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CLEMSON, S.C. — Being a senior means a lot more in today’s college football than it ever has.

Why?

Typically, the best players leave after their junior season for the NFL.

However, Clemson’s senior class this coming season is a little different. The Tigers return the majority of their seniors, including five players most of us figured would be playing on Sunday in 2022.

Here is a look at five seniors who might end up making a significant impact for Clemson this season:

Xavier Thomas

After he de-cleated former Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey during his freshman season in 2018, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Thomas was going to be playing in the NFL after his junior season.

However, complications from COVID-19 caused Thomas to miss most of the 2020 season. An injury plagued 2021 also kept the 6-foot-2, 265-pound defensive end from reaching his full potential, which led to his return to Clemson as a graduate student this year.

Thomas, who has 12.5 career sacks and 27.5 tackles for loss, is primed to have a breakout season. He is in the best shape of his career, as he has dropped the fat and gained muscle while trimming down. He is as fast or faster when he earned Freshman All-American honors as a true freshman.

Nothing is guaranteed in this world, but this is a money year for the Florence, South Carolina native and the chances are better than average he is going to produce.

KJ Henry

Like Thomas, Henry was a top 10 defensive end when he came into school as a freshman in 2018. After redshirting his freshman year, Henry has slowly worked his way into the lineup. He developed into a nice player by the end of last year, but it was obvious he still had not reached his peak.

That’s why Henry decided to return to Clemson for another season. The 6-foot-4, 260-pound redshirt senior said in the spring he still has work to do before he tries his hand in the NFL.

Henry showed flashes of what he is capable of at the end of last season, as he had a career year. The Winston-Salem, North Carolina native finished the year with 28 tackles, including 6.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.

With Thomas back, along with Myles Murphy and Justin Mascoll, the question is how much of a real impact can Henry make in 2022? His position coach, Lemanski Hall, feels that he can.

Tyler Davis

Davis has been a starter since the very first game of his Clemson career in 2019. He was voted as a second-team All-ACC selection that season after he recorded 51 tackles, including nine tackles for loss. His 13 starts were the most by a Clemson true freshman in school history.

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After earning first-team All-ACC honors in 2021, many figured Davis would skip his senior season at Clemson and jump to the NFL. But that did not happen. The 6-foot-2, 300-pound defensive tackle surprised everyone when he announced he was returning to Clemson for his senior season.

Obviously, it is of no surprise that a two-time All-ACC performer can have a big impact this season. But keep in mind, Davis came back to school for a reason and one of those reasons was to help improve his draft stock, which means he is going to be even hungrier than before.

The biggest bugaboo is Davis’ inability to stay healthy. He has had some kind of injury in each of the last two seasons that has either caused him to miss significant time or has limited his ability. He wants to show the pro scouts in 2022 that he can stay healthy.

Joseph Ngata

The Tigers could definitely use an impact season from the senior wide receiver. After being so highly touted in high school, Ngata has not lived up to expectations. Of course, injuries have played a big role.

Ngata’s career started off nicely. As a true freshman in 2019, he played in all 15 games for the Tigers, while catching 17 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns.

He started off the 2020 season with three catches for 48 yards in a start at Wake Forest but suffered an abdominal injury that haunted him all season and eventually forced him to miss the second half of the year.

Ngata played in the first nine games of the 2021 season, including eight starts. He was having a solid campaign, as he led the Tigers with 438 yards on 23 catches, before suffering a foot injury that caused him to miss the last four games of the season.

In the spring, Ngata returned to the practice fields with a different mindset and determination. He had the best spring of any wide receiver, according to his coaches.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior has the potential to be a No. 1 receiver at Clemson. He is tall. He is physical. He can out jump most defensive backs for the football, and he is fast.

If he stays off the injured reserve list, Ngata will have an opportunity to make a big impact in Clemson’s offense in 2022.

Davis Allen

When you see Davis Allen’s speed, his physicality, and his athleticism, you wonder why he is not considered one of the best tight ends in the country.

The reason he is not has nothing to due with Allen. The fact is nobody knowns anything about him. Due to Clemson’s lack of production on the offensive line the last two seasons, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound senior has been unable to be used properly.

Because of his innate blocking ability and technique, Clemson has not been able to afford the luxury of having him run pass routes. That has limited what the Tigers can do offensively with a tight end of Allen’s stature.

If Clemson can sure things up on the offensive line, then it will release Allen into the passing scheme a little more, which will in turn open up the Clemson offense. Think Dwayne Allen and Jordan Leggett.

That is what the Tigers have been missing in recent years and that gives Davis Allen the opportunity to make a very big impact on the 2022 season.