When the NCAA announced it was giving a year of eligibility back to every student-athlete from all fall sports, whether they compete this season or not, hope began to spring that maybe Clemson fans will get to see Trevor Lawrence attempt to make five consecutive College Football Playoff appearances.
Not to burst any bubbles, but that's probably not happening. The Clemson quarterback is going to be the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. As much as Lawrence enjoys college football and has embraced being the face of the sport, a pro career and the millions of dollars that follow are more attractive than a second junior season filled with classes and exams.
Also, don't expect all-time leading rusher Travis Etienne to stick around and push his records to out-of-reach heights after his senior season.
However, there are other Tigers who will benefit from an extra season of eligibility. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney says it alters the redshirt plan for pass rusher Xavier Thomas, who dealt with a host of health issues during the offseason.
In a program that excels at developing the less-heralded prospects and gets the most out of its roster on an annual basis, this extra year will be greatly needed. Here are five players potentially affected in a positive way by an additional season at Clemson:
Defenisve end K.J. Henry
It remains to be seen what Henry's ceiling will be. The redshirt sophomore, who's listed as a co-starter on the summer depth chart, will get more opportunities in 2020 to live up to his recruiting hype, but there will still be a rotation at pass rusher, and with Thomas' situation improving and star freshmen Myles Murphy and Bryan Bresee on campus, there's a chance Henry gets lost in the shuffle. Having three more years isn't a bad thing for a player with a high pedigree, and his time will eventually come.
Defensive end Greg Williams
While we're on defensive ends, Williams is the ultimate developmental player. Dabo Swinney discovered the undersized pass rusher in summer camp and believes Williams will fill an important role at some point in his career. Swinney admits it might not be this season, so this would represent a second redshirt-type season for Williams, who can continue to get bigger, hone his raw skills and see reps in more than four games. It's a win-win proposition for a potential standout who could be needed a couple of seasons down the road.
Running back Kobe Pace
Pretty much any running back not named Travis Etienne will benefit from an extra season of eligibility. Lyn-J Dixon will get two seasons, if he wants, to prove himself as "the guy" once Etienne is gone. Chez Mellusi and Mikey Dukes weren't redshirted last season, so this year takes the place of that, and freshman Demarkcus Bowman is a future star, so he probably won't be around for five years. Pace, the other freshman rusher in this 2020 class and the heaviest back in the room, can be brought along at whatever speed the coaching staff wants for a couple of seasons now.
Offensive lineman Blake Vinson
Three years in the program, the Ocala, Fla., native has played just 111 snaps. Vinson redshirted in 2017, played a reserve role in 11 games in 2018 and suffered a knee injury two games into his 2019 season that's still limiting his availability in practice. It's likely Clemson would've applied for a medical redshirt to get last year back for him, and while they still could, Vinson gets that year back regardless. The Tigers need him on the second team right now because of a lack of experience at the reserve positions, but a player who can fill multiple spots up front probably has a greater impact a year or two down the road as a potential starter.
Quarterback Taisun Phommachanh
The dual-threat talent is currently locked into a battle with D.J. Uiagalelei to backup Lawrence this fall, and with Uiagalelei the heir apparent at the position, keeping an extra year of eligibility for Phommachanh, who redshirted last season, will pay off down the road. The thing is, that might not be at Clemson. Chase Brice took advantage of great coaching, numerous resources and learning behind Lawrence and Kelly Bryant for a few seasons and parlayed that into a grad transfer opportunity at Duke, where he's the likely starter in 2020. Phommachanh could follow a similar path and play somewhere else while having multiple seasons as a starter, like Brice.