When looking at the Dabo era of Clemson football, tight ends consistently seemed to play a big part of the offense. While most folks remember CJ Spiller’s and Jacoby Ford’s contributions to the 2009 offense, Michael Palmer was an absolute automatic target for Kyle Parker, catching about everything thrown his way. The Tigers then saw a good career from Dwayne Allen, who many say is Clemson’s best tight end in school history. And, Clemson probably does not win the 2016 national title without Jordan Leggett’s heroics through the season. However, since 2016, the tight end position has seen a step off in use and production. From 2017-2019, Clemson tight ends have only accounted for four touchdowns, two being receptions by Milan Richard (‘17 win over Georgia Tech, ‘18 win at Boston College), one being a reception by Braden Galloway (‘18 in the Furman win), and the last being a rushing touchdown from Garrett Williams in a blowout win at Florida State (‘18). Other than that, tight ends have mostly been counted on for blocking. While Williams’s blocking was an invaluable part of the 2018 Tigers, being able to consistently have tight ends that consistently can block and make plays as a receiver adds another dimension to the offense. And it looks like this year could be the season we see a resurgence in Clemson’s tight end use.
After some flashes a talent in his freshman campaign, there was some buzz about how Clemson could use Braden Galloway in 2019. That was until the NCAA suspended him for the controversial positive ostarine test prior the the 2018 playoffs. This meant that Galloway was ineligible to play for the Tigers in those two playoff games, and the entire 2019 regular season plus the ACC championship, finally eligible to return one year after the test, allowing him to play in the playoffs. As some pondered the idea Galloway being a “secret weapon” for Clemson in the playoffs, he played in a limited role, participating in just 65 snaps over the two games. However, early on Galloway made a splash in the title game loss to LSU by pulling in a career long 42 yard reception.
Galloway has a real chance to make some noise in his third season, and Clemson really needs him to do so. Clemson’s top receiver on the roster, Justyn Ross, is medically redshirted in 2020 due to a congenital neck issue discovered in the spring. Amari Rogers returns with his explosive abilities from the slot, and there is more talent in the wide receiver room, but it’s a lot of young talent. Clemson has found creative ways to utilize the passing game when the traditional ways aren’t working (see: Travis Etienne’s performance in the Fiesta Bowl). Galloway seems to have the athleticism to contribute in a Jordan Leggett role, which was essentially a big, athletic receiver where you felt just as comfortable with him split out wide as you did with him in a traditional tight end set. Having that would be a huge boon to the Clemson offense.
Another tight end that will be one to watch is RS freshman Jaelyn Lay. Lay was able to take advantage of the NCAA’s 4 game redshirt rule by getting some early season snaps while still keeping his redshirt eligibility. Out of high school, Rivals had Lay as the nation’s 3rd best tight end and Georgia’s 16th best player. At 6’6” (tied for the tallest tight end in Clemson history) and 270 lbs he brings a lot to the table. He could function like a “skinny” offensive tackle at that size when blocking, and also provides Lawrence with a big target in the passing game. ESPN shows his combine-best 40 as a 4.84, which is good speed for a big man.
Senior JC Chalk comes back after filling the Garrett Williams role last year as a blocking tight end. He started 14 of 15 games and was a key part Clemson’s successes in the rushing game. Chalk is a product of Argyle, Texas, and the grandson of Dabo’s college coach and mentor, Gene Stallings. Chalk has caught 17 passes for 100 yards in his career, including a career high of three catches twice last season in wins over Wake Forest and South Carolina. Chalk is definitely a good “safety valve” option for Lawrence.
Luke Price returns after his debut season as a tight end. The former line backer started one game and participated in all 15 games, pulling in four catches for 41 yards. The brother of former Clemson offensive tackle Phillip Price, Luke is currently one of the few on the team that can compete with Trevor Lawrence for the “best hair” award.
Sophomore Davis Allen had 5 catches for 53 yards last season, and participated in all 15 games, including one start. Allen comes from Calhoun High School in Calhoun, Ga, which also produced Baylon and Brannon Spector.
Rounding out the tight end room is a pair of freshmen, Will Blackston and Sage Ennis. Out of Graceville, FL, Ennis was the nation’s 26th best tight end per Rivals. Ennis turned down offers from the likes of FSU, South Carolina, Harvard, and Yale to come to Clemson. Blackston comes from nearby Honea Path, SC. He signed as a preferred walk on in January.