2009 Assessment -- 2010 Assessment -- 2011 Assessment
What is important, far more than some stupid star ratings and Rivals/Scout/ESPN rankings, is whether the signing class fills the needs of the program. Just signing 5-star backs every year doesn't equate to wins if you don't have 5 good OL up front with backups that can play in case of injury. It doesnt matter to put up 40 points if you give up 42. Below we'll look over the depth charts and give our thoughts as to whether the class really is good for Clemson.
DE - Gone are Andre Branch and Kourtnei Brown, one starter and another seasoned backup. Malliciah Goodman returns on the strongside but is not a good pass rusher. Corey Crawford is likely to step right in as the starter on the weakside, and I'm confident he can become a good pass rusher. The questions are on the backups at each spot. Tavaris Barnes never got any PT at the 3-technique last year, partly due to the lack of mass, so it is possible he moves back outside. Kevin Dodd is coming in from Hargrave as a 3-technique, but could help out as a SDE. Rod Byers took a RS and could start out at DE but seems an eventual DT. Vic Beasley shuffled from TE-LB-Bandit and couldn't get on the field the last couple years. A year of weight gains would be great for him to play as Crawford's backup. Goodman will be gone in a year, so you need to replace the two losses and plan to take another with lead time of a year, and possibly RS some of them. Newcomers Martin Aiken and Shaq Lawson fill those needs, but we'll probably be forced to play at least one of them. We're decent with numbers here, but it would be preferable to have another that we know can play without needing freshmen to play. What we believe Clemson missed out on, again, is the elite DE prospect who could provide immediate help in the pass rush. I would've liked to have another quality DE even if he wasn't the elite one.
DT - Clemson loses NG Brandon Thompson and 3-DT Rennie Moore. Both are starters. From the play this season, it was obvious that we don't have an heir apparent for BT just yet, and we need better gap control from the 3 in the run game. Tyler Shatley often played most as the NG backup, but is not a talented player, and will get a shot at OG in Spring. The rest of this bunch is young. DeShawn Williams looks like he could be slotted at NG or the 3, and Grady Jarrett is a NG all the way. I think both can be good players down the road. Tavaris Barnes is a 3-technique pass rushing type but never got on the field. Jerome Maybank comes off a RS and is a definite NG unless he plays OG. Rod Byers seems an eventual 3. Tra Thomas (NG) and Josh Watson (3) have been passed by youngsters and may just be role players, or may leave. We needed a high-level talent at DT, not bodies. Clemson got one in 3-DT Carlos Watkins. Clemson also added NG D.J. Reader, 3-DT Josh Brown, and 3-DT Kevin Dodd. I think the coaches foresee some attrition at this position and filled the needs with good lead time. We actually have too many tackles so moving the tweeners inside and out next month should be expected.
LB - Daniel Andrews is leaving. Clemson really does not need a LB from a numbers perspective, especially when only 3-5 ever played. However it is nice to have up to 12 in a 4-3 defense. Venables' scheme is the 4-3 Over which uses a different WILL and SAM prototype than the previous scheme (and more specifically the SAM), but in much the same fashion as Steele's, he goes to 4-2-5 often and that muddles it a bit. Everyone who played returns but we could cherry-pick since Willard and Hawkins will go after '12. We signed T.J. Burrell, who I would say is better suited to a SS that drops down often instead of a full-time WLB. Clemson lost one, gained one, and isn't in big trouble beyond without major attrition losses. We need to develop what we've got.
DB - Coty Sensabaugh leaves and so goes our best cover corner in the 2nd half of the season. Desmond Brown left earlier this season, Carlton Lewis has left the team and Spencer Adams went off to track-only. Walk-On Kantrell Brown was primarily a ST player and got a scholarship so we would remain at 85. Thats 3 safeties and a CB to worry about. I think its clear that we do need another good cover corner opposite Bashaud Breeland. Meeks, Hall, and Brewer will all likely start again as seniors. Martin Jenkins will stay in the slot/nickel, and Darius Robinson will get plenty of PT again outside. Cortez Davis needs to slide in behind Rashard Hall, as could Garry Peters. Robert Smith should remain backup SS initially, but I think we need that definite SS-type that likes to hit (could be Burrell too). Clemson signed Geohaghan, Blanks, Tankersley, and Williams. Blanks will start out at CB, as promised. We can RS some of the others, but this is a class recruited for a specific body-type that can play either CB or Safety. I think Clemson filled the needs at DB with enough lead time. We just need to develop what we've got.
