The lazy summer days are winding down as students begin to fill the dorms at Clemson University which can only mean one thing. Clemson Football is back in action as the defending ACC Champions take the field to defend their conference crown and once again attempt to make an impact in the College Football Playoff. It also means that it’s time for the return our weekly Blue Chip Depth Chart analysis!
For you newcomers and even those returning guests who the offseason has just been too long for, here is what we will be serving up to you this season. We will compare the depth charts of the Tigers and their opponents based on rankings from Rivals.com at the time of their recruitment.
**WEEKLY DISCLAIMER** -- This shouldn’t have to be said but there are always players who over/under perform their star ranking (e.g., Hunter Renfrow) These rankings are used as a tool for us to present you with an interesting analysis at how the recruiting game has come full circle while pointing out the strengths/differences between the players original rankings/how they have progressed.
With Week 1 upon us, let’s start out the season on a different note. Rather than providing you with analysis of Furman’s depth chart, lets take a look at how the Tigers current depth chart stacks up against the depth chart from the end of their College Football Playoff season of 2017. As always
As always, we’ve divided the offense and the defense into three portions each. For the offense, the starting QB, the starting O-line, and the two-deep for the remaining skill positions (WR, TE, RB) are each weighted to represent one-third of the overall offense rating. Similarly on defense, the two-deep at D-line, linebacker, and in the secondary are each weighted to represent one-third of the overall defense rating, regardless of scheme.
In case you missed Matt Goldin’s Depth Chart release (which I highly recommend you check out here) Kelly Bryant will maintain his role as number one on the QB depth chart, making the QB depth chart a push. What makes the Quarterback position different this season? Bryant may just be peeking over his shoulder at freshman Trevor Lawrence. It’s no secret that last season there was no threat of second stringer Zerrick Cooper surpassing Bryant on the depth chart. Now, Bryant has a year of experience and a highly-performing five-star freshman pushing him to get better lest he lose the starting role. With the constant threat of Lawrence taking over, look for a more serious (but still very laid back) Kelly Bryant, and a much deeper QB position.
While the offensive line will return three starters in Mitch Hyatt, Sean Pollard and Justin Falcinelli, the Tigers will be looking to replace both guards from last years depth chart, and the versatility of Pollard has made that transition much easier with his transition to right guard. Junior Tremayne Anchrum, who saw action in all 14 games last season, will take over at right tackle protecting Bryant’s front side, with the experience of Pollard right next to him.
On the left side of the line, is where you will find the beef as 6’5” 320-pound guard John Simpson will emerge to replace Taylor Hearn, who departed early for the NFL draft. Simpson is no stranger to action, already with 460 career snaps in his two years as a Tiger. The second string of the offensive line is young (true freshman, redshirt freshman and two redshirt sophomores) but if all remain healthy, expect production from the line similar to last season (note: the second string OL is not included in analysis displayed in the chart above).
The running back position is yet another scenario where the star rankings stay the same, but that simply doesn’t tell the whole story. As expected, Sophomore Travis Etienne has taken over as the top back on the depth chart, but much to the fans surprise, Adam Choice has emerged from camp at number two. People seem confused by the move, but I’m not at all. Of the four backs, Choice is by FAR the best pass blocker and arguably has the best hands out of the backfield. With the coaches raving at the promise of Freshman Lyn-J Dixon and reliable Tavien Feaster, this year’s backfield is similar in personnel, but much more experienced than last year’s stable. Feaster was injured during a chunk of the offseason, which gave Choice an opportunity to shine.
Where do we even begin with the wide receivers? What an embarrassment of riches. The Tigers lost five-star receivers Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud to the NFL draft, but replacing them on the depth chart were Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers. Another year of experience for Higgins, Thompson, Rogers and Powell could equal a dangerous combo, and word out of camp is that they will all be challenged by Freshman Justyn Ross. WRU continues to pump out the talent.
You might notice something about the two-deep rotation at the defensive line…it is almost exactly the same from their dominating 2017 performance. Justin Foster has moved from the backup on the strong side to the backup on the weak side (and is someone multiple writers feel will have a monstrous impact this season), while Chris Register and Nyles Pinckney have emerged in the two-deep. With the backups battling every day to hold off talented Freshman like Xavier Thomas, Justin Mascoll, and K.J. Henry. If the starters can ignore out the hype, this group has the potential to be the best in school history.
This position remains at a 3.33 star average going into the 2018 season, but there is cause for concern as the Tigers will have to replace leading tackler Dorian O’Daniel. O’Daniel used his athleticism to find ball carriers, and excelled in coverage. In order to fill his void, the Tigers have moved Isaiah Simmons to the SAM LB position. After increasing his weight to 229 Ibs, Simmons Versatility is a welcome sight as they try to replace O’Daniel. The question with the LB’s will remain can they stay healthy as Tre Lamar was limited in camp recovering from last years shoulder injury and the Tigers have already lost James Skalski for a portion of the regular season.
While the star ranking may have increased from 3.25 to 3.38 in the secondary this season for the Tigers, the depth in the secondary is an area of concern. AJ Terrell will take over for long time starter Ryan Carter. That’s a 5-star replacing a 2-star, but we all remember the quality snaps Ryan Carter logged for Clemson last season.
Trayvon Mullen will return as the starter at the field CB position. Keep an eye out for LeAnthony Williams as the Freshman appeared as Mullen’s backup on the opening depth chart.
The depth issue rears its ugly head at safety. With the departure of Van Smith and Isaiah Simmons moving to LB, K’Von Wallace will be the starter at strong safety. An injury to either starting safety would mean significant minutes for inexperienced Nolan Turner and/or Denzel Johnson.
Clemson fans have reason to be excited. After a playoff run last season, they return a more experienced group poised for another big season. Fortunately, it’s not just experience in their favor. This year’s Clemson Tigers may have a hair more raw talent in the two-deep - and that doesn’t even count some of the five-star freshman talent like Ross and Thomas who may have increased roles as they year progresses.