With the 2023 football season less than a month away, it’s time for our annual positional previews here at STS. I like getting to handle the WR preview because of the absolute chokehold the last decade had on me when it came to Clemson receivers - watching guys like Sammy Watkins, Deandre Hopkins, and Mike Williams dominate was a core piece of my adolescent fandom.
Unfortunately, we all know things haven’t quite been the same around Clemson for a few years now, with Tee Higgins being the last true alpha receiver to have played in Tiger Town. Each year it seems we are given promises of stud athletes who will right the ship and take us back to those glorious WRU days, but as of late it hasn’t materialized yet.
I’m hopelessly optimistic nevertheless, so let's dig into this year’s crop of receivers with our glasses of orange Kool-Aid half-full!
First, let’s review last season:
- Antonio Williams had a stellar freshman campaign with 604 yards and 4 touchdowns
- Joseph Ngata didn’t have as big of a year as many had hoped, but still produced a modest 526 yards
- The WR room doubled their total touchdowns from 2021, ending 2022 with 14 total TDs
- Will Taylor shifted his focus solely to baseball, EJ Williams transferred to Indiana, Dacari Collins transferred to NC State, and Ngata was picked up as a UDFA by the Eagles.
Much like last year, the ceiling of Clemson’s offense in 2023 will likely be dictated by how well the receivers perform. We know the defense should be potentially top-10 in the country, and the running backs are proven weapons. Cade Klubnik certainly is a big question mark but he is less of an unknown than this WR room at the moment.
According to Dabo, it all starts with Beaux Collins:
He’s a really, really good player and a great kid, a great leader. He’s super talented, he’s fast, he’s strong, he’s polished, and he really understands all the nuances of the position... hopefully, this is the year he stays healthy all year, and if he does, he’s going to have a great year. It’s going to start with Beaux.
Collins has had a modest career with Clemson thus far, accounting for just under 780 yards and 8 touchdowns across two seasons. Like many of these receivers, Collins has struggled to stay healthy and really assert himself as a #1 type of guy, but we’ve seen glimpses of the alpha he can be. It seems he has been talked up quite a bit this offseason, so perhaps 2023 really is Beaux Time.
Antonio Williams is coming off a freshman All-American year, has bulked up 10 pounds from last year, and is probably the most proven receiver on the roster right now, as damning as that is for this group. He was consistently making plays as a freshman and brings a speedy element to this group that we haven’t seen in a while. I could see him taking snaps in the slot position or being shifted out wide; he’s going to see a lot of the field this year.
Adam Randall is another name Clemson fans are pretty familiar with despite not seeing a whole lot of him so far. He came to Clemson as a four-star, top-100 prospect who was highly touted. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in the spring of 2022 and was unable to fully contribute last season. At 6’3”, 224 pounds, he is apparently healthy and ready to show what he brings to the table for this group. I’m quite high on Randall, but he still falls in the “prove-it” category right now.
Brannon Spector is the other veteran in this group. A redshirt senior, Spector has been around for a long time but hasn’t given us much reason to suspect he can be anything other than a serviceable body for blocking. Last year he posted a career-best 15 receptions for 195 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but Clemson will need him to either step up or step aside as there are numerous young bodies behind him vying for playing time.
Cole Turner was the surprise name of 2022 for this position group, emerging from seemingly nowhere to haul in 101 yards against UNC in the ACC Championship game, as well as 51 more against Tennessee.
In my opinion, the jury is still out on whether he can be a reliable contributor or if his sudden contribution late last year was more a product of being relatively unknown to the opposing defense.
Noble Johnson, Tyler Brown, Misun Kelley, and Ronan Hanafin round out the new faces on campus for the WR room, with most of the talk seeming to center around Johnson and Brown. I’m eager to see if any of these four are able to push the older receivers for playing time, or if they will have to mostly sit until next year.
What do you think 2023 will have in store for the receivers? Will they finally turn the page and elevate the WR room to that lofty, distant title of WRU? Or will it be another lackluster season with average play? With Riley implementing his air-raid offense and Klubnik taking over as the full-time starter at QB, there are certainly going to be growing pains for the Clemson offense. If the Tigers are to reach the playoffs in 2023, these receivers must step up in a big way.