It’s that time of year again: the air is thick with humid, southern heat, sunsets are stretching later and later into the summer evenings, and fall camp is in full swing for hundreds of collegiate football programs.
Every beat writer, homer blogger, and die-hard fan is putting on their tinted glasses and convincing themselves that this year is the year it all finally comes together. This is the season Coach ______ finally gets the right combination of talent, experience, and luck to make a deep playoff run. This is the year their QB has an all-time season and takes home the Heisman trophy along with countless other accolades for their team. This is our year, baby.
In other words, it’s the pre-season.
So put away your pitchforks, holster your complaints of a 10-3 “down” season, and toss out those fears of offensive stagnation - WE’RE GOING TO THE NATTY!
“Tell us what was going on when you were holding this bag of grapes.” - @D_Rench_ @renfrowhunter tells the story behind the famous grape photo— The Players Club Podcast (@playersclub_pod) February 11, 2022
Full episode: https://t.co/Vl5WpbsV5A pic.twitter.com/6KxiZsNDm9
I get the pleasure of previewing the wide receivers once again this year, and I’m excited to announce that this season is in fact the year we see a return to the WR greatness we have long enjoyed here at Clemson but sorely missed last year.
To recap 2021:
- Justyn Ross led all receivers with 514 yards
- Only two other receivers had at least 400 yards (Beaux Collins and Joseph Ngata)
- The WR room accounted for 7 total touchdowns
Injuries and inconsistency across the board played a major role in Clemson’s offensive struggles last year (Clemson had a program-record 47 different starters last season across the offense and defense), as did sub-par QB and O-line play. Nevertheless, the wide receivers at times looked lackluster, seemingly incapable of running routes cleanly or blocking with any real mojo.
All that is behind the program, now nothing more than a faint mirage disappearing in the rear view mirror. Ahead lies the alluring open paved roads of I-2022, a path that surely leads only to greatness and glory. The ROY bus is hurtling down this freeway, stocked with an arsenal of players hungry to prove themselves worthy of the esteemed WRU moniker.
The notorious slot position has several faces capable of bringing quality play to this position in 2022.
Will Taylor’s contributions to the team came more in the form of his returning agility - he was the starting punt returner in Game 1 against UGA and held that title until his unfortunate season-ending injury in October. Originally listed as a QB for depth in 2021, the sophomore is now fully entrenched in the WR room and should bring a useful combination of speed and twitchiness for the slot/punt return positions.
Brannon Spector, the younger brother of now Buffalo Bills LB Baylon Spector (who just had 10 tackles in a preseason game against the Colts), missed all of 2021 due to respiratory challenges and will look to return stronger than ever this year for Clemson. Behind him is 4-star freshman Antonio Williams, who has been spoken highly of thus far through camp. Troy Stellato was set to provide more depth, if not compete for a starting spot before he tore his ACL in fall camp.
Things get slightly less clear here and the starting rotation will likely fluctuate depending on who is healthy each week.
Joseph Ngata is no doubt the incumbent on the outside (X or “9” position), and all eyes are on him as he attempts to produce for a full season without injury. Ngata has always been highly regarded around Clemson by Dabo and the other coaches but has yet to put together a truly dominant season, whether due to injury or lack of playing time. I’m confident 2022 is his breakout senior season, much like Cornell Powell’s last stint with Clemson was.
Beaux Collins is the rising talent who will also possibly start (in the Z or “2” position) and should see heavy playing time this year. He is the seventh Dabo-era WR to post at least 30 receptions and 400 receiving yards in his freshman season. His talent is undeniable, and we can surely expect more “Beaux Time” this year.
EJ Williams, much like Ngata, has shown bursts of talent without ever consistently balling out for a full season yet. Now entering his junior year, the Alabama native is looking for an injury-free chance to show out for the Tigers. We’ve seen him make flashy plays, now is the time for him to be a dependable threat for this WR group.
Behind these three awaits the second of the “Collins Towers” in Dacari Collins. Dacari came on strong last year, contributing almost all of his receptions in 3 of Clemson’s last 4 games. He will be a force on the outside and can hopefully pair with Beaux to give DJ another tall, physically imposing “Tower” to throw to.
Adam Randall was turning plenty of heads during spring practice before he tore his ACL, but according to Dabo, he is expected to be available as early as September. Whether or not he is used much will likely depend on how much the coaches see him as being needed/physically ready, but his recovery is impressive nonetheless and will add a little more depth to the group.
Something to note with this group of receivers is that of the nine receivers listed here, only two are less than 6’1”, with Will Taylor being the only sub-6 foot receiver in the projected depth chart.
I was curious and looked up how tall Hunter Renfrow (more commonly known as Hunter “Alabama DB Nightmare” Renfrow) is and wasn’t surprised to see him listed at 5’10”. There’s hope for Will Taylor yet, even amongst such tall giants in this WR unit.
How confident are you in this year’s crop of Clemson receivers? Do you expect to see the next great season from an explosive WR or are you more cautious? I know I’m ready to see this group take the field and abuse corners around the country. Let us know in the comments who you’re most excited to watch this year, and be sure to stick around for more coverage of the upcoming season.
Other STS Position Previews