clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Dabo-Era All Clemson Team: Defensive Line

New, 35 comments

While Clemson is known as Wide Receiver U, they just as easily could be called D-Line U. The strong pool of candidates led to some of the most difficult decisions and biggest upsets of voting.

College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T - Alabama v Clemson Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

While Clemson is dubbed “Wide Receiver U,” the defensive line has been just as outstanding since Dabo Swinney took the helm. The Tigers have had such a bevy of stars along the defensive line it was quite the challenge to narrow the list of players. The STS staff debated including DJ Reader (who just signed a $53 million NFL contract), Jarvis Jenkins, Andre Branch, and Austin Bryant, but in end we landed on the eight players you’ll see below. Here’s a quick review of how we got 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

Defensive Tackle: Christian Wilkins & Dexter Lawrence (2nd Team: Grady Jarrett & Carlos Watkins)

What a ridiculous quartet of talent! Carlos Watkins registered 10.5 sacks as a defensive tackle his senior year and he only garnered 3% of the vote. In what I consider a minor upset, Grady Jarrett finished below the top two. Jarrett was part of Clemson’s amazing 2014 defense and used his relentless motor to terrorize opposing offenses. He is now one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. He is on a $68 million contract with his hometown Atlanta Falcons where he is the star player on defense.

Our first team winners are Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence. Christian Wilkins was a five-star recruit all the way from Connecticut. Landing him in recruitment was one of the first signs that Clemson’s brand had grown well outside the region.

Wilkins has a big personality and his support for his teammates was never in question. He could often be seen running down the sideline to congratulate the offense after a score.

Prior to the 2016 season, DE Austin Bryant broke his foot. The team lacked depth at DE so Christian Wilkins shifted from defensive tackle to defensive end. While many assumed he would look like a block moving to DE, coach Marion Hobby said:

“I’ll be danged, the sucker came out there the first couple days of practice and he really shocked me with his athletic ability and his awareness on the edge. He ended up getting accolades.”

The selfless move paid dividends for the team as Clemson piled up the wins with Wilkins at DE until Austin Bryant returned. It ended up helping Christian Wilkins’ career too as his “versatility was a big part of his allure to the Dolphins” who selected him #13 in the NFL draft.

He moved back to DT in 2017 for his junior season. The Tigers lost in the playoffs and he reportedly earned a 2nd round grade for the NFL draft. After much contemplation, he made a surprising decision to come back for his senior year - a decision that ended up making him one of the best linemen in school history, a two-time National Champion, and a first round draft pick. It also gave the 2019 Clemson team arguably the best defensive line college football had ever seen and played a huge role in the Tigers going 15-0, blowing out Alabama, and staking their claim as the greatest team ever. Seeing him cry on the field after the game, knowing they came back to end their careers this way and pulled it off, was so sweet!

College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T - Alabama v Clemson Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Dexter Lawrence joined Clemson in 2016, a year behind the other three “Power Rangers” (Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant, and Clelin Ferrell) on Clemson’s vaunted defensive line. He was a five-star recruit from Wake Forest, NC and came in with all the hype one would expect for such a highly-touted recruit.

He immediately earned playing time, playing 643 snaps across, earning 11 starts as a true freshman. His immediate success even pushed DT Scott Pagano to transfer to Oregon.

As a sophomore, a foot injury slowed him down, yet he still earned first-team All-ACC honors and continued to be a menace as a run-stuffer in the middle of Clemson’s defensive line. Entering his junior season, everyone knew this was likely his final year. He was healthy and in line for a big season and the NFL was already projecting him as a first rounder. With the three other starters on the defensive line being seniors, it seemed they’d go out together, maybe winning one more championship together.

His senior year was stellar. Teams simply couldn’t run the ball against Clemson in 2018 averaging just 92.9 rushing yards per game and scoring less than 14 points per game. After close calls against Texas A&M - a game in which Dexter Lawrence blocked a field goal and the Tigers went on to win by two points - and Syracuse, the Tigers dominated every opponent on their regular season schedule.

Dexter Lawrence’s career took a weird turn before the postseason when he and two teammates tested positive for a banned substance known as osterine. Coach Swinney announced the NCAA suspension and explained that it was accidentally ingested and they did not know how it got into his system. It was only trace amounts and Coach Swinney said “there’s a chance that it could come from anything.” The suspension was upheld despite the accidental nature of consumption. Just when the Tigers dominant run seemed likely to end, they rallied around “Big Dex” and posted one of the most dominant postseasons ever by blowing out Notre Dame by 27 and Alabama by 28 to win the National Championship. The Tigers rallying around the situation created a special storyline for the second Championship of the Swinney-era. Lawrence subsequently entered the draft and was selected by the New York Giants with the 17th pick of the NFL draft.

