January 21, 2019

CU in the NFL – Tying records, game winning field goals, 105 receptions (#WRU) & 119 tackles

Stats for former Tigers through week 4 of the NFL season.


CU in the NFL – Tigers making their mark through week 3

Through 3 weeks, former Tigers have contributed over 1,500 yards, 9 touchdowns, 66 receptions, 87 tackles and 3 forced fumbles (doesn’t count kicking and punting) to NFL teams.

Updates/corrections appreciated.

#ThrowbackThursday: Andre Ellington for 68 vs. Auburn 2012

2012 – Andre Ellington lands on top of Auburn defender, spins, keeps his balance and goes for 68 yards in Clemson victory.

Featured image: Richard Shiro/Associated Press

Tigers in the NFL Stats (Preseason with video)

A look at the preseason stats for former Clemson players.

Please note that not all stats that will be tracked in regular season are tracked in preseason.

Sammy’s stats are from first game with Buffalo.

Please @ me with errors and omissions.

Each team has played one game with the exception of Dallas and Arizona (Ellington and Jaron Brown) who have played 2.


Rod McDowell – Unsung Hero

Rod McDowell hadn’t made much of an impact in his first three years on campus. McDowell was part of Dabo Swinney’s first recruiting class, the tiny 2009 group that numbered just 12 individuals.

After redshirting that first year, McDowell played sparingly in his freshman and sophomore campaigns, seeing mostly mop up duty behind Andre Ellington, Mike Bellamy and D.J. Howard. McDowell rushed for only 224 yards combined in those first two years.

Through hard work, preserverance, injury and attrition 2012 has been a good year for McDowell. Bellamy transferred, Howard has been nicked up and Zac Brooks continues to be a work in progress.

With no reliable and experienced backup to Ellington the Tigers seemed a tad thin at running back. Seemed is the operative word. McDowell stepped up game after game and including the Chic-fil-A Bowl ended the season with 83 carries for 460 yards (5.5 per carry) and 5 touchdowns.

But more than mere statistics, McDowell did what was needed. Not only did McDowell take part of the load off Ellington, he did it with energy, passion and drive. In short, McDowell ran hard on every carry and played hard when he didn’t carry the ball.

One of the times McDowell didn’t carry the ball was on 4th and 16 with 1:32 to go last Monday night versus LSU.

As Tajh Boyd dropped back, Lamin Barrow, all 6’2, 232 lbs. of him, blitzed and was blowing by Clemson right guard Tyler Shatley. McDowell, started the play looking as if he intended to help right tackle Brandon Thomas, but appeared to see the streaking Barrow headed unimpeded towards Boyd and the end of the game.


Barrow is not just a guy (JAG). He had 12 total tackles, including 2 for loss in this game. McDowell quickly veered left and cut Barrow just enough to give Boyd the time to get rid of the ball.

We all know what happened after that.

If McDowell doesn’t make that block, Boyd doesn’t make that pass, Nuk Hopkins doesn’t make that catch, Chandler Catanzaro doesn’t make that field goal and Clemson doesn’t win.

This is a stat focused site, sometimes too much so per my regular readers. Well, I’m here to tell you that no play and no stats accumulated by Rod McDowell in his first 3 years was bigger than that single block, a play for which his statistics were non-existent other than participation.

Lost in the beautiful spiral placed perfectly by Boyd and the sliding catch by Hopkins was the block of a lifetime by a 5’9, 195 lb. reserve running back that was just as important because without it the others never would have happened.

Sometimes I get lost in the statistics and miss the finer points of the game. I watched that play about 10 times before I noticed McDowell’s block.

Shame on me because it was a thing of beauty, just as pretty as a 40 yard spiral and a sliding catch on 4th and 16.

Dissecting Third Downs

One of the biggest improvements in the Clemson offense in the Chad Morris era has been third downs. The Tigers currently reside in 4th place in the NCAA rankings converting 52.13% of third down opportunities, up from 39.27% (and a 67th ranking) in the last year of Billy Napier calling plays.

It’s really quite remarkable. Everything being equal Clemson has a better chance than not of converting a given third down.

The problem is, of course, everything is not equal and the shorter the distance to go on third down, the better chance a team has of converting as shown in the chart below.

