For several years now, Clemson fans have endured a somewhat consistent cycle:
- Clemson receiving core is hyped up by Dabo/coaching staff and camp talk seems to confirm the hype.
- Fans speculate on which receiver will explode for a 1,000-yard season and dominate games.
- Injuries begin to claim several victims of the WR room.
- WR production over the season is average at best and no single player truly pops out.
For 2022 and 2023, a freshman was also the leading receiver for this position group (Beaux Collins was close in 2021).
It’s been a frustrating pattern for WR enjoyers, but it’s not news around here that WR production has seen a sharp drop-off ever since Trevor Lawrence left the program. But Trevor himself wasn’t the sole benefactor of stellar WR play - Tajh Boyd, Deshaun Watson, and even Kelly Bryant all had access to NFL-caliber players. Receivers such as Higgins or Hopkins who could dominate week in and week out helped the last decade of Clemson QBs put up gaudy stats for years.
The yin and yang situation of poor QB play mixing with poor WR play as of late hasn’t helped alleviate the recent decline in top-notch wide receiver performance. Let’s take a closer look at the numbers from this season:
2023 WR Stats
This table obviously doesn’t include Briningstool, Shipley, or Mafah, who together combined for an additional 102 receptions. Without them, the production is pretty barebones.
After losing Cole Turner just two games into the season, along with Antonio Williams sitting out the majority of the year, Clemson was left with very few proven options at receiver. Thankfully, a talented freshman emerged as a reliable target for quarterback Cade Klubnik throughout the 2023 schedule:
One of several freshmen who garnered lots of chatter during the offseason, Tyler Brown flashed with breakaway speed that wasn’t matched by Clemson’s other receivers. After a two-touchdown game against FAU, Brown posted 5 receptions for 84 yards in the overtime loss against FSU. He followed that up with his best effort of the season against Syracuse, going for 153 yards and marking himself as worthy of the starting role.
Brown worked primarily out of the slot position and proved to be the most consistent target for Klubnik. He also returned several punts and was a bright spot for the offense throughout the season.
Dabo had this to say about Collins in August after what felt like two seasons of potential but limited production:
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.
While Collins did finally have a healthy full season, he failed to truly pop off in the way many Clemson fans had been hoping for ever since he arrived on campus. His biggest performance of the year came against Charleston Southern, and although he continued to provide respectable production over the season, he never truly dominated in any key games.
Collins announced in December his decision to transfer to Notre Dame and will get a change of scenery to help him prove why he was such a highly-rated recruit out of high school.
Despite not including him in my season preview, I couldn’t be happier with how Stellato finally was able to contribute meaningful snaps for Clemson. He has been plagued with injuries since arriving at Clemson, and it was really neat to watch Stellato talk about how badly he wanted to get out there and play for the Paw - it’s evident he is hungry to prove himself after largely being invisible prior to 2023.
In addition to hauling in one (very impressive) touchdown (vs. Syracuse), Stellato caught 38 passes for 321 yards in his first season seeing actual playing time. He showed good hands and fought well for yards after the catch, and I’m excited to see him next season with more time as a starter.
Another receiver who started 2023 with perhaps more hype than production, Randall had a somewhat quiet year, bringing in just 250 yards. His big frame seems perfect for what Clemson wants out of its receivers right now, but he has yet to have a big breakout game. Randall will enter 2024 with 32 career receptions and no touchdowns.
After a stellar freshman campaign, Williams entered the year with lots of buzz and promise. Unfortunately, 2023 would be his turn to take the injury crown, and he only saw action in 4 regular season games. Despite such limited playing time, Williams still managed to collect an impressive 224 yards (including 16 from the bowl game), good for fifth amongst receivers.
The 2023 season was a mixed bag for the offense, especially at the wide receiver position. Although there were moments of brilliance and flashy plays, accounting for just ten touchdowns was a clear step below what fans were hoping for out of this group.
Injuries to Turner and Williams along with general struggles in other position groups no doubt hindered this unit from returning to the now-distant WRU status. Nevertheless, expectations for Riley’s offense in year two will certainly be higher, and the pressure is on for someone to step up and become an alpha receiver. Collins is the only significant contributor leaving the program, and with two highly-rated freshmen (TJ Moore and Bryant Wesco) arriving on campus, there should be no reason Clemson doesn’t see more impressive production in 2024.