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Dabo-Era All-Clemson Team: Defensive Backs

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BC-Clemson Photo by Rich Glickstein/The State/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

We’ve unveiled the offense for Dabo’s All-Clemson team last week. Now we turn our attention to the defense. We start with defensive backs. Clemson is better known for elite defensive line play, but has boasted great shutdown corners over the past five years and just had two safeties selected in the first four rounds of the NFL draft. Before we unveil the results, here’s a quick review of how we landed on these selections.

Methodology

  • The STS staff narrowed the ballot to just two players at QB, RB, WR-9, WR-2, WR-slot, TE, C, SLB, MLB, and WLB. Voters chose one of two options for the best Clemson player of the Swinney-era at each position.
  • The STS staff narrowed the ballot to four players at OG, OT, DL, CB, and S. Voters chose two of four options for the best Clemson player of the Swinney-era. The top two vote-getters made the team.
  • From April 29th to May 2nd, STS readers cast their vote on an online ballot for each position.
  • Voting concluded with 502 total voters. Voters were not required to vote on every position.
  • Results are unweighted. 98% of voters are Clemson fans. 97% of the vote came from people living in the US. South Carolina led the way with 44% of voters. 13% of votes came from people living in North Carolina and 12% from Georgia.

Results

Cornerback: Mackensie Alexander & Trayvon Mullen (2nd Team: Cordrea Tankersley & Bashaud Breeland)

Mackensie Alexander only played in 23 games at Clemson, yet there was no doubt he belongs on the this All-Clemson team as 83% of STS readers gave him on of their two votes at the CB positions.

Alexander was a huge recruiting win for Clemson when he do-committed from Tennessee and eventually chose Clemson over the Vols, Seminoles, and Crimson Tide. Here’s was STS’s Quacking Tiger had to say about him during recruitment:

Mackensie Alexander has the best film of any of the DB’s I have seen. He is aggressive, tackles well in run support, sheds blockers, fluid hips, plus speed and ball skills. He is the total package.

As a true freshman, he was expected to play significant snaps alongside Bashaud Breeland. Instead he injured his groin and after it lingered, the staff decided to play it safe and redshirt him. When he returned for his redshirt freshman year, Breeland was on the Washington Redskins and Alexander quickly ascended to CB1, shutting down opponent’s top WR each week.

He prided himself on intense film work and made opposing QBs weary to even target the receiver he was defending. In 2015, as a redshirt sophomore, he became even more dominant. His most memorable performance came that season against Notre Dame when he held their star receiver, Will Fuller, to just 2 receptions for 37 yards. That was a paltry 11.5% of Notre Dame receiving yards. That season Fuller finished with 1,257 receiving yards, 37.4% of the Fighting Irish’s total.

Mackensie Alexander attempted to play injured, but left early in the National Championship Game against Alabama that season - a big reason the Crimson Tide score 45-points. He entered the draft and was a second round selection by the Minnesota Vikings. He is now with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Mackensie Alexander never had an interception and only tallied 11 pass breakups at Clemson, a weird accident of his utter dominance. In two seasons teams have targeted Alexander’s assigned receiver 104 times. They have completed just 32 of those attempts. Mackensie Alexander is remembered for two years of utter dominance (and some serious trash talking). While he only played two seasons at Clemson, he truly shutdown opposing receivers while playing on an island and allowing safeties to focus elsewhere. There was no doubt he’d earn a spot on this honorary team!

After Mackensie Alexander was drafted in the 2nd round (Vikings), Cordrea Tankersley (2nd team selection for the All-Clemson team) ascended to the role of the Tigers top cornerback for his senior year. When he was drafted in the 3rd round (Dolphins), Trayvon Mullen moved into that role for the 2017 season. Mullen had big shoes to fill, but as just a true sophomore he stepped up registering 42 tackles, 3 INTs, 7 pass breakups, and starting 12 games (668 snaps).

Back for his junior year in 2018, Trayvon Mullen served as the lockdown corner the Tigers defense needed to bring the kind of relentless QB pressure they wanted. He earned second-team AFCA All-American honors. In his draft profile, NFL.com noted that he “must carry a rep because offenses rarely targeted him” and that he allowed “no touchdowns and fewer than 300 passing yards.”

His best game may have been his final one. Playing Alabama in Santa Clara for the 2018 National Championship, Mullen played a huge role second quarter onslaught that turned a 14-13 battle into a 31-16 blowout at halftime.

With 8:05 remaining in the second quarter, he intercepted a deep Tua Tagovailoa pass and returned for 46 yards to the Alabama 47. The Tigers scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession to push their lead to 28-16. Later in the quarter, when the Tigers were constantly getting pressure on Tua, but struggling to get to him for a sack, DC Brent Venables called a cornerback blitz on 3rd & 6. Mullen delivered a sack for a loss of 11-yards. It gave the Tigers the ball back and they added a field goal to go into halftime 31-16, a lead they only built onto more in the second half. Mullen was named defensive MVP of the game for his outstanding production in the Tigers 44-16 victory.

