A look at Clemson’s 2021 Depth Chart: Strongside defensive end
With Xavier Thomas returning to Clemson for his senior year, the depth at defensive end could possibly be at an all-time high for the Tigers, especially on the strongside of the field.
Thomas is an All-ACC caliber player, possibly an All-American if he reaches his full potential. Though he played sparingly in just seven games last season, his numbers were still impressive.
In just 119 snaps, Thomas recorded 11 tackles, including four tackles for loss. Of those four tackles behind the line of scrimmage, 3.5 were sacks. He also forced a fumble.
Add Thomas’ explosiveness and pure brute strength to the skill and explosiveness of Myles Murphy and the Tigers arguably might have the two best pass rushers in the ACC on the same side of the field. The competition on this side of the field should be through the roof and should make for interesting spring and fall camps.
TCI’s projected depth chart at strongside defensive end heading into spring practice:
Myles Murphy, So., 6-5, 275: A former top 5 national recruit, Murphy earned Freshman All-American honors in 2020 after totaling 51 tackles, including 12 tackles for loss. He also had four sacks, forced three fumbles and broke up a pass, while playing in all 12 games and starting six of them. At season’s end, the Associated Press named him the co-Newcomer of the Year in the ACC. He also earned third-team All-ACC honors by Pro Football Focus. He became the first freshman (true or redshirt) to force three forced fumbles in a season since linebacker Ed McDaniel did it in 1988.
Xavier Thomas, Sr., 6-2, 270: There has been no official word on why Thomas was not with the Tigers in the ACC Championship Game or the Sugar Bowl, other than he was in protocol. When Thomas was on the field, though, his presence was felt. Initially, he was intended to play only four games in 2020 and redshirt after complications with COVID-19 and strep throat in the off-season, but he ended up playing seven games upon the NCAA’s blanket eligibility waiver for 2020. Thomas enters 2021 with 85 career tackles (22.5 for loss), nine sacks, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He has played in 34 games and has nine starts, including one last season. Started eight games for the Tigers in 2019.
Regan Upshaw, Sr., 5-11, 240: A former walk-on who returns for his extra year of eligibility in 2021. In his career, he is credited with 31 career tackles (3.5 for loss), 2.5 sacks and a pass breakup, while playing in 36 games. Upshaw is a former rugby player who did not play American Football until arriving at Clemson. Last year was his best season. After being placed on scholarship, he went out and played 166 snaps in 10 games, while recording 19 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss. Of those tackles behind the line of scrimmage, 2.5 were sacks. He also broke up a pass. His best game came in the season-opener at Wake Forest where he recorded his first career sack, while totaling four tackles.
Cade Denhoff, Fr., 6-5, 243: Denhoff will give the Tigers another talented pass-rusher that is good at stopping the run as well. A tall, lengthy weapon off the edge, Denhoff is explosive off the line and uses a combination of quickness and strength to get to the quarterback or ball-carrier on a consistent basis. He plays with toughness, relentless effort and a high motor and doesn’t take plays off. Because he is good against both the pass and the run, Denhoff has the ability to be a three-down player for the Tigers. There is a lot for Clemson to work with from a physical standpoint and his body should only continue to fill out at the next level.
–Gavin Oliver contributed to this story