Summer breakdown: Juniors lead the way in receiving corps without last year’s stars

by - Correspondent -
Deon Cain is just one of Clemson's returning playmakers
Deon Cain is just one of Clemson's returning playmakers

Clemson loses valuable starters in Mike Williams, Artavis Scott, and Jordan Leggett from last year's national championship squad, but plenty of talent returns for head coach Dabo Swinney. All they need is a chance. Daniel Shirley takes a look at the wide receiver and tight end groups heading into fall practice.

Wide receiver starters on summer depth chart: Deon Cain (Jr.); Hunter Renfrow (Jr.); Ray-Ray McCloud (Jr.).

Other key returners-wide receiver: Trevion Thompson (Jr.); Diondre Overton (Soph.); Cornell Powell (Soph.).

New faces-wide receiver: T.J. Chase (R-Fr.); Carter Groomes (R-Fr.); Jayson Hopper (R-Fr.); Amari Rodgers (Fr.); Tee Higgins (Fr.); Will Swinney (Fr.), Will Brown (Fr.).

Tight end starter on summer depth chart: Milan Richard (Jr.).

Other key returners-tight end: DJ Greenlee (Gr.); Cannon Smith (Jr.); Shadell Bell (Soph).

New faces-tight end: JC Chalk (R-Fr.).

The breakdown: It’s hard to look at a receiving corps that lost wide receivers Mike Williams and Artavis Scott and tight end Jordan Leggett and say it should be fine. But that’s the feeling you get with this year’s group.

Yes, Williams, Scott and Leggett were all program-changing players and were hugely important to last year’s national championship run, and they all are in the NFL and could have terrific professional careers. But there is still plenty of talent at wide receiver and tight end heading into this season on the Clemson roster.

Cain, Renfrow and McCloud make up for one of the best starting receiving trios in the country, and all three should have big seasons as they take on larger roles in the offense. Cain had 36 catches, including nine for touchdowns, last year while averaging 19.1 yards per catch. Renfrow had 44 catches, including six for touchdowns, despite missing time with an injury, and we all know what he did to Alabama in the national title game. McCloud had 49 catches for 472 yards, and he could be the breakout performer on this year’s offense.

Thompson is a big-time talent who just needs more chances, while Overton and Powell were solid as freshmen and should grow as sophomores.

And that freshman group, my goodness. We’ll start Chase since he was with the team as a redshirt last year and had a really good spring. Rodgers and Higgins are right in line with the wide receiver greats Clemson has seen come through the program in Dabo Swinney’s time as the head coach. Look for them to have an immediate impact and live up to their billing as top national recruits.

The tight end group is a little more limited because of Garrett Williams’ ACL injury, but Richard takes over as the starter after Leggett’s tremendous career. Bell has grown into a good tight end body, and Greenlee and Smith are solid. And Chalk will need to help that group moving forward, for sure, with depth.

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Midday Sports Zone on Middle Georgia’s ESPN, 93.1 FM and 99.5 FM. Follow him on Twitter at @DM_Shirley and read his blog at

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