Clemson’s offense may be even more dominant in 2016
The Clemson Tigers offense was among most productive in the nation in 2015. Led by star quarterback Deshaun Watson, Clemson averaged 515 yards and 38.5 points per game — the 11th- and 16th-best marks in the nation, respectively. That helped them get to the national title game, where they scored 40 points against an excellent Alabama defense — thanks largely to a stellar performance from Watson. That was as many points as Alabama had conceded in their previous five games combined. Clemson return eight starters and a host of backups from that offense, and as good as it was in 2015, it should be even better this season.
Watson is the true definition of a dual-threat QB, a passer who is as dangerous with his feet as he is with his arm. Watson averaged an impressive 6.1 yards per carry on designed runs, but it’s his ability to throw with touch that sets him apart from most QBs given the dual-threat moniker. Watson’s 77.1 adjusted accuracy percentage ranked eighth in the nation, and he threw 18 touchdowns on deep pass attempts (20+ yards in the air) — second-most in the nation. He still has room to grow as a passer, and the possibility of facing an improved Watson in 2016 must be a terrifying prospect for ACC defenses.
The offensive line wasn’t a strength in 2015, with the starters posting below average grades, but three of those starters return, along with five backups who saw significant playing time in 2015. Whoever starts, the Tigers should have a relatively experienced unit, and one with the potential to improve. Starting left tackle Mitch Hyatt epitomizes that potential. A highly touted recruit, Hyatt was ranked as the 22nd-best overall player in the nation in 2015 by the 247sports composite. He was thrown straight into the starting line-up as a true freshman and experienced some growing pains, finishing the regular season with an -6.6 overall grade, a solid performance for a true freshman. But he found life uncomfortable in the playoffs, earning a matching -6.6 overall grade and conceding 10 total pressures across the two games. Now that Hyatt has 1,067 snaps and another offseason under his belt, he should be ready to take a step forward.
However, while there may still be questions about the offensive line, there are few elsewhere. Running back Wayne Gallman returns after a breakout season in which he racked up 1,740 yards of offense and scored 14 touchdowns. Gallman’s +22.2 overall grade was the eighth-highest among an impressive group of backs returning to college for the 2016 season.
Including Gallman, eight of Clemson’s top nine receivers from 2015 return, with New York Jets rookie WR Charone Peake the only departure. Wide receiver Artavis Scott led the team with 93 receptions for 901 yards, helping him to a +10.7 overall grade. Scott does his best work after the catch, where he has the speed and elusiveness to turn short passes into significant gains. He forced 25 missed tackles as a receiver in 2015, the second-highest mark among returning receivers, and tied for third-highest in the nation. Returning alongside Scott will be tight end Jordan Leggett (+6.4 receiving grade), WR Germone Hopper (+1.6 receiving grade), and WR Hunter Renfrow who posted a +3.9 overall grade in the playoffs; while Deon Cain returns from suspension. Cain posted a team-high +7.5 receiving grade, despite seeing less playing time than the others mentioned, his average of 3.44 yards per route run was the best mark on the team.
Perhaps most important of all is the return of WR Mike Williams. A season-ending neck injury in the opening game robbed Watson of his top target. Whereas Scott is shifty and undersized, Williams is tall, fast and strong – the prototypical wide out, he will immediately become Clemson’s most dangerous deep-threat. Williams earned a +19.3 overall grade in 2014, 12th-best in the nation, and only one WR who returns for the 2016 season managed better (Corey Davis of Western Michigan).
Even after a productive 2015 season, the arrow is still pointing upwards for Watson and the rest of this offense.