Clemson will have a new feature running back heading into the spring, the problem is no one knows who it is going to be.
Lyn-J Dixon will likely get the first shot this spring, followed by Chez Mellusi, Darien Rencher, Michel Dukes, Kobe Pace, and freshmen Will Shipley and Phil Mafah.
As you can tell the running back room is deep and is talented. However, replacing the ACC’s all-time leader in rushing, scoring, touchdowns and rushing touchdowns will be not an easy task.
Travis Etienne finished his career at Clemson with 4,952 yards, while scoring 70 rushing touchdowns. He also caught 102 passes for 1,155 yards and eight more touchdowns. He played in 55 games at Clemson, including 42 of them as the starter. He produced 468 points and is the NCAA record holder for most career games scoring a touchdown, which stands at 46.
In the 42 games Etienne started, the Tigers went 39-3. He played a huge role in Clemson’s run to a 15-0 season and the national championship in 2018.
Here is a look at Clemson’s depth chart at running back heading into the spring.
Lyn-J Dixon, Sr., 5-10, 195: The rising senior enters 2021 with 1,372 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on 208 career attempts and 183 yards on 18 catches in 38 games. He enters his fourth season ranked second in school history, behind Etienne, in yards per carry (6.60). He was banged up a good bit in 2020 due to a knee injury he suffered in the preseason. However, he played well for the Tigers down the stretch. Dixon rushed for 46 yards and scored a touchdown against Pittsburgh in Game 9. He also recorded a 19-yard touchdown run against Virginia Tech in the regular-season finale and had a 15-yard run against Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.
Chez Mellusi, Jr., 5-11, 200: He really came on strong in 2020 and took advantage of the extra reps he got due to Dixon’s injury to gain the coaches’ trust. Mellusi is a punishing running back who enters 2021 with 427 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 71 carries and five catches for 38 yards and a receiving touchdown. He has played in 21 games in his career, including 10 last year, as he rushed for 151 yards and scored three touchdowns on 24 carries.
Darien Rencher, *Gr., 5-8, 195: Originally a walk-on, Rencher turned into a team and community leader last season. The graduate student enters 2021 having recorded 74 carries for 375 yards and three touchdowns while playing in 35 games in his career. In 2020, he won the Disney Spirit Award, which is presented annually to college football’s most inspirational player, coach, team or figure. On the field, he played in all 12 games and rushed 24 times for 137 yards with one touchdown and caught two passes for 15 yards. His 50-yard touchdown against Virginia Tech in the season-finale was the second longest run of the season by any Clemson player.
Michel Dukes, Jr., 5-10, 205: Dukes has played in 18 games in his Clemson career, including eight games last year. He has rushed for 205 yards and scored two touchdowns on 40 career carries. In 2020, he ran the ball eight times for 55 yards.
Kobe Pace, So., 5-10, 215: As a true freshman in 2020, Pace carried the ball 18 times for 75 yards, while playing in nine games. He also caught five passes for 26 yards with one touchdown. In his 18 carries, he was not stopped behind the line of scrimmage. He scored his first career touchdown on a 7-yard reception against Georgia Tech.
Will Shipley, Fr., 5-11, 200: He was invited to play in the Under Armour All-America Game and was the Gatorade Player of the Year in North Carolina and Charlotte Observer Player of the Year for 2019. He was the MVP of the 2019 state championship game when he rushed for 256 yards and scored four touchdowns in a win over Lee County. He rushed for 4,173 yards on 503 carries (8.3 yards per rush) in his three-year high school career, and also had 1,411 receiving yards on 84 catches for a 16.8-yard average. He scored 80 touchdowns in his career. Shipley, is a threat out of the backfield catching passes in addition to the weapon he is in the run game. He looks like a power back at 5-foot-11 and around 200 pounds, but also has top-end speed — as evidenced by his sub-4.5 second 40-yard dash time — and can not only run by defenders but has the physicality and toughness to run through tackles as well. He is adept at using his excellent vision to follow blocks and find running room.
Phil Mafah, Fr., 6-1, 220: In three years at Grayson High (Loganville, Ga.), rushed for 2,526 yards on 288 carries, an 8.8-yard average, and scored 37 total touchdowns. He had 10 100-yard rushing games in 29 career games. Hailing from the same high school as former Clemson great and current New York Giants running back Wayne Gallman, Mafah is a different type of back than Gallman. He possesses an outstanding combination of size and speed. He is a downhill runner who is known for running between the tackles at 220-plus pounds, but also has enough speed to race past defenders and take the ball to the house. Mafah’s athleticism shows up on film, and he has the ability to make defenders miss in space.