Given the recent success of the Clemson football program, it’s easily forgotten that head coach Dabo Swinney was the program’s wide receivers coach at the time he was appointed the interim head coach midway through the 2008 season. Many were skeptical of Swinney at the time, but as we know, things have worked out quite well for Swinney and the Tigers.
The current head coach took over as Clemson’s wide receivers coach in 2003, and so it’s not surprising to see the program has become a haven for elite wide receivers. Just for fun, let’s take a look at the five best wide receivers to come through Clemson since 2000.
5. Tee Higgins
Let’s face it, there are a handful of players who could have claimed the fifth spot on this list. But Higgins gets the nod because his talent level is a notch above some of the Clemson receivers who came before him. With a 6’4’’ frame and a monstrous wingspan, Higgins has proven to be a match-up nightmare for just about any cornerback who has tried to stop him. It’s one thing to have good size, but Higgins knows how to use his, making him the favorite target and safety valve for quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
After taking a backseat to some older receivers as a freshman, Higgins led the Tigers in both receptions and receiving touchdowns as a sophomore in 2018, helping Clemson claim a national championship. He was even better as a junior in 2019, eclipsing 1,100 receiving yards and once again leading the team in receiving touchdowns while averaging close to 20 yards per catch. Between his sophomore and junior season, Higgins racked up over 2,000 receiving yards, moving him into the top-10 in school history. He also owns the school record for most career receiving touchdowns.
4. Mike Williams
Williams deserves a ton of credit for coming back from a neck injury he suffered on the first series of the first game in 2015, costing him the entire season. He had already established himself as a top-flight receiver with an NFL future the previous year. After the injury, Williams was somehow able to come back better than ever and become a top-10 draft pick.
As far as his Clemson career is concerned, Williams is in the top-5 in school history in most receiving categories. After a modest freshman season, Williams earned a starting spot as a sophomore in 2014 and had over 1,000 yards receiver. Coming back from his neck injury in 2016, he caught 98 passes from Deshaun Watson, the second-most receptions in a single season in Clemson history, racking up over 1,300 yards, which was third-most in a single season for any Tigers receiver. Most importantly, he played a big role in Clemson’s win over Alabama in the national championship game, hauling in eight passes for 94 yards and a touchdown.
3. Hunter Renfrow
Renfrow may not have the same gaudy numbers as some other Clemson wide receivers, but he gets bonus points for starting his career as a walk-on and becoming such a key figure on multiple championship teams. His hands are as good as any Tigers receiver in recent memory, plucking balls out of the air without getting any assistance from his body on the catch. Renfrow would often play in the slot and was frequently targeted on third downs because Clemson quarterbacks knew he could find open space beyond the sticks and catch any ball thrown his direction.
He went from a scrawny walk-on who red-shirted in 2014 to a player who started 10 games in 2015. Two of his five touchdown catches that year came in the title game win over Alabama, including the game-winner with one second left on the clock. From there, Renfrow became a steady and reliable part of the Clemson offense. He averaged 533 receiving yards per season but never had more than 602 yards in a single season. When all was said and done, Renfrow ended up with the fifth-most catches in school history. He finished his career in 2018 with another national championship and the Burlsworth Trophy, which is awarded to a former walk-on.
2. DeAndre Hopkins
While Clemson had some good receivers before him, Hopkins was the first of the truly elite wide-outs during Swinney’s tenure. He had the size and hands to catch anything thrown to him, as well as the speed and athleticism to take the top off of the defense. It’s not a surprise to anyone that he’s become one of the best receivers in the NFL. He stepped in right away at Clemson and was the team’s leading receiver as a freshman. Hopkins would only get better, and by his junior season, he was arguably the best wide receiver in the country.
After three seasons, Hopkins had rewritten many Clemson records. Unfortunately for him, many would be broken in the years to come. Nevertheless, he left Clemson after the 2012 season with the most receiving touchdowns and the second-most receptions in school history. His 1,405 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns during his junior season were both single-season Clemson records. He was also the first wide receiver in Clemson history to top 3,000 career receiving yards. In other words, he was the best in Clemson history, at least for a little while.
1. Sammy Watkins
Watkins was the first receiver to rewrite many of the Clemson records that Hopkins broke. As an athlete, Watkins is on another level. He was a three-sport athlete in high school and one of the fastest track athletes in the state of Florida. The first time he stepped on a college football field, Watkins was the most dynamic player in the country. He almost overshadowed Hopkins during his freshman season, leading the Tigers with 82 catches for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns on his way to winning ACC Rookie of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year honors, on top of being a first-team All American.
During his sophomore season in 2012, Watkins ended up taking a backseat to Hopkins. However, when his running met left early for the NFL, Watkins was left alone to shine during the 2013 season. That year, he set the single-season school records with 101 catches and 1,464 receiving yards, helping him to surpass Hopkins as the Clemson leader in career receiving yards with nearly 3,400 over three seasons. Of course, Watkins saved his best for last. In the final game of his career, a 40-35 Orange Bowl win over Ohio State, Watkins set the Clemson single-game records by catching 16 passes for 227 yards. Both on the field and in the record books, Watkins is the best wide receiver in Clemson history.