Clemson football: Concerns at wide receiver are overblown

Clemson football has a long line of great receivers, which led some to dub the program “Wide Receiver U.” However, there wasn’t a clear No. 1 option at Clemson entering the 2020 season. Amari Rodgers returned as the veteran with more experience than most of Clemson’s backups combined, but people worried that wouldn’t be enough to challenge defenses.

Entering the season, analysts thought Clemson football needed some help at wide receiver. Tee Higgins dominated at Clemson during 2018 and 2019, amassing over 2,000 yards and 25 receiving touchdowns. His 27 career receiving touchdowns are tied with DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins for the most in program history.

However, Higgins entered the NFL Draft last spring and went 33rd overall to the Cincinnati Bengals. That left Justyn Ross as Clemson’s top receiver. The Tigers thought they were in good shape with the star junior. Ross amassed 112 receptions, 1,865 yards, and 17 touchdowns in his first two years at Clemson, making him the second-best receiver in his class behind LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase.

Unfortunately, Ross is missing the 2020 season as he recovers from surgery for a congenital fusion in his neck or spine. With their top two receivers gone, most analysts believed the Tigers needed a new pass catcher to step up and fill that role previously held by a long line of stars. Five games into their season, the Tigers haven’t found that next receiver, and it hasn’t mattered.

Trevor Lawrence and Rodgers are connecting at will, despite the best efforts of opposing defensive backfields. At 5-foot-10, 210 pounds, Rodgers doesn’t fit the mold associated with most star Clemson receivers. However, he’s made 25 receptions for 429 yards and five touchdowns in Clemson’s first five games. To put that in perspective, Rodgers’ previous best season came in 2018, when he produced 55 receptions, 575 yards, and four touchdowns in 15 games.

The Tigers haven’t had another wide receiver step up yet. Rodgers is the only Clemson player with over 20 receptions or 300 receiving yards. Travis Etienne is the team’s second-leading receiver with 274 yards. This lack of superstar talent hasn’t put a dent in Lawrence’s production. At this pace, if Clemson plays 14 games this season, Lawrence will set new career-highs with 4,323 yards and 42 touchdowns.

Clemson is winning games this season with a wide receiver by committee approach. When Dabo Swinney’s team faced No. 7 Miami, their only ranked opponent of the season so far, four Tigers finished with over 40 receiving yards. Clemson walked all over Miami, racking up 42 points in a blowout win.

If the Tigers found success against one of the nation’s best teams without any superstar receivers, there’s nothing for them to worry about moving forward. The receiving corps is deep thanks to sophomores Frank Ladson Jr. and Joseph Ngata. Senior Cornell Powell and freshman E.J. Williams add to the collection of talent while tight ends Braden Galloway and Davis Allen give Lawrence even more options.

Clemson’s wide receiver corps was a concern entering the 2020 season, but those issues have proven unfounded through five games. The Tigers can win with Rodgers as their top pass-catcher and get back to the national championship.

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