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CFF Series - Clemson's Freshman Phenom bringing 'WRU' back to Death Valley
True freshman WR Tyler Brown has already shown himself to be a promising player, but just how valuable is he from a CFF standpoint?
We were just singing an ancient Yanomamo song about a brave warrior who falls from a tree while hunting for chimpanzee meat.
He's good. Yeah.
- Owen Wilson, Little Fockers (2010)
The Clemson Tigers, much like the brave warrior Wilson speaks of above, feel like the ancient warrior who has fallen from the tree; deviated from the path of greatness we all thought they were inevitably sky-rocketing towards. Lest we forget, a time not so long ago (2021) where Tigers head coach and sworn transfer portal-hater Dabo ‘East Atlanta Santa’ Swinney was almost unanimously considered to be the second greatest coach in the sport. They were the only team that could interrupt Alabama’s dynasty to kickstart their own in the same timeline. They were 3D printing generational QB, WR and DL talent almost every recruiting class. And, with their soft-as-charmin ACC schedule, who was ever going to stop them from perpetually making the playoffs (fully healthy and enthused)?
But, just as the CFB gods giveth, they taketh away. Times have changed. They’ve definitely changed. Some could almost say they haven’t been the same since September 4th, 2021. Far be it from me, a UGA football admirer, to dwell on the past, but I can’t help but look at that loss to a JT Daniels-run Dawgs team, and remember it as an inflection point on the trajectory of the Clemson program.
Even more unforgivable than the lack of winning, however, is that Clemson has lost its tradition of producing big-time CFF assets at WR. That’s in part due to the fact that they have not had a generational QB since 2020 after having two back-to-back in Deshaun Watson and Lawrence. It’s almost easy to forget that this program was considered (and I guess still is in some circles) as WRU—or at least, a contender for WRU. I mean, we’re still talking about the same program that had Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins on the same team just a few seasons ago, right? How about DeAndre Hopkins—remember him? I remember him.
But if there’s one redeeming quality about Dabo, or ‘EAS’ as the kids call him, it’s that when he recognizes greatness in young players, he plays them. The aforementioned Ross was crowned a superstar before his freshman season was even over. Travis Etienne got a lot of run as a true freshman. And of course, we all know the lore of the 6’6” blond-haired beauty who tore Alabama a new one in the 2018 National Championship Game. Live dialogue between Saban and Dabo after that ass-kicking probably went something like this:
SABAN: “He’s good…”
Well, Clemson may never return to those days (at least, not anytime soon, barring a JuJu Lewis flip from USC… that’d be a heck of a callback to the old formula for success—five star generational QBs from GA seem to work out well for them), but they do have a WR who might bring them back into the ‘WRU’ discussion. True freshman WR Tyler Brown, by way of Greenville, South Carolina, has ascended early in his 2023 campaign. Enough so that it warrants an article to discuss, so let’s get into it.
Tyler Brown — 5’11, 180 lbs
Brown was ranked as a composite four star on 247 Sports’ final rankings, but he was actually given the three star designation on three out of the four major recruiting services. He committed to the Tigers fairly late in the cycle (November), especially when you consider how Clemson usually does things over there. Dare I say, he might have been a back-up option in case of missing out on someone else? Well, even if that were true, it surely doesn’t matter now.
He got his first game action in Clemson’s Week One matchup vs. Duke, seeing three targets total (he caught two for 21 yards). It was certainly the case early on in the season that fellow slot receiver Antonio Williams was the ‘alpha’ so to speak, in this room. Williams later went down with an injury, clearing the way for Brown to show what he’s capable of. I think it’s safe to say that he didn’t disappoint. In the game where Williams went down (Week Three vs. FAU), Brown remarkably caught two TD passes on only three targets. Not bad for efficiency, but not a player that screamed CFF asset, yet.
His production on limited touches must have alerted the coaches to get him the ball more often, however, as the very next week vs. Florida State, Brown was targeted six times (scored 13,4 points in 1-ppr formats), and 10 times the week after versus Syracuse (scored 25.4 points). The game last week vs. Wake Forest was a bit of a let down from a production standpoint, but the target volume was still good—Klubnik attempted to get Brown the ball seven times vs. Wake Forest. Even though Williams is missing time, fellow WR Beaux Collins is also soaking up targets this season.
As far as his skillset, I’m not going to lie and pretend that I’ve watched all of Clemson’s games this year (why would I subject myself to that?). I did watch their games vs. Duke and FSU, though. However, I think I will default to the professionals here, and copy-paste their evaluation of Brown below:
Yards after catch machine whose hip fluidity and change of direction is in a league of its own. Strong hands catcher who is comfortable catching the ball away from his frame. Has the long speed to routinely take the top off of defenses. Ran a 10.87 100m during his junior track and field season. Route running is technically sound and does a tremendous job of sinking his hips at the top of routes and getting out of his breaks. Lacks ideal measurables and length which limits his catch radius. One of the highest floors of any receiver in the country. Will be an immediate role player at the next level and should be a consistently dynamic slot receiver with the potential to kick outside as a Z-type receiver. Will become one of the most reliable receivers in all of college football and beyond.
