Alright folks, I’m writing this as the Tigers begin training for the 2022 season, so the time to make those final two positions has arrived. Today I take wide receivers, which has become such a deep position over the past decade+ that the program has taken on the moniker #WRU. Like DE, the WR position became much more prolific with the modernization of the offensive offense after 1998. Now I take on the daunting task of picking the four best guys to play the position in Tiger’s history. Honorable mentions at the end will include several guys who would be on the mountain for many other schools.
- Jerry Butler (1976-1978). Some guys from older eras just wouldn’t translate today’s game very well. Butler is an exception and probably would have put up insane numbers had he played in the type of offenses Clemson has been doing since 1999. The Ring of Honor guys sort of claim their claim to a Mount Rushmore (apologies to Banks McFadden who just played so many places, it was hard to pin him to one). Butler still posted impressive numbers despite the much more limited opportunities presented to him. Steve Fuller threw for 3,170 yards and 15 touchdowns in his final two seasons. Butler has accumulated 1732 yards and 7 TDs during these same two seasons! It’s hard to find a guy who commanded such a high percentage of the production. Oh, and Butler also produced “The Catch 1”!
- Samy Watkins (2011-2013). Anthony Simmons and Justin Miller had the two most dominant defensive player true freshman seasons in my memory, and the offensive award goes to Sammy Watkins. Watkins took his first steps in the house and then was the catalyst for the offensive renaissance of 2011. I will never forget watching that Auburn game and being in awe of Watkins’ dominance at such a young age. His “rough sophomore” season still would have easily led last year’s team in catches and yards. Watkins rebounded in his final season to post even bigger numbers than his epic first season. His last performance against Ohio State in the Orange Bowl was, in my mind, tied with Deshaun Watson for the greatest final performance of any Clemson Tiger. He simply dominated this game from start to finish. Watkins was also the last Tiger to return a kickoff for a TD.
- Deandre Hopkins (2010-2012). It’s still amazing to believe that Clemson’s 2011-12 teams featured two guys that I would put on the mountain. Hopkins was one of the few offensive bright spots during the frustrating 2010 season. In 2011, he was a major factor in Chad Morris’ HUNH offense that took the league by storm. Even with Watkins rushing for over 1,200 yards in 2011, Hopkins came close to passing 1,000 himself. I’ve heard stories that Hopkins thought the staff thought Martavis Bryant could overtake him. Whether it’s true or not, Hopkins became a man possessed at the start of his senior year in 2012. Sammy Watkins started that year suspended and “Nuk” sent a message upfront against Auburn in Atlanta that he was the alpha of this team. . I was lucky enough to be in the Georgia Dome for that game AND the legendary Peach Bowl against LSU when Hopkins still didn’t let Watkins’ absence doom the team. This performance was arguably as good as Watkins against Ohio State, especially considering the level of NFL talent LSU possessed on defense. The hold he made in games 4 and 16 is quite on par with the most iconic play in program history.
- Mike Williams (2013-2016). I couldn’t let that guy off the mountain! Williams stepped into the void left by Watkins in 2014 to put together a 1,000-yard season, then would literally recover from breaking his neck in Game 1 of 2015 (on a TD catch no less) to set up a dominant 2016 as Watson’s #1. dude. Williams was right up there with Hopkins for his ridiculous ball skills and dominant 50-50 situations. His ability to beat tight media coverage was a major component of Clemson’s offensive ability that Alabama’s defense touted in 2016. It’s hard to pick a better play from that legendary last record in Tampa, but Williams did. a huge hold and also drew a PI into the end zone to set up the eventual game winner. His utterly disrespectful treatment of the U of SC in that 56-7 beating could probably warrant an article on its own.
So those are four ridiculously good players that I just couldn’t deny a spot on the mountain to. That said, the list of guys I had to leave out pains me to even mention. Guys like Perry Tuttle, who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated (and the only Tiger to do so until the Swinney era); Gary Cooper, who was THE big player on those heavy Ford teams he was on; Terry Smith (who knows what he or Cooper might have done in more modern offenses); Tony Horne (small package, big games); Rod Gardner (two-season All-American, “The Catch II,” the guy who ushered in a new era of Clemson WR!); Derrick Hamilton (incredible playmaker!); Airese Currie (great underrated season in 2004); Aaron Kelly (quiet but extremely productive career); Jacoby Ford (probably the fastest Tiger ever!); Mad Hunter of Renfrow! Higgins t-shirt!!! Justyn Ross (this freshman year alone was worth the HM). Heck, guys like Chansi Stuckey, Tyler Grisham, Adam Humphries, Jaron Brown, Charone Peake and Martavis Bryant all made it to the NFL (and Humphries is still around!) but I couldn’t even rank them on the HM list.
Yes it has been a great run as WR and hopefully 2022 will reveal another name for future review.