The Clemson Tigers made a run to the national title game last season and they enter 2016 as one of the favorites to make it back to the College Football Playoff.
The primary reason for Clemson’s sky-high expectations is an explosive offense led by last year’s Heisman Trophy runner-up Deshaun Watson, who could potentially be the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NFL Draft. Under Watson last season, Clemson ranked 10th in the FBS with a 41.6 offensive S&P+ as well as a 121.2 success rate on drives, qualifying for eight best in the country. The Tigers return 10 starters on offense from a year ago, all capable of sustaining the same high-level of play that won them 14 games in 2015. To go along with it, they also contain one of the nation’s most underrated running backs.
Wayne Gallman’s production as Clemson’s lead tailback has improved each of the last two seasons. First as a freshman, rushing for 769 yards and 4 TDs on 161 carries. Then as a sophomore, where he doubled his amount of yards (1,514) and tripled his touchdowns (13) all while rushing for 120 more carries.
Out of all the FBS backs returning in 2016, Gallman had the eighth-highest overall grade on Pro Football Focus and ranked in the top ten in virtually every statistical category — most notably carries (where he had the 10th most in FBS) and the aforementioned forced missed tackles. Playing in the shadow cast of Watson is a big reason for the lack of buzz around Gallman. He deserves credit for not only being a productive runner, but also being one of the better all-around backs in college football.
His production numbers are on par with the best backs in FBS, despite lacking top-end burst and explosion. His speed limitations are not only apparent on film, but backed by statistical analysis, as his 19 runs of 15 yards or more ranks him only 19th among returning players. Runs like these are considered to be breakaways, and with only 32.9 percent of his yards last year coming on huge plays he ranked just 33rd in the category (Cook led the country with 62.9 percent of his yards coming on breakaways).
If Gallman wants to address his lack of ‘breakaway’ runs in 2016, establishing bursts up the middle and down the sideline is a good place to start. Long touchdown runs like these is where Gallman utilizes his shiftiness as well as his power. I mean look at those jump cuts.
Gallman’s upsurge in production last season was night and day compared to his freshman season, rushing for 100+ yards in a game eight times, five more than in 2014. While parts of it was due to his ability to avoid linebackers and cover man closing in on him. Gallman made great strides as a secondary pass blocker and as a high-usage player, which in turn kept Watson and Clemson’s offense unpredictable.
According to PFF, Gallman took 181 snaps in pass protection last year (third-most in FBS) and yielded just six hurries (with no sacks or hits given up), ranking him fourth among returning backs in pass blocking efficiency. This is an impressive feat considering he was just a sophomore, and a marked improvement over his three sacks, two hits and three hurries yielded on just 87 reps as a freshman.
Here is evidence that shows how vital Gallman is within the Tigers’ pass protection. In this brief GIF, Boston College rushes five to the ball and swarms Clemson’s offensive line. Watson is unable to scramble out of danger and is forced to stay at home in the pocket. Instead of peeling off and inflicting even more chaos in Watson’s way, Gallman sticks his nose amidst the pressure. He essentially acts as a sixth offensive tackle and keeps the play alive just enough for his quarterback to get the throw off. By his willingness to block changes the outcome of the play completely – without his headiness this would’ve resulted in a sack, not a harmless overthrow.
By being such a strong pass blocker increases his skill-sets in comparison to the likes of Cook, Fournette and even Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey. This goes a long way in showcasing his value to Clemson’s offense.
The next stage of Gallman’s game is his versatility. Not just in pass protection, but falling back as star who can play multiple positions if need be. Clemson returns three in its receiving core from a season ago, four if you count two-time starter senior Mike Williams who missed all of the action in 2015 with a season-ending ACL tear. No doubt Gallman will demand attention in the backfield, but more times than not in 2015 did he offer a presence as a slot receiver. Last season, he became a dependable option for Watson to throw to – almost like a security blanket – catching 22 passes for 226 yards and 1 TD.
Add that to his already stellar production as a runner and you’ll find that Gallman was responsible for the 10th most plays from scrimmage in 2015, taking part in 304 of the Tigers’ offensive snaps. That led the conference. Not to mention, Gallman attained the 2nd most yards from scrimmage in the ACC last season with 1,740.
Although much of the media focus throughout 2016 and into draft season will rightfully be on Clemson’s star QB, Gallman’s undervalued assets makes him the unsung hero of the Tigers’ forefront.