2012 TD Detail

We often hear announcers talk about getting to a “manageable third down” when its second and 14 or so, theory being that instead of trying a low percentage play that might gain all 14 yards needed for a first down an offense should attempt to gain half of the yards (more or less) on second down and leave themselves with a 3rd and 7 (or so) which would increase the likelihood of converting on third down. Basically, the odds of converting two shorter plays are better than attempting to convert one long play. This led me to get curious about the averages on every third down attempt (including goal to go situations) and the results are below. 2012 TD By Distance

The first two are not surprising. One would expect the highest conversion rate when the distance needed is smallest and the second highest rate when the needed distance is the next smallest. Things get a bit weird after that, when we see a huge dip when the distance to go increases from 2 to 3 and another drop from 3 to 4, after which the conversion rate goes back up in a fairly predictable pattern until 10 yards to go.

However, the 2 to 3 dip intrigued me. What happened? What is it about that extra 36 inches that caused the conversion rate to drop like a rock? The data below appears to show a shift in philosophy from running to passing when the distance changes from 2 to 3 yards. I first noticed this tendency last year in year 1 of the Morris regime. 2012 TD Comparison

The longer distance leads to a predictable decrease in success rates for rushing attempts, but the 36% conversion rate on passes is also interesting to me. Two of those failed passes were drops (Brandon Ford against Auburn and Sammy Watkins against N.C. State). For our purposes here it really doesn’t matter why they failed, just that they failed.

While the decrease in conversion on rushes was predictable, I was intrigued by trends that may become apparent by breaking down the rushes by player and I wasn’t disappointed. I think we all knew that the Tigers relied on Tajh Boyd in short yardage, but these two charts show that not only do they rely on Boyd on 3rd and 4th and 1 as previously written here, but the same is true on 3rd and 2 or 3, despite a higher success rate for running backs in similar situations. 2012 Third Down 2 _ 3 By Player

Does anyone else find it strange that the star running back, one of the top rushers in school history, carried the ball 2 (of a possible 13) times on third and 2? Or 4 of a possible 21 times on third and 2 and third and 3?

You’re probably thinking what I was – McDowell’s chances came in blowout time as did Howard’s, Stoudt’s and Davidson’s. That is true – for the most part. Two of McDowell’s carries came in blow out time (as did the carries from the other players). Still, that means Ellington carried the ball 4 of 16 times (25%) on 3rd and 2 or 3 when the game was in doubt. Boyd carried the ball 62.5% of the time in these situations.

There could be obvious reasons for this disparity. Boyd has improved as a runner and he’s closer to the line of scrimmage, minimizing the chance for a negative play. There’s less chance of a bad exchange and turnover. Perhaps Boyd is changing the play at the line depending on the alignment of the defense. 

On the other hand we aren’t talking about 3rd and 1 (or inches). We’re talking about 3rd and 2 and 3rd and 3. There’s a risk that the quarterback gets stuffed by a lineman that a running back could potentially avoid and the running back is moving forward at the snap while the quarterback is stationary.

This led me to wonder about how often (as a percentage of total carries) Ellington and Boyd carried the ball on third down. Naturally, one would think that Ellington’s percentage would go down from first, to second to third to fourth down. And already knowing that Boyd carried the ball a great deal on third down, I suspected his number would be relatively high. I had no idea of the disparity. Boyd carries the ball 4 times as much (as a percentage of carries) on third down as Ellington. The question is why? BoydEllington_ThirdDownRushes
My guess is Morris calls more plays for Boyd and Boyd changes a few based on the defense. If we are talking read option here, there hasn’t been much optioning.  One would think the defense would eventually force Boyd to give the ball up, which leads me to believe that most of these are not options, but designed runs (my eyes tell me that, too). 

We’ll never know how much of each of these has caused the diparity in numbers, but a couple of things are obvious to the average observer – Morris is more comfortable with Boyd carrying the ball in these situations and Boyd carries the ball more on third and 2 or 3 than everyone else combined (when game is in doubt), regardless of field position and game situation.

With the overall success on third downs, it’s hard to pick nits here. After all, as I pointed out earlier the Tigers are 4th of 120 teams in third down conversions. My intent here was not to criticize the play calling or suggest I know more than Morris about what call to make on third and 3 or what player to lean on when its third and 2 – obviously I don’t.

My intent is to point out what is likely to happen in the future given what has happened in similar situations in the past.

Other interesting discoveries:
• Clemson has run 5 plays from the opponents 3 on third and goal. 3 Boyd runs and 2 Boyd passes.
• No one else has carried the ball on 3rd and goal from the 3.
• Only 1 of the above 5 plays was successful – Boyd scored on a 3 yard run against South Carolina on 3rd and goal from the 3.

