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Dark Territory Time Machine Article: Mount Rushmore - Clemson Tight Ends

The Few, The Proud, The Elite Tight Ends

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Clemson Josh Morgan-USA TODAY Sports

The dog days of the dark territory are coming to an end in a few short weeks. The Tigers will be donning the pads very soon to prepare for the opener against Georgia Tech. I know a lot of Clemson fans are longing for the return of effective tight end play this season, so let’s take a look at the few who provided that for the program over the years.

This position wasn’t as hard as some others but the top of the heap is pretty darn good when you look at it. The tight end position has evolved a great deal, particularly over the last five years when some dominant mismatch guys became huge forces in the NFL. Guys like Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Darren Waller have elevated things even beyond where legends like Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez took the position. Here is who I felt were the best of the best for the Tigers.

  1. Bennie Cunningham (1972-1976). We start with a true Tiger legend who starred when times were pretty dark for Clemson football. The Charlie Pell/Danny Ford renaissance had not taken shape until Cunningham had departed as a first round draft pick for the Pittsburgh Steelers where he had a stellar career. Cunningham was an All-American player and person and provided the template for judging all future Tigers at this position.
  2. Dwayne Allen (2008-2011). Allen’s story is one of the best reparation/maturity stories I can remember. Allen came as a very highly touted recruit but soon found himself in the doghouse with the coaching staff, particularly when Dabo Swinney took over and brought accountability to a whole different level in the program. However, Allen grew up and emerged as an absolute dominant force at the position by 2010. Not only did Allen win the prestigious John Mackey Award in 2011, he was described by legendary Virginia Tech DC Bud Foster as the scariest player on a very scary 2011 offense. Allen did everything well and put together a nice NFL career, including winning a Super Bowl with the Patriots.
  3. Jim Riggs (1983-1986). Riggs did not put up eye popping numbers during his time at Clemson, but that was because the Tigers rarely threw the ball and when they did, it was usually a sprint out to a flanker or occasional deep shot. Nevertheless, Riggs became as big a threat to catch a ball from the position as fans had seen since Cunningham. In fact, I vividly remember my father griping that the Tigers didn’t throw it to Riggs nearly enough because he was “always wide open!” Riggs was a punishing blocker and had a nice NFL career, mostly as a Cincinnati Bengal. Riggs is a Clemson HOF member as well.
  4. Jordan Leggett (2013-2016). Jordan Leggett was another great coming of age story. The long and athletic prospect out of Florida intrigued fans early, but he quickly earned the nickname “Lazy Leggett” and was particularly poor as a blocker early on. While he never became the blocker the other three on this list were, Leggett was a no-doubt stud playmaker during the 2015-2016 seasons where the Tigers ascended to the top of the college football world. Some of the biggest games during those seasons, particularly the 2016 bouts with Louisville, Florida State, and Alabama, featured Leggett making at least one crucial play. The magical final drive against Alabama in Tampa included an iconic back shoulder grab of incredible difficulty that put the Tigers in position to go for the winning-TD vs. playing for a field goal.

Some folks have been great to remind me of some older generation players that don’t immediately come to my mind, and that could happen again here. Some honorable mentions for me included Brandon Ford, Michael Palmer, and Ben Hall, but I really felt the top four were pretty clear cut for this position.