At Clemson, the goal is not to rebuild, but instead reload. That’s why the program has won 70 games the last six seasons. When great players such as Tajh Boyd, Andre Ellington, Sammy Watkins, Nuk Hopkins, Martavis Bryant , Dwayne Allen and Dalton Freeman move on to the next level, they replace them with guys like Deshaun Watson, Wayne Gallman, Mike Williams, Artavis Scott, Deon Cain, Jordan Leggett and Jay Guillermo.
And though the Tigers are losing some of the best players Clemson has ever seen at the time, the transition to the next wave of players seems effortless in a way as if they almost don’t miss a beat.
For example, look at Clemson’s defenses the last two seasons. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables lost eight starters following the 2014 season, a year in which the Tigers led the nation in total defense and 10 other defensive categories. However, in the 2015, Clemson still produced a top-10 season in total defense.
Last year, the Tigers lost seven starters off the 2015 team on the defensive side of the ball. However, Venables’ 2016 unit turned out to be better than the year before as Clemson led the ACC and finished No. 8 nationally in total defense and scoring defense.
This year, the big turnover will come on the offensive side of the ball as head coach Dabo Swinney and co-offensive coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott must replace Watson, Gallman, Williams, Scott, Leggett and Guillermo.
Obviously, there is a plan in place on how they will combat those losses as well as a few others such as the Ben Boulware, Carlos Watkins, Cordrea Tankersley and Jadar Johnson on defense. Part of that plan will be executed today as the 2017 Class will sign their letters-of-intent on Wednesday, making them officially Clemson Tigers.
So who is coming and who is going? Let’s exam who is leaving this year, and how the Tigers plan to replace them with those in the 2017 class.
Let’s be honest here, replacing Deshaun Watson is not going to be easy. He is arguably the greatest player Clemson has ever had. He was 32-3 as a starter, the school’s all-time leader on a percentage basis, tying Boyd (32-8, 2010-13) and Rodney Williams (32-10-2, 1985-88) for the most wins by a starting signal caller. The two-time Heisman Finalist also left Clemson with a mountain of passing records for a game, season and a career. Kelly Bryant and Zerrick Cooper, both former four-star quarterbacks, are already on campus have been groomed to replace Watson. However, Watson’s replacement might be 2017 quarterback Hunter Johnson, who enrolled in school in January so he could participate in spring drills. Johnson is a five-star quarterback out of Indiana where he just won the Mr. Football Award. He is listed as the No. 2 quarterback and No. 18 player overall in the 2017 class by Rivals. Swinney and company are also bringing in four-star talent Chase Brice from Grayson High School in Georgia. He plans to enroll at Clemson this summer.
The plan in replacing Wayne Gallman, a back who averaged more than 5.0 yards per carry in his career and finished fifth on Clemson’s all-time rushing list, begins with guys like Tavien Feaster, C.J. Fuller and Adam Choice. All three are on campus and have experience carrying the rock at the college level. Feaster is a former five-star talent from Spartanburg that was brought in from the 2016 class. As for this year, Clemson has won the battle of the Tigers for Travis Etienne’s services. The four-star running back from Jennings, La., will choose Clemson over LSU. Jennings is rated as the No. 114 overall prospect in the 2017 class and the No. 13 running back nationally according to ESPN.
Mike Williams and Artavis Scott leave Clemson as two of the most productive wide receivers in Clemson history. Scott set the record for the all-time mark for career receptions, while Williams became just the third Clemson receiver to have two 1,000-yard seasons in his career. The Tigers are loaded with skill players at wide receiver and Deon Cain, who has had two sensational seasons as Williams’ backup, is ready to take it to another level. Scott’s replacements Hunter Renfrow and Ray-Ray McCloud have made their share of plays the last two seasons as well and will fill in with no problems. As for the 2017 class, the Tigers are simply reloading as guys such as Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers officially sign their letters of intent today. Higgins is a five-star product from Oak Ridge, Tenn., where he is rated as the No. 15 overall player in the class and the No. 2 wide receiver by Rivals. Rodgers, from Knoxville, Tenn., is a four-star product and is listed as the No. 15 wide receiver nationally and the 115th overall prospect by 247 Sports.
Jay Guillermo will go down as one of Clemson’s all-time greatest centers. The good news for the Tigers, he is really all they are losing up front. Though losing Jake Fruhmorgen to transfer does hurt a little with depth at offensive tackle. However, the Tigers return eight of their 10 offensive linemen on their two deep. But, a team can never have enough offensive linemen. Clemson will sign four-star offensive guard Matt Bockhorst (6-5, 297), three-star offensive tackle Blake Vinson (6-6, 295) and three-star tackle Noah DeHond (6-7, 320) today as part of the 2017 class. Bockhorst, who is from Cincinnati, Ohio, is listed as the No. 17 guard in the country by 247 Sports.
It’s not easy being a starting cornerback in Venables scheme. Corners are left on an island a lot and it takes a lot of trust for a player to earn a starting spot, so replacing Cordrea Tankersley will not be easy. Tankersley has been a two-year starter where he has led Clemson in pass breakups in each of the last two seasons, while recording a team-high nine interceptions overall. Venables and defensive backs coach Mike Reed have guys in position to replace him such as Marcus Edmond, Mark Fields and Trayvon Mullen as all three will battle for the starting spot. The Tigers will also bring in five-star corner AJ Terrell (6-2, 180) of Westlake, Ga., who Rivals list as the No. 13 overall player and No. 2 defensive back in the country. Clemson is also bringing in LeAnthony Williams, Jr. (6-0, 170), of Rosewell, Ga. He is a four-star cornerback.
Clemson loses Jadar Johnson, a former-three star guy who stepped up and became a First-Team All-ACC selection in 2016. Johnson led the Tigers with five interceptions and was without a doubt the quarterback of the secondary. Like at corner, Clemson has several guys already on campus that will compete in the spring to replace Johnson, guys like Korrin Wiggins, Tanner Muse, K’Von Wallace and Isaiah Simmons. Clemson will also bring in three-star safety Baylon Spector (6-2, 205) of Calhoun, Ga. He was also recruited as an outside linebacker and will be a strong candidate to be a nickel back / outside linebacker like Jalen Williams is used now in Venables’ scheme.
We are now taking orders for our limited edition magazine Mission Accomplished. Remember Clemson’s championship season with this great magazine from the staff that covers Clemson football 365 days a year. Order yours today to make sure you get a copy!