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CFF: Where Does Clemson Go After Justyn Ross?

News Broke on Tuesday of this week that Clemson receiver Justyn Ross is done for the season. After what was described as a stinger in practice, the Junior wideout got some disheartening news from the X-Ray tech. Ross has a congenital fusion of two of his vertebrae in his neck and back. Neck injuries can hinder or end football careers. Mike Williams faced adversity in 2015 when a push into the field goal post resulted in cracked vertebrae. Of course, we see Mike on Sundays wearing a Chargers logo now. Unfortunately for every Mike Williams, there is an Ammhon Richards whose full potential went unseen after a record-breaking Freshman season. Richards’s career ended with a single reception game to open up the year against LSU in 2018.

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Who Steps Up for Clemson?

The NFL Departure of Tee Higgins and the unfortunate news of Justyn Ross leaves 125 receptions, 2,032 yards, and 21 touchdowns left unaccounted for from a season ago. They do have the benefit of ACC Players of the Year Travis Etienne (Running Back) and Trevor Lawrence (Quarterback) to keep some consistency on the offense. But the receiving game is left up to a combination of grizzled veterans and talented, un-proven youth.

Clemson has never been opposed to using youth in a big way. Most of the guys that have gone on to the NFL under Dabo Swinney all began with prominent Freshmen seasons as you’ll see below.

Tee Higgins, 2017:17-345-2

Artavis Scott, 2013: 76-965-8

Mike Williams, 2013: 20-316-3

Sammy Watkins, 2011: 82-1,219-12

DeAndre Hopkins, 2010: 52-637-4

Justyn Ross caught 46 balls for 1,000 yards an nine scores in his freshman season. His freshman season was one of the best we had seen out of a Tiger receiver since Sammy Watkins and there were high hopes for him in 2020 after the departure of Tee Higgins. The unfortunate circumstances for Ross will open the door for other players to take greater roles in the offense this season.

The Vets

Although no players have the same production numbers as ross, there are several guys in the receivers room that are no stranger to the field.

Amari Rodgers

Rogers took over the slot position that has made NFL careers for Hunter Renfrow and Artavis Scott after returning from an ACL tear last season. Rogers is a favorite of mine simply because he plays aggressively. When he gets the ball on a punt return or on a slant route he just wants to do all he can to make it to the endzone. While his numbers weren’t exactly eye-popping last season, 30-426-4, his numbers will see a sizeable jump as the most experienced and entrenched receiver on the Clemson roster.

Clemson utilized the slot receiver in 2015 when Mike Williams fractured several vertebrae in his neck. Artavis Scott, who is very similar to Rodgers, caught 91 passes for over 900 yards in Williams’ absence. Clemson could take a similar approach this season while they figure out which of the guys on the outside will be featured in the latter part of the season and the following.

Cornell Powell

Powell is a receiver that entered Clemson in a forgotten class of receivers. He along with Diondre Overton and TJ Chase all shared time on the roster but could never seem to take the top spot. Overton, the most prominent of the three, declared for the NFL after last season instead of testing the transfer market while Chase has joined the FAU Owls and new coach Willie Taggart. Powell is the only of the three that stayed for the full duration of their Tiger careers.

The Senior was slotted as the backup to Justyn Ross to open last season, one slot ahead of Frank Ladson Jr.. Although ahead in the depth chart, Ladson was able to outproduce him in receiving yards and touchdowns on fewer touches. But Powell shouldn’t be ignored. Powell has been in Clemson for so long that he knows how to play all three receiver positions at Clemson, he’s the unquestioned leader of the room, and he led the team in receptions in Spring training. The coaches also spoke very highly of him as a leader and player after the Spring was cut very short.

Powell is a player that I’m not quite ready to throw my signature on but he has a lot going for him. Seniority, bluechip talent, and he’s got the playbook knowledge on his side.

On-Campus; Unproven

There are several guys on the roster who we know but don’t know what they look like in a prominent role.

