The top 10 Clemson football players you need to know for 2016. These are the Tiger stars to watch out for.
1. QB Deshaun Watson, Jr.
Any concerns about Watson’s durability were squashed in last year’s epic sophomore season. The franchise authored one of the best individual seasons ever by a Tiger, rushing for 1,105 yards and 12 scores and completing 333-of-491 passes for 4,104 yards, 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The 6-2, 210-pound Watson finished third in the Heisman vote and, more important, nearly led Clemson to a national championship. He’s the prototype of a modern-day star QB, athletic, accurate on all throws and poised under the gun.
2. RB Wayne Gallman, Jr.
Slightly lost in Deshaun Watson’s breakout season was the fact that Gallman was spectacular as the quarterback’s backfield sidekick. He was a bona fide workhorse, motoring for 1,527 yards and 13 touchdowns on 283 carries in a Second Team All-ACC campaign. Gallman is a 6-1, 215-pound long-strider who routinely bounces off tacklers and spins out of trouble to earn yards after contact. He’ll also serve as a safety valve for Watson, catching 21 balls for 213 yards and another score.
3. CB Cordrea Tankersley, Sr.
Tankersley must be more than a corner in 2016. He’ll have to be the chaperon and vocal leader of a secondary breaking in three new starters. The senior should be up to the challenge after a successful debut in the starting lineup ended with All-ACC Third Team honors. The 6-1, 195-pound bump-and-run Tankersley operates with swagger and physicality, making 48 stops, 3.5 tackles for loss and team-highs with five picks and nine pass breakups.
4. WR Mike Williams, Jr.
Just a few series into his junior year, Williams’ career almost came to an end, the result of a scary neck injury in the back of the end zone. But he’s back and vowing not to play scared this fall. Two seasons ago, Williams bloomed into one of the game’s top big-play threats, catching 57 passes for 1,030 yards and six touchdowns. He has all of the ingredients of a future Sunday star, from his 6-4, 220-pound frame to his ball skills and separation speed.
5. LB Ben Boulware, Sr.
Boulware’s veteran leadership is going to be even more essential in this year after the mass exodus of defensive talent to the NFL. He’s one of the heartbeats of the Tigers, a passionate and productive weakside defender. The 5-11, 240-pounder is fundamentally sound in all phases, including wrapping up in space and rushing the passer. In 2015, his first as a full-timer, Boulware parlayed 82 stops, eight tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, two picks, nine passes defended, 10 hurries and three forced fumbles into a spot on the All-ACC Second Team.
6. WR Artavis Scott, Jr.
That Scott was a little less potent in 2015 than he was in his rookie had nothing to do with a lack of talent. He’s every bit as dangerous as he was two years ago, with the extra gear to blow gaping holes through defenses. The Tigers had a harder time springing the 5-11, 190-pound Scott, who caught 93 passes but for only 901 yards and six touchdowns. He produced just one 100-yard day, versus Boston College, as defenses could focus on one player after Mike Williams was lost for the year.
7. DT Carlos Watkins, Sr.
Even after being named to the All-ACC First Team in 2015, Watkins remains one of the more underrated Tigers on the team. It’s one of the hazards of playing on the inside. Even at 6-3 and 300 pounds, he’s been quick off the snap and into opposing backfields throughout his career. Watkins carries his weight well, collecting an un-tackle-like 34 tackles, 7.5 stops for loss, 3.5 sacks, one pick and four passes defended a season ago.
8. DT Christian Wilkins, Soph.
Wilkins lived up to the hype in his debut season out of Suffield (Conn.) Academy, playing a prominent role in the Clemson D-line rotation. Lining up next to a swath of seasoned Clemson veterans, it was never evident who was the true freshman of the unit. Wilkins is uncommonly nimble for a 6-4, 315-pounder, the type of linemen who excels on the inside but could play end in a 3-4 set, if needed. After making 33 tackles, 4.5 stops for loss and two sacks in 2015, he’s ready to erupt into a star tackle.
9. OT Mitch Hyatt, Soph.
For a Tiger front wall that began the year with so many holes and question marks, Hyatt was an unbridled revelation at left tackle. The blue-chip recruit performed like a blue-chipper in 2015 for Clemson, displaying great feet en route to earning a spot of the All-ACC Third Team. The 6-5, 295-pound Hyatt was also named the ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week following the Florida State matchup, so it’s not as if his first resume was been built versus the softest teams on the slate.
10. TE Jordan Leggett, Sr.
Leggett is back for his senior year, which means Clemson will again have access to one of the nation’s premier pass-catching tight ends. He’s not going to contribute much in pass protection or run blocking. But when it’s time to abuse linebackers and safeties in the passing game, few at the position are more capable than Leggett. He’s an athletic 6-5, 255-pounder who hauled in 40 passes for 525 yards and a team-best eight touchdown catches a season ago.