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Clemson Football: What Now at the 9 Spot?

Clemson lost a potential All-American in Justyn Ross, but the cupboard isn’t exactly empty at boundary wide receiver.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 07 ACC Championship Game Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Before I get this thing started, I think it’s important to recognize Justyn Ross. Sometimes when you write about football players, it’s like talking about interchangeable cogs in a machine. We all know these guys aren’t cogs, and each one brings a unique style and personality to the Clemson program and the University as a whole.

I know I speak for everyone at STS when I say that we hate this for Justyn personally more than we hate this for Clemson as a football team. We all wish him a quick, full recovery, and look forward to watching him streak down the sidelines and pull down ridiculous catches, whether it be in a Clemson uniform or in the NFL.

Clemson has been blessed with a string of incredible talent at the 9 (or boundary) position. The Tigers have made the 9 spot one of the premier positions in all of college football, and have stocked the position with tall, athletic geniuses that can go up and get the ball. It feels strange to write and article that address the 9 position without the first sentence being, “Clemson is ridiculously loaded with returning talent.”

The thing is, Clemson is still loaded at the position, but for the first time in a long time, there isn’t a proven performer to plug into the lineup. There are, however, plenty of options that any school in the nation would drool over. The trick for the Clemson staff will be to figure out if an individual player best fills the gigantic void left by Justyn’s injury, or if a combination of players and skill sets best plugs the hole hole in the lineup.

Here Are the Options

Joseph Ngata - So - 6’3, 215 - 5*

2020 Production

Receptions: 17

Yards: 240

Touchdowns: 3

Ngata, out of Folsom High School in California, came to Clemson as the 5th best wide receiver in the 2019 class according to Rivals. To say his 2019 season was disappointing would be unfair, because of the wealth of talent at the 9 position, but I expected him to make more noise at the 5 position (field).

Joseph came from a high school system that routinely dominates their competition and puts up huge numbers. It’s possible that the jump was a more of a step up than expected last year, but all the physical tools that made him a 5* are still obvious. I feel like he’s more of a natural 9 for the Tigers, and this year, he gets to show out at what I consider his best position.

I’ve been trying to figure out a comparison to our recent run of 9 position wide receivers, and he’s a little different than the recent guys. Dabo compared him to a more athletic Keven Youngblood (who sat next to me in Freshman English) and that means he’s a straight up bully with speed. He’s a thick, physically developed kid that tortures smaller corners on 50/50 balls and back should throws. If you try and match up size with him, he’s going to outrun most big corners. He flashed solid hands in high school, and is a punishing runner with the ball once he gets his big legs pumping.

It’s a long time before kick, but I think Ngata gets the first look as the starter in place of Ross. Unlike previous seasons, however, I expect a more equitable split at the position.

Frank Ladson - So - 6’3, 195 - 4*

2020 Production

Receptions: 9

Yards: 128

Touchdowns: 3

Ladson came to Clemson out of Miami, and was another player expected to make significant contributions as a freshman. Much like Ngata, that didn’t quite pan out. He enrolled early, but went down with an injury at the beginning of fall camp, putting him behind the curve. After putting some weight on his slender frame, the speed demon from South Florida looks primed for a breakout season in 2020. If Ngata is the bully of the group, Ladson is the burner.

How fast is Ladson?

The comparison being thrown around by the coaching staff is Martavis Bryant. Tony Elliott went so far as to throw out a Sammy Watkins comparison when talking about his explosiveness. Those are two of the freakiest athletes to wear the Tiger Paw. Ngata is the guy that’s going to catch the ball in front of a safety and dump truck him on the way to the endzone. Ladson’s the guy that runs by the safety like he is standing still.

Like most young receivers with immense physical talent, it’s perfecting the little things that will help Frank take his game to the next level. He’s going to have to perfect getting off press coverage, because other teams are going to try and be physical with him at the line, and slow him down before he gets going. We know he can run fast in a straight line, but I’m interested to see him use that speed to push DBs down the field and then come back and make easy catches with the cushion.

I like the Ngata / Ladson combo and the 9, with Ngata playing the roll of thunder, and Ladson providing the lightning. Their skill sets are far enough apart that the opposing defensive coordinator is going to have to keep a close eye on which guy is on the field, because I expect them to be defended in different ways.

Let Ladson have a free release, and he’ll be behind you and on the way to the endzone before you start backpedaling.

Try and get physical with Ngata at the line an you might end up getting the soul smacked out of your body and have to fake a leg injury while Joseph trots into the endzone.

Other Options

Brannon Spector - RS Fr - 6’1, 195 - 3*

Spector is going to be a jack-of-all-trades for the Tigers this season. I think you’ll see him in the slot and at 5 position more than the 9, but don’t be surprised if you see him line up there on occasion. He’s not the typical 9 guy, in terms of size, but has solid strength and quickness.

E.J. Williams - Fr - 6’4, 190 - 4*

If you’re looking for a Ross clone, you might be hard pressed to find someone better. Williams comes out of the same high school in Alabama, (Phenix City to be exact), as Ross. From what I’ve read, Williams is coming in a little more polished than Ngata and Ladson were last year, but still needs to add some weight to keep from being tossed around. Dabo says he’s just a fast as Ross and has similar change of direction. I think you’ll see him playing a role similar to the role Ladson and Ngata played last year. He’ll be on the field getting reps but it may be in garbage time until he gets his weight up and his feet under him as a freshman. Having the 8th rated wide receiver in the nation on your bench certainly isn’t a bad thing though.