NCF Nation: CHarone Peake

The ACC has lost 10 players who have decided to forgo their final seasons of eligibility and enter the NFL draft. It’s not a mass exodus, but their departures definitely leave some holes. Florida State is losing some talent, but Clemson arguably has the biggest shoes to fill, as the Tigers are losing their top two receivers from 2013, including All-American Sammy Watkins. With spring football around the corner, there will be plenty of competition throughout the league, but based on what we know now, here is the best guess at who the replacements will be for each of the ACC’s early entrees:

Leaving: Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Jones
AP Photo/Phil SearsIsaiah Jones (right) caught only two passes as a freshman, but Kelvin Benjamin's departure means he'll have to play a bigger role.
The replacement: Isaiah Jones. He is 6-foot-4, but he lacks Benjamin's physical strength (he weighs about 35 pounds less). Christian Green also could be an answer after playing sparingly the past two seasons. He's 6-foot-2 and known for his speed. He had 26 catches for 450 yards as a freshman in 2011 but has just 16 catches for 190 yards in the two seasons since. As far as a true red zone target and receiver who can win the jump balls, tight end Nick O'Leary will likely get the bulk of the throws that went to Benjamin in 2013.

Leaving: North Carolina C Russell Bodine

The replacement: Lucas Crowley. As a freshman, Crowley made his collegiate debut against rival NC State. He played 11 snaps and graded out at 90 percent. An encouraging sign for UNC fans should be Crowley’s performance against Pitt, where he played a respectable game opposite All-American defensive tackle Aaron Donald. He played 66 snaps at center in that game and had five knockdowns.

Leaving: Clemson DB Bashaud Breeland

The replacement: Garry Peters. He was one of Clemson’s rising stars at cornerback in 2012, but an injury last season set him back. He still played in 10 games and enters this fall with 54 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, one interception, 12 pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in 33 games (five starts) in his career.

Leaving: Clemson WR Martavis Bryant

The replacement: Mike Williams. The true freshman played in all 13 games and started three, finishing 2013 with 20 catches for 316 yards and three touchdowns. His first career start came against Wake Forest, and Williams had a 14-yard touchdown. As a prep, he was rated the No. 3 player in South Carolina by Williams has a lot of potential, and the Tigers will need him to reach it quickly.

Leaving: North Carolina TE Eric Ebron

The replacement: Jack Tabb. He played in 10 games at tight end and on special teams, and he also saw some time at linebacker. He finished with six catches for 116 yards and 10 tackles. UNC also signed two tight ends in the 2014 class, including one, Brandon Fritts, who enrolled in January. The other, Avery Edwards, is regarded as the top TE in North Carolina.

Leaving: Florida State RB Devonta Freeman

The replacement: Ryan Green. He played in all 12 games (no starts), and finished with 163 yards and one touchdown on 33 carries. He showed some explosiveness in his limited playing time, as six of his carries went for 10 yards or more. His blocking and ability to take advantage of open holes still need to improve.

Leaving: Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan

The replacement: Nile Lawrence-Stample. He played in 13 games and started six alongside Jernigan at defensive tackle. He finished the season with 15 tackles, including 1.5 for loss. He also had two quarterback hurries. He made his first career start against Pitt and had a season-high three tackles against both Boston College and Maryland. He had one tackle in the national championship game.

Leaving: Syracuse RB Jerome Smith

The replacement: Prince-Tyson Gulley. He was granted a fifth season of eligibility and as of now is expected to play this fall. Gulley qualified for a medical hardship waiver because he broke his collarbone in 2011 and played just four games. He was third on the team in rushing in 2013 and finished with 456 yards and four touchdowns on 83 carries. He also had 15 catches and one receiving touchdown.

Leaving: Clemson WR Sammy Watkins

The replacement: Charone Peake. Watkins was one of a kind, and his record-setting production nearly impossible to duplicate, but Peake is the next man up. He was the Tigers’ second-leading receiver before he tore his ACL during a simple non-contact drill in practice on Sept. 10. Prior to the injury, Peake had eight catches for 84 yards and a touchdown, second only to Watkins in both receptions and yards. In 2012, Peake had 25 receptions for 172 yards and two scores.

Leaving: Florida State RB James Wilder Jr.

