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Clemson 2020 Season Review: Cornerbacks

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NCAA Football: Miami at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the season Dabo Swinney called this group “7 deep” and “an extremely talented position” during multiple interviews. Here is how we projected the group heading into the season overall:

Welp.

It all looks about right, but two straight postseason losses where the secondary is absolutely torched doesn’t sit right. It also doesn’t sit right when DK is beaten multiple times in both games on crucial plays.

Was the corner play 7 deep? No. LeAnthony Williams did play a meaningful snap. At the end of the year it was 5 deep with Davis jumping in for spot duty.

Was it 5 deep against ACC play? Yes! No ACC QB really challenged Clemson vertically. Even in the first game against Ian Book, it was mostly underneath and short passes, or things from scramble drills that stressed the defense. Boston College was probably the only major threat and that was for a half of football.

But the sour taste remains from the playoff exit and has to be used when evaluating the corner play overall this season and certainly moving into next season. I do want to add that really poor Safety play impacted the corner position as well. Lots of communication busts in key spots against Ohio State that aren’t all on the corners.

Personnel:

CFP Semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl - Clemson v Ohio State Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

JR. Derion Kendrick.

DK is coming back for his senior season after not getting the draft grade he wanted. He wasn’t going to sniff the first or second round and wisely came back to Clemson. Very unexpected. DK has the talent. DK has shown production in the past two years and can put it together. The stat line isn’t all that bad: 382 snaps, 20 tackles, 6 pass breakups, 1 TFL, 1 Sack, 1 INT.

I’m trying to be positive here because what I saw on the field was really disappointing. My main criticism is that DK was not at all physical in run support or getting off blocks or tackling. Super poor effort that I haven’t seen from the corner position in a long time. Tackle numbers should be higher (and TFLs and INTs too). AJ Terrell was one of my favorites because he would come up and hit you. I don’t see that from DK, which is really surprising. DK was injured a bunch and in Dabo’s love shack far too often. After lots of talk about DK in the offseason, it didn’t come to fruition. BV needs a lockdown corner to make the defense work and will continue to search for that in DK and the rest of the corner group in the offseason.

CFP Semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl - Clemson v Ohio State Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

JR Mario Goodrich.

Goodrich had a decent season when he was on the field. He is turning into Mr. Glass, however, and is going to need to show NFL scouts he can stay healthy for an entire season. 237 snaps, 16 tackles, one pass breakup, two interceptions. Goodrich had some really important moments like those interceptions, but the only images in the database for him this season are what I posted above. Goodrich made strides and was a solid, dependable rotation player. He still needs to gain another 5-10 pounds of good weight and muscle to play more physical, but is poised to take another step next season (IF HE CAN STAY HEALTHY).

NCAA Football: Virginia at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

So Andrew Booth.

Played 335 snaps with 30 tackles, 2 INTs—a one-handed interception and another where he floated across the sky, 2.5 TFLs, 1 sack, and 4 pass breakups. He had the scoop and score against Syracuse when that game was still in doubt. From the season preview:

Well we got the snap count and positive presence felt part right. He started 4 games and played well for much of the season. He did, however, seem to struggle with always getting on the field and small technique issues. Giving up too much space here and not having inside leverage there. He showed he can be the alpha 5* shut down corner the team desperately needs, but the next step is to show the consistency play in and out. I love his physicality and closing speed against the run.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Ohio State vs Clemson Russell Costanza-USA TODAY Sports

FR Malcolm Greene.

Greene was stuck trying to play straight corner until the coaching staff wised up and put him in the Nickel/hybrid position and he took off. In 197 snaps he had 18 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, 2 pass breakups, and one interception. Not bad for a true freshman.

We said this in the preview:

Nailed it.

Greene still has work to do in coverage, but he has a nose for the football and plays with toughness and tenacity. Simpson starting was part of the reason for Mike Jones Jr. leaving but Greene gobbling up snaps is likely part of the equation. Greene is just really productive when he is on the field and looked at home at the Nickel spot (he was getting eaten up at corner though). Ryan Carter part 2.

CFP Semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl - Clemson v Ohio State Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

So. Sheridan Jones.

Jones entered the season as the starter. He started 8 games during the year and logged 300 snaps with 22 tackles, 1 INT, 1.5 TFLs, and 3 pass breakups. Coming into the season Jones worked on improving his speed and reconstructing his body to adjust to added weight in his freshman season. It certainly wasn’t a bad season for Jones who had to step up as other corners were in the love shack or injured. Jones, however, hit a snag as the season progressed. He was used in certain Nickel/Dime packages and against Boston College, it just didn’t work. His snaps started to diminish as the season wore on. Sheridan provides a strong backup and role player heading into next season, but needs to make strides to enter the realm of ‘elite’ corner.

Fr. Fred Davis.

Davis benefited from all of the injuries and was able to compile 183 snaps with 18 tackles and two pass breakups. Not a bad season to build on. Clemson needs Davis to be a hit to keep depth at the position. He showed he can hold up in coverage and seems to have fully recovered from any knee injury issues. He isn’t a speedster/burner, but he showed he can play with his length and size. Could make a push in the offseason for a more prominent role, but 183 snaps for a third or fourth string guy in his freshman year is a lot.

Jr. LeAnthony Williams.

Logged 113 snaps—finally over 100 snaps for the season! 12 tackles. Williams is another role player who you don’t want to leave now since he is a Senior. Williams had a few bright moments during the season and will continue to try and get more snaps. Williams gives you quality three deep play. Obviously, his career has been a disappointment (on this site we had him much below the expectations of others but still thought he would be contributing at this point), but he provides senior leadership.

Outlook:

I think it is fair to say that we were too bullish on the corners entering the season. Drank a bit too much of the Dabo pumper coach-speak. In all of our defense, Dabo included, there were tons of injuries and love shacks that kept this group from really gelling and becoming a cohesive beast mode unit. It was plenty good enough to wreck the ACC, however. And this is where these expectations are difficult. Is the standard the likely playoff competition or the teams on your schedule? The corners were not prepared to defend against Ohio State in the playoff. They did an above average job in the regular season and ACC champs game. Everyone is coming back and plenty of reasons to be optimistic but the sour taste from now two straight playoff torchings is not pleasant.