The two major questions regarding the status of Clemson's biggest playmakers during the 2012 season have been answered.
One will return, while one has declared for the draft. On January 10, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, who had one of the best seasons ever for a Clemson quarterback, announced his intention to return for his senior year. A day later, on January 11, DeAndre (Nuk) Hopkins, who had a great season as a Clemson receiver, announced he was opting for the NFL draft.
Boyd's decision gives the Tigers high expectation for 2013. Hopkins saw another path, one in which it was time for him to take his talents to the NFL.
ESPN's Andrea Adelson reported the following on Hopkins' decision to forego his senior season with the Clemson Tigers:
"It is tough to leave because this is my home, this is the place I wanted to play since I came out of the womb," Hopkins said in a statement. "But, I feel it is best for me and my family to take my talents to NFL at this time....
"I have to thank the Clemson alumni, the fans, the coaches and my teammates for all the support they have given me through the good times and the bad. No matter what, I will always be a Clemson Tiger."
The departure of Hopkins leaves the Tigers without a big target in a passing game that ended the season ranked No. 13 overall with 321.6 yards per game; Clemson's offense finished No. 6 overall in the nation. Boyd's return will help keep offensive coordinator Chad Morris' fast-paced offense on the move, but the new story must be the continued development of the receiving corps.
What does the absence of Hopkins mean for the passing game?
For one, it means that receiver Sammy Watkins, who had a down year after his sensational breakout year in 2011 as a freshman, will assume the role of the featured receiver in the offense, albeit in a little different way from Hopkins. His versatility on special teams and offense will be invaluable, and it is important that Watkins stay healthy and get back to full form.
It also means expanded roles for Martavis Bryant, Charone Peake, and Adam Humphries. Hopkins leaves an open spot for any of these guys to take, and all three have proved productive when their numbers are called.
The leading returner of the trio is Bryant with 305 yards and four touchdowns, while Humphries comes in a close second with 280 yards and a lone touchdown. Peake follows right behind with 172 yards and two touchdowns.
The big question is whether Bryant's reliability will keep him out of a starting position. Bryant was suspended from the Chick-Fil-A Bowl for violating team rules. Peake may be tagged for senior Jaron Brown's slot position.
Humphries could be the dark horse here, but it's likely he continues a supporting role, in which he already logs a good number of snaps. The addition of last season's redshirt Germone Hopper gives the Tigers more slot options, and whether the Tigers redshirt incoming recruit Mike Williams remains to be seen. Clemson is likely to try to sign one more receiver in its 2013 class due to Ryan Jenkins' recent signing with Tennessee.
Yes, the Tigers lost a great target in Hopkins, but even without him, Clemson's depth and talent still makes the receiving corps arguably one of the strongest in college football.