- ON3 Sports
Something he and Williams share in common is that they are both fairly odd-sized players for the Clemson WR room. For multiple cycles, it felt like the Tigers were only signing 6’3” and above-framed athletes to play wideout for them. At one point, they were left with a serious log jam of players that all filled the same role on the team. The fact that Brown could be used all over the field does making him an attractive dynasty and devy name going forward in CFF circles. We know Klubnik can’t leave for the NFL this offseason, so it’s logical to expect he’ll be the guy throwing Brown passes next year. That’s a plus (I think).
Unfortunately, true sophomore Antonio Williams also can’t leave for the NFL this offseason. So — ironically — now there’s a bit of a log jam of short and quick slot receivers in this room. This is where that position flexibility kicks in for Brown. I can imagine Clemson’s staff utilizing Brown outside while Williams operates from the slot and vice-versa, just to keep both on the field.
I see Brown listed as 5’11” on 247 Sports, and 6’0” on ON3. So who do I trust? The wise man in CFB always goes with the shorter measurement. Just trust me on this one, I’ve got the battle scares to prove my judgement is correct here. In the end, I suppose it doesn’t make that much of a difference, but 6’0” framed bodies feel like they fit more naturally as ‘swing’ players between slot and boundary positions than say… 5’11” players. Even though the actual difference is miniscule. The fact that he is even listed as 5’11” on one site tells me he’s probably even closer to 5’10”. Again, just splitting hairs here; but, something to keep in mind.
System Track Record at WR
So you might have heard this offseason that Swinney went out and hired a new OC by the name of Garrett Riley (yes, he is Lincoln’s brother). Naturally, I think the question on our minds as it relates to Brown’s future value as a CFF asset is: how’s Riley’s track record of production at the position?
In 2022, Riley served as OC/QBs coach for TCU. It’s well documented that TCU had a magical season last year and the success of QB Max Duggan and the WR core were key components of that. Duggan threw for 3698 yards with a 63.7% completion percentage and converted 32 TDs to only 8 INTs. He also added an additional 423 yards rushing on 137 attempts and nine TDs.
TCU’s lead receiver—Quentin Johnston (6’4”), caught 60 passes for 1089 yards and six TDs from the boundary; WR2 Taye Barber had a solid season also from the slot, catching 37 passes for 613 yards and five scores.
Duggan averaged 26.29 fantasy points per game (FPG) in four-point passing TD formats, while Johnston and Barber averaged 14.3 and 8.6 (1-ppr) respectively.
Prior to joining TCU, Riley OC’d the SMU Mustangs program to great success. In 2021, QB Tanner Mordecai passed for 3628 yards and 39 TDs to 12 INTs. His top three WRs Danny Gray (803), Rashee Rice (670) and Reggie Roberson (625) each went over 600 yards. Gray and Rice led the team in receiving TDs with nine each in 10 and 12 games respectively, while Roberson caught six TDs in 12 games.
The WR1—Gray (6’3”), finished that season averaging 18.73 FPG, Riley’s best performing WR thus far. It should be noted that Gray operated as a boundary WR in that offence.
The 2020 campaign was less successful from a WR production standpoint, as only slot receiver Rashee Rice went over 600 yards on 48 receptions while securing 5 TDs (note that the Mustangs played in only 10 games this season compared to 12 in 2021). The Mustangs’ QB that season was Shane Buechele, who threw over 3000 pass yards and converted 23 TDs to 6 INTs. He also added 105 yards and two TDs on the ground.
So actually — despite the exciting last name — I’d say Garrett doesn’t really have a great track record of feeding his WRs. He seems to prefer to spread the ball around if possible. That’s not the end of the world, but for those of who’ve been keeping up with my weekly recap articles, you would have seen that the top WRs so far this season are predominantly playing in systems with patterns of heavy usage at WR in the past (and the rare exceptions, like Malik Nabers, already went over 1000 yards the year prior), and when I asked you — the audience — in a poll, the answer I got in response to the prompt of what makes a top 10 CFF WR, was that it was due to the system’s track record, rather than the individual talent of the player. There’s probably some sample selection bias there given that you all subscribe to my platform and you already know where I stand on that issue. All that to say, I was pleased with the results of that poll.
However, with Brown we’re looking at his profile for the next three years (well, I guess it’s two and a half now), so who even knows who the OC will be by his junior season. The track record of the system currently may not be elite, and Riley’s two best WRs were tall, boundary players, but Brown’s shown to be a pretty elite talent already at WR. From a CFF angle, I don’t see why he couldn’t be an above-average to low-end elite WR (e.g., 17-20 FPG) guy in the future. I’d be surprised if he’s ever a 20+ FPG guy, but a lot of things surprise me in CFB every year.
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