The answer? Still dominant.
Don’t expect a major dropoff of any sorts. Especially when Number 16 laces up those gleaming white and orange-tinted cleats to run down the carpet that blankets the lengthy hill into Howard Memorial Coliseum come August.
While a plethora of Seniors are further pursuing their football dreams as they prepare for April’s NFL draft, inquisitive prospects-into-freshmen are anticipating their first steps on their new home for the next couple of years as a new year is prepping to turn a new leaf. With that, some new faces are going to be suiting up for the national champions (and for now, new No.1 team in the country) in 2019, going into 2020. Clemson’s defense may look a little different but don’t assume Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables is losing any confidence in his three-level attack.
Although there are reports that came out prior to the national title game of some Clemson defensive linemen either graduating or opting out for the draft, some recent reports of more Clemson players declaring for the upcoming draft have come out in the days shortly after the national title game. Clemson’s changes for their roster heading into 2019 can be found below.
The Tigers Returning in 2019
As previously noted, a strong majority of the Clemson offense will suit up in Howard Memorial Stadium come August of next year, with Senior walk-on Hunter Renfrow being the only notable departure on the offensive side of the ball. Senior Trevion Thompson will also finish his collegiate eligibility, and the two are replaced by good company.
A potential blue-chip prospect-turned-rising-sophomore Derion Kendrick could fill Renfrow’s spot in the slot as a junior heading into next year. Wide Receiver Justyn Ross will be a sophomore when the new school year begins. Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers are considerably younger, so their returns next year as juniors will continue to make Clemson’s air attack just as dangerous next year. Tight End J.C. Chalk will, presumably, get the nod to be the starter next year as Milan Richard has already finished his eligibility. Offensively, Clemson fans will have little to worry about.
Trevor Lawrence’s backfield, compiled with talent, will all make their returns, considering that they are all shy of being draft eligible. Running back Travis Etienne Jr., whose 2019 could be his last year in a Clemson uniform, and his backup Tavien Feaster will return as juniors.
Offensively, just about all of the skill positions are young enough to be stapled onto the depth chart for 2019, and their offensive line will return some juniors and seniors next year. On the defensive end of the ball, the defensive backfield of Junior safeties K’von Wallace and Tanner Muse, as well as junior corner AJ Terrell will return next year.
The Tigers Departing Ahead of 2019
The only changes on the offensive line lies in the left tackle and Center spots, as Mitch Hyatt and Justin Falcinelli played their last games in Clemson jerseys as graduating seniors. Hyatt will be replaced by Sophomore Carman Jackson at the tackle position, and Falcinelli will have Senior Gage Cervenka take his spot.
Expect the most changes on Clemson’s 2019 roster for Brent Venables’ defense. The entire defensive line will be either graduating or have already declared for the 2019 draft as Defensive End Clelin Ferrell has decided to leave school early to enter the draft, followed by Senior Defensive Tackle Christian Wilkins, Junior Defensive Tackle Dexter Lawrence, and Senior Edge Rusher Austin Bryant. Additionally, there were recent declaration announcements from Linebacker Tre Lamar and Cornerback (and National Championship Defensive MVP) Trayvon Mullen, who all plan to be selected early in the draft this year.
Venables may be hard-pressed to replace all that beef up front, but he hopes that Junior Justin Foster, and Freshman Jordan Williams will make a statement and impact for this defense from now on. He also anticipates the debut of the country’s No.1 recruit at the Defensive End position, 6 foot 3, 255-pound Xavier Thomas, to be a force unreckoned within the trenches. Since Tre Lamar made his decision to enter the NFL Draft this past Wednesday, Senior Chad Smith is looking to man the Mike Back spot as a Middle Linebacker and leader of the defense.
Trayvon Mullen, who made his decision to turn pro on Wednesday as well, will be replaced by a sophomore Kyler McMichael who’s had some experience with the starting 11 this past year, playing his first minutes in a Clemson uniform against Furman. He recorded two tackles in 97 snaps over the course of 10 games in 2018.
Clemson was listed as having the sixth-best recruiting class in the country. It’s understandable even more so now, you know, since they won their second national title in four years. If there is one thing Dabo Swinney has proven is that he rarely, if ever, has had a down year, whether it be in recruiting new football players or winning football games. Though he will have some growing pains with the replacements on the defensive line, never count out coach Dabo to make the right adjustments when the critical times arise.
Because this two-time national champion will seldom falter, and Clemson is only getting started in what they hope will be a program looking to dethrone rival Alabama as a dynasty and assert its dominance as the country’s new college football gold standard.