Dabo Swinney announced that star receiver Justyn Ross will miss the entire 2020 season because of a neck condition. Clemson returns one of the most talented rosters in all of college football, and the Tigers were poised to make a run at a national championship. While they still are more than capable of achieving that goal, they took a big hit. Ross was a blooming young star in all of college football, and now the Tigers need to find ways to replace what he brings to the table.
The absence of Justyn Ross
We saw the potential of Justyn Ross in the 2018 College Football Playoff when he was just a freshman. Against Notre Dame and Alabama, Ross caught 12 passes for 301 yards (25.1 ypc) and three touchdowns, including one highlight-reel catch that was the talk of the playoff for months.
Ross and Tee Higgins provided Clemson with a formidable 1-2 punch in the passing game last season, and Ross seemed ready to take another step forward in 2020. With Higgins off to the NFL, Ross was next in line to become Trevor Lawrence’s go-to target downfield. Ross caught 112 passes in his first two seasons with the Tigers, turning that into 1,865 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Even with teams knowing who he was, Ross and Clemson still found ways to thrive, and that was largely thanks to his expanding catch radius. Now that’s taken away, and a future in the NFL is in jeopardy because of his condition. As for Clemson, they must find new threats downfield that match his skillset, or find a handful of players that replicate his production.
After Ross, the next leading receiver is running back Travis Etienne, who caught 37 passes for 432 yards and four touchdowns. With the talent Swinney’s brought in to the program, there are plenty of options to replace Ross, but not many proven commodities. Amari Rodgers brings versatility to the offense in the slot, but he doesn’t do what Ross did for the offense.
Joseph Ngata (6’3″, 215 pounds) and Frank Ladson Jr. (6’3″, 195) have the frames to operate in a similar manner for the offense, bur return a combined 26 catches. They both, at one point, were picked to be the next great Clemson receiver in a long lineage of talented pass catchers, but didn’t get many chances in their freshmen campaigns. Incoming freshman E.J. Williams and Ajou Ajour could also contribute. Throw in tight end Braden Galloway, and the Tigers have plenty of potential that can fill the void. Someone just needs to step up. Trevor Lawrence returns as the top quarterback in college football, but he’ll need someone to catch his passes.
Losing Justyn Ross presents a new challenge for the Clemson Tigers to overcome. Ross added to a trio with Lawrence and Etienne that was supposed to be one of the best in the country, and his absence raises concerns for the offense. An immediate replacement remains unknown at this point, and that player must emerge quickly for the national championship aspirations to continue.