Clemson lands atop of ESPN’s future defense power rankings

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After allowing the second-fewest points per game in the FBS last season, Clemson’s defense has the talent, experience and potential to be one of the nation’s best units in 2022 and beyond.

Between a loaded defensive line that returns all of its starters from 2021 to a fast and dynamic linebacker room, head coach Dabo Swinney has plenty of defenders that have NFL potential.

With the departure of several coaches, including former defensive coordinator Brent Venables, the Tigers’ defense has entered into a new era. Although coaching and roster changes often have a negative impact on teams, there’s reason to believe Clemson’s past defensive success will continue for years to come.

According to ESPN college football analyst Adam Rittenberg, Clemson has the greatest potential to be a top-tier defense for the next three seasons. He ranked Clemson above last nation’s top defense, Georiga, among others like Wisconsin and Alabama.

Here’s what Rittenberg had to say about the Tigers’ defense.

2021 future defense ranking: 1

Scouting the Tigers: In a close race for the top spot, Clemson leads off the rankings for the second consecutive year. The unit loses two outstanding cornerbacks (Mario Goodrich and Andrew Booth Jr.), mainstays at linebacker (James Skalski, Baylon Spector) and longtime coordinator Brent Venables. Still, the outlook remains extremely promising. Clemson’s defensive line has been a strength through the CFP era and will remain that way, especially in 2022 as All-America candidates Bryan Bresee, Tyler Davis and Myles Murphy all return. The line got a bonus boost as end Xavier Thomas, a two-time third-team All-ACC selection, is back for one final season. There’s veteran depth at end with seniors K.J. Henry and Justin Mascoll, who last season combined for seven sacks and 15 quarterback pressures. Tackle Ruke Orhorhoro in 2021 had 42 tackles, eight for loss, and should continue to add playing time, along with classmate Etinosa Reuben, sophomore Payton Page and others.

First-year defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin will oversee a new-look linebacker group, although Trenton Simpson returns for at least one more year after recording a team-high six sacks and starting 12 games in 2021. Dynamic sophomore Barrett Carter should see a much bigger role, and junior Keith Maguire might be Skalski’s replacement in the middle. Jeremiah Trotter Jr., Clemson’s top-ranked recruit and ESPN’s No. 7 overall player in the 2021 class, will be a big factor in the coming years, and junior Tyler Venables (33 tackles in 2021) is back at nickel. There are short-term questions in the secondaryh other than safety Andrew Mukuba, the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2021. Clemson will look for Lannden Zanders or Jalyn Phillips to emerge at the other safety spot, while the cornerback group features senior Sheridan Jones (three starts in 2021), sophomore Nate Wiggins, junior Fred Daivs and junior Malcolm Greene, who also should see time at nickel. Clemson’s top two defensive recruits for the 2022 class are cornerbacks Jeadyn Lukus (ESPN’s No. 35 recruit nationally) and Toriano Pride.