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Clemson v Notre Dame Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Defensive End: Clelin Ferrell & Vic Beasley (2nd Team: Da’Quan Bowers & Shaq Lawson)

Defensive end was a particularly challenging position to narrow to just four candidates. After a healthy debate, the STS landed on the players you see above. Austin Bryant (one of my all-time favorites) and Andre Branch were strongly considered.

Da’Quan Bowers and Shaq Lawson earned 2nd team honors. Bowers was a star at the front-end of the Dabo era. His 15.5 sack junior season in 2010 is still second all-time (Keith Adams, 16 in 1999) in Clemson history. He was a second round pick by the Tampa Bay Bucaneers. Shaq Lawson had an excellent 12.5 sack junior season, before being drafted 19th overall by the Buffalo Bills.

Two players clearly stood out to voters though: Clelin Ferrell and Vic Beasley. Each were selected on 73% of ballots for defensive end and earn 1st team honors on our All-Clemson team for the Dabo-era.

Ferrell joined Clemson in 2015 from Richmond, VA after choosing Clemson over his home state Virginia Tech Hokies. After missing his senior season of high school football due to an ACL tear, he redshirted his first year at Clemson.

After his redshirt season, Ferrell joined DT Dexter Lawrence as a freshman starter on the 2016 defensive line. The two new starters shared team defensive rookie-of-the-year honors. He finished with 12.5 TFLs and 6.0 sacks. He was the defensive MVP in the Fiesta Bowl win over Ohio State and played well in limited snaps (injury) in the Tigers’ National Championship game victory over Alabama.

After such a great redshirt freshman year, things only got better. In fact, consistent improvement marked his Clemson career. His stats improved each season. His TFLs rose from 12.5 to 18.0 to 20.0 while his sacks grew from 6.0 to 9.5 to 11.5.

His redshirt sophomore season saw him earn AP All-American honors. In doing so, he joined Sammy Watkins and Deshaun Watson as the only freshmen or sophomores from Clemson to do so. After such a great year, he had a opportunity to enter the NFL draft where he was expected to go in the second round. He and Austin Bryant - the other starter at DE - both decided to come back to improve their draft stock, avenge their Sugar Bowl loss to Alabama, and go out on top. A few days later, DT Christian Wilkins decided to come back too. With the other DT, Dexter Lawrence, not yet draft-eligible and also returning, the “Power Rangers” were back and poised to form one of the best D-lines in college football history.

As a redshirt junior, he again earned AP All-American honors, but this time added the Ted Hendricks Award (Nations top DE) and ACC Defensive Player of the Year Award to the list. He was named a team captain and helped Clemson avenge the Sugar Bowl loss by blowing out Alabama in the National Championship Game.

His decision also paid off financially as he improved his draft stock significantly and matched Banks McFadden (‘39), Gaines Adams (‘07), and Sammy Watkins (‘14) as the highest NFL Draft selection in Clemson history when he was taken #4 overall by the Raiders. His rookie contract guaranteed him $31,360,816. Ferrell hasn’t been a scrooge either. During the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 lockdowns, he donated $100,000 to charities in his hometown of Richmond, VA - making the Clemson family proud.

The only first team player on the D-line who wasn’t one of the member’s of Clemson vaunted 2018 D-line is Vic Beasley. He came to Clemson from Adairsville, GA in 2010 as a three-star athlete. He was primarily a running back in high school, but started out at tight end and scout team QB at Clemson before moving to linebacker then settling in at defensive end.

In his redshirt freshman season he played just 16 snaps. The next season, Corey Crawford and Malliciah Goodman started at defensive end, but Vic Beasley led the team with 8 sacks. In 2013, as a redshirt junior, he broke out! Beasley posted 13.0 sacks and 22.5 TFLs - both team highs. He earned both All-ACC and All-American honors. He returned for his redshirt senior season and posted similar numbers with 12.0 sacks and 21.5 TFLs and won the ACC defensive player of the year award.

His decision to return for his senior season paid off as he became Clemson’s all-time leader in sacks with 33.0. His 13.0 sacks in 2013 and 12.0 in 2014 rank 3rd and 6th for a single season in school history, respectively. He was drafted by his hometown Atlanta Falcons with the 8th pick in the first round.

In his second year with the Falcons, 2016, he led the NFL in sacks (15.5) as he and fellow Clemson-alum Grady Jarrett spearheaded a Falcons’ defense that took Tom Brady and the Patriots to the brink in Super Bowl LI. Since that pinnacle, he has faded somewhat, but he is still in the NFL (Tennessee Titans) and has clearly earned his spot on the Dabo-Era All-Clemson team.

Finally, here is your complete depth chart for the Dabo-era All-Clemson team:

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 Christian Wilkins Grady Jarrett
DT Dexter Lawrence Carlos Watkins
DE Clelin Ferrell Da'Quan Bowers
DE Vic Beasley Shaq Lawson
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: