Sophomore quarterback DJ Uiagalelei struggled throughout the season. He did make some great throws here and there, but unfortunately the production didn’t come close to meeting the high expectations. The backup quarterbacks didn’t play any better in the few opportunities they saw.
Running Backs; A
These guys were slow to get started, but that was mostly due to the offensive line getting a slow start. When one of the running backs has a phrase coined after him (Ship Happens), you know you have a good group. A fun fact about Will Shipley is he actually had the highest quarterback rating on the team. The triple headed monster of Will Shipley, Kobe Pace, and Phil Mafah is among, if not the best, in college football.
Offensive Line; C-
For about three quarters of the season, this was the weakest link on the team. Injuries forced guys to get shuffled around like a deck of cards. The interior of the line in particular struggled mightily. Fortunately, these guys started to gel the last quarter or so. Once they did, the running game flourished and Clemson discovered an offensive identity. Hats off to them for persevering and finding their way, but to be fair the entire season has to be factored into the overall grade.
Wide Receiver; C
This is a hard group to grade because, quite honestly, they didn’t get nearly as many opportunities as previous years. When they did, there were many dropped passes, especially early in the season. Although no “alpha” receiver ever really sperated himself from the rest of the pack, Beaux Collins came on strong at the end of the season and could be poised to be Clemson’s next break out star.
Tight End; C+
This is another position group in which had a rough start. Both Davis Allen and Braden Galloway struggled blocking. Allen did improve as the season went on, and ended up being one of Uiagalelei’s top receiving threats. Freshman Jake Briningstool could end up being the stud tight end Clemson has been missing since Jordan Leggett.
Defensive Line; A+
This is one of the top groups in the country. Bryan Bresee started off in beast mode but an injury cut short his season. Tyler Davis has been an immovable object for most of the season. Production at DT didn’t slow when Bresee and Davis missed time. Tre Williams and Rule Orhorhoro had no problem whatsoever clogging up the middle. Defensive ends have been busy terrorizing quarterbacks all year with Myles Murphy and Xavier Thomas leading the way.
James Skalski and Babylon Spector left it all on the field this year, as the seniors suffocated opposing running backs and lowered the boom on anyone in their path. Trenton Simpson made his presence felt and was one of the the breakout players on defense. This position group was one of the few that was lucky enough to not be riddled by injury and maintained depth throughout the season. The combination of talent and depth makes this year’s group arguably the best under defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ career at Clemson.
Defensive Back; A
No Derion Kendrick, no problem. Andrew Booth Jr. was the lead dog here as the junior turned in a terrific season. Booth is a physical corner who wasn’t just tremendous defending the pass, but didn’t hesitate to punish opposing running backs by coming in and stuffing them in their tracks. Mario Goodrich was stellar and blanketed receivers. The breakout star in the group was Andrew Mukuba who was the best safety on the team as a true freshman. On Wednesday, Mukuba was named the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Overall, this could have been the best defensive group during the Dabo Swinney tenure. These guys had to lead the charge in a year in which the offense struggled. They won’t get the credit they deserve because of the win-loss record, but it would be an interesting debate if any other defense could’ve persevered through the injuries and offensive struggles that this defense did, and still be statistically the second best defense in the nation. No wonder the rumors of Brent Venables taking a head coaching job elsewhere have Clemson fans worried.
Special Teams; A
BT Potter turned in one of, if not the best overall performance for a kicker in Clemson history. Touchbacks were all but automatic and he nailed more 40 plus yard field goals than any kicker in recent memory. Will Spiers was as solid a punter as you could ask for, and even had a fourth down pass conversion that helped Clemson win at Syracuse. In a year where Clemson desperately needed special teams, they did not disappoint.
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