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Clemson Wide Receivers 2015: National Championship Good.

As we approach the season kick-off against Wofford on September 5th, the Pawcast will be taking a deeper look into each position group, starting with my favorite, the wide receivers.

This is a very talented Clemson team from top to bottom with depth being a major issue at most position groups — this is not the case at wide receiver. Clemson could split their receiving corps into two groups — think of a Kentucky basketball style platoon — and each unit would rank in the top 5 of the ACC. There’s depth, there’s talent, and there’s perhaps the best passer in college football distributing the ball.

 

This could statically be the best receiving corps in Clemson history and depending on the health and good fortune of both the wide outs and Deshaun Watson (DW),  this could be an all-time group by any measure.

Let’s take a look at the standout players and my reasons for optimism. It all starts with Artavis Scott…or does it start with Mike Williams? I’m not sure who I’m most excited about between these two or which player will have the bigger year. Frankly, with the skill sets of each being so different coupled with DW’s ability to get them the ball, each guy could have a monster year without necessarily taking anything away from the other.

Artavis Scott broke onto the scene as a true freshman last season. Most believed Scott would have a solid career at Clemson, but few realized he would be this good and ascend so quickly. Check out his freshman highlights. From the moment Scott redirected his route on an under-thrown pass, coming in on the ball, leaping four feet into the air, contorting his body mid-air to reach over a Georgia defender to corral the ball, and officially making said defender his bitch, I knew Scott was special.

My concern with Scott as a 4-star player out of Florida was that he might be too small (5’11”, 195) to be a wide receiver and too slow to be a play-maker. Boy, did he prove me wrong. Scott uses his athleticism and zeal to play well over six feet while taking above average speed and looking the part of a burner, no wasted movement, maximizing every step in route to the end zone— it’s called football speed and here’swhat it looks like.

Scott can be used in a variety of ways — in motion, as a true receiver in the passing game, in the return game, and even as a running back out of the back field. This versatility will be useful in the case that DW gets injured and the passing game drops off. I would pencil Scott in as an All-ACC player this season and a long shot to win national awards.

Mike Williams is more of a traditional receiver: long and athletic with great hands. He doesn’t possess Sammy Watkins type playmaking ability, but he has good speed for a guy his size (6’5”) and has shown a tenacity in fighting for extra yards after the catch.

Dabo has compared Williams to a larger version of Nuk Hopkins. I would say this is a fair comparison with his great hands and seemingly catching anything thrown his way.

Unlike Scott, Williams will rely on the health and passing of DW. We saw last year the drop in his production from DW to Cole Stoudt at QB.  Still, Williams is a first round NFL talent and assuming there is someone capable of getting the ball in his vicinity, he should be looking at a great season and (unfortunately) an early departure to the NFL following this season.

Williams could amass an ungodly amount of touchdowns, receiving yards, and highlight reel catches this season making him another likely candidate for All-ACC honors, and like Scott, a chance for national awards. An injured DW could also mean a good — but not great — year for Williams.

Charone Peake will likely be the third starter alongside Scott and Williams. Peake is a fifth year senior that has battled injuries the last two seasons, and is finally returning to his early 2013 pre-injury form. Peake came to Clemson in 2011 with Martavis and Sammy (ranked higher than both out of high school), he’s long and possesses blazing top end speed. Peake will be the seasoned vet of the group — a guy the coaches can trust. Assuming Peake can stay healthy, he also has a chance for a big season and will likely be playing on Sundays next year.

Germonne Hopper will serve as the back up to Artavis Scott and will get some looks in the return game. Hopper doesn’t lack talent, Dabo recently said the redshirt junior and former 4-star recruit out of North Carolina is more talented than Artavis Scott, but lacks the same work ethic and desire. While that is a debatable statement, Hopper can be a nice piece to this receiving corps if he can just show the maturity and discipline the coach’s need to see.

Trevion Thompson is another former 4-star recruit. He has been described as a clone of Mike Williams. If Thompson can be just 75% of MW, that will be sufficient. Thompson gives Clemson and DW another large target for red zone situations. This will be Thompson’s first season (he redshirted last season as a freshmen) so we don’t really know what to expect — performing well in practice versus in front of 80,000 can be vastly different, but by all indications, Thompson is a guy the coaching staff believe they hit on, and I’m anxious to see what the young guy can bring to the table.

If the story ended here, I would be 100% satisfied going to battle with all of the aforementioned guys knowing we have a top two or three receiving unit in the nation. But this is Clemson, and we are fucking WRU. Sorry Tennessee, it’s not 1999 — we hold that title in 2015 and with true freshmen Deon Cain and RayRay McCloud now in the mix, it doesn’t look like we’ll be relinquishing it anytime soon.

