Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney disagrees with the notion that the Tigers have a lot of experience at wide receiver.
While there are a few older players in the receiving corps, including senior Joseph Ngata, Swinney was quick to point out during his Tuesday press conference that Ngata hasn’t been on the field a whole lot over the last couple of years while dealing with nagging injuries.
After appearing in 15 games as a true freshman in 2019, Ngata played just 122 snaps over seven games in 2020 while battling injury for much of the year, then saw action in 425 snaps across nine games last season while again missing substantial time due to injury.
“We don’t really have older guys. Everybody thinks we’ve got all these older, experienced receivers. Who are they?” Swinney said. “We have one guy, Ngata, and how much football has he played? He played as a freshman, and in ’20, he didn’t play. And then last year, how many games did he play in? Then he was out again. So, it’s not like he’s Tee Higgins on his third year here and he’s had all this experience. He’s an older guy, but he doesn’t have a lot of experience. So he’s working his way, and he’s done good. He made some nice plays.”
Another of the Tigers’ older receivers, redshirt junior Brannon Spector, missed the 2021 season with respiratory challenges and entered this season with 19 career catches for 152 yards in 221 snaps from 2019-20.
“Spector, how much football has he played? He redshirted,” Swinney said. “His redshirt freshman year, he’s out, and then last year he couldn’t even walk up the steps. So, he’s played two games since the first few games as a redshirt freshman, and he’s just learning.”
Meanwhile, junior E.J. Williams played only 250 snaps across eight games last season while being sidelined by various injuries following his freshman 2020 season when he posted 306 yards on 24 receptions, both fifth on the team.
Williams was out this spring after having his knee scoped and was limited in fall camp while dealing with a hematoma on his back.
“He had a good freshman year, and how much did he play last year? Out, surgery, and had a couple setbacks in camp, and I think his confidence isn’t what it needs to be,” Swinney said. “He’s an unbelievably talented guy, but kind of battling himself right now.”
Beaux Collins, meanwhile, is a true sophomore coming off a freshman season in which he finished second on the team in receptions (31) and third in receiving yards (407) while tying for the team lead with three touchdown catches over 11 games (six starts).
“He played last year as a freshman and ended up having to start for us,” Swinney said. “He’s a great player in the making, but he doesn’t have a lot of experience.”
As for Dacari Collins, Swinney admitted that he shouldn’t have played as a true freshman last season. But circumstances didn’t allow Clemson to redshirt him, and he ended up making a few starts for the Tigers down the stretch.
“Dacari Collins, really shouldn’t have played last year but he had to play, and not only did he have to play, he ended up having to start some games for us and he wasn’t ready for that, but that’s where we were,” Swinney said. “He’s a true sophomore. He’s not some old, experienced guy.”
Clemson also has a pair of true freshmen scholarship wideouts that will make an impact this season in Antonio Williams and Adam Randall, the latter of whom is set to make his debut in Saturday’s game against Louisiana Tech after tearing his ACL during the spring and undergoing surgery.
“Antonio’s a true freshman. So, they’re really kind of all right there in that same group. Adam is a true freshman, who we’re getting back this week, and excited about that,” Swinney said. “So, we don’t have any old guys. We don’t have these old, proven, established receivers at this point. Hopefully next year, we will have that as we go through the course of the season.”
Through two games this season, Beaux Collins leads all Clemson receivers with 111 receiving yards and two touchdown receptions and is tied with Antonio Williams in receptions (seven). Williams is second behind Collins with 76 receiving yards.
Spector has six catches for 28 yards thus far, Ngata has four for 51, E.J. Williams has four for 46, and Dacari Collins has one catch for 8 yards.
Sophomore Will Taylor, who played only 15 offensive snaps in five games last season prior to suffering a season-ending ACL injury in early October, has three catches for 21 yards and a touchdown.
“I think we’re really talented, and we’re just really young and inexperienced, and every single week we’re building on it,” Swinney said. “But I do love what I’m seeing out of Beaux. It’s great to see Ngata making a few plays. It’s great to see Antonio be what we think he is, Spector making some plays. So, they’re all doing some things. Dacari’s gotten a couple PIs. He hasn’t had much plays, but he’s put some pressure on some people down the field a couple times.”
Swinney is clearly high on the personnel and talent the Tigers have at receiver. But without a lot of proven experience, he says they’re “in the proving ground right now.”
“I love our guys and I love our group,” he said. “It’s a really deep group, and y’all are going to all look up in about four years from now, five years and go holy cow, all them guys were at Clemson at one time. You will.
“But right now, it’s just where we are developmentally. So, they’re doing some good stuff. But we don’t have any older guys that have all this proven experience. We’re trying to prove it, and that’s just where we are. We’re in the proving ground right now. But I love our guys, man. We’re doing some good stuff, and a lot we can keep building on.”
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