Once Christian Wilkins made the shocking announcement that he would be returning for his senior season at Clemson, the narrative was set: Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant would form the best defensive line college football will see in quite some time.
We didn’t need the All-ACC team selections to know that the Clemson defensive line is going to be terrifying this season, but it sure does a good job of plainly stating the level of talent we’re dealing with.
Here is the defensive line of the All-ACC Preseason Team:
DE – Clelin Ferrell, Clemson
DE – Austin Bryant, Clemson
DT – Christian Wilkins, Clemson
DT – Dexter Lawrence, Clemson
So, uh, yeah. It appears Clemson is going to have the four best defensive line in a 14-team conference. That is probably all kinds of unprecedented. And yet, it’s not unexpected.
Where the Clemson defensive line hype comes from
There are plenty of ways to make a preseason all-conference team. It usually breaks down to at least one of three criteria: a high recruiting rating as a high-schooler, a strong season last year or an expectation that the player will hear their named called in the NFL draft. Every member of the Clemson defensive line meets all three of those qualifications.
For criteria one, Lawrence and Wilkins were Rivals five-stars, while Bryant and Ferrell were high four-stars. For criteria two, all four made at least one All-America team and three of the four were All-ACC first team last season. Bryant and Ferrell combined for 18 sacks and 33.5 tackles for loss while Wilkins and Lawrence devoured double teams in the middle.
And for criteria three, all four linemen could very well hear their name called during the first round of the 2019 NFL draft. It’s a group of monsters with pedigree, production and projection.
Clemson’s D-line has even more talent in its depth
Clemson’s obscene defensive line talent doesn’t stop with its starters, as it boasts a second unit that nearly every team in college football would be happy to trade for.
In Xavier Thomas and K.J. Henry, Clemson has two of the nation’s top 30 recruits in the class of 2018 on its defensive line (and six top-30 players overall, because Clemson is now a recruiting behemoth). Dabo Swinney also pulled in a pair of four-star defensive ends in 2017 with Justin Foster and Jordan Williams
Clemson very well might lose its entire defensive line to the NFL draft after this season, but there is little reason to think they won’t be haunting the nightmares of backfields for the forseeable future.
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