To say that Clemson took a step back in pass defense this season would be putting it mildly.
After fielding one of the best pass defenses in the country in 2019, the Tigers ranked No. 41 in 2020. However, that number only tells part of the story. Dig a little deeper into the numbers and they start to paint a picture.
- 90th in pass plays over 20 yards allowed
- 113th in pass plays 30-plus yards allowed
- 120th in pass plays 40-plus yards allowed
- 100th in pass plays 50-plus yards allowed.
The game has changed, and offenses are certainly ruling the day but the backend of this Clemson defense was far to prone to giving up the big, explosive plays. Those are not numbers of a championship caliber football team.
Clemson has the talent at the cornerback position, make no mistake. Andrew Booth Jr, Malcolm Greene, Mario Goodrich and Fred Davis are all former blue chip guys. Booth and Davis are former five-star players. However, all those guys outside of Goodrich were underclassmen and two were freshmen.
There was a ton of inexperience on the field this season and it showed. With a full spring and summer, these guys will be better next season. If somehow Derion Kendrick were to decide to return, the potential of this group goes through the roof. No way he comes back and isn’t fully committed.
The safety position though, there just isn’t as much high-end talent there. The Tigers have missed on some elite-level guys on the recruiting trail and have had to settle for some guys that needed more development. That isn’t to say the guys on the roster have no talent, because they do. It was just going to take time with some of them.
RJ Mickens, Ray Thornton, Joseph Charleston, Lannden Zanders, and Jalyn Phillips are all underclassmen who have high ceilings. They just need time to develop and not having a full spring and summer sets that development back. A full offseason in the weight room will make a difference. Having Nolan Turner would also be a positive.
2021 signee Andrew Mukuba is a guy who could come in an compete for playing time too. He will need to add a little bit of bulk but he comes in at 6-foot and 185 pounds as it stands now.
“He’s dynamic, I mean he can do it all,” Dabo Swinney said on early signing day. “But he’s got corner cover type skills and the physicality of a safety. He has a bright bright future.”
One more player the Tigers signed in the 2021 class that could make an immediate impact at safety is Barrett Carter. Most of the recruiting services listed him as a linebacker but when you think of Carter, think Isaiah Simmons when it comes to how versatile he can be.
Carter will be groomed to play the nickel/SAM spot, but it is hard to see him starting out at safety. If that is the case, it will be hard to keep him off the field. He can cover and he possesses the kind of physicality that would make him an asset against the run.
After the way the secondary performed at times throughout the 2020 season, it is understandable to be a little down on the pass defense. However, all is not lost. There will be brighter days ahead. There is just to much talent on the roster for there not to be.