5 lesser known players who could make noise for Clemson football’s defense in 2022

·4 min read

As Clemson football’s Sept. 5 season opener against Georgia Tech approaches, The State is highlighting Tigers players you need to know for 2022.

Here are five potential breakout players for Clemson’s defense.

CB Nate Wiggins

Measurables: 6-foot-2, 185 pounds

Last year: three tackles, three pass breakups, 11 games (130 snaps)

Everyone from quarterback DJ Uiagalelei to defensive tackle Bryan Bresee to coach Dabo Swinney has labeled Wiggins a player to watch. Wiggins himself said he’s “bought into the team” after an admittedly “immature” freshman season, from both a football and academic perspective. Good timing, as there are many reps for the taking in Clemson’s secondary.

With first-team All-ACC cornerbacks Andrew Booth Jr. and Mario Goodrich departing, true sophomore Wiggins has ample opportunity to showcase the skills that made him the No. 7 cornerback and No. 118 overall recruit in the 2021 class. He’s all but secured a starting job next to veteran Sheridan Jones. With an adjusted mindset, can he put his elite speed to use?

Clemson’s Barrett Carter at the Tigers’ first practice of 2022 camp on Friday, Aug. 5.
Clemson’s Barrett Carter at the Tigers’ first practice of 2022 camp on Friday, Aug. 5.

LB Barrett Carter

Measurables: 6-1, 224 pounds

Last year: 26 tackles, one defensive touchdown, 12 games (179 snaps)

Don’t ask Carter how many positions he’ll play this season because, honestly, he doesn’t know. His personal assessment of where he stands on the Clemson defense: “They say I’m a linebacker right now …” It’s a good problem to have for both parties, though. Carter will likely triple his freshman season snap count, and Clemson will have another switchable defender.

Whether it’s at linebacker or nickel, the speedy Carter has a chance to emerge as one of the Tigers’ most vital players behind a stacked defensive line. The former five-star recruit and No. 33 player in the class of 2021 has already flashed some talent in big games, too. In his first career start at No. 23 Pittsburgh last year, Carter had five tackles and pass breakup.

LB LaVonta Bentley

Measurables: 6-0, 233 pounds

Last year: 30 tackles, four tackles for loss, 11 games (171 snaps)

If Carter is a speedster, Bentley is a thumper. He’s also the most experienced returner for a Clemson defense trying to replace standout linebackers James Skalski and Baylon Spector. And Bentley already did that in a big way in 2021: In his first career start against Georgia Tech, he had 13 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack in place of the injured Spector.

Clemson’s rotational linebacker group will likely include star Trenton Simpson and Bentley at the Will, or weak-side spot; Keith Maguire and Jeremiah Trotter Jr. at the Mike, or middle spot; and the versatile Carter at the Sam, or strong-side spot. Bentley’s one of the group’s hardest hitters. But he also gets the ball, as evidenced by his two PBUs, sack and forced fumble last year.

DL Payton Page

Measurables: 6-4, 317 pounds

Last year: eight tackles, 12 games (76 snaps)

This breakout comes with an asterisk. It’ll be hard for Page to rack up too many snaps thanks to the defensive tackle talent in front of him. Bresee, Tyler Davis, Ruke Orhorhoro and Tré Williams make up a fearsome rotation. But with Bresee picking up NFL Draft buzz and Davis entering his senior season, Page’s performance this season could set him up well for the future.

He’s already on the right track. Position coach Nick Eason said Page has “improved a ton, the most of anyone” and complimented his dedication to weight loss. The former top 100 recruit, who was 335 pounds as a true freshman, is starting his sophomore year at 317. Eason describes Page as “a dominant nose tackle moving forward” — 2022 could be a sneak peek.

Clemson football’s Toriano Pride at spring practice March 2, 2022.
Clemson football’s Toriano Pride at spring practice March 2, 2022.

CB Toriano Pride Jr.

Measurables: 5-11, 190 pounds

Last year: N/A

With Booth and Goodrich gone, Clemson cornerbacks outside of Jones and Wiggins will get their shot this season, too. A top contender for rotational reps is Pride, a former top 100 recruit and freshman early enrollee from St. Louis who already turned some heads in spring practice.

When it comes to ideal traits for a Clemson cornerback, position coach Mike Reed said Pride simply “has it.” He’s fast, he’s fluid and he’s physical, despite a slighter 5-11, 190-pound frame. Pride had seven tackles and two tackles for loss in Clemson’s spring game. His main competitors are veterans Fred Davis II and Malcolm Greene and fellow freshman Jeadyn Lukus.