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Tigers in the NFL: Preseason

John Harrelson, Contributor
Justyn Ross (8) and Tee Higgins (5) in the 2019 College Football Playoff.

The 2023 NFL season is here, and many Clemson alumni are gearing up to hit the field. Here’s a look at the highs and lows these players are facing.

Paws up: Justyn Ross makes the Chiefs’ final cuts

Justyn Ross’ collegiate and professional career has been defined by adversity. The Clemson standout had a projected multimillion-dollar contract waiting for him in the first round of the NFL draft until a diagnosis of congenital fusion in his spine and subsequent surgery seemed to end his pro hopes.

After fighting his way back from the possibly career-ending neck injury, Ross fractured his foot in Clemson’s 2021 season, placing his football career even further in doubt.

The Chiefs were the only team to offer the formerly projected first-round pick a UDFA contract, but he was sidelined again in 2022 after undergoing yet another surgery.

Despite very few expectations heading into 2023, the Clemson product fought hard in training camp and earned a spot on the 53-man roster of the Super Bowl champions. He finished his first preseason with six receptions for 59 yards and two touchdowns, and he recorded his first reception in an NFL game on Thursday, catching one pass for six yards in a loss to the Detroit Lions.

Paws down: The pressure is on for Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson is set to play in the Browns season opener on Sept. 10, marking his first opening-game start since 2020.

Due to widely publicized off-the-field issues, Watson was away from the gridiron and in the courthouse for nearly two full seasons. His legacy appeared to be in danger before the Browns traded for him ahead of the 2022 season.

He served an 11-game suspension to start last season, and when he came back, he delivered a series of lackluster performances, throwing five interceptions and seven touchdowns over six games. If Watson hopes to revive the Browns organization, the time is now to live up to his $230 million contract.

Paws up: DeAndre Hopkins in new threads

Although his last two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals have been riddled with injuries, DeAndre Hopkins will have the opportunity to suit up for the Tennessee Titans this fall. He will join running back Derrick Henry and quarterback Ryan Tannehill as a contributor to their stacked offense.

Hopkins is widely regarded as one of the most dominant receivers in the NFL, and he could be the last piece the Titans need for a playoff run. The five-time Pro Bowler is entering his 11th season in the NFL and has been a 1,000-yard receiver six times.

Paws Up: The duo of Lawrence and Etienne are primed for a big season

Throwing for 4,113 yards and 25 touchdowns last season, Trevor Lawrence returns to play alongside Travis Etienne for the Jacksonville Jaguars with a promising team surrounding them.

The Jaguars are locked and loaded going into the 2023 season with the addition of wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who will serve as another elite weapon for the Pro Bowl quarterback and former Clemson signal-caller.

Etienne gives the offense a dangerous option out of the backfield, rushing for 1,125 yards last season. In the 2022 postseason, the Jaguars came up just short against the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, but the return of this dynamic Clemson duo could put Jacksonville in contention for a deep playoff run.

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Brett Porter
Brett Porter, Senior Reporter
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