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Wide Receivers and the Portal

Wake Forest v Clemson Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

The Clemson Tigers have a problem at wide receiver. The unit has underperformed since 2021. This had led to a general lack of explosive plays in the passing game. New offensive coordinator Garrett Riley was brought in to freshen the stale offense and that process is a work in progress. Seeing Dabo Swinney get outside of his comfort zone and bring in an established coordinator from outside of the Clemson family was refreshing and encouraging. That level of urgency was not extended to the personnel, particularly at wide receiver. Swinney and the Tigers again elected not to utilize the transfer portal and instead hoped for improved health and increased production from the returning personnel.

Through six games, Beaux Collins and Tyler Brown are tied with 24 catches to lead the Tigers. Troy Stellato has 16 receptions and presumed top target Antonio Williams has missed more than half of the action but has reeled in 15 passes. None of the primary receivers are averaging more than 14 yards per catch — underscoring the lack of explosive plays.

What if Clemson had pursued a wide receiver or two from the transfer portal? Some may say “there was no room,” but consider the possibility that they didn’t offer third-string QB Paul Tyson, didn’t extend scholarships to four former walk-ons, or simply treat this as a intellectual exercise to assess if it would have helped if they could.

Reviewing the 15 highest ranked wideout transfers from the 2023 portal class shows a mixed bag of outcomes.

Top 15 WR Transfer Targets (According to On3) - Class of 2023

  1. Travis Hunter - Colorado - 29 catches for 353 yards with two TDs
  2. AD Mitchell - Texas - 25 catches for 354 yards with four TDs
  3. Dont’e Thornton - Tennessee - 7 catches for 89 yards
  4. Dorian Singer - USC - 14 catches for 179 yards with three TDs
  5. J. Michael Sturdivant - UCLA - 18 catches for 353 yards with two TDs
  6. Dominic Lovett - Georgia - 31 catches for 282 yards with one TD
  7. Rara Thomas - Georgia - 16 catches for 256 yards with one TD
  8. Dante Cephas - Penn State - 7 catches for 103 yards
  9. Ali Jennings - Virginia Tech - 5 catches for 72 yards with two TDs
  10. Tez Walker - North Carolina - 12 catches for 175 yards with three TDs
  11. Zakhari Franklin - Ole Miss - 2 catches for 23 yards
  12. Keon Coleman - Florida State - 29 catches for 418 yards with seven TDs
  13. Jordan Hudson - SMU - 11 catches for 178 yards with two TDs
  14. Tez Johnson - Oregon - 22 catches for 274 yards with three TDs
  15. Jamari Thrash - Louisville - 39 catches for 639 yards with six TDs

There are players ranked below number fifteen that have transferred and had an impact (Kaden Prather at Maryland, Traeshon Holden at Oregon) but the top fifteen seems like a fair group to examine. The top player on the list, Travis Hunter, was always going to follow Deion Sanders so he was not truly an option for anyone but Colorado and it’s possible none of the players on this list would have been interested in Clemson. Given the quality of the Clemson program and the opportunity to play in a Garrett Riley offense though, it’s probable Clemson could have zeroed in on a few of these players and added from this list, if they chose to do so. How much of a difference would someone like Keon Coleman have made for this Clemson offense?

If we consider only these 14 prospects (not counting Hunter), how many would be at least the third or fourth-best wide receiver on this Clemson roster? Mitchell, Sturdivant, Lovett, Coleman, Tez Johnson and Jamari Thrash would all be starters for the Tigers and a few of those players would make a major difference in how teams had to defend Clemson.

These numbers also show that bringing in a transfer wideout, even a well-regarded one, will not necessarily have a positive impact. Much like traditional recruiting, there are hits and there are misses and injuries. There does appear to be a better than 50% hit rate though.

Wide receiver is an area of need for the Tigers. Clemson will be in the second-year in Riley’s system and Cade Klubnik should be one of the better returning quarterbacks in the ACC. There will be selling points for Dabo Swinney, but he must evolve and choose to address a need with the means that are available. The transfer portal is here to stay and ignoring one of the two primary ways to improve your team is willingly handicapping your team’s ability to compete.