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Aug. 31, 2015 - DJ Boyer

2015 Fierce 40 Previews: #14 Clemson

#14 Clemson Tigers

2014 Recap:

Another 10-win season for the Tigers. Something that has become commonplace in recent years. The Tigers started out the campaign 1-2 after losses to Georgia and Florida State, and they didn’t drop another game until a November loss to Georgia Tech. Clemson ended the season with an exclamation point, pounding Oklahoma 40-6 in the Russell Athletic Bowl.


Dabo Sweeney received a contract extension, as Clemson has been very vocal about not wanting too see their coach walk away to another school or even the NFL. Sweeney has led Clemson over the last three seasons to finish in the top 15 at the end of each season, joining Oregon, Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State. Clemson can put up points with the best of them, but it starts on defense, where Clemson finished #1 in the nation in total defense. Brent Venables is the man leading the defense, and he is accustomed to success. Jeff Scott is the co-offensive coordinator. Scott is the coach for the running backs while Tony Elliot carries the co-coordinator title coaching the running backs.


Offenisve Analysis

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

If you are looking for your dark horse yet legitimate Heisman candidate from one of the schools not usually in the Top Ten, start with Clemson signal caller Deshaun Watson. Watson saw action in eight games as a freshman and finished with an efficiency rating of 188.6. Watson threw for nearly 1,500 yards with an impressive 14/2 TD/INT ratio. Throw in an additional five rushing touchdowns, and you have yourself the makings of a quarterback just starting to hit his stride that can do major damage within the ACC. Watson has a bevy of weapons to choose from, and most are very tall and very athletic.

Watson will benefit from a few more sophomores playing with him at running back in Wayne Gallman and Tyshon Dye. This duo combined for over 900 yards rushing and six TD’s at a 4.7 YPC clip. These are not monster numbers by any means, but it is enough to keep opposing defenses honest, and you have to remember Watson will have his share of rushing yards and touchdowns. This offense has the ability to be as dynamic as the defense was a season ago. Watson’s draft status could hinge upon his health this season, as his 6’2” 205 pound frame will need to show it can withstand a full season of being the man under center.

Best Draft Prospect: Deshaun Watson QB 3rd Round 2018.


Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Clemson may enjoy the best three-headed monster at receiver in the conference and they are led by Mike Williams (hopefully a better prospect than USC wideout Mike Williams). Williams finished second on the team with 57 catches a season ago, but he led in yards (1,030) and YPC (18.1). All this was accomplished as a 6’3” target, so you can already see the appeal at the next level. Not to mention we have seen Clemson receivers do well in recent years in the NFL (Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant). The successful play by those previous receivers have been bringing top rated prospects to Clemson, and the Tigers have another freshman who will be very important to the offense coming aboard this year, Trevion Thompson. While Williams is the big play threat, Artavis Scott led the team in catches (76) and touchdowns (8). Throw in Charone Peake, who was granted an extra year of eligibility, and you start to see some major targets capable of making play after play.

The tight ends should figure more into the passing game, and Clemson has a pair of solid offensive contributors in Jordan Leggett and Stanton Seckinger. There are just so many targets to choose from in this offense that it has to make Coach Sweeney excited.

Best Draft Prospect: Mike Williams WR 2nd Round 2016 (if he declares early, part of the 2017 draft class).


Offensive Line:

There are a few questions surrounding the offensive line since the player who was to be featured (Isaiah Battle) left early for the Supplemental Draft and was the first player selected in the special draft since 2012 (Josh Gordon). We feel the best players on the line from a prospect standpoint (OG Tyrone Crowder and OT Mitch Hyatt) have yet to play enough games, or in Hyatt’s case play at all, so we are reserving judgement there. Hyatt was a top-ten national prospect overall and will be the left tackle starter at the start of the season. Crowder has a handful of starts to his credit as a freshman, and we liked what we saw, a very physical run blocker.

Ryan Norton is a tough blue-collar type center who could hear his name on draft day and should be the vocal leader of the line. Joe Gore and Eric MacLain look to be the starting right tackle and left guard respectively, but Maverick Morris and Taylor Hearn seem to be among the young and valuable backups along the line. The Tigers are banking on this being a very good unit, but it could take a little time for them to gel cohesively.

