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Clemson Football Season Review: Cornerbacks

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College Football Playoff National Championship - Clemson v LSU Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Well, everything was going according to plan before the playoff. Clemson’s elite corner AJ Terrell was shutting down the boundary completely (apart from the UNC game with one ball over the top that was really a miss by the Safety, he was lights out) and Derion Kendrick changed his position from WR to corner in the offseason and grabbed the starting role in Spring and Fall camp.

Then the playoffs happened.

I don’t want to rehash an open wound, but needless to say—it was rough. The Ohio State game was a mixed bag, but generally positive with regards to the corner play. Against LSU, the corners were arguably exposed (I don’t think it was that bad but hard to argue it was a great showing or on par with the rest of the season). I’ll dive more into this in the personnel section.

Personnel:

AJ Terrell

I said this about him in the preseason:

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.

I think we nailed it except for the LSU game. He played 785 snaps on the season, second only to Simmons on the defensive side of the ball and started all 15 games. In the LSU game he gave up the shots over the head to Chase that really changed the tenor of the game. Venables needs his corners to not give up the long ball at the boundary. Terrell has decided to leave for the NFL despite the champs game likely hurting his stock, but he should impress at the combine.

Derion Kendrick

This is the DK preview:

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...Derion Kendrick is a brawler who doesn’t want to lose a rep. He has elite WR level ball skills and a fearless mentality.

DK helped bolster the cornerback depth immediately after the departure of Kyler McMichael to UNC via transfer. He logged 689 snaps (top 5 on the defense), started all 15 games, and provided stability at the field corner position as a first year starter. Unfortunately, DK got attacked by LSU, particularly in the second half, repeatedly by Burrow and Brady. I was surprised (I had picked DK to be my surprise player of the game, but certainly not negatively). He had a couple of key third down and long pass interference calls in the playoffs and gave up to many throws that weren’t contested.

Luckily Joe Brady isn’t walking through the door next season. Looking at cfb last season, I didn’t see any team with a potent enough passing game to challenge the Clemson secondary (other than Bama and Jeudy but Clem had just beaten them up). LSU was obviously a surprise and a bit of a perfect storm with veteran QB who was inserted into a dominant NFL style system. Other than Ohio State it doesn’t seem like there is a passing game next season, but teams will try to imitate the success of LSU.

DK is your likely boundary corner starter with an offseason to progress and hone his technique. Clemson needs him to step up in the same way that Mullen and Terrell did to lock down the boundary. Notre Dame is the only game on the regular season schedule that will challenge that spot—the question remains about the playoffs.

Mario Goodrich ended up with 205 snaps but missed a couple of games and has spent time in the proverbial doghouse of the coaching staff. Entering his Junior year, he will compete for major playing time and a starting role. Against ACC competition he performed well, but didn’t gain enough trust in the coaching staff to take snaps from AJ or DK (who logged huge snap totals) or play any against LSU. He played 12 snaps against Ohio State, however. I would like to see Goodrich compete for playing time at one corner position and possibly as a third corner on the field in Nickel or Dime packages.

Sheridan Jones was the standout in Spring and was able to play 140 snaps during the season, well over the 100 snap threshold for avoiding a redshirt. Jones enters his Sophomore campaign poised to compete for increased playing time with Goodrich and Booth. His snap count should at least double.

Andrew Booth came in with a lot of hype (certainly from me). He avoided a redshirt as I predicted but only logged 65 snaps. He was behind after not coming in during the Spring, but showed he is still a smooth athlete and explosive when it comes to breaking on the ball. He also stupidly punched someone and got kicked out of a game. That wasn’t characteristic of his personality in high school and I doubt it ever happens again, but what is a potential problem for a possible NFL future is a lingering knee injury.

Booth had offseason surgery to clean up his knee and I don’t want to speculate beyond what is public knowledge. We just have to wait to see how much work he can do in the Spring and Summer. We do know that he was allowed to play with the injury through the latter half of the season instead of redshirt, which speaks to his NFL potential and hopefully the surgery cleans up the issue because he is needed for depth. While Jones and Goodrich can be solid contributors and elite players—Booth gives you the potential for a dominant cover corner essential for BV’s defenses to be elite.

LeAnthony Williams went from 73 snaps as a redshirt Freshman to 78 snaps as a Sophomore. When he was recruited, I said it would take a couple years in the system and that AJ Terrell would be the 3 and done player. That has proven to be correct. This is the offseason for Williams to make gains or likely transfer out of the program. He has a serious opportunity and should double his snap count if he can gain a bit more weight and gain the trust of coaches. Williams made some moves this past Spring and I am surprised he didn’t get over 100 snaps, ultimately, but the time is now.

FUTURE OUTLOOK:

Fred Davis enters the mix at corner, but look for some serious competition for the second corner spot to open up and the potential usage of more of a third cover corner with the departure of Simmons. Booth, Jones, Goodrich, Davis, and Williams should all compete for more playing time. I’m not sure the elite talent level rises (unless Booth comes back healthy and goes off), but there should be more depth and certainly enough talent and consistency to shut down the ACC competition on the regular season schedule.