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2018 Clemson Football Season Preview: Defensive Tackles

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YOU SHALL NOT RUN UP THE GUT

NCAA Football: ACC Championship-Clemson vs Virginia Tech Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Whew, this is going to be a doozy. The defensive tackles are the cream of the cream of the crop and man do we have a lot of them. Let’s just dive right in:

Christian Wilkins

CFP National Championship
King
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

This dude has been a demigod since he stepped on campus, playing every position under the sun at some point and doing it well. Weighing in at 304 after summer, Wilkins is still the hulking mass we’re used to, even if he is eclipsed by the small moon named Dexter Lawrence.

Wilkins has all the energy in the world, and he uses it at every chance he gets. He played as many snaps as anyone last season and didn’t take plays off on a regular basis at all. If Wilkins was on the field, he was putting in work. Even when he wasn’t on the field, too, as seeing him sprinting to the end zone to celebrate a touchdown with the offense was a common sight. His agility, even at 304, is stunning, and it’s hard to imagine many teams passing on him come the 2019 draft.

Look at this man

Look for another stellar year from Wilk, he should get a bit more rest every game with the depth Clemson has, but the production may very well go up. He shouldn’t need to play DE, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he lobbies for a few snaps out there. When Wilkins and Lawrence are both on the field playing inside, though, expect no runs up the middle.

Dexter Lawrence

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Clemson
Nightmare fuel
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

7-time All-Pro Dexter Lawrence shocked me when he mentioned that from day 1 of last season he was no where near 100% healthy. I knew he was injured, but I could never imagine a 6’5” 340lb man would be able to play so long and at such a high level with a foot injury like Lawrence’s.

Now, though, Lawrence is healthy. And this battlestation is fully operational.

There is no real equivalent to Lawrence in college football right now, he can eat as many blockers as you can throw at him, consistently creates separation with guards and centers like they’re nothing, and has such awe-inspiring speed for a 340lb hulk. Did I mention that he’s 340lbs?

Albert Huggins

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Clemson
Huggins (67)
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

A consistently underrated regular in the defensive tackle rotation, Huggins is a player that would start at most other schools. About the same size as Wilkins, Huggins serves as the 3rd DT and is most often the replacement for Dexter Lawrence when Lawrence’s planet-destroying laser cannons are being recharged.

He’s got the power and ability to gain leverage you like to see in a DT and has tons of experience for a backup. With slightly increased playing time I could see Huggins as yet another Clemson DL to be drafted somewhat early in next year’s draft.

Nyles Pinckney

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Another great depth piece at tackle, Pinckney fits more into the mold of Christian Wilkins, and you’ll see him in Wilkins’ place on the rare instances that Wilk wants out of the game to rest and Venables still wants to run a four man front. He’s one of the shorter guys on the line standing 6’1”, and one but that shouldn’t limit him too much.

He received decent playing time following his redshirt in 2016 (almost 200 snaps in 2017), but I would hope for more snaps to be given this year. Christian Wilkins doesn’t need to play as much as he currently does and Pinckney is a great candidate to take some of that time.

Jordan Williams

An outside linebacker/DE coming out of high school, Jordan Williams seems to have benefited from his redshirt year transitioning to DT. A listed 260lbs coming out of high school according to 247, Williams weighed in at 306 this fall.

There’s not a lot I can say about Williams, given the lack of any film on him, but it will be interesting to see how fast he is after switching from WDE to DT and gaining all that weight.

Expect to see maybe a couple hundred snaps for Williams at best.

Darnell Jefferies

Similar to Williams, there’s not a ton that can be said about Darnell Jefferies yet, he enrolled in January and will likely be redshirted this fall.

Buuuut, with the new redshirt rule (allowing redshirts to play in up to 4 games), Jefferies still could get some action this fall. Look to see him at the end of the Furman or Georgia Southern games, otherwise, he’ll be in the weight room prepping for next year.

Xavier Kelly

NCAA Football: Clemson Practice
Kelly (in White)
Ken Ruinard/Anderson Independent Mail via USA TODAY NETWORK

Technically a WDE, Kelly will see time at 3-technique this fall and is by far the smallest DT we’ll throw out there. A former blue chipper, Kelly has struggled to find time in the rotation after some injuries and the crowded DE room.

It will be incredibly interesting to see how Venables uses Kelly as a DT, and could create some absolutely unbeatable blitz packages on passing downs. He weighed in at a relatively minuscule 262lbs, so expect him to be an interior speed rusher, hoping to beat guards one-on-one while the bigger DT and DEs eat up blocks.

Conclusion

DT is an absolutely stacked position for Clemson, with the three main guys all worthy of a draft pick this year, and two that will likely go in the first round barring injuries. DT should always have a fresh player out there, at least when using a 3 man front, and that freshness will be the key to continue Clemson’s dominance versus the run. Bill Connelly said of this line that, “Counting the second string, Clemson might have two of the country’s 10 best defensive lines.” And with this level of depth it wouldn’t be insane to see Clemson allow fewer than the 5 rushing TDs they allowed all of last year.

Get ready for some legendary defensive line performances.