This is a fairly straightforward preview to write. Here is what was said about the cornerbacks last year:
Clemson has three elite level corners that can win championship level football, but then there is a big break between those three and the rest of the group. The rest of the players have talent, but they aren’t ready yet for that next level.
That turned out to be true as Trayvon Mullen was elite and an early second round pick and AJ Terrell secured the field side. Mark Fields stepped in during key moments and provided the needed depth while Goodrich and McMichael played sparingly, but both got over the 100 snap threshold (players not redshirting should get over a hundred snaps, especially with the new four game rule).
This season Junior A.J. Terrell gives you the elite boundary corner starter who is headed to the NFL next season. When he was recruited we said he would be an elite 5* talent who would likely depart early and that has happened, culminating in his pick 6 in the championship game last season. Terrell gives you an experienced, rugged, physical corner who doesn’t bust.
At the field corner position moving Derion Kendrick over from wide receiver gives Clemson two elite NFL-caliber talents. Kendrick is a natural athlete and impressed coaches in the Spring with how he could possibly play both ways. This was originally envisioned as a way to build a bit more depth at the position (similar to what was done with RayRay McCloud), but Kendrick immediately turned heads. With guys out in the Spring, there just weren’t enough bodies at CB, but Kendrick played so well that he was moved to cornerback full time. Derion Kendrick is a brawler who doesn’t want to lose a rep. He has elite WR level ball skills and a fearless mentality. He injured his hamstring in camp and hasn’t had the level of live scrimmage work that you would like, but he played CB in high school and will likely start against GT.
In the absence of Kendrick, Mario Goodrich has progressed through camp. He has struggled with nagging injuries and was out for the final scrimmage, but Mario should double his snaps from last season.
The two newcomers provide a good bit of CB depth for Clemson. True freshman Sheridan Jones was a standout performer for the Spring game and has continued his progress in Fall camp. He put on more muscle since the Spring and has the needed mass to play now. He started with the first group in the last scrimmage. Andrew Booth just got to campus, but might be the smoothest athlete in the entire group. Booth is a bit behind with learning the ins and outs of the position, but he is a future NFL prospect as well. The coaches might want to hold one of these freshman, but I could see both avoiding redshirts and flying on special teams.
Lastly, LeAnthony Williams rounds out the group. Williams is only a redshirt Sophomore, but needs to start making some moves. He played 73 snaps last year, behind McMichael and Goodrich in snaps. He has gotten positive feedback during camp, however, and came in weighing more than last year at 187 pounds. Williams has also played some Nickel during camp as well.
Brent Venables needs an elite boundary corner to lock down top WR’s in single coverage. He has that yet again with AJ Terrell. Tons of talent at the field corner position as well. This group might be even better than last year’s—certainly there is superior depth at the position. Splitting secondary duties and allowing Coach Reed to focus on the corners seems to have paid real dividends.
The corners should be a strength in the 2019 Clemson defense. Solid in pass coverage and physical enough to support the run defense. Jones and Booth both appear to be hits at the position so there is long term health at the position.
Trayvon Mullen – 2019 CFP Final Defensive Player of the Game, Second Team All-ACC, 701 snaps, 37 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 4 PBUs, 1 INT, 1 FF
Written in last year’s preview:
Junior Trayvon Mullen is going to the NFL next year. He is the alpha, lead corner on the team who will lockdown the boundary corner slot. After a strong Sophomore campaign where he played 600 snaps and worked the boundary corner, often against the opposing team’s best wide receiver, he is set to do it again. Mullen’s health is key to allowing Brent Venables defense to remain aggressive and attack opposing QB’s.
Mark Fields - 302 Snaps, 9 Tackles, 6 PBUs
Hot and cold his entire career, but when he was needed in the championship play—he showed up.
Kyler McMichael – 101 snaps, 2 tackles
Transferred out to UNC. Started 2018 getting a bunch of snaps and played a good bit against Syracuse, but his reps diminished as the season wore on with more going to Goodrich. Didn’t like the depth chart and had a foot out the door. His loss is lessened/eliminated by the move of DK to CB.
Clemson has another elite CB coming in with 5* recruit Fred Davis. Terrell will leave after this season and Derion Kendrick likely to follow the next season if everything progresses. Next season you have Kendrick, Booth, Jones, Goodrich, Davis, and Williams as the veteran. That is a stacked group.