The replacement: Karlos Williams. He moved from safety to tailback in Week 2 and finished his first season at the position with 91 carries for 730 yards. His 8.02 yards-per-carry average was sixth in the nation. His 11 rushing touchdowns tied for seventh in the ACC. No running back from an automatic-qualifier conference school scored more routinely than Williams, who scored once every 8.3 carries.

Clemson offense must rebuild

January, 6, 2014
Jan 6
Clemson has been through this before, losing top-tier talent to the NFL draft.

But when top receiver DeAndre Hopkins decided to turn pro after last season ended, everybody figured the Tigers would be just fine with Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins returning.

The twin losses of Watkins and Martavis Bryant to the NFL draft this year leave behind many more questions. Not only are the Tigers losing their top two receivers, they also are losing Boyd, their record-setting quarterback over the last three years.

That is a trifecta that could inevitably label 2014 a rebuilding year.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesWithout Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd, who will make Dabo Swinney smile in 2014?
Watkins' decision to leave was a no-brainer. The talented junior proved in the Discover Orange Bowl win over Ohio State that he will be a top 10 draft pick. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper believes Watkins could go as high as No. 2 when the draft rolls around in May.

There was not much more for him to accomplish at Clemson, either. Watkins tied Hopkins for career touchdown receptions (27), holds the single-season receptions (101) and career receptions marks (240) and single-season record for receiving yards (1,464). He would have been foolish to return.

Bryant's decision is another matter entirely. There is little doubt he could have improved his draft stock had he returned to school for another year, but Bryant cited his family as the reason he decided to leave. Bryant ended the season with 42 catches for 828 yards and seven touchdowns, but he has been mostly inconsistent for the bulk of his career and has only one year as a starter.

His size (6-foot-5, 200 pounds) makes him an intriguing prospect, but he has work ahead of him to get noticed. does not even have Bryant rated on its receivers evaluation page.

Moving forward, Clemson should have plenty of position battles headed into the spring. Cole Stoudt, Chad Kelly and incoming freshman Deshaun Watson are all in the mix to replace Boyd. Without Watkins and Bryant, Clemson will rely on some combination of veteran Adam Humphries, Charone Peake, Mike Williams, Germone Hopper and T.J. Green.

Williams played as a freshman this season and has the same size as the departing Bryan. He showed flashes throughout the course of the season. Green also shows promise. Peake is coming off an ACL injury and should be healthy for the start of the season. Humphries has been dependable and will be expected to do more.

The player who needs to step up most has to be Hopper, rated one of the top receiver prospects in the 2012 class. He has not quite lived up to his potential yet, and 2014 provides him an opportunity to become a go-to receiver. Clemson coaches have waited on the light to go on for him, and that probably is the case again now more than ever.

What Clemson has moving forward is talent, but little in the way of game experience. The key to replacing the three big-name skill players who have departed is to grow these players up in a hurry. The opener at Georgia will be here in a blink.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is away from his Tigers teammates right now, serving as a counselor at the Elite 11 camp in Beaverton, Ore.

Boyd jumped at the opportunity to help out the next generation of quarterbacks. After all, he was among the Elite 11 group back in 2008. His selection there should come as no surprise. Trent Dilfer, the man in charge of the program, says the counselors are there to "share their life stories, to be examples in the way they engage the kids, with how they compete."

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Joshua S. Kelly/US Presswire"It's all about getting the chemistry in place on my team," Tajh Boyd said, "making sure that we don't have any division out there."
The Heisman Trophy hopeful fits the bill. He has set an example for his teammates back home, as well, as an unquestioned leader. To that end, Boyd has placed a priority on building chemistry this summer, knowing full well his team has an opportunity to achieve something special.

While in Oregon, he told ESPN Recruiting Nation reporter Mitch Sherman, "It’s all about getting the chemistry in place on my team, making sure that we don’t have any division out there. It’s been good. I know the biggest thing with me right now is chemistry with my O-linemen and with my receivers. So any time I get the chance, I’ll take the guys bowling. They break my pockets when we go out to eat, so I stopped that.”

Boyd, never afraid to crack a joke, hits the mark. Chemistry is one of those intangible aspects that is critical to the success of any team. Good chemistry helps teams thrive; bad chemistry, and teams fall apart. Secondly, chemistry between a quarterback and his line, and a quarterback and his receivers is critically important.