The 50+ Club

Quick, name the Clemson player with the longest play from the line of scrimmage in 2012. DeAndre Hopkins, you say? Wrong. Sammy Watkins? Nope. Andre Ellington? Wrong again. 

Brandon Ford’s 69 yard catch and run against North Carolina State was the longest play of the season for Clemson.

Incredibly, Hopkins didn’t even come in second. That honor goes to Andre Ellington’s 68 yard run in the opener against Auburn.


50 Yard Club
 Some interesting observations about these 50+ yard plays:

  •  The first two were rushes, but the next 10 were passes.
  • 5 of the 12 came on second down.
  • 6 of the 12 came in the second quarter.
  • Only 4 of the 12 came in Death Valley.
  • DeAndre Hopkins had 5 (of the 10) receptions of over 50 yards.
  • Despite the documented reduction in explosive plays, Sammy Watkins footprints are all over this metric – 3 receptions, 1 rush and 1 pass.
  • Assuming Hopkins turns pro, only Watkins returns from this group (along with Tajh Boyd, of course) of explosive players.
  • 12 plays over 50 yards equals 1 per game, 1 every 80.17 plays and 1.25% of plays.

The Long and Short of Sammy Watkins

(AP Photo/Bob Leverone, File)

(AP Photo/Bob Leverone, File)

Sammy Watkins and Nuk Hopkins are different receivers. Watkins is faster, perhaps quicker and has a better burst. Hopkins isn’t slow, but doesn’t possess the top end speed of Watkins or Martavis Bryant.

Hopkins appears to be more elusive in traffic and always seems to get just enough yards for a first down when one is needed, often ducking under or spinning away from tackles.

In the eyes of many observers Watkins had a disappointing 2012. After sitting out the first two games due to a suspension, then playing in the next two, Watkins missed another game due to an injury/illness and never appeared completely healthy, though he showed flashes of Sammy circa 2011 on several occasions.

Watkins, by normal standards, had a productive if less explosive sophomore campaign. In 9 games he caught 57 passes for 708 yards. But his 3 touchdowns paled in comparison to the 16 registered by Hopkins (and 8 by Brandon Ford for that matter) and the explosiveness that captured Clemson fans and the nation’s imagination was often lacking.

2012 Receiver Detail1

Whether by design, due to injury or the breakout season delivered by Hopkins, my hunch is Watkins was used differently in 2012 than 2011. However, I lack the data to support this hunch.

That said, I do have the 2012 data and what it shows is Watkins was targeted more than 20 yards downfield 14 times in 78 total targets (18%). Hopkins was targeted 20 or more yards downfield 27 times in 109 targets (25%).

Watkins caught a substantially higher percentage of balls thrown his way than Hopkins (73.08 to 63.30), but again this speaks to how they were used. 41% of the time Watkins was targeted he was behind the line of scrimmage (LOS) while Hopkins was only targeted 9% of the time behind the LOS. Shorter throws generally equate to a higher completion percentage. With these shorter throws however, come less yards per catch, explosive plays and touchdowns.

Targets LOS

On plays where targeted downfield, Watkins and Hopkins had a similar average distance targeted – Hopkins at 15.5 and Watkins 15.3

However, when you include the times targeted behind the line of scrimmage the disparity grows to over 5 yards per target and Watkins ends up 4th on the team behind Martavis Bryant, Hopkins and Jaron Brown.

Hopkins is likely NFL bound and with academic questions surrounding Martavis Bryant, Jaron Brown playing his last game in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, and Charone Peake and Adam Humphries typically used at or near the line of scrimmage the Tigers may suddenly be in need of a deep threat in 2013, making it even more interesting to see how Watkins will be used.

In 2010 the Tigers had a dearth of talent at the wide receiver position, with Hopkins the only real threat. That changed with the arrival of Watkins, Peake, Bryant and Humphries and the development of Brown.

There is some talent redshirting and more potentially coming next August, so the cupboard is far from bare. But the question on everyone’s mind is which Sammy Watkins will we see in 2013, the 2011 version or the 2012 version?

A Peek at 2013

Chad Morris

By and large Clemson fans and some of those that write about Clemson assume that 2013 is likely to be the Tigers year – the year the youth of 2011 matures, the year with a senior quarterback who will be in his third year of starting, the year of 4 returning starters on the offensive line and the year that the young defensive line of 2012 becomes a force with some key additions.

