Keys to the Season: Clemson Tigers

With the College Football season on the horizon and the hopefully a full schedule awaiting us in 2021, we start to look at the teams most likely to feature at the sharp end of things. We hope to give you a brief look at a handful of hot topics that could dictate the success of their year. It could be a player stepping into a role, an apparent hole on the roster or a strength that opposition teams will struggle to deal with. 

Clemson came unstuck in the College Football Playoff semi-finals last year. With one of the programs most successful QB’s Trevor Lawrence departing for the NFL, it will be up to sophomore DJ Uiagalelei to lead the Tigers in 2021. He will have a high profile supporting cast after several successful recruiting classes under the stewardship of Dabo Swinney.

Ross Return Gives Uiagalelei Enviable Options

College Football fans will breathe a sigh of relief when Justyn Ross pulls on a jersey having missed last season. Ross found out he had a spinal issue from birth that could have curtailed his career altogether. Now, he should lead the line for the Tigers and become the number 1 target on this team.

Opposing defenses must gameplan for the return of Ross and that should allow some of his understudies to come to the fore. I fully expected Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson Jr to step in last season but it was the more diminutive pair of Cornell Powell and Amari Rodgers who excelled and left for the pros. The former two must now prove they were worth their high recruiting status in what could be a mouth-watering trio.

Also worthy of note will be tight end Braden Galloway. Now a senior, the 6’4, 240lbs pass catcher will be looking to kick on from a shortened season where he hauled in 2 TDs and 369 receiving yards. Although it will be a battle to get targets, a reliable tight end often proves to be a young quarterback’s best friend.

Five Star Recruits Set To Shine On Brutish Defensive Line

Clemson has had major success recruiting at the defensive end and tackle position in recent years. Most notably they will line up Myles Murphy and Bryan Breese alongside one another. As freshman, they each logged an impressive four sacks, with Breese earning All-American honours. 

Murphy has Myles Garrett-like vibes on tape. Able to operate on the interior and on the edge he exerts immediate power to send offensive tackles backwards. At 6’5, 275lbs he could become one of the most dominant edge rushers in college football.

The strength in depth is staggering when you consider that two five-star recruits from the 2018 class will have to fight hard to get regular snaps in the rotation. Xavier Thomas and KJ Henry haven’t lived up to the initial hype but a disjointed 2020 season will not have helped. Thomas’s season in particular was hit by Covid-19 issues and a case of strep. A return to Clemson gives him the opportunity to build his draft stock with a healthy year. If the Tigers are firing on all cylinders up front they will be a scary proposition.

Does The Tigers Linebacker Group Have The Athleticism To Lead Their Defense?

There will not be many more experienced linebacker pairings in the country than Baylon Spector and James Skalski. Skalski is the de-facto coach on the field, ferrying in play calls and organising the defensive formation. Meanwhile, Spector led the team in both tackles for loss and sacks.

Despite that there will be question marks over the athleticism of the pair. Both excel coming downhill, getting into the backfield and locating the ball carrier. However, the weakness of the ACC conference can hide the deficiencies of a team. Clemson found that out in a big way against Ohio State in the playoff semi-final. In particular the second level of the defense was exposed by the Buckeyes running game. Trey Sermon ran for 193 yards as well as 61 receiving yards and simply couldn’t be contained.

One player that could step up and challenge the more experienced heads is second-year ‘backer Trenton Simpson. The Tigers lack an athletic presence similar to Isaiah Simmons but Simpson may fill that void. He measures in at 6’3 and 225lbs, and his 4 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss point to his performance being on an upward trajectory. It would not be a surprise to see him convert the starting SAM position into a three down linebacker role and eventual leader on this defense.

Mock Draft

Rory-Joe Daniels

Cfb contributor

formerly writing for the inside zone, rory will be breaking down college tape and keeping you up-to-date with all things CFB for the touchdown. an avid bengals fan, you can also find some of rory’s work at