Having already lost three defensive players to the lure of the 2023 NFL Draft, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is likely eager to learn whether that number will grow. Defensive end Xavier Thomas and defensive tackles Tyler Davis and Ruke Orhorhoro have yet to make their intentions public, but there’s little doubt that a rebuild already is in order after defensive ends Myles Murphy and K.J.
Henry and defensive tackle Bryan Bresee opted to pursue careers at the next level. The deadline to declare for the 2023 draft is Jan. 16, so Swinney won’t have to wait long to find out if his defensive front will require a few replacement parts or a complete overhaul. Although none of the departures would qualify as unexpected, the decisions certainly add a sense of urgency as the Tigers look to groom returnees and newcomers in spring practice, which begins as soon as late February. MOVIN' ON UP:K.J.
Henry is sixth Clemson football player to declare for 2023 NFL Draft CLEMSON SHORTCOMINGS:Issues Dabo Swinney must resolve before Clemson returns to College Football Playoff LOOKING AHEAD:How Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney looks at Orange Bowl thumping by Tennessee It has the potential to be Swinney’s most challenging rebuilding project on the defensive front since 2019, when the Tigers were faced with replacing a trio of first-round draft picks – tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence and defensive end Clelin Ferrell – as well as fourth-round selection and end Austin Bryant. It won’t be easy.
Henry, Murphy and Bresee combined for 111 tackles, 25½ tackles for loss and 13½ sacks in 2022 as Clemson (11-3) posted a school-record 12th consecutive season with 10 or more victories. So how will defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin rebuild? Well, a good start would be the return of Thomas. He missed 11 games with injury last season and could be leaning toward a return to boost his draft stock; he didn’t play enough to leave NFL scouts with a positive impression. Davis and Orhorhoro have accepted invitations to play in the Senior Bowl next month, which would indicate that their days at Clemson may be done. If that indeed turns out to be the case, the Tigers likely will turn first to their most experienced reserves, which include sophomores Payton Page, DeMonte Capehart and Tre Williams, a trio of four-star interior linemen whose time has come. Page, who’s 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, played in all 14 games in 2022 and made 14 tackles, including 3½ tackles for loss.
He also blocked a kick and recovered a fumble. Capehart played in 13 games and made 12 tackles while Williams logged seven tackles in 12 games. The Tigers will have at least one experienced player returning at defensive end in senior Justin Mascoll. Seeing an opportunity for increased playing time and the chance to mentor younger players, Mascoll announced after the Orange Bowl that he’d be back. Mascoll played in all 14 games last season, including two starts, and contributed 19 tackles, including 3½ tackles for loss. More help could be on the way courtesy of Clemson’s incoming recruiting class.
The list of early enrollees includes five-star talent Peter Woods of Alabaster, Alabama. The Tigers also will welcome three other four-star defensive linemen prior to spring practice: Vic Burley of Warner Robins, Georgia; Tomarrion Parker of Phenix City, Alabama; and Stephiylan Green of Rome, Georgia. “I’ll be ready to rock and roll come January,” Woods told 247Sports. If the Tigers lose any more linemen to the NFL, he’d better be.