Clemson is firmly entrenched in the top tier of college football. Some years ago that group included Alabama, LSU, Ohio State, and Florida State, but now Clemson and Alabama are in a tier of their own. Elite wide receiver play is one of the reasons Clemson now finds themselves on the top of the mountain. It’s also why they’re considered “Wide Receiver U.”
Let’s take a look at four of the best WR corps the Tigers have had in that time span and then discuss how 2019’s WRs could stack up.
(Top five leading receivers listed in order of total receiving yards.)
- Nuk Hopkins (Jr.)
- Sammy Watkins (So.)
- Martavis Bryant (So.)
- Jaron Brown (Sr.)
- Adam Humphries (So.)
- These five totalled 3,043 receiving yards for a combined average of 234 receiving yards per game.
- Mike Williams (Sr.)
- Deon Cain (So.)
- Artavis Scott (Jr.)
- Hunter Renfrow (So.)
- Ray Ray McCloud (So.)
- These five totalled 3,665 receiving yards for a combined average of 244 receiving yards per game. TE Jordan Leggett was 2nd on the team in receiving yards with 736 in 2016.
- Justyn Ross (Fr.)
- Tee Higgins (So.)
- Amari Rodgers (So.)
- Hunter Renfrow (Sr.)
- Derion Kendrick (Fr.)
- These five totalled 3,260 receiving yards for a combined average of 217 receiving yards per game.
- Justyn Ross (So.)
- Tee Higgins (Jr.)
- Joseph Ngata (Fr.)
- Diondre Overton (Sr.)
- Frank Ladson (Fr.)
- Cornell Powell and TJ Chase not listed above, but could be key contributors. Amari Rodgers, also not listed, but will be a key player late in the season if he returns from knee injury.
2018’s version of the Clemson Tigers may be the greatest team in the history of college football. It is certainly the greatest Clemson ever had. But was it the Tigers best ever WR corps? WR Justyn Ross and QB Trevor Lawrence didn’t fully emerge until well into the season. The WR corps that the Tigers carried into Santa Clara and used to roll through the Tide may have been the best, but the 2012 wide receivers headlined by Nuk Hopkins and Sammy Watson would still be my pick for the best season long performance by a Clemson WR Corps. Will the 2019 group unseat them? We discuss:
With Justyn Ross now a full-fledged superstar and Trevor Lawrence established as one of the two best QBs in the sport, the 2019 Clemson WR corps has a chance to be the program’s best yet. Replacing Hunter Renfrow in the slot will be tricky. While there is more than enough talent to replace him, there’s not a clear fit for the role he played. Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross are the “go-up and get it” targets. In 2016 when Clemson was playing at Auburn and the offense was sputtering, Watson relied on back shoulder throws to Mike Williams who simply beat his man time and time again. That’s what Higgins and Ross can do in 2019.
Freshmen Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson come in and seem like they’ll provide a similar skill set. How ready they’ll be in 2019 is yet to be seen, but the Spring Game certainly lends optimism for how quickly they’ll contribute. Deondre Overton is another tall WR who fits a similar mold. The group is going to make big plays and be fun to watch. None of them quite do what Hunter Renfrow did though, and despite the immense talent, that could leave a void. This snippet from another article explains Renfrow’s unique skill set well:
Quick Threat Receiver - The prototype is Wes Welker. Guys with short legs have a built in advantage in quickness. Speed is not the same as quickness. Quickness is usually guys with great 10-yard dash times, while speed is the guys with great 20- to 60-yard times. This guy needs to get quick separation so he can be the guy that gets the pass from the QB when he has to get the ball out quick and can’t wait for the routes to develop because he is either being blitzed or hurried by a great pass rush. This guy is usually the slot receiver.
On 3rd & 5, to whom would Clemson turn? When the blitz is coming and you have to get it away quickly, where do you look? The answer for the past few years has been Hunter Renfrow. In 2019, we thought it might be Amari Rodgers, but a torn ACL has at least delayed those plans. There’s been talk of using Diondre Overton in the slot. It would be a fascinating experiment in WR use. How could a team utilize a taller slot receiver? Would he have the quickness to create those throwing windows in less space? What you if you rotated them through the slot. How would that impact a defense?
Alternatively, Cornell Powell or TJ Chase could emerge as big time receivers for Clemson giving them a more traditional looking slot. Even if they don’t, there’s an argument to be made that the better fitting skill set may be more valuable than getting the best wide receivers on the field at the same time?
Another related question is what happens at TE if Garrett Williams leaves to join the military. The lack of a strong receiving threat at TE (with or without Williams) exacerbates the issue in the slot.
Seeing a new and creative use of the slot position with Overton or another taller receiver at slot would be the most interesting, but some combination of Chase, Powell, and even youngster Brannon Spector filling the role until Amari Rodgers is healthy enough to return to the field and move to the slot (he played the 2WR last season) feels more likely.
If the Tigers can find a receiver that excels in the short to intermediate passing game, their 2019 WR corps are set to be their best ever. Despite the Tigers recruiting prowess, replacing former 2-star Hunter Renfrow and what he brought to the WR corps will be exceedingly difficult.
What do you think? How do you think Clemson’s slot WR position will look in 2019? Let us know in the comments.