Tigers return 16 players with starting experience without Wilkins in the mix
It’s only been 12 days since the 2017 football season came to an end, and Clemson fans are already geared up for the 2018 season.
Of course getting news future NFL stars such defensive ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, as well as left tackle Mitch Hyatt, are returning to school will do that. All three players, who some thought could be first-round picks in this year’s NFL Draft, have announced they will play one more year for the Tigers.
Dabo Swinney also announced linebacker Kendall Joseph and cornerback Mark Fields will return for their senior seasons, too.
Of course everyone is still waiting on the word of defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, who announced at the end of the team banquet Saturday night that he is still undecided on what he is going to do. The two-time All-American has until Monday at 11:59 p.m., to let the NFL know if he wants his name to be added in the draft pool or not.
If Wilkins does return for his senior year, he will be just the icing on the cake for a Clemson program that right now will return 16 starters from last year’s 12-2 team that reached the College Football Playoff and won the ACC Championship.
Should Wilkins return, the 2018 Clemson front four on defense would return intact, and three of the returning players were first-team All-American by one of the major services in 2017.
Defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, a first-team All-ACC tackle, is regarded as one of the top defensive linemen in the nation as well.
Those four players made up what many described as the best defensive front in college football. The four combined for 25 of Clemson’s national best 46 sacks. They also combined for 45 tackles for loss as Clemson ranked sixth nationally with 109.
With those four manning the front the Tigers finished fourth nationally in total defense and led the ACC in total, scoring, rushing and pass defense for the first time in school history.
With Hyatt’s return, the offense will return three starters up front, four if you count the fact Tremayne Anchrum and Sean Pollard split starts at right tackle. Overall, the Clemson offense returns 8 starters, including its top receiver in terms of catches in Hunter Renfrow and its top rusher in Travis Etienne.
Quarterback Kelly Bryant is also back after going 12-2 in his first year as a starter and leading the team to a third straight ACC Championship.
Ferrell was first-team All-American by Associated Press and a second team selection by USA TODAY, Sporting News, the Football Writers Association and Sports Illustrated. He led the Tigers in sacks with 9.5 and tackles for loss with 18 among his 65 total tackles.
He ranked second in the ACC in sacks and tackles for loss.
Bryant was named a first-team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America, a second-team selection by the Walter Camp Foundation and a third team selection by the Associated Press. Bryant had a Clemson record tying four sacks in the win over Auburn and finished the season with 8.5 sacks, second on the team to Ferrell and was third in the ACC. He had 57 tackles for the season.
Joseph finished second on the 2017 team in tackles with 90, including 10 stops against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. He added five tackles for loss in his 12 games, 11 as a starter.
The two-year starter, who was a third-team All-ACC selection, led Clemson’s second ranked defense in tackles in four games, including the ACC Championship game against Miami and the Sugar Bowl against Alabama.