So how do we judge a recruiting class in the modern era of recruiting? Most often we use composite star rankings and class rankings to determine the value of a class. Swinney is fond of saying we sign top 10 and top 15 classes but those numbers are not as concrete as they appear to be. The algorithms for the class rankings weigh class size which can be misleading. Once you factor in academic casualties things get murky (evident by the discrepancy in rankings). We know 'stars' do a good job of identifying higher end talent but a 5 point scale (especially one where prospects rarely get 2*'s) doesn't help you understand the difference between a 3 and a 4 star very well. It is also important to know that a low star rating can indicate poor grades/chance to qualify. Andre Branch was rated a 2-star by Rivals for that reason. The difference between Grady Jarrett getting a high 4 and the 3 that he got was 20lbs of bodyfat and an inch of height. A 10 point scale gives you more variation.
All that is to say that we prefer to evaluate a class based upon needs met rather than relying on stars. We hardly look at the stars here, and we don’t care where ESPN/Scout/Rivals/247 put this class.
Some Overall Thoughts
I want to be hard on the coaching staff for this class but I think that is because this recruiting cycle was much more emotional in terms of investment than other recent classes. I think you would be hard pressed to find a team that hasn't been in a BCS National Championship game finish second on as many players as Clemson has this year. Nkemdiche, VHIII, Fuller, Adams, Carl Lawson are three of the top 5 in the nation. Add that to normal recruiting casualties of Robinson (not exactly 'normal' recruiting here), North, D. Green, Fulwood, and Clark and this class can quickly descend into 'what if' territory. When you are that close on so many top guys it is hard not to feel deflated to a certain degree. It is also a result of the increased knowledge that we have about the process. We know more than ever how close we really are to getting certain players, and how other schools cheated to take them.
In taking a step back it is obvious that this is not fair. I should have been clearer last week--we didn't finish strong but that doesn't necessarily mean we don't have a strong class. In my hurt over losing Adams I thought this class has some nice individual parts but wasn't great as a whole. Going through the needs of the class does paint a better picture though. Alexander, Wiggins and Crowder help too. If we had given grayshirts to Greenlee and Carter it would also improve the class. Enough babble, let's break it down.
This year I am going to rank our needs in three tiers with a high, middle, and low need to try and give some semblance of order to the ranking.
CB - For me the biggest need in this class was at the Cornerback position (I am going to separate Safety from CB, which might be silly but Defensive backs would still be the top need). We have 4 current CB's (counting Peters as a CB here but could move to Safety) with Senior D. Robinson and Juniors Peters, Breeland and Jenkins. Very top heavy after missing out on FSU's Ronald Darby last season. Add that to Venables disdain for the flexibility and hips of our current corners and the departure of Cortez Davis and we had slotted 3-4 DB's in this class. We took 8 DB's (counting Tankersley as a commit but putting TJ Green with the WR's), of those are 4-5 CB's.
Mackensie Alexander is the headliner of the class. I keep re-watching him pull out the second Clemson act and am convinced that he was just sticking it to Auburn with that whole charade. Awesome. He fills a need in the 2-deep and improves the talent level at the position immediately. He also will give an injection of competition to our current DB's. The kid has no filter and provides much needed toughness and physicality at the line of scrimmage.
Baker, Johnson, and Edmond all provide depth and each possesses a high upside, especially Baker. They all will need physical development which isn't our strength but I think we did a good job meeting our needs. In Alexander and Baker you have two potential starters who will start out as CB's. No more Harbison hybrid Safety, athlete thing.
Safety – Clemson plays a mix of C1, C2, and C3, but primarily C3 based on the film this season. To play 1, you need a great safety. To play 3 you need smart corners and depth at the two safety positions for C2. We didn’t have great safeties this season, and in several games their inability to read the patterns killed us. Travis Blanks has been mentioned as moving to FS full-time next season, but who will back him up? Robert Smith is in line for the SS starting spot, but has he impressed you yet? These are serious concerns that we have going into 2013.
Bringing in Ryan Carter was not a move we agree with. Great recruiting but poor management. Swinney says we have 14-16 scholarships next year and yet we give them away to a legacy like Cannon (2014--don't have a major problem with the offer until the numbers get tight), Greenlee and now Carter? He’s too short and too slow for fulltime duty at Safety, and we don’t think he can beat the others at the spot.
