By Will Vandervort
In 2012, DeAndre Hopkins, a.k.a Nuk, did things that have never been done before at Clemson or in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Hopkins hauled in 82 passes for a school record 1,405 yards in 2012, while also setting an ACC-record 18 touchdowns. He ended the season by catching a touchdown in 10 consecutive games and caught at least one in 12 of the Tigers’ 13 games last season, both ACC records.
With Hopkins now gone to the NFL, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd must find a new go-to guy other than Sammy Watkins. The junior wide receiver has already proven himself when he caught 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2011. He also hauled in 57 passes for 708 yards and three scores last year.
No the question is, who else will step up and replace Hopkins’ and his 82 catches this year? The Tigers have a divvy of candidates. There are juniors Martavis Bryant, Charone Peake and Adam Humphries as well as redshirt freshman Germone Hopper.
Newcomer Mike Williams might also be in the mix by the time fall camp ends.
“We are going to find out,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “Hopefully, Sammy is on the field every game. I think that is a good place to start. He really only played like seven games last year.”
Watkins will play in Hopkins old position this fall on the boundary side, which will force defenses to double team him or leave him one-on-one in space. If defenses chose to double-team Watkins then that should open things up on the field side for guys like Bryant, Peake, Humphries and Hopper.
“The other guys have to step up,” Swinney said. “How many catches did Nuk have? Eighty-something? He had 82 catches, so there are 82 catches on the table, basically. Between Charone Peak, Martavis Bryant, Adam Humphries and Germone Hopper, there are a lot of catches to be distributed to what is really a talented group of guys.
“It will be one of them. Somebody is going to step up and we will find out who it is.”
The best candidates to actually replace Hopkins seem to be either Peake or Bryant. Peake will lineup in the spot vacated by Jaron Brown in the slot position, while Bryant is the backup to Watkins. But, he will also work in other sports, too.
Let’s not forget about Humphries either. He is the only one of the three to consistently play the last two seasons.
“Right now, I don’t know how that is going to play out because they are all kind of right there together,” Swinney said. “When those guys came in here, Nuk Hopkins was here and he was just ahead of them. It’s that simple. It was hard for them to beat that guy out. It’s not that they are not great players, but you are looking at a guy that was a first-round draft pick.
“He was not going to relinquish his spot. You have to give him credit for that. That’s just the nature of it.”