You hear that Diondre Overton, screw Rocky Top, WRU and the better shade of orange awaits you in Clemson, SC. Make the right choice.

Deon Cain and RayRay McCloud remind me a lot of Sammy Watkins and Mike Bellamy arriving to Clemson back in 2011. If you recall, both were from the sunshine state and elite playmakers. Obviously Bellamy did not turn out the way we had hoped, although, not for a lack of talent. Cain and McCloud are the real deal (without those same character issues) and I hope Clemson fans are ready.

Watching film of Cain, I can’t help but think how much he looks like Sammy in the way he moves. So fluid with good size, making cuts on a dime, accelerating so quickly. My only reservation on Cain is that he played QB in high school and didn’t get the reps at WR. He did, however, play WR at 1on1 camps during the off-seasons and looked just as polished as any of the other elite WR prospects.

Still, I wonder if he will be as ready to hit the ground running the same way Sammy did in 2011. Regardless, whether it’s this season or the next, Deon Cain is the next Sammy/Spiller level talent at Clemson. Yep, he’s that good.

McCloud is no slouch either, but much like Cain playing QB in high school, McCloud played mostly at running back. In Clemson’s system, McCloud can be utilized in a variety of ways to make the most out of his play-making ability. He’s very similar to Artavis Scott both in size and skill set. McCloud may have the larger upside with his only immediate limitation being his size — he could stand to put on 10-15lbs with hopes to maintain his same speed.

I find myself just shaking my head while watching his highlight film — unbelievable lateral quickness, acceleration, and vision that is the difference in three and eight yard gains with a touch of top end speed that looks like this when you make can make that second level defender miss. This could also make him a huge asset in the return game.

The future is very bright at the WR position and unlike 2011 when Sammy was thrust into action as a true freshmen out of necessity, Cain and McCloud will not be relied upon in the same way. Still, their level of talent may make it hard to keep them off the field. I’m very anxious to see what both guys will bring to the table, even if just a limited capacity.

Overall, Clemson is loaded at WR, essentially a swiss army knife of tools at Scelliot’s (Jeff Scott and Tony Elliot) disposal. You can make a best and worst case scenario for this group and it’s smart to consider that their success is very much contingent on offensive line and quarterback play.

Most of this article has been centered around a best case scenario assuming DW will be healthy and the O-line will be adequate. Part of the reason I like this group so much is that while they’re ceiling is so high, their floor is not far behind. That speaks to depth, versatility, and of course, talent. A shit ton of talent. At a minimum, we can expect this group to be really good. At their best, they can be historically good.

Don’t like reading? Not good at it? We’ve got you covered — tune into the Pawcast on your drive to work (or during) to get up to speed with all things Clemson. Go toclemsonpawcast.com and select “follow” at the bottom. Learning more about Clemson Football is much more important than the shit you’re currently listening to. Unless, you’re learning a foreign language – but still, it’s close.

 

Clemson’s National Championship Window 2015-2016: O-Line Recruiting

Clemson’s National Championship Window 2015-2016 is a series examining Clemson’s prospects of winning it all during the 2015 or 2016 season.  It will take into account roster composition, recruiting, player development, coaching, and anything else that may be a factor in Clemson realizing the ultimate dream.  It will not necessarily compare which season has a better chance to win it all or look beyond 2016.  

Clemson last won a championship in 1981, assuming you had to be 10 to fully appreciate it, the youngest fans to enjoy that experience are now 44.  Winning championships are not easy.  So much has to fall into place in order to win a National Championship in college football — the perfect storm of talent, depth, leadership, a few lucky breaks, and so much more.  Unlike basketball, where we’ve seen two of the last four National Champions prosper on the talent of a few one-and-doners, football has many more moving parts.  You don’t have to be great at every position, but every position group has to, at a minimum, be good. 

If there’s a trademark for Clemson Football over the last decade, it is that we’ve had talent — sometimes  gaudy-ESPN-highlight-reel talent — think CJ Spiller, Sammy Watkins, Daquan Bowers, and Vic Beasley.  Where Clemson has struggled is finding balanced and talented depth throughout the roster.  This invariably leads to endless casual fans stating “Clemson always has a lot of talent but they never win championships”.  While you can win at a relatively high level in the ACC with uneven talent spread throughout your roster, those weaknesses are always bound to rear their ugly head as the level of competition rises — see Clemson’s secondary in the 2011 Orange Bowl against West Virginia. 