Going into this season, Boyd has to develop that chemistry with a new starting center, and a new outside receiver. We all saw last season how Boyd and DeAndre Hopkins were always on the same page. Sammy Watkins enters that role this year. Will their chemistry match the Boyd-Hopkins connection? How will Charone Peake, Adam Humphries and Martavis Bryant develop their chemistry with Boyd?

"Those guys have to step up in their role and take advantage of it," Boyd told Sherman. "It’s exciting. They’re excited about it. Right now, it’s all about putting the work in. What you put in is what you get out of it. I know it’s cliché, but it’s true."

And how will Boyd do with veteran Dalton Freeman gone and sophomore Ryan Norton taking over at center?

Boyd is smart enough to know that he needs the answers to those questions before the season begins.
You can't win 'em all.

Clemson won big on Wednesday when quarterback Tajh Boyd announced he would return for his fifth and final season instead of entering the NFL draft.

The Tigers weren’t so lucky on Thursday.

Receiver DeAndre “Nuk” Hopkins, Clemson’s leading receiver and one of the best in the country, announced on Twitter that he will leave school early and enter the NFL draft. Here’s the thing, though -- Clemson’s offense is so loaded with talent that the Tigers should still be just fine without Hopkins, and this announcement should hardly come as a surprise. Even without their record-setting wideout, Clemson still returns players who caught 161 passes for 1,719 yards in 2012.

Hopkins will be missed, but Boyd is still going to have plenty of options.

Despite his inconsistent, injury-plagued season that also included a suspension, Sammy Watkins was second on the team with 57 catches for 708 yards and three touchdowns. He was overshadowed by Hopkins this past fall -- and deservedly so -- but this will give Watkins a chance to remind college football fans what made him so special as a true freshman two years ago. Clemson also returns its No. 3 receiver, Adam Humphries, who had 41 receptions last year. And don’t forget about Charone Peake (25 catches), Martavis Bryant (10 receptions), and Germone Hopper, a talented option who redshirted this past year as a true freshman. Hopper was rated the No. 4 player in North Carolina by and the No. 13 receiver in his recruiting class.

Hopkins was projected to be drafted somewhere between late in the first round to mid-second round. His name is all over the record books. There’s not much more he can do at Clemson besides win a national title and risk injury. He has left his mark.

He has also left plenty of talented teammates behind to try and pick up where he left off.

Watkins to miss BC game with virus

September, 27, 2012
Clemson All-America wide receiver Sammy Watkins will not make the trip to Boston College because of an abdominal virus, the school announced Thursday. Second-team offensive guard Kalon Davis pulled a hamstring on Thursday and also will miss the trip. It was announced earlier in the week that wide receiver Martavis Bryant would not travel due to a groin injury.

“Sammy has been practicing, but on Tuesday and Wednesday took himself out late in the practice because he was not feeling well,” said coach Dabo Swinney, according to the school's release. “Today he was worse and after going to the doctor it was determined that he needed to stay here this weekend.

“With Sammy and Martavis out of the lineup we will bring Germone Hopper (freshman wide receiver who has not played this year) with us on the trip. We will only use him in case of an emergency. It is still our intention to redshirt him.”

When Watkins was suspended for the first two games of the season, Charone Peake and Adam Humphries combined for 19 receptions.
Of all the questions surrounding Clemson headed into the season opener against Auburn, depth at receiver is not one of them.

Yet, we still have no idea how much the offense will feel the loss of star receiver Sammy Watkins, who is suspended for two games because of his offseason arrest. Coach Dabo Swinney says the team will not do much to change its plan with Watkins out for Saturday's important nonconference game.

[+] EnlargeCharone Peake
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesCharone Peake will start Saturday's game for the suspended Sammy Watkins.
Sophomore Charone Peake will start for Watkins, alongside established starter DeAndre Hopkins (952 yards last season) and Jaron Brown. The Tigers also expect big contributions from reserve players like Adam Humphries, Martavis Bryant and Matt Porter.

"Collectively as a group we’ve challenged those guys," Swinney said. "They all have to step it up. I don't think one guy replaces Sammy Watkins, but as a group they certainly are capable of doing that."

Peake and Humphries have been asked to line up in various spots during preseason camp to help make up for Watkins being out. That means practicing where Watkins and Hopkins usually play.

