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2021 Clemson Football Season Preview: Wide Receiver

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WRU Boogaloo

Syndication: The Greenville News KEN RUINARD / USA Today via Imagn Content Services, LLC

One of the strongest programs in the country over the last decade, Clemson has established itself as a modern powerhouse capable of sending multiple players to the league every year.

Perhaps one of the most consistent areas of NFL success for Clemson alumni is the wide receiver position, something Clemson has affectionately branded as WRU. With a number of superstars who are having strong NFL careers, the WRU brand is still alive and well. Amari Rodgers and Cornell Powell had crucial “prove-it” seasons in 2020, resulting in both being selected within the first 5 rounds of the 2021 NFL draft.

With that duo gone, the door is wide-open for the next Clemson receiver to step into the alpha role and become DJ Uiagalelei’s new best friend on Saturdays.

Notable Returners

Clemson loses their top three performers of 2020 in Amari Rodgers, Cornell Powell, and Travis Etienne, who collectively accounted for nearly 60% of Clemson’s receiving yards last season. Behind them is a list of shiny but mostly unproven names; a cabinet of former 4 and 5-star candidates for breakout seasons awaits.

Among that group are juniors Frank Ladson and Joseph Ngata, who are surely eager to show off their talents after disappointing sophomore campaigns. Recurring injuries certainly didn’t help either of them play their best, but they have yet to truly hit that fifth gear. This was also noted by WR Coach Tyler Grisham, who seemed to indicate during Clemson’s media day that neither Ladson or Ngata have fully bought in quite like Amari Rodgers did.

Sophomore E.J. Williams put together a respectable freshman season and looks to be a larger piece of the offense in 2021. He had several “WOW” plays last season, including this catch against Notre Dame in the ACC Championship game:

That play reminded me of Justyn Ross’s unforgettable one-handed catch against Alabama in the 2018 national championship, so here’s that one for your viewing pleasure:

Speaking of Justyn Ross, he is one of the most intriguing pieces to the puzzle that is Clemson’s wide receiver room. Ross missed all of 2020 after being diagnosed with a scary congenital fusion in his neck at the end of spring practice that year. Ross has now officially been cleared for play, has already been named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list, and looks poised to wreak havoc on helpless defensive backs.

I’m picturing a glorious homecoming similar to Rango’s triumphant return to the town of Dirt to fight Rattlesnake Jake in an epic duel (maybe Nick Saban is Rattlesnake Jake in this analogy), although a comparison to Clemson’s own Mike Williams might be a more apt illustration. Regardless, Ross has been moved to the slot position (although he will no doubt do damage from multiple positions), and Clemson fans everywhere are eager to see him command this group of receivers.

Personnel

Clemson’s pre-camp depth chart currently looks like this:

BOUNDARY - Joseph Ngata
or Frank Ladson
Ajou Ajou
Dacari Collins

SLOT - Justyn Ross
Brannon Spector
or Will Swinney
or Troy Stellato

FIELD - Frank Ladson
or E.J. Williams
Beaux Collins

Assuming Ladson and Ngata can finally shake the injury bug that plagued them last year, this is a pretty stacked group on paper. Of course, big names on paper don’t always translate to big plays on the field, and outside of Ross and Williams, none of these receivers have proven a whole lot yet. But that’s part of the fun and excitement of a new season - I don’t think many of us would have predicted Powell’s stellar senior season this time last year (except maybe QT).

There are some new faces on campus as well, but we can really only speculate on how much they will contribute at this time. Overall, this group of receivers has the potential to be one of the stronger units for the 2021 Clemson football team. Here’s hoping WRU has plenty of fireworks in store for this season!