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Dabo-Era All-Clemson Team: Linebackers

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NCAA FOOTBALL: JAN 09 CFP National Championship - Clemson v Alabama Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We continue to reveal the winners of the Dabo-Era All-Clemson team position group by position group, now moving to linebackers. The players included in voting were chosen by STS staff, but the winners were chosen based on 502 voter from STS readers. Methodology details can be found at the bottom of this article.

Results

SAM/Nickel Linebacker: Isaiah Simmons (2nd Team: Dorian O’Daniel)

Dorian O’Daniel is an excellent SAM linebacker who just won the Super Bowl with the Chiefs and won a National Championship at Clemson, but the SAM linebacker that followed him broke the mold and proved to be not just the best SAM linebacker of the Dabo-era, but arguably the best linebacker Clemson has ever seen.

Simmons joined Clemson in 2016 from Kansas. He was a late recruiting addition that Clemson scrambled to find after TJ Green made the surprising decision to enter the NFL draft (a decision that proved to be wise as he was taken in the 2nd round). Simmons originally wanted to go to Arkansas, but didn’t get an offer. Other schools like Michigan gave offers, but were looking at him as a wide receiver. Instead, he went to Clemson as a safety.

As a redshirt freshman, he backed up Van Smith at safety (how funny does that sound now?). Instead of ascending to the starting safety position when Van Smith made his own surprising decision to declare for the draft a year early (one that backfired when he went undrafted), he moved to SAM linebacker to fill the much bigger void left by Dorian O’Daniel.

The move couldn’t have worked out any better. As a redshirt sophomore playing his first season at linebacker, Simmons led Clemson with 97 tackles (9.5 for loss), seven pass breakups, three forced fumbles, 1.5 sacks and one interception across 15 victories in the Tigers championship season. His memorable pass breakup against Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl stands out as a display of incredible athleticism that highlighted how well he had adapted to his new position.

With a year of experience at SAM linebacker, Clemson used Simmons all over the field in his final collegiate season. Accounting for him became a nightmare for opposing offenses. Utilized to his fullest potential, Simmons became Clemson’s first Butkus Award winner. He was an All-American and won the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award. He again paced the team 107 tackles, but this time boosted his sacks (8.0) and TFLs (16.0) to numbers usually reserved for elite defensive ends. He added three interceptions, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. He was undoubtedly the best player on Clemson’s defense.

Two plays stand out as especially memorable from his stellar redshirt junior season. Coupled together they demonstrate his incredible versatility.

The first is his sack of UNC QB Sam Howell. The safety takes the receiver that Simmons is aligned over, allowing Simmons to come on a blitz. The running back tries to pass protect, but is immediately thrown on his back and Simmons gets a critical sack (see it at the 0:40 mark of this video).

The other is his interception of Ohio State’s Justin Fields in the Fiesta Bowl. Simmons’s speed allows DC Brent Venables to disguise coverage by putting him in the middle of the field where it looks like he won’t roam all the way to the sideline. Simmons understands the play as it is developing and quickly covers ground and intercepts what would have been a big gainer. A full film breakdown of this play is here.

Isaiah Simmons was properly rewarded for his collegiate success when he was selected #8 overall by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2020 NFL draft where he’ll team up with former Tiger WR Deandre Hopkins.

Middle Linebacker: Stephone Anthony (2nd Team: BJ Goodson)

Stephone Anthony was a five-star recruit that came to Clemson from North Carolina in the 2011 signing class. Clemson’s 2011 signing class included a crowded group of five linebackers, but the recruiting experts were right on Anthony and he came in and immediately made an impact. As a true freshman he had 31 tackles, 5 TFLs, and 2 sacks across 13 games.

Anthony began his sophomore season as the starter at middle linebacker, however midway through the year Spencer Shuey emerged and usurped the starting role from him. Still, Anthony finished with 7 starts, 77 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 1 sack, and 1 INT.

With Tig Willard departing after 2012, Spencer Shuey shifted to weakside linebacker to fill the void and Stephone Anthony got a second opportunity to start at middle linebacker. Shuey and Anthony were the Tigers leading tacklers among returning players, now playing alongside each other rather than competing for snaps. They didn’t disappoint. Shuey had an excellent senior season racking up 93 tackles while Stephone Anthony had a breakout campaign. Anthony posted 86 tackles, a whopping 15 TFLs, 4.5 sacks, and on his very last play of the year, added a memorable interception (watch at the 1:47 mark).

Despite the breakout season and finishing strong in the Orange Bowl win over Ohio State - he was named co-defensive player of the game - Anthony chose to come back for his senior season. His stats were slightly down that year, but he played a huge part alongside Grady Jarrett, Vic Beasley, and Mackensie Alexander in giving Clemson arguably their best defensive in school history. It all worked out as he was drafted in the first round by the New Orleans Saints.

Anthony was one of the pre-championship players that built the foundation that the 2016 team would finally finish. It was fitting that he was one of several former stars that Ben Boulware cited in his post-game speech after beating Alabama in 2016 saying “Ya’ll built this. You started this foundation. All we did was build upon it and we finished it.”

Weakside Linebacker: Ben Boulware (2nd Team: Kendall Joseph)

Ben Boulware grew up in Anderson, dreaming of playing for the Tigers as his older brother, Garrett, did on the baseball diamond. Despite earning a four-star rating from Rivals, Clemson’s offer was slow to come. He was angry with Clemson, but when the offer finally came, he was all-in.

Boulware played sparingly as a freshman, appearing in just five games. As a sophomore his playing time increased, but he was still a back-up and the grind was wearing on him. According to an excellent article by Matt Hayes, he was considering quitting and just enjoying his time at Clemson as a student. After a heart-to-heart with Coach Venables, he decided to return and ended up creating quite a legacy. Maybe his first big moment in that legacy came in the 2014 Russell Athletic Bowl:

In 2015, Boulware became the starting weakside linebacker and brought a physical edge to the defense. He became the emotional leader of the unit and aside from Deshaun Watson, the face of the team. His most memorable play that year was the two-point conversion stop that clinched the win over Notre Dame:

After finishing 2015 at 14-1 and losing a close game in the National Championship, the 2016 season became heavily focused on getting back to the national championship game and finishing the job.

They reached that game in Tampa and Boulware seemed to always be in the right spot thanks to the heavy film study he prided himself on. He finished with 6 tackles, and 2 TFLs in the Tigers’ emotional 35-31 win over Alabama. Bouwlare was named the defensive MVP and gave a rousing speech, which remains one of the most memorable moments of my sports fandom.

While critics say the hard-hitting Ben Boulware was dirty, an NFL scout explained it better:

“He plays the game how it should be played. We’re not having tea and cookies out there.”

Boulware was a huge part of Clemson defense as they rose from very good, to elite, to on top of the mountain. He was physical, emotional, and fun to watch and deserving of the fan’s vote as the best weakside linebacker of the Dabo-Swinney era.


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.

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 Isaiah Simmons Dorian O'Daniel
MLB Stephone Anthony BJ Goodson
WLB Ben Boulware Kendall Joseph
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: