But the former Dorman standout now appears poised to live up to his blue-chip billing, and thanks in part to Watkins' two-game absence to begin the season Peake could be receiving the added opportunity he needs.
The 19-year-old will make his first collegiate start Saturday against Auburn in the Georgia Dome in place of Watkins, the ACC Preseason Player of the Year who is serving a two-game suspension after an arrest for drug possession.
“There's no more pressure on me because I'm filling in for Sammy,” Peake said. “Sammy does what he does and I do what I do. We're two different people. I just have to go out and play ball and do what I was born to do.”
There's no doubt Peake was born with abundant natural ability with a long-armed and agile 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame. He also has speed to burn, and was clocked running a 4.24 40-yard dash this summer — which ranked tops on the team.
But despite that wealth of athletic talent, he wasn't able to translate it onto the field during game days.
After arriving at Clemson with recruiting accolades nearly on par with Watkins, Peake was practically invisible. He had only four catches for 71 yards, with his best outing two receptions for 41 yards in an early win against Auburn. Meanwhile, former Dorman teammate Adam Humphries caught 15 balls for 130 yards and made a solid impact on special teams despite being not nearly as highly regarded.
It came down to the two high school teammates battling to get the start in place of Watkins, and Peake showcased his immense ability with one of the best preseason showings of any Tiger. Humphries had been Watkins' primary backup while Peake was switched over to that spot earlier this month after backing up DeAndre Hopkins.
“With the situation with Sammy, we needed another guy over there and we thought Charone was the best one to move over and let him compete,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “He was just the more consistent and productive guy in camp, it's really that simple. Adam was very, very good, but based on what we see every day, Charone was just a little bit better through fall camp and hopefully he'll go do that on game day.”
And if Peake is able to take his practice performance into prime time, Swinney is confident he can establish himself as another potent playmaker in Clemson's high-flying offense.
“Charone didn't make the adjustment quite as quickly as Sammy and Adam did last year,” Swinney said. “He was just kind of your normal freshman and it didn't come as easy adjusting to the speed of the game and the mental and physical aspects of it.
“But since January and since spring ball, man, Charone Peake has been awesome. He has just become the player we thought he could be and we're seeing that every single day. He's been very consistent. He was outstanding in the spring and just picked it right back up in fall camp.”
Peake equally impressed the star he's filling in for.
“Charone's a great athlete. He's just like me, just as fast as me,” Watkins said. “Adam is a great athlete also. They've both been working hard and it seems like every time they get the ball, they are scoring or getting up field. I've got confidence in both those boys.”
Peake acknowledged last season was a personal letdown. He said he under-performed in the preseason and that seemed to carry over when the games started.
Now with the confidence the coaches have displayed in him, Peake has risen to the occasion and has little doubt that he will continue to impress come the regular season.
“Unlike last year, I feel like I've had a good camp and hopefully that will lead to a good season,” Peake said. “I've put a lot of work in on my blocking and catching and am motivated to have a good season. I know what I'm capable of and have to keep working hard every day to get better.”