Clemson had another solid season last year on its way to the College Football Playoff where it lost to Ohio State in the semifinals. Many of the star players from that team moved onto the NFL. Who could replace the production lost from 2020? Clemson Sports is breaking down key plays and who could make them. Next up: How the Tigers can replace their leading receiver in the slot.
CLEMSON — The slot receiver can be a quarterback’s best friend in modern football. Flooding the short-to-intermediate areas with varying route concepts, this offensive weapon can get open very easily and can be a pain for defenses to match up with.
That was the case for Clemson with Amari Rodgers becoming the offense’s top target.
The four-star prospect from Tennessee ended his collegiate career with 181 receptions for 2,144 yards and 15 touchdowns in 55 career games, but the most efficient damage occurred in 2020. Rodgers led the team in receptions (77), yards (1,020), and touchdowns (7). The slot receiver was Trevor Lawrence’s top option and the four-year player is heading to the Green Bay Packers after hearing his name come off the board in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Entering the summer, Clemson knows that there is a ton to replace at wide receiver. The Tigers lose their top three pass-catchers from last season and are young at the position. Position coach Tyler Grisham has his work cut out for him to get some young players ready for major playing time in 2021, but there is no denying the overall talent still available in the program. However, the professionalism of Rodgers will be missed.
“I always study the best receivers or the best players, study their mindsets. That’s really the main thing is they practice hard. They practice like it’s a game so when the game comes it’s easy,” Rodgers said. “So just picking up that mindset and then going and doing it, I feel like it translated over to my best season my senior year, because I changed my mindset when it comes to practicing.”
Rodgers leaves some big shoes to fill, but Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott will have plenty of candidates to utilize on the inside. This could be a heated position battle, but expectations should remain high in 2021 thanks to high-level recruiting combined with D.J. Uiagalelei taking over at quarterback.
Clemson Sports is going to sort through where the slot receiver position is currently for the Tigers and evaluate how things sit heading into the summer.
Clemson slot receiver options
Brannon Spector: A former three-star recruit and Clemson legacy, Spector carved out a role in 2020. The 6-foot-1 wideout notched 16 receptions for 136 yards while playing 180 snaps. The Georgia native has very good short-area quickness that allows him to create separation in the short-to-intermediate passing game. The redshirt sophomore knows how to play the position and could be a valuable commodity when Clemson decides to go to four-wide sets.
Will Swinney: The son of head coach Dabo Swinney, the original walk-on enters his redshirt senior season in 2021. The 5-foot-9 receiver has 28 career receptions in 56 career games to go along with some very sure hands after years of being the team’s starting holder. The veteran will give this position some much-needed experience.
Troy Stellato: A true freshman that will arrive in the summer, Stellato was a top-200 prospect in the class of 2021. The South Florida native has tremendous top-end speed and will be a vertical threat for the offense. The newcomer scored 19 touchdowns in 33 high school games.
The pick: Justyn Ross is the answer but shuffling could happen if he is not cleared
A ton is riding on the June appointment with medical officials that Ross has scheduled in Pittsburgh. The redshirt junior is essential to Clemson’s offensive blueprint this season, and the Tigers will need the superstar receiver on the field. This all relates to the bulging disc issue that was found in his back last summer.
Outside of that, Clemson does have some quality options. Williams is a sophomore with a very bright future who is more than capable of sliding inside and taking over the slot position. Spector impressed many in 2020 as a redshirt freshman and is ready to take on a heavier load. Swinney brings experience while the big-play potential of Stellato is obvious.
However, none of these players are the caliber of Ross. What the star wide receiver brings to the table is immeasurable.
“The good thing about him, is now you’re going to be able to move him around,” said Elliott during spring practice. “He’s going to start in the slot, but he’s still going to have to be proficient on the outside. You can kind of get him off the ball a little bit, move him around, create some matchups. We’re really excited about that.”
Ross is a versatile piece that can give the coaching staff a unique schematic advantage weekly. The veteran can make this a dangerous passing offense.