Replacing Etienne will not be easy, but it is not why you think

Replacing Etienne will not be easy, but it is not why you think

Football

Replacing Etienne will not be easy, but it is not why you think

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A look at Clemson’s 2021 Projected RB Depth Chart heading into fall camp

Going into spring practices no one was really sure what to expect at the running back position at Clemson. The coaches had the task of replacing the ACC’s all-time leading rusher in Consensus All-American Travis Etienne.

That was not going to be an easy task, or so they thought. The Tigers’ ability to recruit the position at a high level seems to be paying off. So much so, new running backs coach C.J. Spiller says he will have no pecking order when it comes to the depth chart coming into fall camp, which will begin next month.

Besides having a career 1,000-yard runner in Lyn-J Dixon, Clemson also saw tremendous progression from sophomore Kobe Pace, as well as in freshman running backs Phil Mafah and Will Shipley. The Tigers also have Darien Rencher and Michel Dukes in the mix, too.

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. In the Spring Game, he carried the ball just four times, but he averaged 6.3 yards per carry.

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. Pace led all runners with 69 yards on six carries in the Spring Game, including a 26-yard run.

Phil Mafah, Fr., 6-1, 220: The freshman ran for 38 yards on six carries, including the game winning score in the Spring Game. In three years at Grayson High (Loganville, Ga.), he rushed for 2,526 yards on 288 carries, an 8.8-yard per carry average, and scored 37 total touchdowns. He had ten 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.

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 40-yard dash time — and cannot 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.

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.

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.

Note: *redshirt

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