Clemson led college football in sacks and tackles for loss once again in 2018, and the Tigers front four was a big as to why.
Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins combined to make 56.5 of Clemson’s 136 tackles for loss and 27 of the team’s 54 sacks. So, it goes without saying there will be a drop off upfront.
Let’s be clear, at one point in their Clemson careers all four guys were named to at least one First-Team All-American team. This past season, Wilkins became just the fifth player in Clemson history to be named a unanimous All-American and Clelin Ferrell became just the second player ever to be named a two-time First-Team All-American by the Associated Press.
So, what’s next for the Tigers?
Though there will be some growing pains, there is still plenty of talent on Clemson’s defensive line. Defensive end Xavier Thomas, who was the No. 3 overall prospect nationally in the 2019 Freshman Class, will headline Clemson’s new front four.
Last year, Thomas made everyone cringe when he de-cleated Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungy in the fourth quarter. The freshman played in all 15 games, recording 35 tackles, including 10.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
Clemson’s other bookend will be sophomore Justin Foster. He too played in all 15 games for the national champions and had 18 tackles, 6 tackles for loss and 2 sacks.
Joining Thomas and Foster will be Logan Rudolph, K.J. Henry and Justin Mascoll. Rudolph played in 14 games in 2018, mostly on special teams, while Henry and Mascoll were redshirted.
In the middle of the line, Nyles Pinckney, Jordan Williams, Xavier Kelly and Darnell Jefferies will be in line to replace Wilkins and Lawrence. Pinckney and Williams played a big role for the Tigers in the College Football Playoff and National Championship after Lawrence was suspended by the NCAA for a failed drug test.
Pickney finished the year with 23 tackles and 4.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage while playing in all 15 games. Williams, who missed three games due to injury, had 11 tackles and 11 tackles for loss, including 1.5 sacks.
Kelly played in 11 games and totaled 8 tackles, including one sack. Jefferies was redshirted.
Move over Alabama, Clemson is the new King of College Football. In our new magazine “Little Ole Clemson”: The Best “Little” Dynasty Ever, we examine not just the 2018 team’s run to being “the best ever” but examine the last four seasons and how Dabo Swinney turned Clemson into the new dynasty of college football. We also take a look at the role former athletic director Terry Don Phillips played. We go behind the scenes at the Tigers’ run to a second national championship in three seasons and the previous three national championship runs. It also features stories on the Power Rangers, the 2018 senior class, high quality photos and much, much more.
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