Clemson’s defensive line was solid in 2022, but not the overwhelming force many expected it to be. Some of that blame falls on the DEs not being quite as dominant as they should have been. Clemson split the DE snaps between 5 players, though only 3 logged over 200 snaps at the position this year. Of those 3, both Henry and Murphy are going to the NFL, while Mascoll is returning for his last year. Clemson will have to hope one of the RS So from the previous class (Cade Denhoff, Zaire Patterson) or the highly rated players coming from the current class are ready to play. If they’re not ready, Clemson is going to have a very serious depth and talent problem. That’s an issue for the future, for now let’s take a look at how the players performed this year.
K.J Henry (#5)
KJ Henry was a force of nature this year and finally became the player that many expected coming out of high school. KJ started all 14 games, collecting 59 tackles (9.0 for loss), 3.5 sacks, six pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery to go along with a team-high 24 quarterback pressures in 659 defensive snaps. He always seemed to be in the QB’s face and held up well in run support. The staff never wanted him off the field, as evidenced by leading the group in snaps. KJ considered returning, but ultimately decided to move on the the NFL where he is likely to go in the first half of the draft after such a productive year. We wish him the best and will be eagerly looking to see where he lands at the next level.
Myles Murphy (#98)
Myles Murphy entered the year with sky high expectations, however early in the year he was making very little impact. That changed by the NCSU game and he began to show the effort and dominance we were expecting. Murphy is credited with 45 tackles (11.0 for loss), a team-high-tying 6.5 sacks, three pass breakups and a forced fumble in 580 defensive snaps over 13 games (11 starts). He was rated by ESPN as the 33rd best player in the country for the 2022 season. He will be greatly missed as he also is tacking his talents to the NFL and should hear his name called in the first 2 rounds.
Justin Mascoll (#7)
Justin Mascoll continued his role as a solid, if unspectacular backup this year. He was credited with 22 tackles (3.5 for loss) and a pass breakup in 298 defensive snaps over 14 games (two starts). Mascoll struggled with run blocking and staying in his gap more than once this year and is the biggest weakness he needs to correct. It’s unsurprising that he is returning for another year. Clemson needs him to take a big step forward in his progression to solidify the DE position along with Thomas.
Kevin Swint (#14)
Kevin Swint was recruited to Clemson as a LB but lacked the speed to be an impact player at the position. It was believed that he would have more success as a DE and that’s where he played the last two seasons. Swint was credited with 20 tackles and a fumble recovery in 175 defensive snaps over 13 games. Swint decided to enter the portal and leave for greener pastures, despite seemingly being in for an increase in snaps next year. We wish him the best and hope he finds success at his new school, Georgia State.
Xavier Thomas (#3)
Xavier Thomas was looking for a big year to springboard him into a high draft pick and a lucrative NFL career. He came into the season in the best shape of his life and finally healthy after battling injuries for years. It was a cruel twist of fate for him to break a bone in his foot before the year began. Limited by a foot injury to three games, Thomas collected four tackles (2.0 for loss), two sacks and a forced fumble in 52 defensive snaps. His return to the field against BC saw him flash his speed and strength by having two sacks in only a couple of snaps. Unfortunately, the foot injury flared up and he was once again and was out for the year. It was deeply disappointing to him and the fans who were rooting for him all year. Thomas decided to return to give it one more chance and his returning is a big help to Clemson.
He’s the only DE currently on the team that has proven he can create pressure and get after the QB. He and Mascoll will have to hold the line at the position until the young players behind them get up to speed and can provide help. We would love to see Thomas have a breakout season like K.J. Henry had this year and finally realize his dream of playing in the NFL.