He declared for the NFL draft after his junior season and was taken early in the second round by the Raiders. He played in 13 games as a rookie and will be back with the Raiders for his second season, now playing with Tanner Muse and John Simpson along with Clelin Ferrell and Hunter Renfrow.

See that epic sack of Tua Tagovailoa here (0:09 mark):

Safety: DeAndre McDaniel & K’Von Wallace (2nd Team: Jayron Kearse & Marcus Gilchrist)

DeAndre McDaniel was a hard hitting safety that always seemed to be in the right spot for the interception. His junior season was the most memorable as an excellent secondary that also included Crezdon Butler, Chris Chancellor, and Marcus Gilchrist coupled with a senior CJ Spiller pulling the offense along delivered Clemson their first Atlantic Division Crown.

McDaniels finished tied for second in the country with 8 interceptions. He added 98 tackels and 2 sacks for good measure. The play that the most Clemson fans will remember from his career was when he intercepted FSU’s Christian Ponder and then lowered his shoulder at Ponder’s bold attempt to tackle him:

The Tigers were already up 9 with under four minutes, but it extinguished any final hopes the Seminoles had of a comeback and put a huge exclamation point on the Tigers de facto ACC Atlantic title game win.

Questions about his ability to hold up against NFL WRs in pass coverage (he ran a 4.65 40-yard dash at the combine) led to go undrafted, though he eventually signed with the Saints. Being the Clemson man he is, McDaniel is now a defensive analyst for the Tigers. You can follow Coach McDaniel on Twitter here.

BC-Clemson Photo by Rich Glickstein/The State/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Our last All-Clemson First Team winner at defensive back is K’Von Wallace. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ll lean on our own Drew Schneider’s words that were published by Bleeding Green Nation for a look at his time at Clemson:

K’Von came into Clemson as one of the lowest ranked (in terms of stars) players in the in the 2016 recruiting class. The secondary had a few unexpected departures, and Brent Venables was looking around for safeties late in the recruiting process. He ended up rolling the dice on two 3* safeties, Isaiah Simmons and K’Von Wallace.

Simmons ended up redshirting while transitioning to a full time defensive player, leaving Wallace to play as a true freshman. Wallace played about 100 snaps at safety and recorded 6 tackles and interception. He looked like a nice, useful player who would probably play a complementary role on the defense in the future. Then he kept getting better.

Wallace’s Sophomore season was a preview of things to come. He was first off the bench at both safety positions, and would come in the game as a slot corner in the nickel. He wasn’t a guy that drew your eye, but at the same time, he was always in the right spot, and when a play was available to be made, he made it. At 5’11, and under 200 pounds, he didn’t stand out on a defense stocked with monsters, but I don’t remember thinking “oh man, K’Von’s in the game, fingers crossed he doesn’t get burned.” He wasn’t spectacular, but he was solid and versatile. He ended the season with 36 tackles, 1 interception, and 4 pass breakups in 428 snaps (including 6 starts).

Clemson’s starting safety heading into the 2018 season made a surprising (and in hindsight poor) decision to enter the NFL draft early, leaving Wallace as one of Clemson’s starting safeties. He paid it off by starting 15 games, making 55 tackles, breaking up 7 passes, and snagging a crucial interception on a two point conversion in the final seconds against Texas A&M that would have tied game for the Aggies. He played 661 snaps, was named Honorable Mention All-ACC and picking up his second National Championship ring, this time as a starter on one of the best defenses in college football history.

K’Von never stood out as a superstar, but he consistently got better. He took advantage of the opportunity Van Smith’s early departure and Isaiah Simmon’s move from safety to linebacker gave him, and he thrived in the weird 3-3-5 defensive scheme Coach Venables used to best leverage the talent on the 2019 roster. In a way, his story is the classic Clemson story: dedicating himself to hard work and the team, bidding his time, taking advantage of opportunities, getting better, and of course winning championships.

Dabo-Era All-Clemson 1st & 2nd Teams

Pos. 1st Team 2nd Team
Pos. 1st Team 2nd Team
QB Deshaun Watson Trevor Lawrence
OT Mitch Hyatt Brandon Thomas
OT Jackson Carman Chris Hairston
OG John Simpson Tyrone Crowder
OG Eric Mac Lain Gage Cervenka
C Jay Guillermo Dalton Freeman
RB Travis Etienne CJ Spiller
WR Deandre Hopkins Mike Williams
WR Sammy Watkins Artavis Scott
WR Hunter Renfrow Adam Humphries
TE Dwayne Allen Jordan Leggett
DT TBD TBD
DT TBD TBD
DE TBD TBD
DE TBD TBD
SLB TBD TBD
MLB TBD TBD
WLB TBD TBD
CB Mackensie Alexander Cordrea Tankersley
CB Trayvon Mullen Bashaud Breeland
S DeAndre McDaniel Jayron Kearse
S K'Von Wallace Marcus Gilchrist

Past Articles in This Series: