Final Grades: Linebackers a big part of Clemson’s defensive success
The Bruise Brothers combo of James Skalski and Baylon Spector put in another solid season leading the Clemson defense.

Final Grades: Linebackers a big part of Clemson’s defensive success

by - Contributor -

Clemson football put a wrap on another double-digit win campaign recently, and with the help of analytics, we take a deeper look into the 10-3 Tigers season by position, continuing with the Clemson linebackers.

2021 Clemson Linebacker Stats

(players in order of snap count)

James Skalski (Super Sr. 6-0 240)

Snaps: 711

2021 Pro Football Focus grade: 65.0

87 tackles

2.5 sacks

Skalski returned to Clemson for a sixth season and provided the leadership and steady play you’d expect from the veteran team captain. Skalski led the team in tackles despite battling through various nagging injuries. His most memorable play of the season may have come in the game-winning goal line stand against Georgia Tech. After helping to stymie the Yellow Jackets on second and third down plays, he anticipated the shovel pass and made the tackle to snuff out Georgia Tech’s comeback hopes.

Skalski earned first team All-ACC honors in his final season and departs with five ACC Championship rings and two National Championship rings. In his six seasons, Clemson never lost to South Carolina. Skalski is a fan favorite who will be remembered by Clemson fans for a long, long time!

Baylon Spector (Rs Sr. 6-2 230)

Snaps: 610

2021 PFF grade: 60.9

74 tackles

2.5 sacks

After three years of development, Baylon Spector became a starter as a redshirt junior in 2020 and held that spot again in 2021. The former three-star prospect was a very solid contributor on some excellent Clemson defenses. Although he isn’t highly-rated by NFL draft scouts and writers, he was a very reliable player for Clemson who will be missed.

Trenton Simpson (So. 6-3 225)

Snaps: 569

2021 PFF grade: 73.5 (No. 3 in ACC)

65 tackles

6 sacks

Trenton Simpson came to Clemson as a five-star prospect and through two seasons, he has proven that high rating to be very accurate. As a true sophomore, he started all year and finished as PFF’s third-ranked linebacker in the ACC. His speed makes him a great pass rusher – the best in the ACC according to PFF – and strong in pass coverage. He is in line for a huge junior campaign and potential early NFL draft pick.

Barrett Carter (Fr. 6-1 220)

Snaps: 183

2021 PFF grade: 57.1

16 tackles

0 sacks

Carter played in 12 games as a freshman after joining Clemson as a five-star prospect from Suwanee, Georgia. He saw extended time in the bowl game against Iowa State, after Skalski left with an injury, and played well. His overall PFF grade isn’t high, but like Simpson, he is one where you would expect the talent to really start shining through next year now that he gained valuable experience. Expect him to play a much larger role in 2022.

LaVonta Bentley (Rs So. 6-0 235)

Snaps: 177

2021 PFF grade: 55.2

30 tackles

1 sack

LaVonta Bentley didn’t get a ton of playing time in 2021, likely due to some struggles he had in pass coverage. Nonetheless, he beat out Kane Patterson who has since transferred to Vanderbilt. With Skalski and Spector departing, Bentley has an opportunity to see much more playing time in 2022. He’ll compete with Jeremiah Trotter (who only got 58 snaps in 2021) and Barrett Carter for a chance to start.

TigerNet Take

Every week, Clemson’s defense had to show up and lead Clemson to victory. Late game defensive stops to clinch victories were almost assumed and the linebackers were a steady part of the heroics. Trenton Simpson emerged as a star while Skalski cemented his legacy and Spector provided reliable play. The trio finished as Clemson’s three leading tacklers.

With the defense being as spectacular as it was, no defensive group will get a poor grade. While other position groups on the Tigers defense were more eye-catching, the linebackers played a big role in the unit’s success.

TigerNet Grade: A-


Wide receivers




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