Clemson had five different tight ends catch a pass last fall, and combined those five players caught just 28 passes for 322 yards and two touchdowns. Though the Tigers did not throw the ball as much in 2017, the coaches would like to see more production from the tight end position in the passing game this coming season.
That is one of the things they will work on this spring as spring practices begin next Wednesday behind the Allen Reeves Football Complex in Clemson.
Of course it did not help that Garrett Williams tore his ACL in the last week of spring drills last year and missed the entire season.
However, before being injured last year, Williams seemed to be more of a fullback/HB than a tight end the previous two years. Of course no one knows what he can do because he was playing behind Leggett those two seasons. Also, how will Williams’ knee respond coming off the injury?
Regardless, the Tigers struggled to get any consistency—from a passing standpoint—from the tight end position. Milan Richard led all tight ends with 18 receptions for 210 yards and a touchdown, but Richard is not the same kind of player Jordan Leggett was at Clemson.
Richard did a good job blocking in the running game and in pass protection, but he is not the route runner Leggett is. It was obvious defenses, in particular linebackers and safeties, were not worried about Richard down field. His most productive plays came on bootlegs where he would scrap off the line and move to the flat where he was usually open for a good gain.
Richard’s longest reception of the year came in the first game of the season against Kent State, a 44-yard pass play from quarterback Kelly Bryant.
Those plays were productive, but they were not the kind of big plays Leggett rolled off over and over again the previous two seasons when he set career- and single-season records for a tight end. Before being drafted by the New York Jets in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL draft, Leggett racked up the most receptions (112), receiving yards (1,598) and receiving touchdowns (18) by a tight end in Clemson history.
Cannon Smith (3 catches for 24 yards and 1 TD) is very similar to Richard in stature and is very good in run blocking and pass protection. J.C. Chalk seems to be made out of the same mold.
One guy who might fit into the same role as Leggett is former wide receiver Shadell Bell. He is polished enough as receiver to run those kinds of routes. However, Bell (6-1, 220) is 40 pounds lighter and about three inches shorter than Leggett. So strength and durability is still a question mark with him.
Then there is true freshman Braden Galloway (6-6, 225), who enrolled at Clemson last month and will participate in spring drills. Though Galloway played football for just two years at nearby Seneca High School, the coaches really like his potential.
“He reminds you a lot of Jordan Leggett in high school,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “Just that big, athletic guy. He’s still trying to figure out his body, but he can run, he can catch, and if you’ve seen him here lately, he looks the part. He looks like he’s a little bit more physically developed than where Jordan was when he was coming out of high school.”
The question is how much will Galloway develop physically and mentally this spring and in the summer? Can he do enough to avoid a redshirt and become a factor on the depth chart?
Elliott really likes what Galloway can bring to the offense. Because of his athletic ability, Seneca moved Galloway to quarterback last fall, but a couple of foot injuries ended his season early. The year before as a junior, he strictly played tight end and caught 50 passes for more than 800 yards and scored nine touchdowns.
The two-sport standout excelled on the basketball court, as well, scoring region player of the year honors after averaging 20.7 points per game.
“He gives you that matchup nightmare at that position,” Elliott said. “He’s going to be big enough and physical enough to be in the box, but then he’s going to spread out as a wideout and he’s going to create that matchup, not just on linebackers but he’s going to create that matchup on safeties.”
And that’s what Clemson needs its tight end to do more of.