When Dabo Swinney was winning national championships at Clemson, he always had a great defense, and that hasn’t gone away. In 2023, Clemson was 9th in yards per play allowed, eighth in total defense, eighth against the pass, and 24th against the run. It was another championship-caliber defense, but the team went 9-4.
Those championship teams had something else, something important, oh yeah, it was an offense. More specifically, it was an offense led by an elite quarterback who dominated with his arm and his legs and had plenty of NFL-caliber receivers to throw to. That well has dried up.
In 2023, Clemson’s offense finished 98th in yards per play, 52nd in total offense (because of Garrett Riley’s blistering pace), 61st through the air, and 43rd on the ground. That’s a far cry from a championship unit.
So, the Tigers need to get better on offense, and how will they do it? Dabo certainly has no interest in looking to the wellspring of talent that is the transfer portal, dispensing some of the best players in the country with old faithful levels of regularity.
No, Dabo is too good for the portal, he says to himself in the mirror every night before bed desperately trying to shake the memories of his first season with less than 10 wins in over a decade. Swinney’s stubbornness means that Clemson will need to find the answers with internal upgrades and it can start by finding replacements for these three players.
The wide receiver position was a massive issue for the Clemson Tigers in 2023. Cade Klubnik didn’t do a lot to help his receivers out, but they also racked up 27 drops. Stellato was responsible for four of those, second most to Beaux Collins who transferred to Notre Dame this offseason.
Stellato played the third most snaps of any receiver on the team, only behind Collins and freshman Tyler Brown, who will be the team’s No. 1 wide receiver in 2024. With Collins’ departure, Stellato would naturally elevate to No. 2, but that may not be the best thing for the team.
Across his 344 snaps, Stellato was targeted 58 times and caught 39 passes for 338 yards and one touchdown. He was out there a lot, and targeted plenty, but he just didn’t produce enough to justify that level of opportunity. Among the 325 wide receivers who were targetted at least 50 times in 2023, Stellato’s 1.02 yards per route run ranked 313th and his 8.7 yards per reception ranked 308th.
In Stellato’s defense, 68.9% of his targets came either behind the line of scrimmage or within nine yards of it, but he only averaged 4.1 yards after the catch per reception which ranked 242nd among that same sample of 325 receivers.