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September 25, 2023

Tigers in the NFL poised for breakout campaigns in 2022

Caleb Browder, Contributor

Trevor Lawrence plays against North Carolina on Sept. 28, 2019.

With the 2022 NFL season kicking off on Thursday, multiple former Clemson players will be back on the field.  

These are four former Tigers who are in a position to have a breakout season in 2022.

Trevor Lawrence,Quarterback (Jacksonville Jaguars) 

The 2019 College Football National Championship offensive MVP is looking to rebound after a rocky rookie season that fell short of his standard throughout his collegiate career.  

After dealing with controversy last season, the Jaguars adjusted course over the offseason by turning to a proven winner and strong leader at the helm, Doug Pederson.  

In addition to improved stability in leadership for the franchise, Jacksonville also has supplied Lawrence with an improved supporting cast, including veterans Christian Kirk and Evan Engram. Lawrence will also have former Clemson running back Travis Etienne back on the field, which should give the signal-caller even more confidence.

Coming off a lackluster season in which he completed 59.6% of his passes for 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, Lawrence is now in a much better position to live up to his former No. 1 pick status. 

Isaiah Simmons, Linebacker (Arizona Cardinals) 

The No. 8 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft has seemed to settle into his role with the Cardinals after two full seasons with the team.  

Finishing third in tackles for Arizona last season, Simmons started in all 17 games and now has a chance to develop into one of the league’s most versatile players.

At Clemson, Simmons played at multiple positions on defense, and Arizona’s coaching staff has been placing him in a similar role during training camp.

If he can put it all together, Simmons could earn himself a massive contract extension.

Travis Etienne, Running back (Jacksonville Jaguars) 

After missing his entire rookie season due to a Lisfranc injury, Travis Etienne is ready to burst onto the scene with an immediate impact.  

Drafted alongside Lawrence in the first round of last year’s draft, Etienne is projected to be a focal point of the Jaguars’ offense.  

While the injury set him back a year, Etienne has been turning heads at training camp with the hope that he can add an electricity to a Jacksonville offense that finished last in scoring last season.  

The all-time leading rusher in the ACC will likely split playing time with James Robinson, but if he can perform like he did as a Tiger, Etienne should emerge as the No. 1 option.  

Sammy Watkins, Wide receiver (Green Bay Packers) 

Sammy Watkins has been a sort of a journeyman throughout his NFL career, with stops in Buffalo, Los Angeles, Kansas City and Baltimore. Now, his journey brings him to Green Bay, where he will join quarterback Aaron Rodgers and try to revitalize his career.  

Playing on the Ravens last season, Watkins finished with a career-low 394 receiving yards and only reached the end zone once. 

While the college standout still holds the record for most receiving yards at Clemson, Watkins knows the clock is ticking.  

“I told the coach my back is against the wall,” Watkins said in June. “You know, my career hasn’t been what I projected to be, and it’s a great opportunity for me to come here, play hard, catch a ton of balls, compete at the highest level and win games.” 

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