Since 2010, Deandre Hopkins’ freshman year, Clemson has had one future NFL player after another at wide receiver.
Starting in 2013, Hopkins, Sammy Watkins (2014), Martavis Bryant (2014), Charone Peake (2016), Mike Williams (2017), Deon Cain (2018), Ray-Ray McCloud (2018) and Hunter Renfrow (2019) were all drafted by NFL teams. Hopkins (No. 27 overall), Watkins (No. 4 overall) and Williams (No. 7 overall) were all picked in the first round.
Hopkins just earned his third consecutive All-Pro status with the Houston Texans, while Watkins will play for the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday. Williams went over 1,000 yards for the first time in his NFL career this season, catching 49 passes for 1,001 yards. He averaged 20.4 yards per catch and scored two touchdowns.
This coming April, Tee Higgins is likely to become the fourth former Clemson receiver since 2013 to be taken in first round of the NFL Draft. He decided after the national championship game to forgo his senior year at Clemson and entered his name into the draft pool.
With Higgins moving on, Justyn Ross will slide over to his position at the boundary side of the field. At 6-foot-4, 216 pounds, Ross is one of the more physical receivers in college football, but he also has breakaway speed. Like Higgins he can highpoint the football with the best of them, making what should be 50-50 balls look more like 80-20 balls.
Here is a look at Clemson’s depth chart at the boundary position heading into spring practice (note: these are players who are currently enrolled in school and on the active roster).
Justyn Ross, Jr., 6-4, 216: Ross was an Honorable mention All-ACC selection in 2019 after he recorded 865 yards and eight touchdowns and led the Tigers with 66 receptions through 14 games. Ross played most of this time on the field side for the Tigers. However, he played the boundary when Higgins was not on the field. He can also play the slot position as well. Ross enters 2020 having recorded 112 catches for 1,865 yards with 17 touchdowns while playing in 29 career games, including 14 starts. He had a remarkable true freshman campaign in 2018 in which he caught 46 passes for a team-leading 1,000 yards with nine touchdowns. On the game’s biggest stages as a freshman, he caught six passes for 148 yards with two touchdowns in the Cotton Bowl and six passes for 153 yards with one touchdown in the College Football Playoff National Championship. He again led the Tigers in the CFP this past season, hauling in 11 more passes for 122 yards in the two games. He has 23 career catches in the CFP for 423 yards and three touchdowns.
Joseph Ngata, So., 6-3, 215: Ngata was officially listed as Higgins backup in 2019 and he will spend half of his time at the boundary this spring as well. He will also work and challenge for the starting position on the field side, along with fellow sophomore Frank Ladson. Last season, the rising sophomore caught 17 passes for 240 yards and three receiving touchdowns while playing in all 15 games. He caught his first career touchdown pass vs. Charlotte, catching a 37-yard score from Chase Brice while leading Clemson in receptions (three) and receiving yards (62) that evening at Death Valley. He also caught touchdown passes against Louisville and Wake Forest.
Cornell Powell, *Sr., 6-0, 210: Powell has 40 career catches for 329 yards and three touchdowns. He has played in 42 games in his Clemson career to this point. Last year, he caught 15 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns for the Tigers. Powell is a versatile player who will battle at all three wide receiver positions in the spring.
E.J. Williams, Fr., 6-3, 190: An early enrollee, Williams is expected to compete at both boundary and on the field side in the spring, but his future home is likely at the boundary. Williams will fit right in as another big, long and athletic playmaker. He was one of two receivers the Tigers signed in their 2020 class, along with Ajou Ajou. While Ajou will enroll in June, Williams was a midyear enrollee and thus was able to participate in a couple of Clemson’s on-campus bowl practices in January. Getting in Clemson’s strength and conditioning program should help Williams add more muscle and bulk to his lean frame.
—Gavin Oliver contributed this story
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