It was long-awaited, but Clemson got its first W of the 2021 season without having played a game yet as coach Dabo Swinney confirmed on Friday that star wide receiver Justyn Ross has been cleared to play this upcoming season after being sidelined with a congenital fusion condition in his neck and spine for more than a year. Initially thought to be a stinger he suffered in March 2020, the condition required surgery and could have ended his football career. Instead, he's been making slow but important progress back to the field.
His return was somewhat expected. He eschewed the NFL Draft and Swinney has been speaking highly of his recovery, and the news on Friday is a massive win for both Ross and Clemson's offense.
Ross was considered one of college football's top wideouts before his surgery. He was a star with fellow freshman Trevor Lawrence during Clemson's national championship run in 2018, racking up 300 yards receiving and three touchdowns in the two College Football Playoff games. He followed that up with a team-best 66 receptions as a sophomore, ranking second on the team as well with 865 yards receiving and eight touchdowns.
What Clemson is getting back cannot be overstated. Ross' big-bodied frame, body control, ability to catch contested balls and large catch radius made him a consistent target down the field. Before his injury, CBS Sports' way-too-early mock drafts for 2021 had him going in the mid-first round.
How he projects moving forward will obviously depend on his health, and by some association, his production in 2021. The Tigers' coaching staff has talked about moving Ross into the slot more because of his versatility. At 6-foot-4, he's not exactly the typical slot mold and has spent his college career to date operating on the outside.
Ross' full return to form is an added boost for quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei -- a first-year starter that looks to pick up right where Lawrence left off. Clemson, which opens its season against Georgia in Charlotte, is still loaded at wideout with Joseph Ngata, E.J. Williams and Frank Ladson Jr. -- plus Braden Galloway at tight end. There's tons of athleticism and potential in this group even without Ross, but outside of Galloway, no other pass-catcher has more than 24 grabs in a season.
Getting back to playing form is, if nothing else, a huge victory for Ross considering his injury. The value he's adding for Uiagalelei and a talented receiving corps is just the icing on top. College football now has one of its best players, at any position, back.