- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Clemson has never been shy about playing true freshmen -- most especially at receiver.
The Tigers have been quite successful using their young guys at this spot since Dabo Swinney took over as full-time head coach in 2009. DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins set school freshman receiving marks in their debut seasons, and just last season, Artavis Scott led the team in receptions (76) and touchdown catches (8).
Though Clemson returns four of its top five receivers in 2015, do not be surprised if Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud III make an instant impact. Cain, an ESPN 300 prospect, was the nation's No. 2 receiver in the Class of 2015; McCloud, another ESPN 300 recruit, was the No. 12-rated athlete. Another four-star receiver, Shadell Bell, is enrolled in school and will participate in spring practice.
"We’re seeing some of these top elite receivers and defensive backs coming in and they’re college-ready, where maybe six, seven years ago you didn’t see that quite as much," said Jeff Scott, who has served as Clemson's receivers coach and now adds co-offensive coordinator to his job duties. "We’ve had a lot of success with those guys coming in and playing early. That reputation is one reason we have the opportunity to sign a lot of talented guys. Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud are as good as any receivers we’ve signed here at Clemson. They’ve got big shoes to fill, but they’re competitors, very talented guys.
"The biggest challenge will be learning the offense and how we do things. Once they learn that, our job is to get the ball in their hands, let them go play and do what they do. We feel like at this level, we have the opportunity to sign guys that are talented enough to come in and make an impact as freshmen. We see an opportunity this year with those guys."
Watkins and Hopkins ended up becoming first-round NFL picks. Martavis Bryant, who also played as a true freshman with Watkins in 2011, was a fourth-round pick. Clemson is clearly doing a good job not only bringing in talented players, but also then maximizing their potential. Player development is crucial to any team's success.
The way the players have been developed at this spot -- knowing how integral they are to the success of the high-powered Clemson offense -- shows not only in the stats they put up but in their performance at the next level.
Here is a look at true freshmen receivers who have played at Clemson since 2009:
Artavis Scott: 76 catches, 965 yards, eight TDs. Led team in receptions and receiving touchdowns.
Demarre Kitt: Five catches, 47 yards.
Mike Williams: 20 catches, 316 yards, six TDs.
Sammy Watkins: 82 catches, 1,219 yards, 12 TDs. All-purpose: 2,288 yards and 13 total TDs. Led team in all categories. ACC Rookie of the Year, AP All-American.
Martavis Bryant: 10 catches, 305 yards, four TDs.
Adam Humphries: 15 catches, 130 yards.
Charone Peake: Four catches, 71 yards.
DeAndre Hopkins: 52 catches, 637 yards, four TDs. Led team in all categories.
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