The Tigers rushing game got off to a rough start. Little did everyone know that at the time there were problems in the room that may have contributed. At least in part. Not to mention the issues with the offensive line that had to be worked out.
Clemson started the season with six scholarship running backs, giving the Tigers what looked like one of the deepest stables of backs in the country. Not only was there depth, but there was talent, and lots of it.
Lyn-J Dixon was to provide the veteran presence, with Kobe Pace expected to play a large role in his second season after getting his feet wet as a freshman in 2020. Then there were the two highly-touted freshmen, Will Shipley and Phil Mafah. Add in Michel Dukes, entering his third season and the super senior Darien Rencher, and the Tigers looked to be set.
However, that was not the case. Dixon and Dukes both bolted, hitting the transfer portal before we even got to the halfway point of the season, leaving the team with very little depth. Ironically, what was left of the group became much more cohesive and turned into one of the bright spots on the offensive side of the ball.
Looking ahead towards next season, there is a lot to like, but at the same time there could be some depth issues. Clemson likes to carry five running backs and right now only have three. While the staff is looking to add a back in the 2022 class, that would still leave them thin at the position.
2022 Running Backs
Will Shipley: After somewhat of a slow start, Shipley came on strong and ended the season as a central figure of the offense. Injuries hindered him a little but ultimately he showed the kind of toughness you like to see in a running back. Wait until he’s had another season in the strength program.
Kobe Pace: Pace also came on strong after a slow start, overcoming injuries of his own. Some have already started calling him and Shipley Thunder and Lightning 2.0, as the duo gives the Tigers a solid one-two punch out of the backfield.
Phil Mafah: The coaching staff had hoped to redshirt Mafah, just due to numbers. The goal was to create a year of separation between him and Shipley. Injuries and the transfers changed those plans. Mafah showed flashes of why folks are so high on him, but at other times looked like a freshman back that could have benefited from the redshirt season.
Again, the staff is looking to add one running back in the 2022 class. Trevor Etienne is the top target, but it’s far from guaranteed that the Tigers land the younger brother of former Clemson standout Travis.
Andrew Paul is another 2022 back the staff has their eyes on. If the staff misses on Etienne, the 3-star out of Dallas could be who the coaches try and zero in on after the first of the year.
Heading into the season with just four running backs is not ideal, though, and Dabo Swinney and the rest of the staff are well aware of that fact. Maybe they add a second back late in the 2022 class or maybe they wait. The staff could also look to the portal to address any depth concerns.
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