What They’re Saying: Clemson Tigers Flying Under the Radar in 2023

Adam Randall (Jason Priester All Clemson)

Word on the streets of Charlotte, N.C., is that Clemson will be pretty good. 

That’s nothing new. The Tigers have become a regular attraction at ACC Kickoff, and when the All-ACC preseason team and predicted order of finish is released by the league next week, Clemson will be well represented. 

Word among the players who represented Clemson at ACC Kickoff on Thursday was about themselves and how good the Tigers can be, but also about who we should be paying attention to this fall. Asked about players flying under the radar, here’s an inside look at some of the names they threw around and why:

Adam Randall

Klubnik admitted he was a tad biased about roommate and receiver Randall, but the Tiger QB couldn’t stop talking about a fellow 2022 prospect. 

Randall was banged up last year, twice. A knee injury in the 2022 spring derailed his development. Randall caught just 10 passes over 12 games and suffered another knee injury that kept him out of spring ball.

Before he initially went down, he was blowing teammates away with his natural ability, speed and catch radius. Klubnik is very confident that Randall will be showcasing that this season, and he said watching him run routes this summer, Randall looks like he never had knee issues. 

That’s a promising sign for a receiver room looking to return to dominance and in need of a big-time playmaker. 

But there was one last interesting tidbit from Klubnik on Randall. Despite the tall receiver being a sophomore, he’s been one of the Tigers pushing his teammates and leading this summer in player-only workouts. That’s another good sign of things to come for a potential breakout receiver. 

Phil Mafah

Putnam was quick to pinpoint Mafah as a guy flying under the radar, although it’s hard to say the junior running backs is being overlooked. But with All-ACC player Will Shipley returning in the backfield, maybe it’s a sign that Mafah is going to be at that level as well. He could’ve left and entered the transfer portal in search of more carries, but he stayed at Clemson and can be more than just a compliment to Shipley. Mafah could start at a ton of other schools. 

Putnam raved about how Mafah looks physically, and after seeing him at the Clemson football facility last week during Swinney’s media event, it’s hard to argue. How much that leads to more of an even share of touches in 2023 is difficult to predict, but Putnam’s suggestion just strengthens the belief that the running game is going to shine under Riley. 

Khalil Barnes

Here’s a good name to store away in the memory bank for later. Barnes, a three-star safety from North Oconee (Ga.), isn’t the most highly-regarded prospect the Tigers brought in with this 2023 class, but when Tyler Davis was asked, this is the young player he settled on in terms of a guy we don’t see coming. Now, Barnes was running with the second team during early Clemson spring practices that were open to the media, so that says a lot about what the coaches already think of him. With so many good young defensive players to mention, what’s so appealing about Barnes? 

Well, he’s a guy that was brought up when talking to media members who cover Wake Forest, where Barnes was originally committed before his “dream school” Clemson came calling. Those who covered him in his high school days raved about Barnes as well and said he’ll get on the field at Clemson, even in a loaded safety room. 

And that might be true. Sure, Andrew Mukuba, Jalyn Phillips, and R.J. Mickens are going to get the bulk of the work, but Tyler Venables is redshirting because of a hip injury. Linebacker depth took a hit last week with T.J. Dudley getting dismissed from the team. If the Tigers need to go with more of a 4-2-5 look, that gets more defensive backs on the field and could mean a role for Barnes.

If it doesn’t, he’s still a guy who could make a major impact next year when that safety room takes heavy losses through graduation, the NFL, and maybe the portal. 

Other guys

Swinney has named the offensive line as the position group he’s anticipating will have a really good season. One player, in particular, he mentioned Thursday was Colin Sadler, who redshirted last year and could play about anything the Tigers need him to this year. 

Tristian Leigh is another guy on the offensive front who was talked about among the players. Leigh has transformed his body. It’s taken a couple of years after he didn’t play high school ball in 2020 because of COVID-19. He’s got a real shot at being the first left tackle on the field next week when fall camp begins.

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