Coming into the season, the linebacking core was considered one of the strengths of Wes Goodwin’s defense. Led by the trio of Trenton Simpson, Barrett Carter, and Jeremiah Trotter, Jr., many predicted that this group would be among the best in the ACC. Before the season, some predicted that this group, in addition to the defensive front, would comprise the best front 7 in Clemson history. To say expectations were high would be an understatement.
Jeremiah Trotter Jr.: 89 tackles (49 Solo, 40 Assist, Led Team), 6.5 sacks, 5 passes defended, 2 INTs, 1 TD, 1 FF
Honors: Second-team All-America honors from the Associated Press, Third-team All-America, and Second-team All-ACC by Pro Football Focus, Second-team All-ACC selection by College Football Network and Phil Steele
Barrett Carter: 73 tackles (41 Solo, 32 Assist), 5.5 sacks, 8 passes defended, 2 INT, 2 FF
Honors: Fourth-team All-America honoree from Phil Steele, First-team All-ACC from Phil Steele, and Pro Football Focus
Trenton Simpson: 73 tackles (41 Solo, 32 Assist), 2.5 sacks, 3 passes defended, 1 INT, 1 FR
Honors: Butkus Award semifinalist, Lott IMPACT Trophy semifinalist, Third-team All-ACC selection, Third-team All-ACC honors from Phil Steele
Keith Maguire: 39 tackles (18 Solo, 21 Assist)
Wade Woodaz: 20 tackles (9 Solo, 11 Assist), 1.5 sacks, 3 passes defended, 1 FF
LaVonta Bentley: 20 tackles (12 Solo, 8 Assist), 1 sack
T.J. Dudley: 1 tackle (0 Solo, 1 Assist)
Sergio Allen: 1 tackle (1 Solo, 0 Assist)
Matthew Maloney: 1 tackle (1 Solo, 0 Assist)
The top three of Simpson, Carter, and Trotter were expected to produce, and produce they did. All three garnered national awards from multiple sources, led by Jeremiah Trotter, who paced Clemson in tackles with an impressive 89 on the season. Throughout the season, I found myself heavily impressed with Trotter: he came in with less recognition than Simpson and Carter, yet he proved that he was arguably the best defensive player on the field. His pick-six against South Carolina should have been a much more memorable play had the Tigers held on in that game. Even though I am praising Trotter, that is not taking away any praise from Trenton Simpson and Barrett Carter.
Carter showed his athleticism and knack for coverage skills, registering a linebacking-room high of 8 passes defended and 2 interceptions. Not to mention 5.5 sacks, Carter was a menace for many offenses throughout the season. Finally, in Trenton Simpson’s final year at Clemson, the junior turned in another impressive season, garnering national attention in the form of a Butkus Award semifinalist finish. I believe Simpson will be picked in the first round, and, this is simply coming from someone who saw both players play, reminds me tremendously of Isaiah Simmons.
Of the linebackers listed with tackles according to ESPN, four will not be with the team next year. Those four are Trenton Simpson (NFL Draft), Keith Maguire (retiring), LaVonta Bentley (Colorado), and Sergio Allen (California). Obviously, losing Trenton Simpson will be massive for the Clemson defense, and figuring out who will step into his shoes will be one of many pressing questions the coaching staff will need to figure out in spring ball. One incumbent I believe will have the upper hand is Wade Woodaz.
Woodaz, a late recruit, came on towards the end of the year, playing meaningful snaps in the ACC Championship game and the Orange Bowl, as well as against Syracuse, Louisville, and South Carolina. If he can build upon his performance, the drop-off from Simpson could be minimized, which would be massive for the defense.
Another incumbent that could push for more playing time is T.J. Dudley. A top recruit out of Alabama who only played in 2 games (Lousiana Tech and UNC), he will be a redshirt freshman at the start of the season. If he can get some snaps with the first team in spring ball, he has the ability to make an impact, whether it be as a starter or a rotational piece.
Jamal Anderson (Mill Creek High School, Hoschton, Georgia) - 4 Star, Natl. 216, Pos. 19, St. 18
Dee Crayton (Denmark High School, Alpharetta, Georgia) - 4 Star, Natl. 416, Pos. 34, St. 44