After a disappointing sophomore campaign for a couple of Clemson football starters, 2020 will be a bounce-back year and an opportunity to prove they weren’t one-year wonders.
For Clemson football to get back to the college football playoffs for a sixth straight and have a chance to get to Miami for the national championship game, rising junior’s Justyn Ross and Xavier Thomas are going to have to have much more productive years than they had in 2019.
Both had phenomenal freshman years despite sitting behind first-round NFL draft picks. Thomas had to sit behind Clelin Ferrell and Ross had to play behind Tee Higgins for most of the year. Both shined brightly when their name was called and came up big on the biggest stage.
Of course, their performances meant that 2019 was going to be a year where they were going to be called upon more and more and an opportunity to show their every-down capabilities and unfortunately, both of them struggled at various points.
Justyn Ross ended his sophomore year with 66 catches for 865 yards and eight touchdowns. If you just look at stat lines he actually had a great year, but for those that watched each game, we saw him drop ball after ball, give up on routes and was not very good at blocking downfield – which is something Clemson wide receivers do very well. There were many times when he looked disinterested in being on the field.
Xavier Thomas admitted on twitter that his second year with Clemson football was a tough one for him and some of it was not his fault. Going to the three-man front for a lot of the year, the responsibilities of defensive ends changes from containment and pass-rushing to gap control. This responsibility change took away a lot of what makes Thomas elite.
However, for a lot of the year, Thomas disappeared completely. There were many points when people were asking what happen to him. A player as talented as he should never disappear for that long in any game.
In 12 games this season, Thomas ended with just 10 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Not at all close to what he is capable of, even with the defensive change. Given the depth coming back upfront in 2020, Coach Venables will more than likely go back to a base 4-3 and Thomas will have an opportunity to prove he who we thought he was after 2018.
2020 will be a big year for Clemson football and if they are to win their third national title in five years, both Justyn Ross and Xavier Thomas will have to lead the way and prove 2019 was an anomaly and not the norm.