CLEMSON — The Tigers have a ridiculous amount of talent on the defensive line. However, the unit will need these individuals to play to their potential in 2021 to reach their ceiling.
K.J. Henry might just be the x-factor for the entire defense.
The redshirt junior out of Winston-Salem, N.C., is now in Year 4 in the program and has played a lot of football. The 6-foot-4 defensive end has seen action in 31 career games, with six starts and nearly 800 logged snaps. However, Henry has yet to put everything together in a full season.
A top-15 prospect in the class of 2018, Henry helped headline a Clemson recruiting haul that had four top-20 prospects. Both Jackson Carman and Trevor Lawrence were multi-year starters before hearing their names called in the 2021 NFL Draft. Xavier Thomas will join Henry on campus as each enters 2021 looking to make a statement.
Now the hope is that the veteran can put the entire package together this season.
As a true freshman in 2018, Henry played in just four games, preserving his redshirt while collecting nine tackles and two tackles for loss. In 2019, Henry played in 15 games and collected 22 tackles, with 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. Last season, Henry played in 12 games and started six. The edge rusher finished with 29 tackles, six tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two pass breakups. The former five-star recruit has flashed playmaking, but the results have come in small doses.
Heading into the season, Clemson has a ton of answers along the defensive line. On the interior, both Bryan Bresee and Tyler Davis can cause disruption and create plays behind the line of scrimmage. On the edge, both Myles Murphy and Xavier Thomas return in 2021 as former five-star recruits. Murphy looked like a potential superstar as a true freshman, recording 51 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, four sacks and three forced fumbles.
Clemson did finish the season ranked fifth nationally in sack rate, but much of this production came from the linebacker position. Despite all of the talent on the defensive line, no one individual could rise to the occasion and be the double-digit sack performer who is a nightmare for opposing offensive lines to block.
Entering his fourth year in the program, Henry could become that player if everything comes together. Thanks to high-quality depth, the Tigers will remain fresh throughout the season and Henry has shown off playmaking potential. The veteran just has to put it all together.
The North Carolina native can be the defense’s x-factor this fall.