From Tajh Boyd to Deshaun Watson, Shaq Lawson to Clelin Ferrell, Mike Williams to Tee Higgins, Clemson has had a propensity of replacing it's brightest stars with more bright stars.
It's almost like a right of passage. Super-talented Tigers wait their turn until the NFL draft pick in front of them leaves for the pros, then the next great talent steps in and performs.
This year, Clemson is replacing some of the best players it's ever had. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne will likely have their names inside Death Valley someday. Those are huge shoes to fill, but Dabo Swinney, as good as his teams have been for the last decade, has recruited at the highest level ever in the last couple of classes.
So it's time to take a look at who will be taking over the stars of 2021 and what their impact will be. These aren't just names of really good football players. This group will be talked about in all circles of college football this year:
D.J. Uiagalelei: Let's get the no-brainer out of the way. While the California quarterback won't be a newcomer to most folks this year after his rousing performances against Boston College and Notre Dame in 2020, now is his time to enter the same level of notoriety as Lawrence and Watson. He has the pedigree, arm and athleticism to be among the best QBs in the country, and Uiagalelei will start the year among the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy. Big things are coming for "Big Cinco" in 2021.
Myles Murphy: The rising sophomore defensive end is another name folks around Clemson are very familiar with after he put together a freshman season in which he had four sacks and looked like a player with extreme potential. However, he wasn't recognized much nationally. With a year in the weight room and under the tutelage of this coaching staff, Murphy is about to become Clemson's next great edge rusher, following a legacy in recent years of Ferrell, Vic Beasley and Shaq Lawson. Could he become the first Clemson player since 2018 and seventh of the Swinney era to reach double-digit sacks? It's not a bad idea to bet on it.
E.J. Williams: Rightfully so, but Justyn Ross, Frank Ladson Jr. and Joseph Ngata are going to receive a ton of preseason hype, but the receiver to keep an eye on is Williams. He's from the same high school and mold as Ross, and he became a bigger part of the game plan as 2020 went on. Expect a breakout season, and it wouldn't be a huge shocker if this rising sophomore becomes the pass-catcher everyone is talking about by the season's end. He has great hands and excellent route-running ability. A little more seasoning and building some trust with Uiagalelei, watch out.
Andrew Booth Jr.: The highly-recruited cornerback showed signs of that big-play potential in 2020. He also had some growing pains against receivers who were simply better than him. That's life as a DB in college football's pass-happy games, but Booth is tough as nails. Another year of understanding his position while getting bigger and stronger and he might be the cornerback NFL scouts are salivating over, not just Derion Kendrick. If Booth puts it all together in 2021, he could have a third season similar to A.J. Terrell in 2019, and Booth will get plenty of opportunities to showcase his skills in this veteran defense.
Barrett Carter: What's a Clemson list of emerging starts without freshmen? Sure, you could go with receiver Beaux Collins or running back Will Shipley, but maybe the most exciting young player coming to Clemson this fall is Carter. The linebacker/safety hybrid has the versatility that makes this defense dangerous. With all defensive starters returning, he might get lost in the shuffle, but his Isaiah Simmons-like ability could also have him becoming a known commodity in his first season. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables loves players like this, and there's a history of multi-positioned players excelling early.