Only at Clemson would a 10-3 season be considered a huge let-down. But then again, after six straight ACC Championships, four national championship appearances, and two national championship titles, that is exactly what 2021 was for the Tigers.
Don't expect that trend to continue in 2022, however. Head coach Dabo Swinney and Co. are again poised to rise to the top of the ACC, with the Clemson Tigers defense projected to be the nation's best. New offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter aims to get this offense clicking after the loss of Trevor Lawrence in the 2021 NFL Draft and D.J. Uiagalelei's underwhelming year, which is easier said than done. But the defense is really where this Clemson squad shines.
As Coach Swinney says, "There's no shine without the grind." Here are the players we think will bring Clemson back into the College Football Playoff spotlight in 2022.
Myles Murphy, DE
If we're talking about the nation's best defense, then Myles Murphy is a big part of the conversation, as he ranks among one of the Nation's top EDGE rushers. According to Pro Football Focus, Myles Murphy is the highest-graded Power Five edge rusher against the run since 2019. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound Murphy had 43 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, a team-best seven sacks, and two forced fumbles throughout the 2021 season. If Murphy continues putting up a number like that, he may be in consideration for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the annual award given to the nation's best defensive player. Barring any setbacks this season, Myle Murphy will be one of the first-round names called at the 2023 NFL Draft.
DJ Uiagalelei, QB
Everyone will be talking about the defensive playmakers on Clemson's roster at length this season, but for the Tigers to get back into the playoff picture, it starts and ends with the play of their quarterback, DJ Uiagalelei. Taking the reins after Trevor Lawrence left for the NFL, Uiagalelei instantly was put into the preseason Heisman conversation. That pressure and hype may have attributed to a tough first season under center that saw him toss more interceptions (10) than he did touchdown passes (9). All of that, while having Justyn Ross as your main wide receiver? Not ideal.
The 6-4, 250-pound Uiagalelei is a mobile quarterback with a strong arm, and he'll need both to make an impact for Clemson in 2022 and put last season behind him. While Uiagalelei is one of the true bounce-back candidates in the nation this season, he should get a little push from true freshman Cade Klubnik, and that may be all he needs to take things to the next level. Not to mention, with an O-line led by offensive lineman Jordan McFadden, Uiagalelei will have plenty of time in the pocket. The good news is things can't get worse than last year for Clemson's field general. He can only go up from here.
Xavier Thomas, DE
Back to that defensive front seven. Xavier Thomas had 21 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles last year and hopes to replicate that performance in his fifth and final season. Thomas almost didn't return to Clemson, after a brief flirtation with the NFL Draft, but who would pass up the chance to line up on the edge opposite Myles Murphy one more time? The duo figure to be 2022's answer to Georgia's Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt, who were off the board within the first 13 picks of the NFL draft. But before we get there, Thomas, Murphy and K.J. Henry figure to put the hurt on ACC quarterbacks. It's going to be a miserable day for opposing quarterbacks who see these two Tigers coming their way all afternoon.
Bryan Bresee, DT
Have we talked about the Clemson front seven too much? Not if you plan to be one of the 81,000-strong packed into Death Valley this fall! While the Clemson secondary was the story last year, as it was led by cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. (a 2022 second-round pick) and Mario Goodrich, it's players like Bryan Bresee that make Clemson's stacked defensive line the real highlight in 2022.
In the program listed at 6-foot-5, 300-pounds, Bresee is an all-around monster. A knee injury ended his 2021 season after just four games last year, but the No. 1 prospect in 2020's career stat line paints a more impressive picture. Notching 35 tackles with 5.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble, and one interception, it's clear why the Tigers are glad to have him back. His explosiveness, mobility, high football IQ, and elite power make Bresee one of the best whenever he steps on the field. Shoulder surgery after his knee healed kept him out of practice this spring, but Bresee is expected to be a full participant when Clemson camp kicks off in August.
Will Shipley, RB
The defense will steal the show for Clemson in 2022, as evidenced by the entirety of this article, but to get back into the national title hunt the offense will have to produce as well. Will Shipley did his part in 2021 as a true freshman, scoring 11 touchdowns via 739 yards on the ground all while missing a full month of the season. Shipley also stands to benefit from the elevated play of DJ Uiagalelei, who is looking to change the tune of his Clemson career. Look for Dabo Swinney to draw up plenty of misdirection with his mobile quarterback and five-star running back.