Analyzing the impact of Clemson OL Hunter Rayburn's career-ending injury
Clemson received bad news earlier this week when starting center Hunter Rayburn announced he was medically retiring from football due to a neck injury.
Rayburn started six games last season, including Clemson’s final five games of the year. Four of those starts came at center, where he had a significant impact on the Tigers’ running game.
Clemson was significantly more effective at running the ball when Rayburn started. The Tigers averaged 4.8 yards per carry with him in the lineup, but that number dropped to 4.3 yards per carry when he wasn’t there.
That half yard may not seem like much, but it adds up over the course of a full season. For context, this is the difference in Clemson placing four in the ACC in yards per rush or placing eighth.
It’s currently unclear who will be replacing Rayburn at center. Clemson used two other players in that role last year — Matt Bockhorst, who graduated, and Mason Trotter, who was replaced by Rayburn mid-way through last season.
Other candidates include Ryan Linthicum, Tristan Leigh or Mitchell Mayes. Of that group, only Mayes played more than 20 combined snaps last season. Clemson also signed a pair of 4-star offensive linemen in the class of 2022.
The Tigers could also potentially look toward a transfer portal addition, although that hasn’t been Dabo Swinney’s preference in recent years. Depending on how he evaluates Clemson’s internal options, he could decide a career-ending injury requires reinforcements beyond what the Tigers currently have on their roster.
Clemson begins spring practice on March 2.