Clemson Still In Search Of Next Great Tight End
Throughout Dabo Swinney's tenure as head football coach at Clemson, there have been a number of talented tight ends come through the program. Guys like Michael Palmer, Dwayne Allen, Brandon Ford in the earlier years, and more recently Jordan Leggett in the College Football Playoff era.
Since the departure of Leggett after the 2016 season however, the team has struggled to find that next breakout player at the position.
That isn't to downplay the roles of guys like Garrett Williams or Milan Richard, but they weren't the dynamic athletes that could make an impact in the passing game.
In 2016, Leggett caught 46 passes, with seven of those being touchdowns. In the three seasons since he's exited the program, the team has gotten 58 catches total and just four touchdowns from the position.
It is an aspect of the passing game that has been sorely missed. The tight end can provide that safety valve for a quarterback, something Clemson fans might recall from the 2016 national title season when Leggett played that role so well for then quarterback Deshaun Watson.
A dynamic, pass catching tight end can create mismatches, particularly across the middle of the field. Coincidentally, the middle of the field is an area the Tigers failed to attack with any consistency in 2019.
As Clemson opens the spring, the tight end position will be one of the more intriguing storylines to watch.
With Braden Galloway back and Jaelyn Lay now having been in the system a year, the offense should have that pass catching threat that it has missed in recent seasons.
Galloway showed glimpses of his potential in the College Football Playoff after his return from a year long suspension. Against Ohio State, he had a couple of key blocks in the running game, and then against LSU had two catches for sixty yards, showing off his playmaking ability.
Lay, who was a top five tight end in the 2019 class, redshirted last season, catching just one ball for twenty yards in the season opener against Georgia Tech. At 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, Lay is the kind of dynamic athlete who could potentially be a matchup nightmare for opposing coaches.
The Tigers also have JC Chalk returning, who led all tight ends with 13 catches last season, but for just 60 yards. Davis Allen also returns after appearing in 15 games as a freshman, but caught only five balls for 53 yards. They are more inclined to make an impact in the running game as blockers, than they are as downfield threats in the passing game.
If the offense is going to see the tight ends have more of a presence in the passing game in 2020, it's likely going to be up to Galloway and Lay to make it happen. Sage Ennis, a member of the 2020 recruiting class is now a part of this group, but it's a big ask of a freshman tight end to come in and make an immediate impact in this offense.
The Tigers finished the season ranked fifth nationally in total offense, but just 23rd in passing offense. With Tee Higgins now off to the NFL, and no apparent, instant impact freshman at receiver, the team needs one of the tight ends to step up and become an integral part of the passing attack next season.
As good as this offense has been with Trevor Lawrence serving as its triggerman, it could be even more dynamic with a formidable receiving threat at tight end. The Tigers have national championship aspirations, and having a guy like Galloway or Lay step up and help in the passing game would give them a more well rounded offense in helping reach that goal.