2022 Will Be A Make Or Break Season For D.J. Uiagalelei

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2022 Will Be A Make Or Break Season For D.J. Uiagalelei

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2022 Will Be A Make Or Break Season For D.J. Uiagalelei

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Via rubbingtherock.com

The number two quarterback recruit of the 2020 college recruiting class, D.J. Uiagaleleli was supposed to be next in the long line of great Clemson quarterbacks. But things have not gone quite as planned for the former St. John Bosco quarterback. Can he turn things around in 2022? Or will he fail to live up to the hype and relinquish his opportunity to hear his name called early come next April’s draft? 

Clemson Heir Apparent 

D.J. Uiagalelei has all the intangibles any quarterback would want and Dabo Swinney saw that immediately during Uiageleli’s recruitment. Over the final two seasons of his high school career, Uiagalelei racked up nearly 7,600 yards and 96 touchdowns through the air. 

The 6’4” 250 pound Uiagalelei committed to Clemson in 2019 and served as Trevor Lawrence’s backup during his freshman season. Uiagalelei was thrust into the starting role in 2020 while Lawrence sat due to COVID-19, and impressed to say the least. 

During his two games as a starter in 2020, Uiagalelei threw for 781 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions. As a freshman he showed elite composure, throwing confidently at every level of the football field, even against the number four ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish. 

Sophomore Slump

His skillset popped off the screen during his freshman campaign and the future looked just as bright as it did when Lawrence arrived on campus. But something changed quickly, and Uiagalelei looked like a different quarterback come sophomore year. 

In his first full season as starter, he completed only 55% of his passes for a modest 2,246 yards, nine touchowns, and 10 interceptions. His arm talent was the same, but something was missing. Uiagalelei became hesitant to throw. From trusting his arm too much to not trusting it enough, his confidence was nowhere to be found as Clemson limped to a 10-3 record, far below the Clemson standard. 

Heading into the offseason, many assumed Uiagalelei was the unquestioned starter. But freshman quarterback Cade Klubnik jumped onto the scene with a vengenance. The 2022 number two overall quarterback in Klubnik, put together an impressive spring campaign. Going 15 of 23 for 106 yards and a touchdown during the 2022 Clemson Spring Game. Naturally, whispers of Klubnik’s starting potential grew louder and they have only grown since. 

Uiagalelei will have to fix his mistakes from 2021 in order to retain his starting gig. This feels eerily similar to Lawrence sitting behind Kelly Bryant during his freshman season, only to replace him as the full-time starter just four games into the season. 

Many thought that Uiagalelei would be in the first-round conversation come next April, but his 2022 tape suggests otherwise. 

Scouting Report

Uiagalelei is massive. He certainly doesn’t fit the new age quarterback mold; he has the body and strength of a modern day edge rusher. The simplest of football fan or scout can see the arm talent that he possesses. With the strength he has, he can truly fit the ball into the tightest of windows. But the positives on tape stop there.   

With his height comes long arms. Long arms can lead to long releases. And Uiagalalelei’s release is too long for NFL standards, leading to far too many batted passes and allows for defenders to break on the ball earlier than they should. 

Accuracy is one of the top traits an NFL quarterback can have, and Uiagalelei’s accuracy is far too sporadic for the next level. At times you can be wowed with a laser to the opposite hash. But many more times you’ll be disappointed as he misses the target on a corner route or leads his receiver into hairy situations. His arm strength is almost too much for some receivers and he fails to use any sort of touch on most throws down the field. 

But his lack of confidence was the most significant negative on tape. Far too often, Uiagalaleli would doubt his instinct and double clutch the ball before throwing. Defensive backs would read the first pump and force contested situations or edge rushers would simply get to the quarterback before he could release the ball. Uiagalelei left far too many yards on the field simply because he failed to progress through his reads appropriately or simply failed to hit the open receiver.  

Clemson head coach, Dabo Swinney, has been vocal about D.J. Uiagalelei’s progression during the offseason. He’s praised his physical fitness and his mental aptitude and has reinforced Uiagalelei’s status as starter. But if he fails to improve on any of the aforementioned negatives, Uiagalelei could find himself in the transfer portal by the end of the winter.

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