I was surprised to see him so low on the depth chart, being the 5th DE listed on the weak side, but that may just be precautionary as he returns from that nasty neck injury. It’s really hard to say how Yeargin will look following his injury, but all hopes are that he hasn’t lost a step.

Conclusion

You can’t really go wrong here, honestly. All of these guys deserve to get a good amount of playing time, but outside of Ferrell it’s hard to predict which ones actually will. If Ferrell (gasp) gets injured, we won’t have to move Christian Wilkins to end again, that’s for sure. Look for this side of the line to absolutely terrorize the blind sides in 2018.