Departures have one position on Clemson's defense in familiar position

Departures have one position on Clemson's defense in familiar position

Football

Departures have one position on Clemson's defense in familiar position

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In a move that was expected, Clemson is losing another key cog on defense. Now it’s a case of deja vu in terms of where one position in the Tigers’ secondary is heading into next season.

Andrew Booth on Sunday made official his intention to skip his senior season and enter the NFL Draft. The rangy, athletic cornerback is widely projected to be a first-round pick in April after finishing his Clemson career with 68 tackles, 14 passes defended and five interceptions.

Booth’s early entry into the professional ranks means the Tigers are losing both of their starting corners. Mario Goodrich, a true senior, could’ve opted to use his COVID year to return to Clemson for a fifth season, but he’s also headed for the draft following a breakout season that earned him first-team all-ACC honors, a distinction he shared with Booth.

Of course, neither of those recent decisions came as a surprise.

A former five-star recruit, Booth put together his best season in a Tiger uniform with four pass breakups and a team-best three interceptions in 11 games. By the middle of it, he was being pegged as a high draft pick. Goodrich finished second on the team with eight pass breakups and two interceptions and earned a Senior Bowl invite, a good indication he was turning pro before he eventually made it official.

The pair was part of a defense that finished second nationally in points allowed and fourth in the ACC against the pass this season, solidifying a position that had questions heading into it.

None of the uncertainty was about Booth’s talent as he often teased coaches and fans alike with highlight-reel interceptions during his first two seasons at Clemson, but inconsistency and nagging injuries kept him off the field for chunks at a time. Clemson had hopes that Booth could be a lockdown corner heading into the season, but Clemson coach Dabo Swinney often referred to the fact that Booth had to be available in order to do so.

Meanwhile, Derion Kendrick’s dismissal from the team following the 2020 season left an unexpected vacancy at the other corner spot. Playing behind the likes of future first-round pick A.J. Terrell, Sheridan Jones, Kendrick and Booth during his first three seasons on campus, Goodrich had only started four games for the Tigers before winning that job and morphing into one of the nation’s top corners this season.

Now that Booth and Goodrich are on the way out, Clemson finds itself needing to solidify the position once again. The good news for the Tigers is they still have some experience there heading into the spring.

Jones is a favorite to regain one of the starting jobs after finishing with 24 tackles and four pass breakups as the Tigers’ third corner this season. Jones is also the only corner currently on next season’s roster that’s ever started a game on the outside in college, starting eight games during Clemson’s run to the College Football Playoff last season as a sophomore.

Sophomores Fred Davis and Malcolm Greene and true freshman Nate Wiggins are the only other scholarship corners that have played a game at Clemson. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Greene is Clemson’s primary nickel, so, barring the addition of a transfer, Davis and Wiggins will be the leading candidates for the other starting job on the outside. Davis has played in 20 career games so far while Wiggins appeared in 11 this season.

One of the Tigers’ top signees, former Mauldin High standout Jeadyn Lukus, will join the competition this spring. Ranked in the 247Sports Composite as the 39th-best prospect in the 2022 recruiting cycle, the 6-2 Lukus will add the kind of length and athleticism at the position that could immediately push for a spot in the rotation. If nothing else, Lukus and fellow corner signee Toriano Pride will provide depth at a position that needs it.

Time will tell if Clemson will be able to answer those questions this time around as affirmatively as Booth and Goodrich did before moving on.

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