I look at it another way, albeit the glass half empty way. I see 40% of the snaps on the offensive line (Dalton Freeman), 70% of the running back snaps (Andre Ellington), 67% of the tight end snaps (Brandon Ford) and, assuming Nuk Hopkins turns pro, 56.3% of the wide receiver snaps departing.

While you can never overestimate the value of a veteran quarterback with nearly 2,000 career snaps under his belt, the questions remain about who is going to carry the ball and can Charone Peake and Martavis Bryant step up from role players to capable replacements for Nuk Hopkins and, to a lesser extent, Jaron Brown.

% of Snaps Returning and Lost in 2013

Returning Snaps
The coaches rave about Ryan Norton at center, but with 277 career snaps (the equivalent of about 3 games) under his belt he has yet to prove himself on the field against ACC level competition – not to mention the likes of Georgia and South Carolina.

The loss of Freeman also means the dean of the offensive line becomes Brandon Thomas who has 1,461 less career snaps than Freeman does.

Sam Cooper performed admirably in spot situations in 2012. It’s difficult to imagine Cooper or Stanton Seckinger being as athletic as Ford, so many fans assume that the coaches will turn to redshirt freshman Jay Jay McCollough. The problem with that is, of course, McCollough has 0 snaps of experience.

Many feel the defense will get better with addition by subtraction, getting better simply because many players perceived as unproductive will be moving on. The Tigers lose only Mallaciah Goodman along the line and players like Grady Jarrett, DeShawn Williams and Vic Beasley gained valuable experience this season.

At linebacker Clemson loses the sparingly used (in 2012) Corico Hawkins and the productive Tig Willard. That’s 53.6% of the Tigers career linebacker snaps between those two.

The defensive backfield has been an enigma all season long. The Tigers lose 6,689 snaps of experience, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone despondent over the individual losses as the DBs were the focus of busted coverages, long plays, poor angles, bad tackling and general failure of the defense.

Just know this – whatever group takes the field in the Clemson defensive backfield in 2012 is going to be thousands of snaps less experienced than those that took the field this past fall. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just an observation.

Chandler Catanzaro has me feeling good about the place kicking duties, but there will be zero experience behind him.

Bradley Pinion punted only 9 times in 2012 and was inconsistent in that role much as he was on kickoffs – both areas that need improvement in 2013.

The numbers in the defensive backfield juxtaposed against their 2012 performance shows that evaluating returning starters can be overvalued in some instances.

On the other hand, a similar argument can be made against trumpeting “4 of 5 starters returning on the OL” when the one starter you lose has more snaps than any offensive lineman in school history, accounts for almost 40% of the line’s total experience and makes the offensive protection calls.

These numbers don’t include the inevitable attrition that happens every year during the offseason.  Guys transfer, give up football, face academic or life problems and sometimes get injured (Tony McNeal anyone?).

As with almost every analysis we do here, this should be used as one part of evaluating Clemson’s 2013 returnees with the main point being you can’t just look at numbers (i.e. “4 of 5 offensive linemen returning” or “only lose Jaron Brown and Nuk Hopkins from the WR corps”) and get a full picture of the returning (and departing) talent.

Looking Back – Game 11

Thoughts compiled while watching the track meet that broke out in Death Valley yesterday afternoon:

  • Clemson fans need to recognize the special nature of what they are seeing on offense this year.  Simply incredible, especially given where this team was on offense in 2010.
  • Tajh Boyd passed 7,000 passing yards last week and then crossed 7,500 yesterday.
  • Boyd had 401 yards passing after 3 quarters and threw only 3 passes in the 4th quarter.
  • Nice game by Brandon Ford.
  • All things considered the defensive front 7 played a nice game, but the secondary is one of the worst I can remember seeing, ever – not just at Clemson – but ever.  It’s unbelievable at times.
  • Vic Beasley with 3 sacks.  Put some weight on that guy and let him go.
  • Malliciah Goodman with a sack and forced fumble that Corey Crawford recovered.  Very nice to see.
  • Andre Ellington ran like he did against Auburn.  It’s been a while.
  • Rod McDowell continues to impress in his role.
  • Grady Jarrett and Josh Watson were disruptive at times and Clemson will need that this week.
  • Tig Willard had a nice game, too with several big hits.
  • The Tigers kickoff coverage was also horrific.  As we found out in Tallahassee it can be a game changer when you are playing a better team.