Prompted by a generally negative and frustrating offseason that feels longer than ever, I wrote about some of my favorite memories (2011-2015; 2016-2019) and favorite players (#6-#12; #1-5) from the Dabo Swinney-era of Clemson football. There’s a lot of big time players making huge players that we can pause and be grateful for. Be sure to check out those articles if you haven’t already.
Now, we turn our attention to results of the voting our STS readers submitted for the Dabo-era All-Clemson team.
- 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.
Wide Receiver - 9: Deandre Hopkins (2nd Team: Mike Williams)
There have been several excellent wide receivers playing the 9-position in Clemson’s offense under Dabo Swinney, but voters overwhelmingly choose Deandre “Nuk” Hopkins as the best of them all.
As a freshman catching passes from QB Kyle Parker, Hopkins reeled in 52 catches for 637 yards and 4 touchdowns. As a sophomore, QB Tajh Boyd and OC Chad Morris took over the offense and led the Tigers to their first ACC title in two decades. Hopkins became a huge part of the offense as he registered 72 receptions, for 978 yards, and 5 touchdowns.
In his third and final season, he took his production to another level. He tallied 82 catches for 1,405 yards. The latter was a school record until Sammy Watkins broke it the next season. Hopkins also caught 18 touchdowns a record that still stands (the next closest is Higgins with 13). His 18 TDs pushed him to a career total of 27, which is tied with Mike Williams and Tee Higgins - other elite WRs to play the 9-position at Clemson.
His final game as a Tiger was his most memorable. Sammy Watkins was injured early in the 2012 Peach Bowl against LSU and Hopkins took over. He collected 191 receiving yards and 2 TDs. His most memorable play of that game is one that lives on in Clemson lore, the 4th & 16 catch:
Hopkins went on to have an extremely successful NFL career as one of the top WRs in the league. He was recently traded to the Arizona Cardinals. You can read more about that move here.
Wide Receiver - 2: Sammy Watkins (2nd Team: Artavis Scott)
There are a handful of offensive players that came to Clemson and undoubtedly bent the trajectory of the program upwards. Sammy Watkins was one of those. He joined the team in 2011 and had one of the best freshman campaigns Clemson had ever seen.
Teaming up with new starting QB Tajh Boyd and new offensive Coordinator Chad Morris, Sammy Watkins exploded for 1,219 receiving yards and 12 TDs. In his first 8 games of college football, Sammy Watkins averaged 102 yards and 1.1 TDs as the Tigers started 8-0. Coming off a 6-7 season, the Tigers were shocking the college football world. Wins over Auburn, Florida State, and Virginia Tech removed any doubt. Although they stumbled down the stretch, they won the ACC and Sammy Watkins established himself as a star.
After such a special freshman season, Watkins’ sophomore year was a disappointment. Prior to the season, he was arrested on drug possession and was rightly suspended for the first two games of the season. He returned and played in two games, but then missed the Boston College game for health reasons. Watkins stayed healthy the rest of the regular season, but wasn’t as spectacular as the year before. Meanwhile Nuk Hopkins, a year ahead of Watkins, was having a dream season. Watkins was injured at the start of the Peach Bowl and missed essentially the entire bowl game. He finished the season with 708 yards (202 of which game in a blowout of Wake Forest) and only 3 TDs.
Watkin’s junior season, 2013, would be more than just a bounce back. With Nuk Hopkins gone and QB Tajh Boyd back for his senior year, Sammy had the best season for a Clemson receiver in history. He posted 90+ receiving yards in 10 of Clemson’s 11 games against FBS opponents. He set the single-season reception (101) and receiving yardage (1,464) records and in his final game set the single-game reception (16) and yardage records (227). All four of those have yet to be broken.
Watkins gave us memorable moments like his 345 all-purpose yard game against Maryland in 2011 and his insane TD against Georgia in 2013. He still holds the career receiving yardage record (3,391). While CJ Spiller and Tajh Boyd are the players most often mentioned as pre-championship contributors that pushed Clemson’s program towards the top, Sammy Watkins is also deserving of mention. He is the best wide receiver in Clemson football history and his impact on the program can hardly be overstated. Watkins is now on the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs where he just won his first Super Bowl.
Wide Receiver - Slot: Hunter Renfrow (2nd Team: Adam Humphries)
Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross, who were not listed as first of second team for the WR positions above deserve mention, but when you talk about a true slot receiver at Clemson, one player stands out far beyond all others - Hunter Renfrow.
An obvious fan favorite, Hunter Renfrow is a former walk-on turned stud slot receiver and National Championship hero. His hands were near perfect and while he wasn’t a major deep or redzone threat, he was unstoppable on third downs, which is exactly what you want from your slot receiver.
In the 2015 National Championship, Renfrow was only a redshirt freshman, but reeled in 7 catches for 88 yards and 2 touchdowns. The next year, when Clemson toppled Alabama, he upped the ante with 10 catches for 92 yards and 2 touchdowns.
One of his most impressive catches came in Clemson’s comeback win over Syracuse in 2018 when he contoured his body against his own momentum to reach around a defender and reel in a pass from QB Chase Brice.
Of course the one he will forever be famous for is the game-winning catch from Deshaun Watson to win the 2016 National Championship. That heroic catch, his rise from being an undersized walk-on, and his consistent humility have made Hunter Renfrow one of the most beloved Clemson Tigers off all-time.
Renfrow was drafted by the Raiders and again exceeded expectations by posting 49 catches for 605 yards in his rookie season. He’s spoken at churches, is married to his college sweetheart, and continues to make Clemson fans proud on and off the field.
Tight End: Dwayne Allen (2nd Team: Jordan Leggett)
Our most hotly contested race in the entire voting process was at tight end. Both players are incredibly deserving. Jordan Leggett had an amazing senior season in 2016 with 736 receiving yards and memorable plays against Louisville, Florida State, and of course Alabama, but what Dwyane Allen was able to do over his entire Clemson career gave him a slight edge.
Allen joined Clemson in 2008 and redshirted his first season. Dabo Swinney who was the interim coach later said “he might be the worst freshman I’ve ever been around in my life... He was just awful...” Coach Swinnney suggested to him that he should consider transferring. Instead, Swinney says “He made a decision. He stayed and he bought in and he changed.”
At 6’3” and 255lbs, Allen transformed himself into an incredible balanced TE that used his strength/speed combo to contribute as a blocker and a pass catcher. In his redshirt junior season, Allen the Mackey Award for the best TE in the country and earned All-ACC honors. He played his best in the biggest of games. Five of his 12 TDs and all three of his 65+ yard performances came in wins over Auburn, Florida State, and Virginia Tech (in Blacksburg and again in Charlotte). His two TD performance in the ACCCG game is the most poignant memory I have of his days in Clemson orange:
Dwayne Allen was drafted in the third round by the Colts and has had a successful career starting 72 games over 7 seasons.
Thanks for reading. We’ll continue our Dabo-Era All-Clemson team in the coming days. Here’s what we’ve got so far:
Dabo-Era All-Clemson 1st & 2nd Teams
|Pos.||1st Team||2nd Team|
|Pos.||1st Team||2nd Team|
|WR||Deandre Hopkins||Mike Williams|
|WR||Sammy Watkins||Artavis Scott|
|WR||Hunter Renfrow||Adam Humphries|
|TE||Dwayne Allen||Jordan Leggett|