"It's not just me, but all the receivers are trying to broaden the knowledge of the offense and what we do out there," Humphries said in a recent phone interview. "I started out as a freshman behind Sammy, but they have been throwing me in the slot. Everyone is moving around. It has been somewhat of an adjustment, but I’m enjoying it. I feel like I’m a guy who can be moved around a good bit."

Peake has shown a great deal more maturity this season than last, when he had four receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown. Both Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris have noticed a more confident Peake, who is the fastest player on the team behind Watkins.

"It did not come as easy to him last year, the transition from high school to college as far as learning the system and the speed of the game but he's a very talented player," Swinney said. "You could see his confidence growing this spring. He had a great summer and it's carried right into fall camp. He seems comfortable now. I feel he’s going to have a great year for us. He and Adam Humphries fit that same category."

For his part, Peake says he feels like he is playing like he was in high school and has been doing an excellent job making players miss during preseason camp.

"I don't think as much when I play," Peake said in a phone interview. "I'm used to what I’m doing. Last year, things were going too fast for me, but this year I feel more comfortable when I’m in there."

Given the way Clemson wants to speed up its offensive attack this year, it is going to be imperative for every receiver to really catch on to what the Tigers want to do. Having more experienced players in the receiving group will help that, with Humphries, Peake and eventually Watkins going into their sophomore seasons.

That could also allow Clemson to redshirt highly touted freshman receiver Germone Hopper. Swinney does not want to play him unless he absolutely has to.

How the core receiving group does at the outset could go a long way toward determining that. But most everybody in the Clemson camp seems pretty confident the Tigers will survive just fine with their star playmaker sitting at home.

"Without Sammy, we’re going to see a lot more plays and a lot more balls, and we’re going to prove it’s not just Sammy we have, but we have a lot of other playmakers as well," Humphries said."
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris has repeated all summer that he wants his offense to play even faster.

But wait a minute. The Tigers ranked No. 2 in the nation last year in total plays behind Houston, with 1,055. Not fast enough?


[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Bob Donnan/US PresswireThe key to Clemson's new up-tempo offense this season will be quarterback Tajh Boyd.
Morris wants there to be no wasted time on the field this season. That means getting to the line faster, snapping the ball faster, making decisions faster. That means knowing the offense much better in Year 2 of his hurry-up spread system. If he can squeeze out four-to-five more snaps a game to get up to an average of 86 plays from 81 last year, Morris will be a very happy man.

"I feel like there are so many plays we left out there," Morris said in a recent phone interview. "It might have been the way we were moving from one play to another, maybe somebody was walking and not carrying the tempo. So we could definitely improve from that standpoint. The second thing is to make sure we keep pressing. With another year underneath their belt, knowing what to expect of me and this offense, there is no question we can be faster from a knowledge standpoint."

Much, if not all, of this plan starts with quarterback Tajh Boyd, who had his share of highs and his share of lows last season. Boyd surged onto the national scene after Clemson started the season 8-0 and even got some Heisman love. But the second half of his season was not nearly as good as his first, as he threw nine interceptions in his final six games.

This summer, Boyd immersed himself in the film room, studying himself and the offense in order to get a better grasp of what he needs to do to make the unit even better. He also got down to his playing weight of 220, after gaining 12 pounds during the season.

"Last season, I was trying to memorize the offense instead of knowing the offense," Boyd said in a phone interview. "As you get older, you get wiser and you start to know it like the back of your hand. Now, being in the second year in the offense and going into it in the fall, things are just moving a lot quicker for me. In my mind, I know the offense can only get better."

Boyd is not the only one who returns to the offense. Seven total starters are back, including top playmakers Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Ellington. Coach Dabo Swinney has said Ellington looks better than he ever has before, because he is completely healthy.

Watkins and Hopkins combined for over 2,000 yards receiving last season, and more will be expected this year. Though Watkins is suspended for the first two games of the season, one receiver that has really stood out in the early going has been Charone Peake, one of the fastest players on the team. Morris says, "He's playing with a lot of great confidence right now."

The offensive line remains a work in progress. There has been one significant injury so far, to tackle Gifford Timothy, though Swinney is hopeful he will be back for the season opener. The Tigers will have three new starters up front, so squaring away those positions during camp is of paramount importance.

Because the Tigers have plenty of talent and depth at the skill positions, which should only help them ratchet up the speed.

"We have some of the best playmakers in the country at Clemson," Boyd said. "If we execute the system, the only thing that truly stops us is ourselves."