Last year, Justyn Ross was lost for the season before summer break even hit and Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson could not stay out of the injury tent. That left the Tigers’ passing attack in the hands of 5-foot-10, 210-pound Amari Rodgers and 6-foot, 210-pound Cornell Powell.
“We were small last year,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said this past spring.
Though Rodgers was a first team All-ACC receiver and Powell was named to the third team, Clemson’s passing game was not the same. The Tigers did not have that true go-up-and-get-it kind of receiver until freshman E.J. Williams started to show some of his ability late in the season.
In the past, Clemson has had tall and lanky receivers, starting with DeAndre Hopkins in 2009 and more recently Mike Williams and Tee Higgins in the Tigers’ national championship seasons. They are guys that can jump out of a gym. It is never 50-50 balls, but more like 80-20.
But that was missing last season and, as a result, defenses focused on stopping running back Travis Etienne and making it more difficult for Clemson to score in the red zone.
“Again, Ross, Ngata and Ladson were not here and those were three big dudes,” Swinney said. “E.J. has great size, but of course, he was a true freshman.”
It is going to be more difficult for defenses to load up on stopping the run this coming season. On their current roster, the Tigers have 12 pass catchers, that is including the tight ends, that are 6-foot-3 or taller.
“We got some big ole’ tall redwoods out there… We got a good group,” Swinney said. “We are certainly excited about the personnel at that position. There is no doubt about it… We are excited about the guys we have at those spots.”
We will get to see right off the bat how having those receivers back will pay off when Clemson plays Georgia at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte to open the 2021 football season.