QB - Tajh Boyd returns as starter with Cole Stoudt as backup. Tony McNeal and Morgan Roberts come off RS. Clemson signed Chad Kelly, who fits the offensive style. The coaches must foresee some attrition here and we're more than full at QB. We do not need 5 scholarships devoted to a position where rarely more than 2 ever play.
RB - An injury-prone position where you must take one every year. Andre Ellington returns as starter, with D.J. Howard, Rod McDowell, and Mike Bellamy as backups. Demont Buice transferred. What we needed this year was quality depth to rest AE at times. The system needs a better blocker to spell AE and a receiver to really open things up more underneath, especially with Allen leaving. I've given up on Hot Rod, and we don't know with Bellamy's head. Clemson went out and got the better receiver in Zac Brooks, but I feel like we need another between the tackles guy. Clemson is good with numbers here if Bellamy stays, but while AE deserves his 25-30 carries per game, he cannot hold up to 70-80 plays per game again because of poor backup play in blocking.
WR - The most invisible man, Marquan Jones, is gone. Bryce McNeal is gone. Both were slot receivers. Jaron Brown will be a senior. Joe Craig just got kicked. I think we can treat Watkins like a Jr because he wont be here after 2013 unless he has an injury. Nuk is a Junior. Humphries is a slot receiver, while Bryant and Peake are outside guys. Seckinger comes off RS and is either an outside guy or future flexed TE. From a numbers perspective we could take one in the slot and another outside, but it needs to be a high-level talent. We did with Germone Hopper. Clemson is still set at WR barring attrition.
H/TE - Dwayne Allen leaves for the NFL and Sr. Brandon Ford steps up to take his spot. Chad Diehl didn't get the PT he deserved this year, in our opinion, but now he's gone. I still expect Colton Walls to fill his place. Drew Traylor graduates. Sam Cooper got plenty of PT as a line TE last year, and Eric MacLain comes off RS. Darrell Smith is a role player line TE at best. Clemson could take one to fill the spot vacated, or take one and RS him to fill Ford's spot. In truth, this system could use one line TE and a receiving TE and an H-back, but we need one that can do it all. Clemson got a versatile H/TE in Jay Jay McCullough. We may be over in numbers here, but don't be surprised if theres more talk of moving MacLain to OT.
OL - Another injury prone position, and the one where the most overall attrition takes place. You must take 3 or 4 here every year. Clemson loses a lot here and the national media often forgets how important this one is when they do their preseason rankings. Linemen need to play a lot and together to gel. This is the primary reason why I feel 2013 could be a better year for CU. Phil Price, David Smith, Mason Cloy, Landon Walker, and McClain all leave. 4 players who cared and one that didn't. I expect Matt Sanders will not return at this time. I think we planned enough to replace the Guards in previous years, and Kalon Davis, David Beasley, and Reid Webster will fight it out for the two spots. Brandon Thomas could remain inside, but may not be able to because of the OT problems. The only certainty is Freeman at Center. Ryan Norton is probably good enough to challenge for a Guard spot but will back up Freeman if he goes out. Gifford Timothy is a RT and RS Fr. Shaq Anthony an OT for sure. Spencer Region comes off RS and needs to reshape his body to play Guard. Clemson brought in Isaiah Battle at OT, C Jay Guillermo, OT Oliver Jones, and OG Patrick Destefano. All but Battle will RS. 6 players out and 4 in total, plus Joe Gore moved to RT (where we said he should've been) and its possible Shatley gets a shot at Guard. I think the whole group will need to raise their conditioning level, but especially the Guards. Clemson is OK with numbers here, but what we again missed out on is the elite OT to give us real depth at the position. I think Clemson could've done more to address the potentially huge problem. A JUCO to help at RT would've been great.
The Staff has again raised the overall talent level but we have questions in the trenches, where the big games are won and lost.