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Breakout candidates come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, forms and positions. 

This year's group of Tigers who have made three or fewer starts could have several players take their games to the next level. Maybe they missed most of last season due to injury or not being ready and needing a redshirt. In some cases, the opportunity just hasn't been there or they've been blocked on the depth chart.

Regardless, here are the top breakout defensive candidates by position for the 2022 season:

Defensive end: Kevin Swint

There's not a tougher position on the field to find a potential breakout player than this one. That's because the Tigers are loaded with experienced edge rushers Xavier Thomas, Myles Murphy and K.J. Henry. But if something were to happen to any of those Big 3, Swint is awaiting an opportunity to show he's next in line to become a decorated Clemson pass-rusher. 

Swint transitioned from linebacker to defensive end in 2021, and now that he's had a season to bulk up (239 pounds) and learn the position, a four-star prospect from the 2019 class is entering his third year with the program. That's typically when the light comes on and production goes up. Swint will get limited chances to do that, but he's a great depth piece and could be a package specialist in 2022. 

Defensive tackle: Tré Williams

Another position where talented players are blocked by other talented, more proven players, but Williams' time is coming. He filled a huge void last year when Tyler Davis and Bryan Bresee were out with injuries, starting one game and playing through several health issues himself to provide depth up front. His valiant effort came to a close late in the season when he finally had surgery.

The two defensive tackles mentioned above, along with Ruke Orhorhoro and Etinosa Reuben, have carved more meaningful roles, but don't sleep on Williams, a 302-pound sophomore who possesses great strength for his age. Another year of learning, getting reps and being in better shape is great for his future, but if he can get on the field enough and stay healthy in 2022, you'll notice his presence. 

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Inside linebacker: Jeremiah Trotter Jr.

Clemson's plan at middle linebacker is to rotate three key players at the position. And while LaVonta Bentley and Keith Maguire have the upper hand over Trotter in terms of knowledge of the system and playing experience, there aren't too many other Tigers on this roster with higher upside than this sophomore. He had 22 tackles and a sack in just 59 snaps last season, spending much of the year contributing on special teams. 

Trotter comes from an NFL pedigree, and his speed is going to impress anybody watching him. The plan is to fit him into this rotation, but nobody who knows anything about this guy would not be shocked if he were too good to take off the field. He might not run away with the position until 2023, but Trotter will be a household name, maybe sooner than later. 

Outside linebacker: Barrett Carter

Much like Trotter, who came in that same 2021 class, Carter is the next big thing at Clemson. He's a great blend of linebacker and safety and was working out with both positions at the start of fall camp. That's because he's one of the fastest, most versatile players on the defense, and Clemson is going to find any and every way possible to use him in 2022. 

Carter scored a defensive touchdown and recorded 26 tackles as a freshman last year when he was coming off the bench. This year, he'll be a starter in that hybrid role, which has helped produce NFL products Dorian O'Daniel and Isaiah Simmons. Carter is built differently than those guys, but his speed is going to make him a player people around college football notice more and more as the season goes on. 

Cornerback: Nate Wiggins

When you've only played 130 career snaps but the quarterback you face every day in practice calls you the best cornerback in the country, you're basically the definition of a breakout candidate. Dabo Swinney and Mike Reed also speak highly of Wiggins, making him one of the defenders on a loaded unit to watch this season. Reed has coached some really impressive cornerbacks in recent years, including A.J. Terrell and Andrew Booth Jr. 

At 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, Wiggins looks to be in the same mold, Coaches rave about his ability to change direction and defend one-on-one. Opportunity is there as well as he'll likely start Week 1. It's going to be a big year for Wiggins, who Dabo Swinney believes can be a great, not just good, player.

Safety: R.J. Mickens

Here's a name that gets lost in the shuffle at times as he's made just two career starts. But Mickens has already flashed big-play potential at Clemson, intercepting two passes in 2021, and his dad played in the NFL, so he knows what it takes to play at a high level. Entering his third collegiate season, expect to see a big uptick in his usage considering his size (212 pounds) and ball-hawking ability. 

Andrew Mukuba gets all the hype, and deservedly so. Jalyn Phillips is a veteran who's waited his turn and is taking a big step in terms of leadership and production. Those two will start the season with more buzz, but by the end of the year, Mickens could very well receive attention from the next level. The skill set is there. He just needs more chances to show it. 

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