15 former Tigers begin road to Super Bowl

15 former Tigers begin road to Super Bowl

Football

15 former Tigers begin road to Super Bowl

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The NFL playoffs get started with Wild Card weekend beginning Saturday, and more than a dozen former Clemson players will get their chance to reach the Super Bowl if they haven’t done so already.

Fifteen former Tigers begin the weekend on the active rosters of playoff teams. The AFC will get things started when the Las Vegas Raiders take on the Cincinnati Bengals at 4:15 p.m. Saturday, a matchup that will feature six former Tigers.

Defensive end Clelin Ferrell, receiver Hunter Renfrow and offensive lineman John Simpson will suit up for the Raiders while D.J. Reader, Tee Higgins and Jackson Carman are part of the Bengals’ first playoff team since 2015. Ferrell, a first-round draft pick of the Raiders in 2019, was a member of Clemson’s national championship teams in 2016 and 2018 along with Renfrow and Simpson, a fourth-round pick by the Raiders in 2020. Renfrow enters the postseason as the Raiders’ leading receiver (103 catches, 1,038 yards, nine TDs).

Reader, a defensive tackle at Clemson from 2012-15, is in his second season with the Bengals after beginning his NFL career with the Houston Texans. Another member of Clemson’s 2018 national title team, Higgins is the Bengals’ second-leading receiver in his second season with the team. Meanwhile, Carman, the team’s second-round draft pick this year, has started six games along the offensive line as a rookie.

A slew of other former Tigers will be in action Sunday starting with the NFC matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Another member of Clemson’s most recent national championship teams, K’Von Wallace is in his second season as a part of the Eagles’ secondary after being drafted by the team in 2020. Bradley Pinion, who punted at Clemson from 2012-14, is going for his second straight Super Bowl championship after also serving as Tampa Bay’s punter last season.

Sunday’s late-afternoon game between the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers will feature a couple of former Clemson players in Carlos Watkins and Jayron Kearse, though whether or not Kearse (COVID-19 protocols) actually plays remains to be seen. Kearse, a safety at Clemson from 2013-15, is in his first season with the Cowboys after spending time with the Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions and Baltimore Ravens. Watkins, a former all-ACC defensive lineman who was drafted by the Houston Texans in 2017, is also going through his first season in Dallas.

Sunday night’s AFC tilt between the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers will put Dorian O’Daniel and Ray Ray McCloud on opposing sides. O’Daniel, a linebacker on Clemson’s 2016 national title team, is in his fourth season with the Chiefs after being drafted by the team in 2018. McCloud was drafted in the same year by the Buffalo Bills but is going through his second season in Pittsburgh, where the former Clemson speedster doubles as a receiver and a punt returner.

Isaiah Simmons and Tremayne Anchrum Jr. will also see their teams pitted against each other in a rare Monday playoff game between the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams. Simmons was an All-American, Butkus Award winner and two-time national champion at Clemson before the Cardinals drafted him with the eighth overall pick in 2020. Anchrum, in his second season with the Rams, was Simmons’ teammate at Clemson before being taken in the seventh round of the 2020 draft.

As for Amari Rodgers, the former Clemson wideout will get another week of rest before playing his first career playoff game. Rodgers is going through his rookie season after being taken in the third round of this year’s draft by the Green Bay Packers, who earned a first-round bye by locking up the NFC’s No. 1 seed. The Packers await the lowest seed remaining after this weekend in next week’s divisional round.

A few other former Clemson players may not get a chance to play during the postseason because of injuries. Cardinals All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins, Raiders cornerback Trayvon Mullen and Cowboys offensive lineman Mitch Hyatt are on injured reserve, which has likely ended their respective seasons.

Hopkins, who starred at Clemson from 2010-12 before becoming one of the NFL’s top wideouts, sustained a torn MCL late in the regular season that required surgery. He won’t play this weekend, though there is some thought that Hopkins could return later in the playoffs should the Cardinals advance.

Mullen was a second-round pick by the Raiders in 2019 after three seasons at Clemson. Hyatt inked with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent the same year after starting four seasons for the Tigers.

The end goal for all of them is Super Bowl LVI, which is scheduled to be played Feb. 13 at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.

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