CLEMSON, SC - SEPTEMBER 24: Teammates Kourtnei Brown #90 of the Clemson Tigers and Andre Branch #40 celebrate after a defensive stop during their game against the Florida State Seminoles at Memorial Stadium on September 24, 2011 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
With Clemson’s 5-0 start, Clemson has picked up momentum on the recruiting trail. Limited numbers have forced the Tigers to remain selective, however.
Clemson came in to the season with 17 verbal commitments for the 2012 class. Midway through September they picked up #18 when Marty Williams committed. Williams has been a lean to Clemson since the spring, and his commitment was anticipated for quite some time before it actually happened. With 18 spots filled, the Tigers are very tight on spots going forward. Some attrition is expected as we have heard things not released, and as a result, Clemson looks to have approximately 4 spots remaining in the class. However, with over 40 redshirt and true freshmen, and nearly 20 kids coming in already, there is not a ton of room for attrition right now. The rising junior and senior classes are already very thin numberswise. Some youngsters will be leaving.
The main need remaining for the Tigers in this class is defensive line. Clemson has three commitments right now from defensive linemen. Shaq Lawson from DW Daniel, Martin Aiken from Bamberg Erhardt, and Kevin Dodd who is doing a semester at Hargrave after failing to qualify out of Riverside High School. Lawson will play weakside defensive end for the Tigers (Bandit), while Aiken and Dodd are both defensive end/defensive tackle tweeners. Aiken will likely start off at strongside defensive end, but as he matures physically in college, there is a good chance he moves inside. Dodd has excellent size for a defensive tackle at 6’5 and over 280lbs, and will probably play defensive tackle from day 1, but he has been an end for his entire career until now. There may be a transition period for Dodd as he learns to play an interior DL position. He entered football later in adolescence than these other guys too, and is more raw techniquewise.
We stated last February that Clemson's 2011 class was missing two things: an elite DE and an elite DT. We require more talent on the interior immediately, and an elite pass rushing DE to play the 4-3 defense is required. The Tigers could take as many as three more defensive linemen if the right players want to commit in this class. The most likely defensive line prospect to commit right now is South Aiken defensive tackle Josh Brown. Brown did well at summer camp in Clemson, and picked up a full ride from the Tigers in early September after Dan Brooks scouted him in a game. Brown is 6’4 and over 270lbs, and brings great size, above average athletic ability, and good potential to the position. The main reason Brown is such a good bet for Clemson is that no one else has offered so far. The Tigers have no competition for Brown. He will likely commit before too long in order to secure a spot. Despite Brown’s lack of offers, this is not similar to some of the more questionable takes from 2011. Brown is a developmental prospect at tackle, but he was approved by Brooks and the defensive staff, not the head coach on a whim, and he does have a fair amount of potential.
The most important defensive line prospect left on the board is Forest City, NC’s Carlos Watkins. Watkins has favored Clemson for nearly a year. He is a top 100 recruit by all accounts, and would likely be the best defensive tackle prospect signed since Brandon Thompson in 2008. He may even be more highly regarded than Thompson. Unfortunately, the Tigers are facing much stiffer competition for Watkins than they are for Brown. Watkins took an official visit to Florida last weekend, and since then he has gone on record as having Florida as his favorite with several websites. He will make his decision October 14, so there is not much time before he’ll decide. This situation is where recruiting gets interesting, and reading the tea leaves can be a lot of fun (or agonizing).
Watkins decided that he wanted to commit on the 14 of October shortly after making a visit to Clemson earlier this year. He likely had the school he planned to commit to in mind when he decided to set an announcement date. Watkins’ family and many influential people in his school and community prefer Clemson, and want him to stay closer to home. Watkins himself has frequently mentioned that staying close to home is a big deal. Those factors suggest that Watkins was planning on going to Clemson as recently as a month ago, and may be playing up his interest in Florida late in the process in an effort to build suspense regarding his announcement.
However, Watkins just took an official visit to Florida. Clemson fans should know as well as anyone the impact an official visit can have on an impressionable teenage kid. Florida is a big time football program with a great recruiting staff, and they appear to have found a message that resonates with Watkins.
Watkins says he will sit down and make a final decision this weekend. I think that he will choose his long time favorite, Clemson, but it is hard to call it either way right now.
If Watkins does choose Clemson, it may help with the third main defensive line prospect the Tigers are recruiting, Shelby, NC’s DE Jonathan Bullard. The highest rated, at least by Rivals, prospect of the three, Bullard is also the least likely to choose Clemson. However, he is the elite DE that Clemson requires most of all. Bullard is friends with Watkins, and currently has Clemson in his top 3, although trailing Florida and South Carolina. Over recent weeks, distance from home has started to become a bigger factor in Bullard’s recruitment. If Bullard’s friend, Watkins, commits to Clemson, and the Tigers are able to get Bullard on campus for what should be a very big game with North Carolina the following week, Clemson could vault to the top of Bullard’s pecking order. However, there are a lot of ifs there, and for now Clemson is not at the forefront with Bullard. If Clemson whiffs on Bullard, it will be interesting if they look towards another defensive end, or if they simply hold on to the scholarship.
If Watkins chooses to go to Florida, expect Clemson to turn up the heat for Greensboro, NC lineman DJ Reader. Reader has a very impressive offer list as an offensive lineman, but the Tigers are recruiting him as a nose guard. Maryland and North Carolina are also high on his list right now. If Watkins(or Brown) does not end up at Clemson, the Tigers could push hard for Reader.
Along with those three, there are currently two other prospects worth following right now.
Current Miami LB commitment Keith Brown from Norland High School in Miami, FL visited for the Florida State game, and by all accounts was blown away. That visit, along with Miami’s NCAA difficulties, has put Clemson in a great position to sign the best linebacker in the state of Florida for the second straight year. Right now Brown will take other official visits, but he is planning on enrolling in January wherever he chooses, so a decision could come in the next couple months. Brown is also the kind of elite prospect in the defensive front seven that this class is lacking to this point.
WR Quinshad Davis is the other prospect to watch. Davis, playing for Gaffney, is lighting the upstate on fire right now. He has been a major reason Gaffney has the best team in the state this year, and his senior season, along with some attrition at the wide receiver position, may have reopened the door for him at Clemson. If Clemson pushes hard over the next two months, there is a great chance Davis ends up signing for the Tigers and potentially filling the same role Nuke Hopkins is down the line. However, Clemson has decisions to make at wide receiver. The fast start to the 2011 season has put Clemson in great position with quite a few top regional wide receiver prospects for the 2013 class. Clemson may choose to save Davis’ spot for a 2013 wideout prospect.
Clemson is also still involved with Washington DC five star defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, but until he takes an official visit, which may never happen, he remains a long shot for Clemson and not worth getting your hopes up for.
So this is where things sit right now. We would be a little surprised if Clemson closed with all these players, and we still can see Swinney stealing someone late in the process from elsewhere, but that one is not on the radar just yet.