Clemson Football: What if key players return in 2023?

Clemson defensive end K.J. Henry (5) celebrates a defensive play near defensive tackle Tyler Davis (13) against North Carolina during the first quarter of the ACC Championship football game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina Saturday, Dec 3, 2022.Clemson Tigers Football Vs North Carolina Tar Heels Acc Championship Charlotte Nc
Clemson defensive end K.J. Henry (5) celebrates a defensive play near defensive tackle Tyler Davis (13) against North Carolina during the first quarter of the ACC Championship football game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina Saturday, Dec 3, 2022.Clemson Tigers Football Vs North Carolina Tar Heels Acc Championship Charlotte Nc /

Clemson Football wrapped up an uneventful Early Signing Day with a press conference with Head Coach Dabo Swinney. Coach Swinney perked some Tiger fans’ ears with this comment:

"“We’ve got some guys coming back that we didn’t know were coming back that I promise you will be the best recruits in this class. I’m super excited about that.”"

The Tigers were expected to lose several players after the 2022 season. We know Myles Murphy and Trenton Simpson are departing for the NFL. There are several other players that insiders expected to leave the team, but thus far, few of them have said for certain what their plans are for 2023.

After Dabo’s comments, we are now left to wonder who has told him they are returning. We can use our “Coach-speak CSI forensic skills” to glean a couple of points:

  • He says “some guys”, so that means more than one, and I think more than two, because he didn’t say a “couple guys”. It is possible I am reading too much into that, but I’m going with it.
  • When asked about bringing in more players from the portal, Dabo didn’t rule it out but suggested no one can predict what might happen down the line. He mentioned the May transfer window. I took this to mean more transfers in the short-term weren’t the focus of their attention. This suggests that some potential holes from players leaving didn’t open because those players are staying. Purely speculative on my part, but I’m going with it.

Based on this, I have suspicions about who might be returning, but again, this is completely speculative, so wait until you hear confirmations from the staff or the players before getting too excited.

What if Brian Bresee returns?

This possibility is perhaps the most intriguing for a couple of reasons. Bresee has been considered one of the best NFL prospects on Clemson’s roster since he arrived in 2020. He is also a fan favorite. Tiger Nation has been rooting for him after everything he had to cope with in 2022: bereavement, injury, and illness. He has faced a ton of adversity. His return would create a lot of excitement.

There is also the question about his position. If Bresee comes back, will he play defensive tackle or defensive end? If he returns at tackle, he is a big asset considering the amount of inexperience that could be starting on the D-line beside him.

If he is playing at defensive end, it invites a lot of questions about the defense overall. Is he playing end in a 4-3 alignment, or are they only putting three on the line? I think I can argue that Bresee is a better fit at end if they are playing a 3-4-4 or a 3-3-5. Bresee returning at end could mean a facelift for the entire defense.

What if Tyler Davis returns?

Davis has accepted an invitation to play in an all-star game, and if he plays, he won’t be able to return to Clemson. If he withdraws before playing, he can decide to return to college.

Just like Bresee playing defensive tackle, the return of Davis brings comfort and stability to the heart of a defensive line that could be featuring new starters at every other position. Fans who have watched this defense for the last few seasons know that they simply have a different kind of motor when Davis plays. When he is injured, this defense just doesn’t play as well. Other guys key off his intensity, and that could be a positive influence for a revamped line in 2023.

What if multiple defensive linemen return?

I mean, we could talk about Ruke Orhorhoro, KJ Henry, Xavier Thomas, or Justin Mascoll. None of them have definitively stated what they are doing after the Orange Bowl. Like Davis, some have accepted invitations to all-star games, but they have the option to withdraw.

The more that return, the merrier. Clemson has several good prospects joining the team, and some of them might be too good to keep off the field. In the big picture, however, I think it is always a positive for freshmen to have a year to acclimate to the college game without the team being reliant on them to carry the bulk of the snaps. The return of any of those experienced players not only helps Clemson on the field in 2023 but gives the freshmen someone they can learn from who can lead by example.

Clemson Football has players outside the defensive line group who could return in 2023

What if Joe Ngata returns?

Ngata has not said what his plans are, but most of the speculation I have heard or read suggested he was moving on. I’ve also heard a lot of speculation that Clemson would be looking at the portal to bring in a wide receiver.

If my speculation that Dabo’s comments mean we shouldn’t hold our breath for another portal take until after spring is correct, it could mean that the potential spot for a transfer receiver has been filled…by Ngata.

I have already seen fans on message boards react negatively to this possibility, but they really should take a step back. Ngata was still second in receiving yards for the Tigers in 2022 behind Antonio Williams.

Additionally, I saw a boost in Ngata when he played with Cade Klubnik. Ngata averaged 2.33 receptions per game in the regular season when DJ Uiagalelei was starting. Ngata doubled that in the ACC Championship game with five receptions. It is a small sample size, but if we consider that Clemson will have a better passing quarterback behind center in 2023, it isn’t unbelievable that Ngata can be a key contributor.

What if Sheridan Jones returns?

Similar to the wide receiver position, cornerback was another place that we heard the Tigers were investigating in the portal. If that isn’t likely now, it could be because Jones has elected to return.

I am excited about Clemson’s younger corners, and I think they will be very good. If one of them needed to start next season, I would be fine with that. The possibility of Jones returning makes this cornerback group go from good to very good.

With Jones’s possible return, Clemson has two experienced starters with two very talented backups to rotate into the game. They stay fresh and ready to keep up with opposing receivers. Not to mention Malcolm Greene at the nickel.

How long has it been since we were able to say “Clemson is deep at cornerback?”

I know fans are excited about highly regarded defensive linemen coming back for one more year, but I think Jones’s possible return could yield the most positive results for the defense.

What if Davis Allen returns?

Tight end is the position in this discussion where Clemson is most prepared to promote to the starting lineup. Jake Briningstool asserted himself as a quality target this season, and I expect him to be even more impactful as a starter.

I like Allen too. It was great to have two quality targets at the tight end position in 2022. If I was a coach, and Allen told me he wanted to return, I would say “Yes sir, welcome back”. It just means more weapons for Klubnik. More options to create different looks for the opposing defense.

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