Of course, just like the 2011 secondary was exposed due to an inconsistent, sometimes non-existent pass rush, much of one position group’s success relies on another.  Gary Peters looked like Richard Sherman last year and Mac Alexander played at a Darrell Revis level with his ability to completely shut down his side of the field.  This was, at the least, a small byproduct of having a pro at nearly every position in the front seven. 

The point here is that skill players can do amazing things — see CJ Spiller 2009 — but the extent of their impact can be limited or enhanced by the performance of the guys in the trenches.  Tajh Boyd still receives criticism by Clemson fans for questionable decision making.  My experience in Clemson as a 18-22 year old was a series of questionable decision making and I didn’t at any point have Jadveon Clowney  and his 4.5 speed chasing me unblocked. 

So, on a year to year basis, with player and coaching turnover, recruiting misses, and players just not reaching their potential, what gives a major college program the best chance to remain at an elite level and compete for National Championships? 

The answer lies in the big men up front. 

It’s not as if Clemson and Dabo are ignorant to this recipe for success.  It’s just that the focus on acquiring these big men has intensified in recent years, all culminating in the 2015 recruiting class.  This is an excellent class in both quality and quantity and sets a standard for Clemson recruiting in the trenches.  The coaching staff HIT on both sides of the ball, but the reason for immediate excitement and what I am focusing on in this piece is the offensive line. 

Two reasons this O-Line class is so significant:  1).  Clemson fans have not seen a dominant O-line in quite some time and this is the first step, and 2).  The offensive line was desperate for an influx of game ready talent.  Mitch Hyatt and Jake Fruhmorgen in particular, give the Tigers a couple of high upside pieces that are ready to go from the start.  It’s rare that offensive linemen are ready to go in their second year, much less in their freshmen campaign.  If Clemson wants to compete for a title in 2015, it will rely on these two true freshmen for depth.  Without them, Clemson was one injury away from Deshaun Watson serving as a glorified tackling dummy.

Looking deeper into the 2015 O-line class that also includes high 4-star/low 3-star recruits Noah Greene and Zach Giella, you’ll find an intangible that can sometimes supersede talent, and that’s attitude.  This is a group of guys that have all enrolled early and are pushing for playing time.  Green and Giella may not possess the same level of talent as Hyatt or Fruhmorgen, but their attitude and desire to compete is just the same.  The result is a trickle-up leadership type effect.  One of the most talented men on the roster, senior left tackle Isaiah Battle, has stepped up his game, arriving to camp over 20 pounds more than his normal playing weight and with a new-found passion. His motivation may have more to do with the millions he has at stake in getting drafted in the first two rounds versus not at all.  Regardless, this is the first time Battle has had a legitimate talent pushing him on the depth chart, and while his ceiling might be first round draft talent, his floor is average left tackle. 

The other effect of having such a highly regarded class in 2015 is that the 2016 class of O-linemen have taken notice.  Clemson is in the mix for multiple four star O-linemen for this upcoming class and have already secured a commitment from talented 4-star guard Sean Pollard out of Georgia.  These recruits will see Hyatt and Fruhmorgen getting significant playing time as freshmen and that gives the coaching staff another selling point.  Continuing the momentum in O-line recruiting is very important and will have a profound impact on Clemson Football in 2016 and beyond.  We’ve never had issues landing top skill players; just imagine guys like Ray Ray McCloud and Tavien Feaster running behind an army of big nasties for the next four years. 

Ultimately, what does this mean for Clemson in their National Championship pursuit this season and next?  In 2015, Clemson should have one of the best O-lines that we’ve seen in years, the coaches said it themselves, this is especially important because they will be blocking for one of the best quarterbacks in college football.  The hurry-up-no-huddle offense that we run doesn’t require your offensive line to be great to perform at a NC level, but in the case of injuries, it will help offset the drop-off in talent.  With the return of Jay Guillermo, this should give Clemson the right combination of depth and talent for the O-line to establish a decent running game.  And the running game will save the defense from breaking down (i.e. Georgia 2014 or any loss during the 2011 or 2012 season). 

The 2016 edition will likely be more talented but with a significant less margin for error due to the lack of depth.  There’s still a lot to be determined here by the 2016 recruiting class but there are no Mitch Hyatt’s in the mix so this could be a cause for concern.  This is something to keep track of but our O-line should be in good shape for 2016 and beyond due to the signings in the 2015 class.  Again, this goes beyond talent and relies on the attitude and culture that will continue to persist.  Having talented O-linemen is new territory for Dabo and Co. and you have to wonder if this can be what puts us into the perennial playoff conversation.  At the least, this ensures Clemson is a force to be reckoned with and they’re not going anywhere as long as Dabo Swinney is the man in charge.