Projecting the Clemson Football depth chart: Safety

Clemson Football will have a healthy mix of experience and talent in the Safety group this season.
April 15, 2023; Clemson, SC , USA;  Clemson safety R.J. Mickens (9)
April 15, 2023; Clemson, SC , USA; Clemson safety R.J. Mickens (9) / The Independent Mail-USA TODAY NETWORK

Recently, I commented that the Clemson Football cornerbacks didn’t have a lot of experience on their resumes. The same can’t be said of the safeties.

Starting line-up: RJ Mickens, Khalil Barnes, Kylon Griffin

Projected back-ups: Tyler Venables, Sherrod Covil, Ricardo Jones

Reserves: Rob Billings, Noah Dixon, Kylen Webb, Joe Wilkinson

Mickens decision to return was big for this group following the transfer departure of Andrew Mukuba, who will play for Texas this season. He should be one of the team leaders on defense, along with linebacker Barrett Carter.

Barnes was sensational as a freshman. The entirety of the South Carolina game wasn’t spectacular, but the way Barnes started it with a scoop n’ score and an interception on two consecutive defensive snaps was exhilarating. Barnes will need to avoid the sophomore slump that bit Mukuba a couple seasons ago.

Defensive co-coordinator Mickey Conn has stated that Mickens can play any safety position on the team, so I don’t think any worries about free safety vs strong safety will dictate who fills the third safety position (Barnes will be the nickel/safety hybrid where Mukuba started last season).

I’m going to give a slight lean towards Griffin being the third starter. We didn’t see a ton of him in 2023 – 160 snaps total – but by the end of the season he was settling in and making plays. He finished with two interceptions. Griffin flashed, and I think he is a strong candidate to win the third safety starting job.

The other candidate is the veteran Venables, who missed the entire 2023 season while recovering from surgery. Venables was active on the sidelines last season and will essentially be a player/coach. He might start, but otherwise will be one of the most experienced players off the bench the Tigers could possibly hope for.

Covil would be the next most experienced guy and should see playing time. After that, it will depend who steps up in fall camp and shows they deserve snaps.

I am excited about freshman Jones, who has been a favorite of several high school recruiting analysts. The other name we’ve heard a bit is Billings, who has made a positive impression on the staff.