Ronald Geohaghan comes off RS and is a formerly high-rated safety. Garry Peters was originally a FS and probably should go back in an ideal world. One of these two players needs to take the spot behind Blanks right now. OLB T.J. Burrell is not someone we project to stay at linebacker, he plays like a SS. Ideally he could challenge Smith, along with possibly Geohaghan and incoming Cordrea Tankersley. Overall, Clemson exceeded the numbers needs here and with 8-9 to pick from, they should have the necessary talent on campus. Honestly we should not have taken this many.They just have to develop what they have, which is what we said last year.
DE- It was evident that we lack premier pass rushing talent all of 2012. We’ve mentioned the failure to bring in top DE pass rushing talent in the last 3 class assessments, and it was the #1 need that we knew about before the 2012 season started. Malliciah Goodman didn’t do anything after losing the weight that we felt was hampering him, except for the LSU game. Tavaris Barnes is not a pass rusher. Corey Crawford did not develop into a pass rusher as we expected either. Kevin Dodd didn’t. Rod Byers didn’t. Vic Beasley is the one and only that we think can do it right now, and if he doesn’t put on 20lbs then he won’t be an every down player. Its time for the Training Table to show some results for the money invested, and VB is suspect #1. Martin Aiken will come off RS and needs to show us something, because with 9 potential DE on the roster, somebody has been outrecruited.
I think Shaq Lawson will be a good player who will crack the 2-deep sometime next year. It is hard for me to consider him a recruit for this year though. We need pass rushers right now, preferably those who are decent against the run. We saw against LSU and SC how a pass rush made all the difference in the game. Based on the need and opportunity for playing time I was surprised we did not pull in a bigger recruit. C. Lawson would have been perfect for us.
Ogundeko and Rogers can be good players but they will need time to develop. Ebo needs weight and technique work. After missing Pagan, Bullard and now Lawson and Nkemdiche this was one of the biggest misses for the class. We can’t heavily fault the staff when other staffs cheat like hell, but the bottom line is that we don’t have the skill here that we need, and the staff needs to fix it. We're over with numbers now at DE, but Clemson needed to bring in an elite DE pass rusher, and failed to do so once again.
OL – Clemson loses Dalton Freeman, but his backups Ryan Norton and RS Jay Guillermo should be up to the job of replacing him at Center. It is otherwise evident we need considerably better play at Right Tackle and that the guard positions need to play better. We return everyone up front, and lose starting LT Brandon Thomas and RG Tyler Shatley after ’13. David Beasley appears to have LG locked for now, but needs to improve his condition, as does Kalon Davis if he is to ever challenge for PT. Jerome Maybank and Spencer Region need to lose weight or leave. Those are training table examples to watch. Backup tackle appears to have more skill, with Anthony, Gore, and Battle. Oliver Jones may need more time to improve his conditioning and strength. G Tyrone Crowder will use the RS to improve conditioning and Maverick Morris looks to me like a future G or RT. We like both. Eric MacLain moves over from TE to OT, and if he gains weight we think he could be very good here. We had the opportunity to lock-down Cameron Dillard who really wanted a Clemson offer (grew up a Clemson fan) but we slow played it because of 'numbers' and when he got an offer from UF he couldn't turn it down. Good move not to go on Droogsma, however. There was the possibility of going after Josh Outlaw but grades and our numbers prevented us from really pursuing that and he signed with Texas Tech. We always believe that Clemson should take 3-4 OL a year, simply due to the normal attrition at this spot. With MacLain’s move over, and two additions, we barely met that. However, we believe one of the 8-9 DB spots should’ve been given to another OL, and we failed to bring in a high-rated OT prospect for the umpteenth year.
WR – One wouldn’t think this is a huge position of need, but if you play 85 snaps, and someone has to run or block on every one of them, then you need some numbers here. We play with 3 on the field most of the time, plus a TE or H. Clutch man Jaron Brown is gone, as is Nuk Hopkins. We needed two for numbers, but we needed two with great talent, and one of them needed to be a game-changer. Next year, if Watkins has the season we expect, he’s gone. You could then stretch the need to 3. Clemson got Kyrin Priester and Mike Williams, who are talented but neither is the game-changer we needed to replace when Nuk chose the NFL. T.J. Green is a possibility to switch to WR. We were in the running for a ton of high rated players and led for them at one point, but didn’t close the deal. Bud Robinson was a big loss, as were Marquez North and Ahmad Fulwood. Fulwood along with many Jacksonville targets were heavy Clemson leans early in the process (FSU DeMarcus Walker was close to a silent and Fulwood seemed like it was just a matter of time before he committed) but UF pulled that talent away from us. You can't always bank on the next class no matter how good it looks. We also were very involved withUNC commit 'Bug' Howard who wanted to commit but got Robinson instead. Those are just the tough breaks in recruiting though, Howard didn't want anything to do with us after we lost Robinson. Clemson met the immediate numbers need, possibly the projected numbers, but not quite the talent need and will have a big need for a talented replacement in ’14.
