Over the last half a decade, Dabo Swinney‘s Tigers have become one of the best programs in the country. While a lot of the focus during their rise has been on the offensive star power they have displayed, it’s the other side of the ball that made it all possible. DeShaun Watson, C.J. Spiller, Mike Williams, Tee Higgins, and Trevor Lawrence have all starred on offense putting up record-breaking numbers in some cases. However, it was the Clemson defensive front that laid the foundation for what this program has become. This year that unit should be back to its normal dominance, led by defensive tackle Tyler Davis.
Clemson Defensive Front Will be Led by Tyler Davis
The junior lineman is not as heralded as some of his teammates, but he has proven integral to this team’s success. His numbers don’t even jump out at you, but that is common for an interior lineman. Their impact is often more important than numbers suggest. Davis played in seven out of twelve contests in 2020. The Tigers allowed over 17 points in just one of those games. By contrast, they allowed 21 or more points in all four of the games he missed against power five opponents.
Plug The Gap
Davis anchors the Clemson defensive front and spearheads their run defense. The Tigers gave up 143 yards rushing in the four ACC games that he missed, including 208 in a loss to Notre Dame. Opponents only topped 100 yards on the ground three times in the seven games Davis was on the field. The 300 pound Florida native has also shown he can affect the quarterback. He has eight and a half career sacks in 22 contests.
Davis will be joined on the interior by Bryan Breese, Tre Williams, and DeMonte Capehart. While the latter two were more in the mold of role players a season ago, the former has star power written all over him. Breese was one of the nation’s top recruits in 2020 and showed flashes of why on the field. He is a monstrous human, with the uncanny athletic ability for a man his size. As a freshman, he was tied for second on the team with four sacks and six and a half tackles for loss. He could be one of the most dominant forces in college football as he develops over the next two years. Williams and Capehart will be relied upon to provide depth and stability behind the two-star players ahead of them.
On The Edge
The outside of the Clemson defensive front will be looking to live up to the tremendous potential its talent level provides. Myles Murphy is the main man on the outside and is coming off an outstanding freshman campaign. Much like Breese, he has tremendous upside due to his combination of size and athleticism. Murphy led the team in tackles for loss and also forced three fumbles. His activity levels were just as impressive as his natural skills. Former prized recruit Xavier Thomas will try to finally live up to the potential most thought he had when he arrived at Clemson. He has had moments that showed off his abilities but has been underwhelming through three years on campus. On the other edge, both K.J. Henry and Justin Mascoll have been solid performers. They will battle each other for reps opposite Murphy.
Upholding Tradition on The Clemson Defensive Front
The rise of this program was built on the foundation laid by its dominance in the trenches. The 2021 Tigers will look to get back to that level, following the lead of Tyler Davis. This young and deep group has the talent to be as good as any unit in the country. They also have a standard to live up to that was put in place by guys like Grady Jarrett, Shaq Lawson, Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant, and Dexter Lawrence. If this fall’s Clemson defensive front can live up to those standards, expect to see this program right back in the College Football Playoff, vying for another national championship.