3 Questions about the Clemson Football safeties this spring

While the cornerbacks lack experience and depth, the safety group has both in abundance.

Dec 29, 2023; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Clemson Tigers safety Khalil Barnes (36) celebrates
Dec 29, 2023; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Clemson Tigers safety Khalil Barnes (36) celebrates / Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports
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While the cornerbacks for Clemson Football are thin on depth, the other half of the secondary, the safeties, has a solid amount of experience as they prepare to wrap up spring practices. Here are three things I am wondering about this group as we approach the Spring Game.

Can RJ Mickens take it to the next level?

I am going to be brutally honest here for a minute. Clemson has had several players exercise their ‘COVID year’ since 2020. Whether they were fifth-year or sixth-year guys, there have been plenty of them who stuck around a year longer than we would have expected when they committed to the Tigers.

I am struggling to identify any of them that managed to elevate their game notably in that final season. I am interested to see where Xavier Thomas is drafted this year, but based on most projections, he might have improved his draft stock by one round, maybe two, over where he had been projected last season.

We are nearing the end of the Age of COVID, but the Tigers still have two Super Seniors on scholarship: Aidan Swanson and RJ Mickens. (For those wondering, Walker Parks was able to count 2023 as a redshirt season, so he is officially a redshirt senior and could still play again in 2025.)

Please don’t get me wrong: I like Mickens as a player and I am glad he returned for his COVID season. The Tigers have transitioned to using three safeties in most formations instead of two, so having Mickens to group with Clemson’s young safeties is a big plus for this defense in 2024.

That said, unless he bucks the trend we have seen from COVID players, he is who he is. He has likely reached his ceiling, while some of the younger players probably haven’t.

That has been the trick with COVID players: are the programs better off playing the experienced guy who isn’t likely to get any better? Or the young guy who isn’t as experienced but one day could be better than the experienced guy if he just had a chance to develop normally like players would have before COVID?

Next: Is Khalil Barnes the next Tiger that will be known nationally by season’s end?