CLEMSON FOOTBALL

Early 2024 Clemson roster analysis: Defense
DeMonte Capehart, middle, and Wade Woodaz, left, should move into much bigger roles in 2024.

Early 2024 Clemson roster analysis: Defense


by - Contributor -

From the height of the championship years to the struggles of an 8-4 regular season, Clemson’s defense has been reliably strong. 2023 was another banner year for the unit, and that went a long way in proving second-year coordinator Wes Goodwin’s ability to lead the group. Unfortunately, as is often the case, a strong campaign is followed by a bevy of NFL departures, including all four starters off the defensive line and star linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. While the early signing day and the Gator Bowl are still ahead, let’s take a peek ahead to who the Clemson Tigers will rely upon in 2024 to maintain the tradition of a strong defense.

Defensive Tackles

Players on scholarship: 9

Star Power: A+

Depth: A-

Defensive tackle is a strength of Clemson’s program, and with position coach Nick Eason leading the group, it looks to stay that way for a while. Replacing Tyler Davis and Ruke Orhorhoro will not be easy. Tyler Davis’s excellent PFF grade of 85.5 was the best on the entire defense (tied with Jeremiah Trotter)! Fortunately, Peter Woods is more than ready to take on a bigger role after playing 268 snaps as a true freshman. Woods posted an excellent 84.9 PFF grade and is poised to be the superstar of the defense next season.

DeMonte Capehart came on strong late in the year, and while he only played 159 snaps, appears ready for a bigger role in what will be his fifth year at Clemson. Likewise, Payton Page was very effective across 215 snaps and should see more snaps as a senior next season. Tré

Williams, though often hampered by injury, has been effective when on the field. Beyond them, Caden Story, Stephiylan Green, Vic Burley, Hevin Brown-Shuler, and Champ Thompson give the Tigers additional depth.

Defensive Ends

Players on scholarship: 7

Star Power: B+

Depth: F

The defensive end position has historically been an immense position of strength for Clemson. Gaines Adams, Da’Quan Bowers, Vic Beasley, Austin Bryant, and Clelin Ferrell are just some of the great Tiger edge defenders fans have enjoyed. In recent years, production has fallen off. Clemson has brought in an experienced, highly-regarded defensive ends coach in Chris Rumph to reverse that trend. How quickly can he work his magic though?

The Tigers bring back TJ Parker, who was Clemson’s best defensive end (per PFF) as a true freshman. Other options are scant. David Ojiegbe transferred out. Cade Denhoff and AJ Hoffler each posted sub-62 PFF grades. Jahiem Lawson (37) and Zaire Patterson (14) saw minimal playing time. While Clemson has focused their transfer portal efforts on the O-line, they may need to make a splash at defensive end through the portal or with a big-time freshman who can come in and make an impact as Parker did.

Linebacker

Players on scholarship: 7

Star Power: A

Depth: B+

Jeremiah Trotter was outstanding, and he is off to the NFL. Luckily for the Tigers, Barrett Carter decided to return for his senior season. Carter and Wade Woodaz give Clemson a strong duo. Sammy Brown, the top high school linebacker in the country, will join them to add to the star power. Additionally, Khalil Barnes, who I’ve counted as a safety for scholarship count purposes, could play some nickel/SAM. Limited snaps were given to Kobe McCloud (69), Dee Crayton (59), and Jamal Anderson (48), but each will have an opportunity to carve out a bigger role in 2024.

Cornerback

Players on scholarship: 7

Star Power: A

Depth: B

How in the world do you replace Nate Wiggins, Sheridan Jones, and Toriano Pride all in the same year? Well, when you are “Cornerback U,” and you have one of the very best cornerback coaches in the country, Mike Reed, it is quite feasible.

Avieon Terrell played 320 snaps as a true freshman and proved he is ready to become a starter. From the Spring Game to the Palmetto Bowl, Shelton Lewis looked ready and will compete with Jeadyn Lukus for snaps. That trio should give Clemson a strong core.

True freshman Corian Gipson, a highly rated four-star out of Texas, could also come in and make waves just like Terrell and Lewis did last year. Finally, perhaps Branden Strozier, who only played seven snaps, or Myles Oliver, who played just nine snaps, take a step in their development and are ready to provide quality depth.

Safety

Players on scholarship: 9

Star Power: A-

Depth: C+

While still unclear, for this section, I am assuming RJ Mickens is not returning. If he returns, Clemson immediately gets a big bump in their depth. Losing him, Andrew Mukuba, and Jalyn Phillips in the same offseason creates some challenges. Fortunately, two true freshmen had higher PFF grades than all of them: Khalil Barnes (83.9) and Kylon Griffin (77.6 in limited snaps).

Co-defensive coordinator and position coach Mickey Conn has done an underrated job recruiting and developing safeties. The Tigers will need Sherrod Covil and Tyler Venables to get healthy and take a step in their development to give this position group the depth it needs. Kylen Webb and Rob Billings, who redshirted this season, are also candidates to provide depth as well as incoming freshmen.

Overall

Clemson is losing a lot on defense this offseason. Fortunately for Goodwin and company, the 2023 freshman class proved just how ready they were and could ascend to stardom as sophomores. It will be a young defense next year but don’t expect a massive drop-off.

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