Stars such as Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins have departed, but here are five players who could be stars for Clemson this season:
COLE STOUDT, QB
Even when football was driven by dominant run games, the best teams frequently had the best quarterbacks. With the game’s evolution, every team needs a potential MVP at QB and Clemson might have two in Stoudt and Deshaun Watson. After three years as Tajh Boyd’s backup, this is Stoudt’s shot. His father, a backup to Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw, taught Cole patience and helped him develop an artist’s touch with the ball. His footwork and vision are assets, and his cool under fire should be tested quickly at Georgia.
VIC BEASLEY, DE
On his journey from running back to tight end to linebacker, Beasley found a home as a college defensive end. While it might not be his last stop as he prepares for the NFL, Beasley chose to return for his senior season as, arguably, the most devastating defensive weapon in the game. While he might not be the ideal size for an every-down DE at 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, pound for pound he’s the strongest player on the team, and Beasley learned it hasn’t detracted from his lightning quickness.
STEPHONE ANTHONY, LB
The pretty face and soft voice might be misleading. Anthony is cut from the mold of traditional throwback middle linebackers such as Ray Nitschke and Dick Butkus – tough, nasty, smart and willing to make a tackle that would split a back in two. Anthony considered – and quickly discarded – thoughts of entering the NFL early. If his numbers climb from a team-high 131 tackles with four sacks among 13.5 tackles for loss, next spring he could find himself in the first-day mix.
JORDAN LEGGETT, TE
Clemson’s past three tight ends are in the NFL, and Leggett has the skill to be as productive as any of them. As the offense identifies impact players from a deep, talented group of youngsters, don’t be surprised if Leggett rises above them as Stoudt’s most dependable receiver. In and out of the doghouse as a freshman, he averaged 14.7 yards per catch.
GRADY JARRETT, DT
Dabo Swinney says that if he could pick one player to build a team around, it would be his senior nose tackle, the heart of Clemson’s richly talented defense. Listed generously at 6-feet and 295 pounds, Jarrett looks the part of a prototypical nose tackle, yet his abundant skill makes him much more. Despite his size, one-on-one he’s a handful because of his quickness and intelligence. A former wrestler, Jarrett understands leverage and how to use his hands, attributes that led to 14 quarterback pressures as a junior. Jarrett was third in total team tackles with 83, including 11 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.