In the Dabo Swinney era of Clemson football, the Tigers have become accustomed to having that dynamic, pass catching TE as a primary weapon on the offensive side. Guys like Michael Palmer, Dwayne Allen, and Jordan Leggett. With Leggett’s departure following the 2016 season, it was an aspect of the passing game that was sorely missed in 2017, as the offense struggled to push the ball downfield through the air on any kind of consistent basis.
Coming into 2018, we wrote in our season preview that if this offense was going to get back to the kind of production it was used to getting through the air, one of the TE’s would have to step up and become a legitimate threat catching passes. The thinking was the offense would need more than the 21 catches, 234 yards, and 2 TD’s it got from the position in 2017.
With Garrett Williams out injured all of last season, Milan Richard stepped into the starting role. With both of those guys back for 2018, along with highly touted true freshman Braden Galloway, there were many thinking we’d see an uptick in production. That’s not exactly how it played out however, as the three combined for 12 catches, 106 yards, and 2 TD’s.
Garrett Williams started 13 of the 15 games, and was on the field for 433 snaps. After spring practice and throughout fall camp the staff praised Williams for his improvements in his route running and as a receiving threat in general. He caught one pass for four yards in the blowout of Wake, and that would be his only catch of the season. On the surface, it’s easy to look at that and possibly conclude that something went wrong, but that just isn't the case.
With Tee Higgins and Amari Rogers in their second season in the offense, the always reliable Hunter Renfrow back for one more run, and Justyn Ross’ emergence, a receiving threat from the TE position wasn’t quite the need as originally thought. This would allow for Williams to focus more on what he does best, block. Whether it was in the running game or in pass protection, Williams quietly went about his business, consistently making his blocks. He might have been an afterthought in the passing game, but he was a key contributor nonetheless. He played the role of the H Back in this offense more so than a pass catching TE, and if we're looking at it from that perspective, he had a very solid season.
Milan Richard was the other guy that saw substantial playing time at TE, logging 305 snaps and playing in every game but the opener vs Furman. Of the two, you can say Richard is more of a receiving threat than Williams. He isn’t that guy who will consistently make plays down the field, but he can get you those short to medium range catches if you need him to. He hauled in 6 passes this season for 50 yards, with 1 TD that came in a big spot against BC.
Braden Galloway, despite being a true freshman saw action in 11 of the 13 games before his suspension prior to the CFP. He was only on the field for 87 snaps, but he did get his feet wet. That’s valuable experience gained for the 2019 season, which his status for is up in the air currently, He is currently in the process of appealing a year long suspension. Normally, anything under 100 snaps could be considered a year of eligibility you would be better off preserving with a redshirt. In Galloway’s case though, it might eventually work out for the best that he hasn’t used that redshirt year, if in fact he is forced to sit all of next season.
Galloway showed flashes of his potential at times, but he also had some freshman moments with a couple of drops on what should have been easy catches. On the season he had 5 catches for 52 yards and a lone TD against Furman in the opener. His status for next season will be one of the biggest stories to watch this off season.
Cannon Smith quietly saw action in every game this season. He was effectively used in a lot of short yardage and goal line situations, playing 111 snaps and catching 3 passes for 34 yards.
JC Chalk also got into all 15 games, playing 105 snaps and catching 2 passes for 21 yards. A lot of that action came after games were in hand and on special teams.
With the Tigers receiving core being as talented and as deep as it was in 2018, the TE’s weren’t called on very often in the passing game. The overall numbers might have been down from what we saw in 2017 statistically, but that doesn’t mean the TE’s had a down season. Very much the opposite in fact, as this group of guys were pretty good at doing the things that you just won’t find in a box score. Things that will not garner many individual accolades, but instead help your team achieve its ultimate goal, perfection.