Clemson’s 10 Best: Top Players in Dabo Swinney Era  

Head coach Dabo Swinney has turned Clemson into a college football powerhouse that can go toe-to-toe with any team in the country. For the last decade, he’s proven he can land the best of the best to play at Clemson University had molded waves of talent for the NFL.

Today, we begin our 10 Best series with the top ten players in the Dabo Swinney era.

10. Mitch Hyatt (2015-2018)

A four-year starter, Hyatt was a two-time All-American that logged 3,754 snaps over 58 games in his career. He was a four-time All-ACC selection and one of just five consensus All-American offensive linemen in school history. In 2018, he was a semifinalist for the Outland Trophy. Hyatt was the first Clemson lineman to win the ACC Jacobs Blocking Trophy multiple times.

9. Vic Beasley (2010-2014)

Beasley left Clemson has one of the best defensive ends in program history. The Georgia native tallied 101 tackles, 52.5 tackles for loss, 33 sacks, caused seven fumbles and recovered two fumbles in 1,421 snaps. He was a two-time All-American and two-time All-ACC selection. As a senior, he was a semifinalist for the Lott Impact Trophy and finalist for the Bednarik Award and Hendricks Award. Between 2013 and 2014, he had at least one sack in eight consecutive games

8. DeAndre Hopkins (2010-2012)

A true hometown hero, Hopkins became the second player in ACC history to total at least 50 receptions as both a freshman and sophomore. For his career, the Central, S.C., native posted 206 receptions covering just over 3,000 yards and is tied for the career reception record with 27 touchdowns. In his career finale, Hopkins led Clemson with 13 catches for 191 yards and two touchdowns as the Tigers rallied past LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, 25-24.

7. Isaiah Simmons (2017-2019)

The most versatile defender in school history, Simmons played significant snaps at linebacker, safety, and cornerback during his three years at Clemson. Finished his college career with 253 tackles (28.5 tackles for loss), 10.5 sacks, 22 pass breakups, five forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, and four interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. In 2019, Simmons was the Butkus Award winner and ACC Defensive Player of the Year. He was the 8th overall pick of the 2020 NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals.

6. Trevor Lawrence (2018-2020)

Recorded one of the most celebrated careers by a quarterback in college football history from 2018-20, leading Clemson to a national championship as a true freshman in 2018 and serving as the face and voice of the sport in the two seasons that followed … concluded his career 34-2 (.944) as a starter, the third-best winning percentage by a starting quarterback with at least 30 career starts since Division I split in 1978, trailing only Miami’s Ken Dorsey (.950) and USC’s Matt Leinart (.949), according to ESPN Stats & Info … exited as the winningest starting quarterback in Clemson history, surpassing the 32 career wins held by Rodney Williams, Tajh Boyd and Deshaun Watson … finished second in 2020 Heisman Trophy voting, tying Deshaun Watson for the highest finish in school history … completed 758-of-1138 career passes (66.6 percent) for 10,098 yards with 90 touchdowns and 17 interceptions for a pass efficiency rating for 164.26 in 2,237 snaps over 40 career games (36 starts) … also rushed 231 times for 943 career rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns, the fifth-most career rushing touchdowns by a Clemson quarterback in the modern era … finished career undefeated as a starter in regular season play and did not lose a regular season game at either the high school or collegiate levels5. Christian Wilkins (2015-2018).

5. Christian Wilkins

A fan favorite through his decorated four-year career in Clemson, Wilkins was a key component of one of the greatest defensive units in college football history. He finished his career with 250 tackles, 41 tackles for loss, 16 sacks, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries over 59 games. In addition to his contributions on special teams, he also found the endzone three times (two rushing, one receiving). A three-time All-American, Wilkins also excelled in academics as a four-time All-ACC Academic selection.

4. Travis Etienne (2017-2020)

Completed one of the most prolific careers in Clemson, ACC and college football history across the 2017-20 seasons … rushed 686 times for 4,952 yards with 70 rushing touchdowns and caught 102 passes for 1,155 and eight receiving touchdowns in 1,852 career snaps over 55 games (42 starts) … part of a senior class that helped Clemson to four ACC titles, four College Football Playoff berths, two national championship appearances and a national title, all while becoming the first FBS senior class since 2010 to go undefeated at home (27-0 at Death Valley) … NCAA FBS record holder for most career games scoring a touchdown (46 of his 55 career games), breaking the mark held by San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey … ACC career record-holder for rushing yards (4,952), total touchdowns (78), rushing touchdowns (70) and points (468) … became the ACC’s all-time leading rusher in 2020, surpassing a mark held by NC State’s Ted Brown since 1978 … one of only 12 players in FBS history with 4,000 career rushing yards and 1,000 career receiving yards, and his 4,952 rushing yards finished as the second-most by any 1,000-yard career receiver in FBS history.

3. Sammy Watkins (2011-2013)

Another home run recruit from the Sunshine State, Watkins had a special career in Clemson with 240 receptions for 3,391 yards and 27 touchdowns. He’s tied with Hopkins and the 33rd overall draft pick of the 2020 Draft Tee Higgins for most career touchdown receptions in school history. The three-time, First-Team All-American owns the Clemson record for career receiving yards (3,391), most yards in a single season (1,604) and most in a single game (227) in the 2014 Discover Orange Bowl win over Ohio State, 40-35.

2. C. J. Spiller (2006-2009)

Spiller is arguably the most electrifying player in program history and his commitment to Clemson marked a turn of the tide for Tiger football recruiting. The 2009 ACC Player of the Year, Spiller is a true legend and still holds the ACC record for career All-Purpose yardage (7,588). He earned ACC Championship MVP honors despite a 39-34 loss to Georgia Tech. Spiller finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting and was a first-team All-American kick returner. He finished his career with 21 touchdowns of 50+ yards.

1. Deshaun Watson (2014-2016)

Watson delivered the program’s second National Championship and shattered the record books during his three seasons at the helm. He left Clemson with 10,163 passing yards and 90 career touchdowns for second all-time in both categories. His long list of accolades includes a two-time ACC Championship Game MVP and Manning Award winner in addition to Heisman Trophy finalist. Per Clemson athletics, Watson is believed to be the first quarterback in FBS history to pass 37 hours of academic credit and throw for 35 or more touchdown passes in the same academic year.

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Rick Robertson
Rick Robertson
3 months ago

I think it speaks to the type of players that have come through this program when you have a Deandre Hopkins at number 8. I guess my question would be what is the criteria? I think about players like Mike Williams, Tee Higgins, Dexter Lawrence, Hunter Renfrow and others like Ben Boulware and James Skalski who may not have made the pros but were great college football players.

As far as the list as you have it, Trevor at least should have been number 2.

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