Inside Clemson football: Tigers' go-to receiver up in the air from here

Football - Martavis Bryant, Tajh Boyd & Sammy Watkins

Photo by Mark Crammer

Football - Martavis Bryant, Tajh Boyd & Sammy Watkins

When the final play of the Orange Bowl is complete Clemson faces many unknowns in personnel as the Tigers and their fans look ahead to 2014. The few seniors are done and several juniors have or will submit paperwork to the NFL to gauge their prospects on the next level.

One junior whose future is not in doubt is Sammy Watkins. It’s a forgone conclusion that Watkins will be wearing the Tiger uniform for the final time against Ohio State on January 3. Watkins is a consensus first round draft choice and even Dabo Swinney has chimed in with the belief that Watkins is ready for the NFL. This, along with the graduation of Tajh Boyd, leaves a major hole in the Clemson passing game as Watkins’ takes his 224 receptions and 3,164 receiving yards to the NFL.

Not only will Clemson have a different quarterback, but for the first time in 4 seasons there will be no Nuk Hopkins or Sammy Watkins on the field when a big catch is needed. No obvious “go to” receiver.

One of those juniors that may have a decision to make is Martavis Bryant, the enigma that seems to taunt the Tiger faithful with a rare combination of size and speed mixed with inconsistency and, at times, questionable hands.

Some have suggested that Bryant should return for 2014 and be the aforementioned “go to” receiver to showcase his skills before heading to the NFL. While I agree that Bryant should return for his senior season, I’m not sure he’ll be the go to guy in the offense.

Watkins was targeted at or behind the line of scrimmage 58 times (49%) out of a total of 118 targets, while Bryant was targeted at or behind the line on 5 of 63 (8%) targets. This is a staple of the Clemson offense, an extension of the running game if you will. 82% of these passes to Watkins were complete and the average gain was 6 yards per pass attempt.

These passes require short area quickness and a body type that can absorb hits by multiple defenders. Bryant has been described as the fastest player on the team, but I’m not sure he’s the quickest or has the body type that will be able to withstand the pounding that comes with these passes that are often caught in congested areas and requires the ability to make at least one defender miss.

While Bryant held his own, completion percentage wise, on passes down field, the area that surprised me was the difference between Watkins and Bryant on passes over 20 yards – supposedly Bryant’s specialty. Watkins averaged an incredible 38.2 yards per attempt, while Bryant averaged 18.2 per attempt.

In the big three games of Clemson’s season Bryant was nearly non-existent, catching a total of 4 passes for 64 yards and most of those were in garbage time and no effect on the outcome.

Meanwhile, in the same three games, Watkins had 21 receptions for 288 yards and 2 touchdowns.

If Bryant returns he may have a huge season and there are few things prettier than Bryant running a fly pattern in the open field with the ball headed in his direction. Bryant will get his and perhaps improve on his numbers from this season.

But I typically base my expectations on what I’ve seen in the past and I haven’t seen anything that tells me Bryant will grow into a go to receiver in the mold of Hopkins or Watkins.

I hope he proves me wrong.

Check out more of Coleman's Clemson analysis on SeldomUsedReserve.com

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Comments » 6

tigerrob44 writes:

Bryant is good but he could be 6'10" and run a 4.2 forty and will never on any day be the receiver Sammy is. How good on offense would we have been had Nuk come back this year? I fantasize about that sometimes. Nuk caught everything throw his way. He may have dropped one or maybe two passes in all his years and I'm might be wrong on that. He may not have dropped but one. I do think if Bryant comes back he will have a great year and really help himself with the draft next year. He's pretty good no matter. I just think he will get better from January 4th until next season. He'll be ready for the big time when next year rolls around.

TigerNE writes:

Two things could make Bryant have a breakout year if he returns: Getting better separation for big plays and improving on his ability to make catches in space. He seemed a little lazy this season in doing what Sammy makes look effortless - both getting space between him and a back or safety and reaching out for the ball.

If he does either of those better, he will be a highly desirable draft pick come 2015.

ICMCumin writes:

Another outstanding analysis by Coleman. Will be interesting to see if Bryant does come back for another year at Clemson, and if he does, shows the talent and maturity we've all been looking for from him. As I recall he was rated higher than Watkins coming out of HS.

Clemorange writes:

I think he'll prove you wrong. If he can just work on consistancy in catching the ball he will be the next nuk or Watkins. He has caught some amazing passes. I'm not to worried about our receiving corps at all, I love Adam and wish him great success and we can't forget peake is coming back plus all the freshman and mike Williams. My main concern is the same as it was at the beginning of last year....what is our o line looking like? I'm excited to see what priester will bring to the table.

seldomusedreserve#284867 writes:

We heard prior to this season that Bryant had the best off season and fall camp of anyone. He was ready to explode - and he had several good (and one great - Georgia Tech) games. But he disappeared in the biggest games.

He had better numbers than I expected this year and 39 receptions for 800 yards is pretty darn good...but on 3rd and 6 you could count on Nuk in 2012 and Sammy in 2013...that's the piece I see missing...

TigerNE writes:

in response to seldomusedreserve#284867:

We heard prior to this season that Bryant had the best off season and fall camp of anyone. He was ready to explode - and he had several good (and one great - Georgia Tech) games. But he disappeared in the biggest games.

He had better numbers than I expected this year and 39 receptions for 800 yards is pretty darn good...but on 3rd and 6 you could count on Nuk in 2012 and Sammy in 2013...that's the piece I see missing...

I'm not one who "watches tape" or multiple repeats of a game on my DVR. But it seems to me that Bryant is not good at getting separation from talented backs, certainly not like Sammy or even Williams in a few of the games I've watched closely. To me that explains why his speed and athleticism gives him great numbers against lesser teams. Is he lazy? He certainly strikes me as having a lazy attitude at times. He may not be so lazy on the field, but he definitely has a lot to work on to be a top draft pick in my mind.

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