Joseph Ngata

Ngata caught the attention of the sports national media with his performance in the 2020 Spring game. I’ve been very hypercritical of this performance based on the rosters of that Spring game but he did produce nonetheless. The rising sophomore finished last year with a stat line of 17-240-3. This was good enough for sixth on the team in receiving yards and fifth in receiving touchdowns.

Ngata has the edge over the other newcomers based on his 2019 usage. He was on the field with starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence than Frank Ladson Jr. was and he was targetted over 30 times. I have concerns with some costly drops that he had, especially in the game against North Carolina State in which all three of his targets resulted in drops. He had two other drops throughout the season.

On a positive note, He does attack the ball well on jump balls and he has pretty good speed. The coaching staff seems to believe in him and he was placed as Tee Higgins’ backup last year on the depth chart.

Frank Ladson Jr

Ladson had similar levels of production to Ngata but didn’t quite have the opportunities. He finished last year with similar yards per reception and the same amount of touchdowns but caught eight fewer passes. He had the misfortune of catching most of his passes from backup Chase Brice all last season and played most of his snaps in garbage time. While it can be said that he didn’t get a fair shake at Ngata’s production, why is that the case?

There has to be a reason the coaching staff liked Ngata more than Ladson last season. Their reasoning is unknown but there might be a chance that both of these guys get their fair shake with two prominent receiving spots open for grabs. Ladson joined Mike Williams and Sammy Watkins as guys who caught a touchdown pass on their first touch last year. Maybe he can shine with a little bit of light.

Braeden Galloway

Galloway is a talented tight end that resembles former-Clemson tight end, Jordan Leggett. He’s been compared and likened to Leggett for several years now and has often been said that he’s better due to a stronger work ethic. There isn’t any sort of competition for the tight end spot so Galloway should be the clear guy at that position.

When Clemson has had a tight end in the past they’ve used them. We all remember the great numbers that Jordan Leggett, Dwayne Allen, and Brandon Ford all posted excellent stat lines while at Clemson. Galloway has been primed for greatness for years but he missed all of last season due to a suspension laid forth by the NCAA due to an illegal substance.

When Mike Williams got hurt in 2015, Leggett was the red zone man that season. Could it be Galloway’s season to break out?

Jaelyn Lay

Lay is another tight end that Clemson has rostered that might be a long shot to take control but should be noted. For starters, Lay is huge. His current height and weight are listed at 6-6, 270 pounds. As I said, huge. His obnoxious size and ability to block could get him on the field more often than not. He does have some drop issues which was seen in his very limited usage last season.

New Faces

Clemson brings in two to three receivers in almost every year due to the massive amount of turnover they have at the position from year to year. Clemson brings in two receivers this year.

EJ Williams

EJ Williams is a four-star receiver out of Phenix City, Alabama. 247Sports has him as the 13th best receiver nationally and the No. 4 player from the state of Alabama. Williams and Ross share many similarities from background to appearance. They both came from Central High School and both have similar abilities on attacking the ball at a high point. They both come in at around 6-4 and around 200 pounds. Williams made his way to Clemson in the Spring and the coaches say that he looks similar to Ross but is quicker. There may be a chance that his Spring arrival makes all the difference for his chances in the Fall.

Ajou Ajou

Ajou Ajou was the best player to come from Canada and he made his decision to go to Clemson. He is 6-4, 220 pounds and based on his tape he plays like he’s massive. Every move he makes is an attempt to go through his opponent and he’s not afraid to go up and fight for the football. Ajou’s biggest hindrance is his lack of football experience. Clemson clearly likes his future, but with only two years of football experience and a lack of Spring as a Tiger, it’s hard to advocate that he is the guy this year.

Justin’s Prediction

If you’re looking for a Tiger to draft this year, it has to be Amari Rodgers. He’s got the talent, tenure, and position stability to make fantasy rosters this year. If you’re looking for the next stud receiver, your best bet is to draft Ngata who had the coach’s confidence last year. My advice as a fantasy owner would be to draft whoever is the cheapest between Ladson and Ngata so long as Amari Rodgers and Braeden Galloway are already off of the board.

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