Final Grades: Simple stats undersell Clemson defensive ends
Xavier Thomas led Clemson in QB pressures.

Final Grades: Simple stats undersell Clemson defensive ends

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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 defensive ends.

2021 Clemson final defensive end statistics

(players in order of snap count)

Myles Murphy (So. 6-5 275)

Snaps: 552

PFF (Pro Football Focus) grade (0-100): 79.2 (No. 4 in ACC)

37 tackles

7 sacks

14 TFLs

Myles Murphy led the Tigers in sacks and tackles for loss. PFF ranked him fourth among all ACC defensive ends. While his sack total of seven is well behind the career-highs of recent Clemson greats like Clelin Ferrell (11.5 as a senior), Vic Beasley (13 as a junior), and Shaq Lawson (12.5 as a junior), he was exceptional against the run and only in his sophomore season. Expect a big junior year from Murphy in 2022.

Xavier Thomas (Sr. 6-2 265)

Snaps: 478

2021 PFF grade: 73.8 (No. 8 in ACC)

27 tackles

3.5 sacks

5.5 TFLs

Xavier Thomas finished with just 3.5 sacks, but if you watched him play, you saw how disruptive he was. PFF saw it too and ranked him 8th among ACC defensive ends giving Clemson two of the top 10 in the conference. Despite that, he was generally projected to be selected toward the middle of the NFL draft and wisely chose to return to refine his craft and become a first rounder. It’s not a pie in the sky goal. A full healthy season from Clemson’s defensive line could result in several of them being selected very early in the subsequent NFL draft just like after the 2018 season.

KJ Henry (Rs. Jr 6-4 260)

Snaps: 341

2021 PFF grade: 66.8

22 tackles

4.5 sacks

6.5 TFLs

Four years ago, KJ Henry joined Clemson as a five-star recruit from the Winston-Salem suburbs. He was the No. 14 overall player in the 2018 recruiting class and listed as the 10th highest recruit in Clemson history (since 247 Sports has been rating recruits). To date, he has not lived up to those exceptionally lofty expectations, but in the latter half of 2021, he appeared to begin playing at a higher-level.

With Thomas using his COVID waiver to return for a fifth season, Henry likely won’t start, but he should play a major rotational role. If he continues playing like he did towards the end of last season, he will change his Clemson legacy and perhaps earn an opportunity to play in the NFL.

Justin Mascoll (Rs. Jr 6-4 260)

Snaps: 201

2021 PFF grade: 54.0

11 tackles

0 sacks

0 TFLs

Justin Mascoll received a relatively low PFF grade and collected no sacks or tackles for loss in his redshirt junior season. He returns for his fifth year at Clemson and hopefully breaks through. He was a four-star recruit who had offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, and Florida, so they all saw upside in him. If he takes a big step, Mascoll could use his COVID waiver to return for a sixth season in 2023 and become a starter. First, he’ll hope to make the progression and become a big contributor as a reserve next season.

Kevin Swint (So. 6-3 255)

Snaps: 110

2021 PFF grade: 48.3

8 tackles

0 sacks

3 TFLs

Swint moved from linebacker to defensive end in the spring and started getting acclimated to his new position in 2021. The Tigers won’t rely on him heavily in 2022, but a good season would position him for a step up in playing time in 2023 after several veterans depart.

TigerNet Take

Clemson defensive ends had a strong season despite not posting gaudy sack totals. Murphy was among the best in the ACC and is primed for a huge junior season. Thomas had an excellent bounce back year after an illness-plagued 2020. Both could be first-round NFL draft picks in 2023.

Henry was a solid reserve, particularly late in the season. His return gives Clemson quality depth and he will still have a COVID-waiver in his back pocket should he want to play for a sixth season. Mascoll hasn’t put it all together yet but will get his opportunities again in 2022, at least until some of the younger players start ascending.

Swint played his first full season at defensive end in 2021 and took his lumps. As he gets his feet under him at the position, we’ll see if he can position himself for a bigger role. Cade Denhoff and Zaire Patterson were freshmen. With no defensive end recruits in the 2022 class (as of January 24), they appear to be the future of the position at Clemson. We’ll likely see a little more of them next season.

The Tigers had yet another solid performance from their defensive ends and should be even better in 2022. Big question marks loom for 2023 because so many players will likely depart after this coming season, but next year should be special for the group.

TigerNet Grade: A


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Tight ends

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