The Clemson Tigers will look a lot different next fall. Not only will they have a new starter under center with the departure of Trevor Lawrence, but they will have a lot of unproven faces at the skill positions as well. As Clemson prepares to reload on offense, there will be opportunities for a multitude of players to step up. The Tigers have solidified themselves as one of the best programs in the nation, both on the field and in recruiting. This means that talent will not be an issue in orange and purple. Replacing the experience and consistency of the players they have lost will be the main focus in spring and fall camps
Clemson Prepares To Reload At Skill Positions
Not only will the Tigers need to replace the NFL’s number one pick in Lawrence, but they also lose the school’s All-Time leading rusher in Travis Etienne. Star power like that is not easy to replace. But Clemson is one of the few programs in the country equipped to do so. This team’s top three pass catchers from a season ago are also gone. That includes two senior receivers and the aforementioned Etienne. There is talent up and down this roster to pick up the slack, but none of them have had to carry the load so far in college.
While Clemson prepares for life after Lawrence, Amari Rodgers, and Etienne, they will do so with their offensive coordinator still in place. Tony Elliot’s name popped up in multiple job searches over the last month or so, but he is staying put in upstate South Carolina. The architect of the nation’s fourth highest scoring offense is returning with a nice raise. He will be tasked with refitting his scheme to fit new play makers in orange. His absence was felt in a disappointing CFP semifinal loss. Now he will need to identify the next crop of stars for the Tigers, and put what will be a young group of skill players in the best positions to succeed.
Quarterback is often looked at as the most important position in football. Despite losing a school legend under center, the Tigers are in good hands moving forward. D.J. Uiagalelei started two games as a true freshman, and showed why he was so highly recruited. He threw for 342 yards in a comeback win over Boston College in his first career start. Uiagalelei showed poise and focus leading his team back from a double digit halftime deficit. The next week he threw for another 400 yards at Notre Dame in the Tigers lone regular season loss. While the team came up short that night, the freshman showed he can definitely lead this high powered offense. The California native accounted for six touchdowns in his two starts.
The best thing about breaking in a new full time starter under center is that the Tigers will have a All-American weapon coming back at receiver. Justyn Ross missed 2020 with an injury. Despite the option of testing the NFL waters, he is coming back to campus in 2021. The junior had 1800 yards and 17 touchdowns during his first two seasons. He is a proven number one option, with the speed, hands, and athletic ability to be the best player on the field when fully healthy. All indications are that his rehab and healing have gone well and he should be 100 percent in 2021.
Aside from Ross, the receiver position is filled with potential but lacks proven commodities. Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson Jr. are the two most likely candidates to step up. Each of them had solid freshman seasons before struggling with injuries in 2020. E.J. Williams saw his role increase as a freshman with the former two in and out of the line-up. He made the most of his opportunities with half of his catches coming over the final three games. Incoming freshman Troy Stellato, Beaux Collins, and Decari Collins will also get the chance to make an impression.
Etienne was a mainstay at tailback for the last four seasons. Replacing him won’t be easy, and will likely not be done by one player. There is no clear cut ball carrier to step into his role. Lyn-J Dixon is the most experienced man returning in the backfield. He had over 1000 yards as a back-up in his first two seasons in orange. However, he saw his carries drop dramatically as a junior. Dixon had two 100 yard games as a freshman, including 200 total yards on 11 touches against Wake Forest. He has shown the ability to make big plays. Now he must show he can take on a larger role and increase his consistency and production.
Despite having school’s record breaking tailback, the rushing attack fell off quite a bit in 2020. The amount of attempts was similar to the two previous seasons, but the production was down around 90 yards per contest. Chez Mellusi has appeared in 20 games in two seasons, and should see his carries increase as well. There are also the incoming freshmen to consider. Will Shipley is a five star prospect that has the ability to make big plays with every touch. It will be interesting to see how much he and four star Phil Mafah are utilized in their first year on campus.
The Standard Is The Standard
As Clemson prepares for the 2021 season, a lot of eyes will be on who steps up at the skill positions. The talent is there and obvious. Who will step up in to a larger role at receiver and tailback will be the questions asked during spring practice. The offensive line to a small step back last year, as seen in the production of the rushing attack. That unit will need to raise its level to help out a brand new signal call and the committee at tailback. The Tigers will again be the heavy favorites in the ACC. They will also look to make it back to their seventh consecutive College Football Playoff. The standard is high for the Tigers. They are a program that looks to simply reload, rebuilding is not a part of their plans.