By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Two years ago, Sammy Watkins made the college football world take notice as he emerged as one of the greatest freshmen players to have ever played the game. The first-team Associated Press All-American—just the third true freshmen to ever earn that status—caught 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns.
He made fools out of just about every secondary in the country, while also electrifying Death Valley with long kickoff returns and runs. The year before that, it was DeAndre Hopkins.
Though he did not earn All-American status, Travis Blanks emerged as one the Tigers’ best defensive players last season as a nickel back / linebacker. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound defensive back recorded 51 tackles as a freshmen and had seven passes broken up to go with one interception.
So which player in Clemson’s talented freshmen class will be an impact player this year? There are several candidates and we at The Clemson Insider.com have put together a list of the top 5 freshmen that should play a big role in the Tigers’ success this coming season.
- Mackensie Alexander, cornerback: He has been called Clemson’s version of Deon Sanders. I think that is a stretch, but we will see. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound cornerback definitely has the same kind of confidence as Sanders. He proved that already when he got the best of Watkins when the two battled in a high school playoff game three years ago. Rated as the No. 4 overall player in the nation by ESPN, Alexander will come in and compete for a starting job right off the bat, and if I had to guess, he will be starting when the Tigers take the field against Georgia on Aug. 31. He should improve what was a poor secondary at times last season.
- Jordan Leggett, tight end: With the season-ending injury of Sam Cooper in the spring game, Leggett will more than likely become the Tigers’ big-play threat at the tight end position. At 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, Leggett has the skills of a Dwayne Allen and Brandon Ford, but the speed and agile of a wide receiver to become a serious threat in the Tigers’ passing game. He has to get stronger and become more of a run blocker, but he will cause headaches for defensive coordinators this fall.
- Germone Hopper, wide receiver: No he is not a true freshman, but he is still a freshman. The 6-foot, 175-pound wide receiver has the speed and the ability to be a really good fit in Chad Morris’ offense. The coaches were really high on him last fall and almost played him a few times, especially when they got thin at the receiver position, but they were able to save him and get him ready for this fall. With Watkins moving to the boundary, look for Hopper, who is just as fast as Watkins, to be used more in the way Watkins was used the previous two years. He should become a big contributor on offense by the middle of the season.
- Tyshon Dye, running back: Clemson has not needed a freshman running back to contribute in a season since James Davis in 2005. That’s the last time the Tigers had a huge question mark at the position to start a season. Ironically, Dye fits the Davis’ mold. At 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, he is a bruising back that can carry the load, yet he is fast enough to break off long runs as well. By the middle of the season, look for Dye to be the No. 1 or No. 2 running back in the offense. Of course, all of that will be based on how fast and how much of Morris’ offense he can process and retain.
- Dorian O’Daniel, linebacker: Though Clemson is deep at linebacker, O’Daniel has the best shot of coming in and playing this season of all the freshmen linebackers. The Tigers could use another body at strong side backer behind Quandon Christian, and at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, O’Daniel is already equipped to come in and contribute.