Since becoming head coach, Dabo Swinney has mustered a seemingly endless store of riches at wide receiver. Between being a former receiver himself and one of his top assistants in Jeff Scott being one of the best recruiters in the country, Clemson has made a true name for itself as “Wide Receiver University.” Those riches remain in 2019, a year in which Clemson only lost only two receivers (technically three with Derion Kendrick’s position change).
Depth at receiver allows Clemson to rotate often, which is especially dangerous since Clemson cross trains its receivers (which is why fans found Ross in the slot in 10 personnel down the stretch. In other words, just because one receiver is listed as a backup doesn’t mean they won’t see significant snaps. In fact, with Amari Rodgers (who was slated to start in the slot) out for at least the first month of the season, the rotation becomes that much more important for other receivers looking for an opportunity.
At one of the outside receiver spots, Tee Higgins returns after coming off of a year in which he finished with 59 receptions for 936 yards and 12 touchdowns. In his sophomore year, Higgins developed solid rapport with quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and demonstrated consistent route running and solid hands. He was also the recipient of the critical 4th and 6 catch against Syracuse via Chase Brice that would ultimately aid in Clemson’s victory.
Behind him are Diondre Overton and Frank Ladson, Jr. At 6’4”, Overton has been one of Clemson’s biggest receivers, but has found himself largely as a key player. Last year, Overton hauled in 14 catches for 199 yards and three touchdowns. The offense has also been experimenting with Overton in the slot this offseason, and given the team’s lack of depth regarding a pass-catching tight end, Overton could find himself in that default role when the team opts for four-wide receiver sets. Freshman receiver Ladson has received plenty of praise in camp, and is one of the freshman from the 2019 class likely to avoid a redshirt.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the field, fellow sensation Justyn Ross is penciled in as the starter. Ross finished the season as the team’s leading receiver with 46 receptions for 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns following explosive performances in the playoffs against Notre Dame and Alabama. Prior to that, Ross had quite a solid season in a largely rotational role, and did damage on the outside and in the slot when Clemson featured its four and five-receiver sets.
Listed behind Ross on the depth is TJ Chase, Joseph Ngata, and Will Swinney (who got a surprise listing on the receiver depth chart). After steadily making his way up after entering at a slight weight above 160, Chase finally looks physically ready for an increased role in the rotation. An injury to Renfrow against Duke last allowed Chase to step into the slot and hold down a spot in the rotation for several games. He provides more athleticism in the slot, and in a limited role, finished with 13 receptions for 101 yards and two touchdowns. Ngata also certain to avoid a redshirt, drawing the best reviews of any freshman. Meanwhile, Swinney, who is already the primary holder, could end up with a few snaps in the rotation, though will largely find his time in blowout games.
The slot position is perhaps the most intriguing since Rodgers will be out for at least the first month of the season. Cornell Powell looks to get the first shot at starting after entering the summer as the starter, though currently it seems Overton has displaced him atop the pre-Rodgers depth chart. Despite some issues off the field issues which led him to redshirt last year, Powell has a chance for redemption entering 2019. Rodgers’ ACL injury is a huge loss, but the depth at receiver is among the best in the country. Brannon Spector (who has claimed the now-sacred No.13 jersey) follows suit, and with great power comes...well, we know the rest.
Overall, the receiver continues to be Clemson’s deepest position heading into 2019. If guys like Higgins and Ross (both of whom have the ability to eclipse 1,000 yards this season) weren’t enough, their “backups” in Overton and Ngata have the ability to start for other Division I teams elsewhere. Such depth allows Clemson to mitigate Rodgers’ injury and not rush him back too soon. Meanwhile, young studs like Ngata and Ladson are luxuries who could eclipse their current positions on the depth chart as the season progresses. The Tigers’ passing game should continue to thrive in 2019, and should only get better as guys like Ross head into their second year with increased knowledge of the offense.