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