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2020 Clemson Football Season Preview: Cornerbacks

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 CFP Semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl - Clemson v Ohio State
DK
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The cornerback position returns a good bit of depth and quality talent. Dabo Swinney has called the position in Fall camp “7 deep” and “an extremely talented position” multiple times. Here is what we said in 2019 about the position:

“Brent Venables needs an elite boundary corner to lock down top WR’s in single coverage. He has that yet again with AJ Terrell. Tons of talent at the field corner position as well. This group might be even better than last year’s—certainly there is superior depth at the position. Splitting secondary duties and allowing Coach Reed to focus on the corners seems to have paid real dividends.The corners should be a strength in the 2019 Clemson defense. Solid in pass coverage and physical enough to support the run defense. Jones and Booth both appear to be hits at the position so there is long term health at the position.”

I feel really good about our evaluation of Terrell. We pegged him as a 5* first round talent who would leave Clemson early to the draft. That is exactly what happened. Both Terrell and Derion Kendrick struggled in the Championship game against LSU, and the season didn’t end how anyone wanted, but overall Terrell held up on the boundary corner island that helps make the BV defense work. Coach Reed has to be applauded as one of the best coaches on the roster—consistently landing prime corner talent and developing depth over the course of the past two seasons.

Departures:

Clemson loses the 16th overall pick in the draft in AJ Terrell. That is a lot of snaps and production. In 2019 he had 785 snaps (second on the defense, only behind Simmons 818 snaps), 39 tackles, 7 pass breakups, and two interceptions.

Personnel:

Jr. Derion Kendrick. Last season DK took over full-time as the starter at the field corner position. It was his first year playing corner after playing wide receiver in his first season at Clemson (and playing pretty well at WR...). DK had 689 snaps, 51 tackles, 6 pass breakups, two interceptions, with one interception returned for a TD. Don’t let the second half of the LSU game cloud your vision. DK stepped into a role, filling a need on the team, and performed brilliantly. When you consider that very few corners who have been corners throughout high school step in and play immediately for Clemson, what DK did last season is a big deal.

Now DK steps up after a year as the full-time starter and reports from camp say he has improved his technique, knowledge of the scheme, and attention to detail. He had an average second scrimmage, but the rest of camp has been lights out. He is the clear starter. DK is also in the mix to continue as the punt returner with Amari Rodgers.

Jr. Mario Goodrich. Mario played 205 snaps with 13 tackles, 2 pass breakups, and an interception. Goodrich, however, has a hard time staying healthy. He has battled foot injuries and got sick during camp, which has been a continual problem during his time at Clemson. That has opened the door for younger players to challenge him and make their case for playing time. Last year we predicted Mario would double his snap count and that happened. This year he will challenge for the starter position and will likely share snaps with Booth initially. He should double his snaps again this year, but depth at the position or injuries might cut into his count. He still needs polish, but he is a dependable rotation player at this stage in his career.

So. Andrew Booth. Everyone knows I’m ridiculously high on Booth, despite only playing 65 snaps last season. I consider him a future NFL talent and the smoothest athlete at corner. All of that almost came crashing down with a lingering knee issue that bothered Booth throughout the season. And then Booth punched a guy. Needless to say, it was not the auspicious start to his career I had envisioned. Booth is healthy now. He looks like a million bucks. He is a tough, physical tackling presence in the open field — something this defense will need with the departure of veteran safeties who were very sure tacklers. His change of direction is one of the best at corner. Right now he is challenging Goodrich for snaps. He should log over 300 snaps this season. I’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t make his presence felt (and no, I don’t mean by punching someone).

Fr. Malcolm Greene. Well, hello Mr. Greene. Multiple quality interceptions during camp. Check. Ability to grasp the scheme. Check. “Baller.” Check. Insane level Dabo camp praise (“best corner we have ever signed” praise). Check.

This was Reed’s guy during the recruiting process all last year and he finally got him in the class (see what happens when you allow your roster to add another quality scholarship or two at the end...). Reed loved his instincts and ability to flip his hips, “On tape Greene shows a fluid backpedal and the ability to flip his hips in coverage (one of the reasons Reed likes him a lot).” And all that has translated. We had questions about his size at 5’ 10 (listed as 5’ 11 by Clemson) to stick at safety, but thought he could excel as a Ryan Carter type nickel/dime player. He seems to be making that transition sooner than any of us thought. He can play corner or serve as a third corner option in nickel and dime packages. The coaching staff at Highland Springs deserves a ton of credit for getting Greene and K’von Wallace ready for college play (and ready to play early).

Greene might be the surprise of the season.

So. Sheridan Jones. Jones splashed onto the scene with a stellar Spring game a year and a half ago. But heading into the season Jones had added mass, but it was probably a bit too much. He needed to regain a bit of speed this off-season. Jones did get 140 snaps last season and should be quality depth at the position.

RS Jr. LeAnthony Williams. The elder statesman of the group. Williams only logged 78 snaps last season after playing 73 the year before, but Williams continues to make a case for an increased workload. Dabo has said multiple times how proud he is with the work Williams has put in to date. Williams gives you a quality three deep at both CB positions and allows for the usage of another CB as a nickel or dime.

Fr. Fred Davis. Davis would’ve been looking at a potential redshirt year, but with the NCAA ruling he will see more time. Davis looks the part of recent successful Clemson corners. Length and size. Not a burner, but not slow by any means. Hopefully he can get over 50+ snaps this season.

Outlook:

The LSU loss leaves a sour taste in the mouth, but this should be an elite unit that shores up the secondary despite the mass exodus of upperclassmen to the NFL. This should be a strength for the defense, especially when you can’t locate a quarterback in the ACC that can really challenge the defense consistently in the vertical passing game. DK gives the team another elite level CB talent as he continues to refine his technique. Goodrich and Booth will battle for the other spot. Greene is the wildcard. Add in Davis and the accolades being thrown at Greene mean the future at the position is bright. With no seniors in the group, no one should depart (unless DK puts in a first or second round type of season).