The defending national champions will have one of the most explosive offenses in the nation in 2019. They return most of their production from a season ago, including a dynamic tandem of receivers. Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins could be the best pass-catching duo in the country. Clemson has had no shortage of playmakers out wide over their recent rise to elite program status. Ranking the top ten wide receivers in Tigers’ history is a list condensed mostly to players from the last decade.
This is because not only has Clemson had an abundance of star players catching passes recently, but also the evolution of college football. The game has changed dramatically, even since the turn of the century. Passing is a much greater part of every program’s offensive game plan; as teams spread the field and the game is played at a much faster pace. Ross and Higgins have already had monumental moments in orange and purple, and could eventually see themselves among these former Tiger legends in the Top Ten.
Clemson Tigers; The Top Ten Wide Receivers
Terry Smith – 1990-93
The hometown hero from Daniel High School finished his career as Clemson’s all-time leader in receptions and yards. His 2681 career yards are still fifth in school history. The Tigers were a predominantly heavy running team in the early 90s, but Smith gave them a reliable weapon out wide. He accounted for 45% of the team’s receiving yards during his tenure. Smith also led the ACC in receptions (52) and yards (829) as a sophomore.
Artavis Scott – 2014-16
Scott represents the new school of college football. He is the Tigers’ all-time leader in receptions, but most of his damage was done at or behind the line of scrimmage. The screen and shovel pass to Scott were staples of Clemson’s offense during his three seasons. His career totals of 2480 yards and 19 touchdowns rank in the top 10 in program history. He also has over 1000 yards in punt and kick-off returns. Scott averaged six catches, 97 yards, and a touchdown in three games against rival South Carolina.
Rod Gardner – 1997-2000
It is no surprise that Gardner’s huge jump in production as a junior and senior coincided with Woodrow Dantzler taking over at quarterback. He accounted for the majority of his career numbers in his final two seasons. his 80 catch, 1084 yard junior campaign is one of the best single seasons ever for a Tiger wideout. Gardner is, of course, best known in Clemson lore for his big catch to set up the game-winning field goal against South Carolina. There are certainly still some orange “Rod Gardner was here” t-shirts with his handprint in the middle floating around the state.
Putting Up Numbers
Derrick Hamilton – 2001-03
The Dillon, South Carolina native was an equally versatile and explosive. He could affect the game in multiple areas, whether it be receiving, rushing or in the return game. Combined, he totaled over 4700 yards in orange and purple. In a win over the Virginia Cavaliers as a junior, he had five catches, a 52-yard touchdown run, two punt returns, and completed his only career pass attempt. Not many players have impacted the game in as many ways as Hamilton did for the Tigers.
Aaron Kelly – 2005-08
The definition of a steady performer, Kelly caught a pass in every game he played for the Tigers. A four-year starter, he left as the school’s all-time leader in catches, yards, and touchdowns. He didn’t have the playmaking ability of Scott or Hamilton or the star power of some of the names at the top of this list, but he always produced. His longevity and consistency made him one of the most productive players in Clemson history.
Hunter Renfrow – 2015-18
The former walk-on was never the most talented receiver during his time at Clemson, but he may be the most clutch player in the program’s history. The sure-handed slot receiver was always there to make crucial catches. He routinely made plays to convert on third down, and when the stakes were highest, he was at his best. Renfrow had 37 receptions, 392 yards, and five touchdowns in seven career College Football Playoff games. His game-winning scoring grab on the final play to secure the 2016 national title will go down as one of the most iconic plays in college football history.
Perry Tuttle – 1978-1981
Speaking of iconic championship moments, Tuttle’s touchdown celebration in the 1982 Orange Bowl landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated. That victory over Nebraska secured the program’s first national title. The fact that he is still in the top ten in Clemson’s record books, despite playing in an era where teams didn’t feature the passing game, is a testament to how good he was. He led the Tigers in receiving as a sophomore, junior, and senior. The Winston-Salem, NC native terrorized his hometown team. Tuttle amassed 23 catches, 394 yards and five scores against Wake Forest over his career.
Mike Williams – 2013-16
A mismatch for every opponent he faced, Williams had nine career 100-yard games. He also has one of the three 200-yard receiving games in program history. Williams was a rare combination of size, skill, and athleticism. He could run past, jump over, and sometimes carry opponents on his back. During the 2016 College Football Playoff, he had 14 catches for 190 yards as the Tigers won the national title for the first time in 35 years. He is also one of the two players in school history with multiple 1000 yard seasons.
Deandre Hopkins – 2010-12
The NFL All-Pro receiver is the first in Clemson’s recent run of superstars at wide receiver. He was the teams leading receiver each of his three seasons. Hopkins was a big play waiting to happen. One of the best deep threats in the nation during his career, he averaged 17 yards a catch as a junior. He also set the Clemson single-season record with 18 touchdowns. His size, hands, and explosive athleticism made him a nightmare for defenses. Hopkins is second all-time in both single-season and career yards. His 27 touchdowns are 10th all-time in ACC history.
Sammy Watkins – 2011-13
During his three seasons in orange and purple, there wasn’t a more explosive player in college football. Watkins burst onto the scene early on as a freshman. He totaled over 2000 yards and scored 13 touchdowns receiving, rushing, and on kick returns. His versatility was only matched by his blazing speed. If he got a half-step on a defender, the race was already over. As a junior, he set the program’s single-season records for catches (101) and yards (1464). In his final game, Watkins again broke school records with 16 catches and 227 yards in a win over Ohio State. He is top 10 in ACC history in career catches, yards, and touchdowns. He is remembered as one of the most dynamic playmakers in conference history.