CLEMSON — The NFL Draft has come and gone with the Clemson football program producing more pros. Five former Tigers heard their names called over the weekend in Cleveland as they reached their lifelong dreams.
Now the Clemson Tigers must move on.
There is plenty of star power to replace, but this is why recruiting is so important. After losing some pivotal pieces to their offense, the Tigers have plenty of quality options ready to step up. Let’s take a look at who those players will be.
The former No. 1 recruit in college football became the program’s first No. 1 overall pick when the Jacksonville Jaguars called Lawrence’s name on Thursday night to start the party. Lawrence leaves Clemson with a 34-2 career record, 10,098 career passing yards, and three ACC titles. These are some big shoes to replace, but D.J. Uiagalelei is not your usual sophomore quarterback.
The former five-star recruit from Southern California got his feet wet last season by starting two games and throwing for over 900 yards, with five touchdowns. Uiagalelei will enter 2021 as one of the better quarterbacks in college football and expectations are high. However, depth is a question and Clemson will need to keep their prized pocket passer healthy throughout the season.
As the opening round came to a close, the Jaguars decided to have a Clemson reunion as they picked Etienne at No. 25 overall. The ACC’s all-time leading rusher joins a loaded backfield with James Robinson and Carlos Hyde, but the explosive skillset will be very hard to keep off the field. That playmaking ability will also be hard for Clemson to replace.
Lyn-J Dixon is now a senior and the Georgia native likely gets the first swing. Sophomore Kobe Pace surprised many this spring with a power and speed combo. Five-star true freshman Will Shipley can impact both the run and passing game, while Phil Mafah also looks the part.
Etienne leaves a monster hole at running back, but solid recruiting has given Clemson plenty of options to replace the program great.
The Fairfield, Ohio, native surprised many when he picked Clemson over Ohio State coming out of high school. The five-star recruit started the last 27 games of his career while becoming a rock-solid starter at left tackle. He’ll now return home and play guard for the Cincinnati Bengals after coming off the board in the second round.
The left tackle spot is still open, but Clemson figures to have two pretty good answers. Jordan McFadden started at right tackle last season and cross-trained at the position in the spring. Former top-50 recruit Walker Parks played sparingly as a true freshman and seems ready to step into a starting role. Rookies Tristan Leigh and Marcus Tate are guys that can contribute as true freshmen.
Carman is gone after collecting some All-American honors, but the Tigers have plenty of quality options ready to step up. Either McFadden or Parks should start on the left side.
The Tennessee native and son of former Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Tee Martin played both inside and outside receiver before starring in the slot. In his senior season, Rodgers led the team in receptions (77), receiving yards (1,020), and receiving touchdowns (7). The All-ACC selection was a dependable option that brings toughness and positional versatility to the field. There were Randall Cobb comparisons thrown out after his college career ended, and the Green Bay Packers saw something they liked as they picked up Rodgers in the third round at pick No. 85.
How Clemson will replace Rodgers in the slot is going to be very interesting to follow over the summer.
As of now, the plan is to slide star receiver Justyn Ross inside and let the playmaking wideout act as a big slot to take advantage of isolation matchups. However, Ross still must be medically cleared. If he is unable to go, questions loom large. Brannon Spector is your traditional slot receiver but the offense may want more explosiveness at the position.
Clemson has plenty of options at wideout, but if Ross isn’t cleared it will be interesting to see who the Tigers turn to.
Clemson’s big-play threat from 2020 is now making the move to Kansas City to catch passes from Patrick Mahomes after hearing his name come off the board in the fifth round. Powell averaged a robust 16.64 yards per catch while setting career highs in every statistical category. The outside receiver was the team’s top vertical threat.
Clemson appears to have answers ready. Both Ajou Ajou and Joseph Ngata starred in the spring. Frank Ladson Jr. and E.J. Williams were two major recruits who each have the talent to make a big impact. The Tigers should be able to find a player or two that can step up and be a vertical playmaker.