Final grades: Mixed bag for Tigers after roles shift with safeties


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Zanders' first season as a starter had its ups and downs.  (ACC photo)
Zanders' first season as a starter had its ups and downs. (ACC photo)

We continue our look at the Tigers’ season position-by-position with the safeties:

2020 final S depth chart (snaps/final PFF grade)

FS: Nolan Turner - 6-1 205 sr. (564/79)

Joseph Charleston - 6-0 190 so. (502/61.3)

Tyler Venables - 5-10 200 fr. (214/52.4)

SS: Lannden Zanders - 6-1 200 so. (291/66.1)

Ray Thornton III - 6-1 205 r-fr. (158/59.3)

Jalyn Phillips - 6-1 210 so. (149/65.6)

Other scholarship safeties: RJ Mickens - 6-0 200 fr. (36/58.8)

Stat leaders

INTs: 1. Turner (3) 2. Phillips (1)

PBUs: T-1. Zanders, Turner (3), 3. Charleston (2)

Opp. passer rating (PFF): 1. Turner (48.9) 2. Phillips (56.9) 3. Zanders (113.7)

Tackles: 1. Turner (66) 2. Charleston (55) 3. Zanders (44)

Misc: TFLs - Turner (6); Sacks - Zanders, Tyler Venables - 1

TigerNet Take

David Hood: Clemson’s play at safety was, in a few words, a mixed bag. It’s hard to lose players like Tanner Muse and K’Von Wallace and Isaiah Simmons – three guys who are in the NFL – and expect the play at the position to stay the same. One could hope, however, that it would be pretty good. Instead, it was good at times, very average at times, and woeful at times.

Nolan Turner was the experienced guy in the back end and even he suffered from missed assignments and blown coverages. The younger players that were expected to take a step forward certainly earned their stripes. Teams didn’t mind chunking the ball over the yard and it’s one of the reasons the pass defense slipped to 41st nationally after a No. 4 overall ranking in 2019 and a No. 24 ranking in 2018. That No. 24 ranking in 2018 was the only time the pass defense has been out of the top-16 since 2012, when it finished 71st.

Now, a lot of that is on the defensive line, which failed to push the pocket with just four rushers and relied on the blitz to create havoc. That left a lot of 1-on-1 situations and a lot of long pass plays. Safeties coach Mickey Conn has his hands full getting this group back on target.

Brandon Rink: Turner improved on already solid numbers from 2019 in overall grade (71.5 to 79) and pass coverage (73.9 to 78.7) to pace the group and pick up second-team All-America honors. His passer rating allowed (48.9) was second only to linebacker Mike Jones Jr. among Tigers regularly in coverage (35.3).

Overall, however, the grades and stats were down year-to-year in the safety group, including the other Clemson safety to top 500 snaps in Charleston (61.3).

While not all on the safety group, big passing plays went up by nearly one per game season-to-season (0.7) of 20 (2.8) and 30-plus yards (1.8). [CFBStats]

Highly-touted freshman RJ Mickens didn’t get much of a look and should be one to watch in 2021, as well as if Barrett Carter and Andrew Mukuba get some chances.

TigerNet Grade: C+

Final grades: Defensive end

Final grades: Defensive tackle

Final grades: Linebackers

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