Talking to a hoard of reporters before Clemson’s first practice, Dabo Swinney advised the assembled gathering to take a picture of the Tigers’ wide receivers at some point during fall camp.
“Because, man, this is a really talented group,” Clemson’s head coach said. “There are all at different stages as far as where they’re going in their careers, but if you look back at that picture in six years, I think you’re going to be pretty impressed with what these guys end up doing if the Lord keeps them healthy.”
Not every team in college football can lose its two leading receivers and not skip much of a beat, but that’s exactly what the Tigers are expecting to do at the position this fall.
“I feel like we can be one of the top receiver groups in the country,” junior wideout Justyn Ross said. “Most definitely.”
The confidence in what the group still has on the roster stems from a blend of veteran playmakers and young potential. Despite losing Amari Rogers and Cornell Powell, who combined for 130 catches last season before taking their talents to the NFL, Clemson is still oozing with depth and talent at the position.
Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson Jr. are former blue-chip recruits who will be looking to take the next step in their development. E.J. Williams showed promise in snagging 24 receptions for 306 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman last season. Fellow sophomore Ajou Ajou has received praise for his performance in camp so far and could see his role increase.
Throw in true freshmen Beaux Collins, Dacari Collins and Troy Stellato, and the Tigers have no shortage of sizable options out wide. Stellato is the shortest of the group at 6-foot-1.
“We need all the depth we can get,” offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “It’s a long season. We’re at our best when we can play fast and we can roll those guys.”
Of course, the headliner is Ross, who proved to be one of college football’s best receivers his first two seasons in the program. He caught more than 1,800 yards worth of passes with 17 touchdown grabs before missing all of last season after having corrective spine fusion surgery.
Ross was recently given full medical clearance and practiced for the first time Friday after finishing COVID-19 protocols. Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei said the value of the 6-4, 205-pounder’s return to Clemson’s offense doesn’t have to be explained.
“I think the whole world knows what Justyn Ross brings,” Uiagalelei said. “I think he’s the best receiver in the country. Justyn Ross is Justyn Ross. I think that speaks for itself.”
Staying healthy will be key for Ross if the group is going to reach its full potential, and he’s not the only one. Injuries limited Ngata and Ladson at times last season as the duo combined for just 25 receptions, but Swinney doesn’t have much doubt about their physical abilities.
“If they’re available, the rest will take care of itself,” Swinney said. “I promise you.”
With all of the receivers available in fall camp, the Tigers are cross-training many of them at different positions. Being able to line up different combinations in the slot, the boundary and the field helps maximize the group’s versatility as it works to meet its own lofty expectations.