Best Draft Prospect: Ryan Norton C UFA 2016.


Defensive Analysis

Defensive Line:

We will really find out just how well Brent Venables can make adjustments as a coach. The #1 overall defense from a season ago returns only a pair of starters, and none of those are along the defensive line. That of course includes top ten overall pick Vic Beasley and fellow top rounder Stephone Anthony, who led the team in tackles. Looking along the interior we have another developing situation, as projected defensive tackle starter D.J. Reader has left the football team for “personal reasons” on the eve of the season getting ready to start. There is no word if this will be for the season or an unspecified amount of time. Reader was supposed to ease the loss of another departed Tiger, Grady Jarrett.

Carlos Watkins looks like the other defensive tackle, and Reader’s spot is now up in the air. Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd will open the season as the starting defensive ends. Lawson had 11 tackles for loss and three sacks as a key reserve a season ago, and he looks like he has a future at the next level. Clemson was among the NCAA leaders with 45 sacks registered a season ago, and they always rely on constant quarterback pressure.

Best Draft Prospect: Shaq lawson DE 5th Round 2017.



Korrin Wiggins and his 34 total tackles is the only returning starter back among the linebackers or the front seven for that matter. While Wiggins returns it is fellow junior Ben Boulware that looks like he will be the new leader amongst the linebackers. Boulware had 40 tackles with five for loss last season, and he started a pair of games. The last time we saw Boulware he was bringing back an interception for a touchdown against Oklahoma in their Bowl victory. Senior B.J. Goodson looks like he will start along the outside, while Boulware settles into the middle linebacker spot. Dorian O’Daniel had a successful freshman season, and he will be a key reserve that will act as a rover in a few packages where Clemson adds a fifth defender in the secondary that acts as a run stuffer or linebacker.

Best Draft Prospect: Ben Boulware LB 7th Round 2017.



Mackensie Alexander is the one member of this secondary that looks like he is ready to turn the corner into being a big playmaker within the ACC. Alexander broke up and defended six passes a piece last season, but his coverage was so good at times that teams just seemed like they tried to avoid throwing at him at all. Cordrea Tankersley saw action in all 13 games last season, and he will now have a chance as a starter opposite Alexander at cornerback. Tankersley has better size at 6’1”, but one can imagine he will see the majority of the passes, as Clemson tries to match last season where they were #2 overall against the pass in the nation.

Jayron Kearse took over the free safety spot during last year, and Jadar Johnson will be the strong safety starter. Between Kearse and Johnson, Clemson had an additional five interceptions last season, and these guys know how to run in the open field and make big plays. While there are not many returning starters along the front of the defense, the back secondary will be the strength of this team and could once again lead the conference as the best unit there is.

Best Draft Prospect: Mackensie Alexander CB 3rd Round 2017 (if he declares, part of the 2018 draft class).


Specila Teams

Bradley Pinion made the unusual move for a punter last season by declaring early for the draft, and it worked. Pinion was the only punter taken. Andy Teasdall will be tasked with replacing the 42.6 YPK average. The real art for Pinion was having nearly half of his punts “fair caught.” No returns and a large net average is what made him such a valuable special teams asset. Ammon Lakip battled some inconsistency, as he was 21-28 on field goal attempts, but he has shown promising range. The return coverage on kickoffs was a bit spotty, but T.J. Green and Germone Hopper are excellent return assets, and a few kicks should find their way back to being returned for scores in the upcoming season.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A.


2015 Schedule

Clemson gets a couple of cupcake games before things get serious with Louisville, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech early on. November 7th is the big day, as Florida State comes to Clemson in a game the Tigers feel they must win to be taken seriously as ACC title contenders. Clemson will end the season with their grudge match against South Carolina coming on the road after Thanksgiving. This is a reasonable schedule. It isn’t too easy, but it is hard enough to turn away detractors who will argue it’s too easy.


Draft Prospects & Outlook

Watson and the receivers are intriguing from a draft standpoint. There are so many holes to fill on defense, and as a result we should see more prospects coming from the secondary vice the front seven. Clemson stands just behind Florida State over the last ten years when it comes to the number of prospects drafted from the ACC. These players are well-coached on both sides of the football, and they will continue to make an impact at the NFL level.


DJ Boyer