In a recent Spring camp update, Coach Swinney revealed that Justyn Ross is taking reps at the slot or “5” WR position. It’s still early, and he still isn’t cleared for contact after spinal surgery last season, but news of the likely move is interesting and surprising.
Ross is 6-4 and excelled on the outside when he was last healthy. Nonetheless, Coach Swinney said he is “Renfrow-esque when it comes to his lateral ability,” and is “one of those rare guys with size that can be elite at any position.” Ross’s ability to move to the slot - assuming it sticks - opens up some interesting possibilities for the Tigers.
EJ Williams (6-3) returns the most receiving yards (306) from 2020 among the Tigers WR corps. He plays on the outside. Frank Landson and Joseph Ngata were expected to emerge last season, but were besieged by various injuries. They are former four-star recruits entering their third season who many expect to start in 2021. Both are 6-3 and play on the outside.
In addition to that trio, Clemson boasts 6-3 Ajou Ajou who showed off his raw athleticism on a big run after catch against Georgia Tech. Beaux Collins (6-3) and Dacari Collins (6-5) joined as early enrollees and give the Tigers even more depth.
The Tigers have a ton of tall, talented wide receivers that can compete on the outside. Moving Ross to the slot allows those guys to get reps while keeping the Tigers best receiver on the field more. Brannon Spector, Will Swinney, Will Brown, and incoming freshman Troy Stellato figure to be the other slot receivers. Spector is a former three-star talent and third-year player. He’s proven to be steady, but hasn’t broke out in his opportunities to date. Swinney and Brown are former walk-ons and Stellato is a true freshman who is not yet on campus. With Amari Rodgers leaving, the Tigers have an opening in the slot and moving Ross there allows the Tigers to put potentially three game-breaking receivers on the field at the same time.
Imagine this. QB Dj Uiagalelei drops back and is looking at EJ Williams (or Joseph Ngata if you prefer) on the boundary. Frank Ladson is streaking upfield, using his speed to blow past the cornerback, and Justyn Ross is cutting and working himself open.
Putting the Tigers’ best receiver on the inside also forces the offense to use more of the field and not rely on jump balls to the outside as was the common critique in 2019. We’re just four days into Spring Camp and the news is already giving reason for optimism. The 2021 season can’t get here soon enough.