In 2018, Clemson had one of the best defenses it has ever had.
Thanks to the Power Rangers—Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Austin Bryant—the Tigers led the nation in scoring defense (13.1 pts/game) and finished fifth nationally in total defense (285.9 yds/game). They also ranked fourth nationally in rushing defense (96.3 yds/game) and led the nation in sacks (54) and tackles for loss (136).
“Personally, I think our defense in 2018 was one of the best to ever do it,” former Clemson safety, now linebacker for the Arizona Cardinals, Isaiah Simmons said last Saturday while hosting a youth football camp in Greenville, S.C.
In all, nine of the 11 starters from the 2018 defense are now playing in the NFL. And five were first-round picks.
Ferrell, Wilkins and Lawrence were all taken in the first 17 picks of the 2019 NFL Draft, while Simmons and cornerback A.J. Terrell were taken in the first 16 picks of the 2020 Draft. Cornerback Trayvon Mullen was selected in the second round of the 2019 Draft.
But even with all that star power and production, Simmons feels this year’s defense has an opportunity to be better than the 2018 group. And hinted that he thinks they can be.
Clemson returns 11 starters from last year’s defense that led the ACC in total defense and was second in scoring defense. The Tigers were also among the nation’s leaders in tackles for loss and sacks in 2020.
They return a defensive front that includes ACC Defensive Freshman of the Year Bryan Bresee, All-ACC defensive end Myles Murphy, All-ACC defensive tackle Tyler Davis and Xavier Thomas, K.J. Henry and Justin Mascoll to name a few.
James Skalski used to the extra year given by the NCAA last season and decided to return at middle linebacker, where he has started the last two years. Also back is Baylon Spector at weakside backer and Trenton Simpson at strongside.
In the secondary, safety Nolan Turner decided to use the extra year, as well, and returned for one more season. He will be teaming up with Lannden Zanders at safety, while Andrew Booth and Mario Goodrich both started at cornerback at some point last season.
“Honestly, I hope they are better than us,” Simmons said.
Get your Trevor Lawrence or Travis Etienne Jacksonville jersey from Fanatics right here!