RB – We lose top rusher Andre Ellington, and it became apparent that we needed at least one more RB on the roster with oft-injured D.J. Howard and after Mike Bellamy flunked out. Chad wishes to have a mix of smaller backs and big backs, and we don’t have the big backs. Zac Brooks is suspect #2 for the training table development. This is why we took two in Gallman and Dye. I’d have strongly considered giving one of the 8-9 DB spots to Derrick Green, who we were once in the lead group for this summer, but the staff was dead set on two and only two. This really made no sense when late in the process we moved on Tramel Terry as a RB/WR multi-purpose player. We did not do that with Alvin Kamara who also was close to committing but we were locked in to Dye and Gallman. Part of this was a calculated risk to not upset the balance that was keeping Nkemdiche committed, so this was complicated. I don't see why we couldn't have sold Kamara on the same thing as Terry though. Late in the process we were too late to get back in to it. Clemson should lose only Hot Rod after ’13, and has commitments secured for the ’14 cycle to replace him as well as upgrade talent. Clemson needed 2 and got just 2, but could’ve taken one more oversign.
DT – Clemson doesn’t have a big numbers need at DT, only 5 tend to really play and we appear to have that 5 locked into next season: Watson, Jarrett, Williams, Reader, and Carlos Watkins. Tra Thomas returns for his junior season and likely won’t crack the 5-man rotation, and could possibly move to FB. We lose no one and actually have more than we need. In the case of an attrition loss or position move, someone like Byers or Dodd can move inside to the 3-technique. Ideally we needed to get one good DT and call it day, and we did with Scott Pagano, who has the luxury of a RS to develop. Talking to some of my contacts in Hawaii, he didn't have as good of a senior year as expected but still has a lot of potential upside. If the staff plays him and he doesn’t crack 100-150 snaps, you’re going to hear about it from us. Clemson was told by Montravious Adams that he was coming here as recently as two weeks ago that we can verify, and flipped to Auburn on the last weekend with Carl Lawson (who told Clemson the same). While we didn’t have a numbers need or immediate concern at DT, Adams is a War Daddy, and would immediately press for PT and totally upgrade this spot for years to come. Clemson met the need at DT with one talented guy, and we’d project 1 or 2 again for ’14 cycle.
LB – Let’s face it, our LBs were not impressive this year and haven’t been for quite a while. We have plenty of numbers here, so all that needs to take place is an upgrade of talent and replacing lost bodies. Tig Willard is gone at WILL, and backup Corico at MLB, along with the transfer of OLB Lateek Townsend. Clemson brought in OLB Dorian O’Daniel and MLB Ben Boulware, and the loss of Townsend isn’t a painful one. It actually brings our numbers more in line to where they should be, and we could stand to lose one more. Clemson loses 2 after ’13, Christian and Shuey, so we’d again expect the staff to go after 1 or 2 higher rated prospects and be done in ’14 cycle. We are already in the top group of a number of very high profile LB's like Register and McMillan. Clemson needed 2 and got 2, and met the numbers and talent requirement here. We still need to develop the 5-star players on campus.
TE – Clemson loses one receiving TE in Brandon Ford, moves MacLain over to Tackle, and in our opinion doesn’t need numbers at the position. Darrell Smith, JJ McCullough, Seckinger, Cooper, and Greenlee are projected to be here, and possibly Tra Thomas as a situational blocking FB with Smith. We had lots of talks with Josh McNeil but grades were the concern and I don't think he ended up signing with anyone. We could split the position into a blocking/line TE and receiving TE, in which case the take of Jordan Leggett makes more sense. Cooper is a line TE, McCullough is a tweener, and Seckinger is a definite receiving TE. Smith is more of a blocking H/FB. Leggett should redshirt nonetheless. Clemson lost 2, and replaced with 1.
QB – Not a need in this cycle at all, with Tajh Boyd returning along with his #2 Cole Stoudt. Chad Kelly comes off RS and will challenge Stoudt this spring. Tony McNeal comes off Medical RS. We foresee a transfer of one of the 3 backups. Morgan Roberts decided to transfer already. Noting this, the staff offered Asiantii Woulard late in the process, but backed off soon after that, after discovering numerous red flags. We don’t believe Clemson needed one, but will need one skilled QB in the ’14 cycle.
How do you rate the class in the important area of need?