Deon Cain has some big shoes to step into at the boundary position, filling them for Mike Williams, the seventh overall pick in the NFL Draft last April. After problems with suspensions his freshman year, Cain responded the appropriate way and had a great season for the Tigers in 2016.
Cain will continue the trend of star receivers who played at Wide Receiver U, following in the footsteps of Williams, Deandre Hopkins, Charone Peake and Martavis Bryant, all of whom are now in the NFL.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound receiver fits the position well. He has the speed and the size to be a threat in the red zone and in many other areas of the field. He proved himself last year to be a constant deep threat and with another year of development is able to work on other parts of his game to continue his progression into a true number one target.
Last season, Cain had an excellent season where he brought in 38 catches for 724 yards and nine touchdowns. Not only was it a good season, but some of his best performances were in big-time games. He caught four passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns against Louisville in a critical win for Clemson, and he also had five catches for 94 yards in the national championship game.
HUNTER RENFROW: 5-11, 180, REDSHIRT JUNIOR. As if tearing up Alabama’s defense for 88 yards and two scores wasn’t enough for him in the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship, Renfrow put on an equally spectacular encore for Clemson fans in the 2017 Championship Game. In addition to grabbing 10 balls for 92 yards and two touchdowns, one of which won the game for the Tigers and will be immortalized in Clemson football history forever, the original walk-on also made a touchdown saving tackle on Alabama’s Ryan Anderson after a fumble recovery.
The road leading up to that dream-like ending was rough, and although Renfrow finished the season with 44 receptions for 495 yards and six touchdowns, he missed four games during the regular season dealing with a broken bone in his hand.
Now, after many months of signing autographs and taking pictures with fans, Renfrow is ready to lead a young yet balanced receiving corps at the slot position. He doesn’t have that same in-your-face passion like Ben Boulware, but Renfrow uses all of the experiences he’s earned through hard work to lead by example and effort on the field.
“We’ve been in a lot of situations in the last two years and from that area I’m trying to lead a little bit,” Renfrow said. “He has proven that his size isn’t a factor when it comes to playing the slot position because of his sneaky speed, ability to catch balls in heavy traffic and crisp route running.
Expect him to be a safety valve running short routes through the middle of the field for whoever is starting under center this year. The only real question about Renfrow is, can he top last year’s championship game performance?
RAY-RAY MCCLOUD: 5-10, 180, JUNIOR. As a wideout who arrived on campus with the ballyhoo befitting a five-star recruit at a school that refers to itself as “Wide Receiver U,” McCloud appears poised to live up to his substantial billing as a junior.
McCloud, who will start as the Tigers’ field receiver, finished last season with 49 catches to rank third on the team. His 472 yards ranked sixth on the squad, and he scored two touchdowns. The high point of the speedster’s season came when he posted eight catches and went over the century mark (101 yards) for the first time in his college career at Georgia Tech, garnering offensive player of the game honors from the coaches.
He had 32 catches for 339 yards and both his touchdowns prior to an ankle injury he suffered at Florida State in the eighth game of the season. After that he was never the same as the injury caused him to miss the Syracuse game the following week, and then it lingered the rest of the year.
But this spring, co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said it was time for McCloud to emerge from the shadows of players such as Mike Williams and Artavis Scott and take on a starring role.
The early returns are encouraging. In the spring game, McCloud finished the game with 110 all-purpose yards. He caught four passes for 34 yards, ran the ball twice for 12 yards and returned two kicks for 66 yards en route to being named the game’s Most Valuable Player by The Clemson Insider.
But while he’s always had big-time potential, at times McCloud has gotten in his own way.
A 74-yard return against Troy could have been a 75-yard return for a touchdown, but instant replay overturned it after it showed he actually let go of the football prior to crossing the goal line.
“Hopefully, the maturity I have seen in Ray-Ray, he is ready to kind of go and take the next step, but he has to go do it,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “We are working on that this spring, and we are putting him in those situations. We will continue to do that in fall camp.”
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