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2023 Clemson Football Position Review: Linebackers

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

I’m back to take a look at how the linebackers performed and compare it to how I projected the position to unfold back in my season preview.

Much like the regular season, Clemson’s linebackers got off to a shaky start before really playing well from the middle of the season to the end. Depth was a major concern before the season started, but thankfully Jeremiah Trotter, Barrett Carter, and Wade Woodaz all avoided major injuries that would have taken them out of games completely. Trotter especially had a great season and decided to declare for the NFL draft (which was expected) where he has a chance to be a first round draft pick. Let’s take a deeper look at the individuals who played this season.

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

MLB Jeremiah Trotter, Jr. (676 Snaps; 88 Tackles; 15 TFL; 5.5 Sacks; 6 PBU; 2 Int (1 TD); 16 QB pressures).

Trotter was one of the rocks of a top 10 elite Clemson defensive unit in 2023. He lived up to his preseason All-American hype and delivered some of the biggest plays of the season. The only downer was a lingering leg issue that he had to play through at the very beginning of the season that definitely affected his play against Duke in game 1. By the time the Florida State game came, Trotter was back to making plays all over the field and you could see his burst to the ball had fully returned. Trotter finished as a Butkus Award finalist and First Team All-ACC. He will hopefully enjoy a long and fruitful NFL career.

NCAA Football: Gator Bowl-Clemson at Kentucky Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

WLB Barrett Carter (633 Snaps; 67 Tackles; 9.5 TFL; 3.5 Sacks; 6 PBU; 1 Int; 6 QB pressures).

Carter, like Trotter, was billed as a pre-season All American and likely early NFL departure. Though Carter had a solid season, and definitely finished extremely well in the Gator Bowl, he struggled at times with tackling and will return to Clemson next season to try to solidify himself as a first round draft pick. There is no doubt that Carter possesses rare athleticism for a LB, and perhaps his finest performance of the year came in the heartbreaking loss to Florida State when he was seen blanketing dangerous FSU running backs and tight end Jaheim Bell down the field in coverage. It will be interesting to see if Carter assumes Trotter’s Mike position or stays as an edge LB next season, but he is a jack of all trades that can be even more elite than Trotter if he can shore up his tackling. He admitted to being “out of shape” after the loss to Duke where the game flipped on Riley Leonard’s long scramble TD run following Carter missing the sack. Carter will be an invaluable piece to Wes Goodwin’s third defense that will be tasked with controlling the powerful Georgia Bulldog offense in Atlanta in game 1.

NCAA Football: Florida Atlantic at Clemson Gannett-USA TODAY NETWORK

WLB/SAM Wade Woodaz (357 snaps; 31 tackles; 6 TFL; 4 sacks; 2 Int; 1 TD; 2 QB pressures)

Wade Woodaz put together a good sophomore campaign as the primary LB backup during the regular season. He stepped in to start the Gator Bowl with Trotter’s opt out. Woodaz continued to flash his range and athleticism, particularly on his pick six against Florida Atlantic. Wade should be poised for an even bigger role in 2024 with Trotter’s departure to the NFL and has been an effective blitzer, surpassing Carter’s sack total in just over half the snaps this past season.

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Kobe McCloud (90 snaps; 16 tackles; 3.5 TFL; 1 QB Pressure).

Ray Ray’s little brother was the next guy up at LB and showed some flashes in his limited action in 2023. Thankfully Clemson avoided a major injury to the primary three linebackers which allowed Wes Goodwin to bring McCloud and fellow youngster Dee Crayton along slowly. The Tigers will look to McCloud to take another step this offseason to be ready to provide depth at MLB, where McCloud appears to be projected. McCloud came in a bit undersized and is continuing to work on building his body, but he runs well as you might expect coming from such an athletic family.

Dee Crayton REDSHIRTED (59 snaps; 5 tackles; 1 TFL)

Crayton redshirted and played in the four regular season games for that plus the extra bowl game that was allowed. This was good for the staff to be able to stagger Crayton and McCloud and Wade Woodaz for future seasons. Crayton will join newcomers Sammy Brown, Drew Woodaz, and CJ Kubah-Taylor as the next crop of freshmen looking to continue what Brent Venables built back into a strong position group and Wes Goodwin continues to maintain.