Clemson Football 2020 Preview: Tigers arguably have best collection of receivers in the country
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney says his wide receivers have gotten better since the end of last season, even though they lost the No. 33 overall pick in the NFL Draft in Tee Higgins.
The Tigers return Justyn Ross and Amari Rodgers, two guys with a ton of experience, as well as senior Cornell Powell and sophomore Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson, who got a lot of experience in 2019 as true freshmen.
They also have freshman E.J. Williams, who enrolled in January so he could participate in spring practice, and redshirt freshman Brannon Spector.
“All of those guys are better. Joe and Frank, first of all, are just as I thought they would be,” Swinney said. “I thought they both had some moments last year. Frank missed all of camp with his foot and he was hurt, and he came back. He literally got back on game week.
“That really kinda set him back and it took him a little while. He had his moments and learned. He had some great days in practice and things like that. He looks like a different guy. I love what I have seen out of him.”
Ladson enters 2020 having caught nine passes for 128 yards with three touchdowns while playing in 15 games last year. He made his collegiate debut against Georgia Tech, catching a 21-yard touchdown pass from Chase Brice on his first career reception. He recorded a highlight reel 7-yard touchdown catch at Syracuse as well.
Ngata was officially listed as Higgins backup in 2019. 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 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.
“Joe just made big plays all year. Physically, he is pretty special, and mentally, he is caught up. Technically and fundamentally, he has made a huge step. I’m pleased with him,” Swinney said.
Rodgers, who finished last year with 30 receptions for 426 yards and four touchdowns, was able to play without a knee brace this spring and said he felt much faster and more explosive minus the extra weight of the brace.
“Amari looks awesome, especially without the brace,” Swinney said during spring practice. “He’s confident, he’s flying around, so pleased with him.”
Powell could have considered transferring to another program with a less crowded depth chart and an easier path to playing time. Instead, he decided to stick it out with the Tigers, and that decision paid off during Clemson’s nine spring practices as he led the team in catches.
“He’s playing faster and with more confidence than he’s played,” Swinney said. “This is the best nine practices he’s had in his Clemson career consistency wise, just day in and day out. He’s got a real sense of urgency to him.”
As for his career at Clemson, Powell has 40 receptions for 329 yards and three touchdowns in 42 games. He has also posted seven kick returns for 182 yards.
Spector played in three games last year, while catching three passes for 16 yards. The new owner of the famous No. 13 jersey has a lot of potential to be as good as the previous owner … Hunter Renfrow. With Tyler Grisham now coaching the wide receivers, Spector will get a firsthand account of being coached, as a freshman, by a guy who played the slot position at Clemson. Grisham started in the slot from 2005-’08, while being coached by Swinney.
Grisham was the guy who started the proud No. 13 jersey tradition at wide receiver. Spector is the younger brother of linebacker Baylon Spector and the son of former Clemson player Robbie Spector, who played on the 1988-’90 teams.
“Spector has a chance to be a super player. I think he is going to have an unbelievable career,” Swinney said. “He has four years to go. I think he can be one of those guys that can do some great things.”
Williams has showed very well in his first run with the Tigers this past spring.
“E.J. is just a great young talent,” Swinney said. “He really is.”
Add all the pieces together, and Swinney feels really good about Clemson’s receiver position heading into next season.
“We’ve got a good group,” he said. “Got a really good group.”
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