Clemson’s first national title since 1981 was a blast for everyone involved. But once the regular season kicks off on Sept. 2, despite the championship and the heavy personnel losses, expectations will remain sky high.
In order for Clemson to again take home an ACC crown and contend nationally, several players must step up this fall. Here are five (in alphabetical order) to watch.
Kelly Bryant, Quarterback (Jr., 6-3, 215)
Or Zerrick Cooper. Or Hunter Johnson. Or Tucker Israel. It is true that none of these guys will be Deshaun Watson, but head coach Dabo Swinney would love it if one of them emerged as the clear-cut starter. Though Bryant currently tops the depth chart, many analysts believe that someone else will be uncer center when the Tigers suit up for Kent State. Cooper showed promise while redshirting in 2016 and has the dual-threat skills to run the Clemson offense.
Deon Cain, Wide Receiver (Jr., 6-1, 210)
Hunter Renfrow is Hunter Renfrow and Ray-Ray McCloud has the skill set to replicate the game of Artavis Scott. Now, it is time for the immense talent of Cain to blossom into a complete receiver. A downfield weapon during his first two seasons with Clemson, Cain has the size, speed, and ball skills necessary to become a No. 1 target.
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Tavien Feaster, Running Back (So., 5-11, 210)
Much like at quarterback, there are a number of running backs eyeing playing time this fall. Adam Choice and C.J. Fuller have been in the system longer and also will see considerable action now that Wayne Gallman has moved on. But Feaster averaged six yards per carry last season and has a big-play burst that the others lack.
Tre Lamar, Linebacker (So., 6-3, 240)
With Kendall Joseph and Dorian O’Daniel returning, Clemson has two solid players on the second level. But Ben Boulware is no longer around and he leaves a big void. Lamar was a heavily recruited prospect in the 2016 class and defensive coordinator Brent Venables needs him to take a major step forward. Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins will be causing problems up front, so there will be opportunities for Lamar to make plays.
Trayvon Mullen, Cornerback (So., 6-2, 185)
A major part of the Clemson success in recent years resulted from having a shutdown corner in place. Mackensie Alexander gave way to Cordrea Tankersley and the Tigers didn’t miss a beat in coverage. The defensive backfield has senior leadership in Ryan Carter and Marcus Edmond, but Mullen is a very good athlete and has desirable size (6-2) for a corner.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.