There isn't one, simple reason why Clemson struggled offensively, lost three games and didn't win the ACC or make the College Football Playoff in 2021.
It was a combination of injuries, offensive line issues, poor quarterback play, lack of identity in the first half of the year, NC State and Pittsburgh being pretty good and other various personnel and coaching issues that ended a streak of six consecutive years in the CFP.
The 2019 recruiting class sums up much of last season, why things weren't perfect and why the Tigers had problems with depth.
So what exactly went wrong with that 2019 class? From transfers to injuries, players not panning out or simply underperforming when opportunities arose, it was a tough year for this group.
It happens. Not all recruiting classes turn out to be the best in school history or go on to produce tons of NFL talent. But here's a deeper look at the issues from the 2019 class:
- Eleven of the 29 signees are no longer on Clemson's roster: Frank Ladson, Joseph Charleston, Bryan Constantin, Taisun Phommachanh, Chez Mellusi, Jaelyn Lay, Kane Patterson, Logan Cash, Michel Dukes, Kaleb Boateng, Ray Thornton.
- Four players from the class didn't play at all in 2021: WR Brannon Spector and OL Tayquon Johnson were out with illness/injury. Constantin and Cash had injuries that forced an early retirement from football before their careers ever began.
- Safety Lannden Zanders suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1 against Georgia.
- Ladson saw action in just four games because of injuries for a depleted receiving corps. After an underperforming career, the second-highest-rated player in the class transferred to Miami.
- Joseph Ngata missed five games with a leg injury, and despite also struggling to live up to the hype, he's returning for a fourth season with the Tigers. He was rated third in the Clemson class.
- Phommachanh was unable to beat out DJ Uiagalelei at quarterback and never seemed like a real option, despite the starter's struggles. Phommachanh eventually got hurt late in the season and transferred.
- Mellusi would've provided great depth at running back when Will Shipley and Kobe Pace were banged up, but Mellusi left the year before to play at Wisconsin.
- Dukes couldn't find a path on the field after three seasons and transferred.
- Lay got passed over at tight end by Davis Allen, from the same class, and two younger players (Sage Ennis and Jake Briningstool).
- CB Andrew Booth Jr., the highest-rated player from that class, is the only Tiger after three seasons to declare for the NFL draft.
- DT Tyler Davis could've been an early-round pick but his stock fell after he missed five games with an arm injury. He's back in 2022.
- Not a single offensive player from the 2019 class made one of the three All-ACC teams in 2021.
That's a lot of issues for one group, especially when you consider that this was the largest class in terms of volume that Dabo Swinney's signed since 2011. The Tigers brought in 23 players in 2020 and 18 in 2021. The 2022 class had 12 players sign during the December period, and potentially five more will be added next month.
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Still, Clemson will head into the 2022 season falling several spots short of the 85-scholarship limit, mainly because of how the 2019 class hasn't worked out.
But it's not like this was an average class that had the potential to underdevelop. The Tigers ranked 10th nationally and first in the ACC in 247 Sports' composite rankings of 2019.
"This is one of these days that each and every year the program is measured by,” Swinney said after signing this class in 2019 “We definitely feel like we got better, for sure.
“Time tells, ultimately, how you did, but we’re really excited and thankful.”
Losses to injuries and the transfer portal could catch up even more to Clemson in 2022. The offense took a big step back in 2021 in part because of an injury-ravaged offensive line. Some of the 2019 class members didn't play particularly well at times.
The Clemson defense was still stellar, despite injuries as well, thanks to a really solid core of 2020 recruits who were ready to play in their second seasons and a group of super seniors who stuck around because of an extra year of eligibility given to players for COVID-19 in 2020.
There are certainly holes in every recruiting class, but the ones in the 2019 class continue to be of the glaring variety.
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