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 almost every year but those numbers are not as concrete as they appear to be. However, the algorithms for the class rankings weigh class size which can be misleading with a smaller class. 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.
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. It is all over the map between 15-25.
This class does meet some specific needs. It does lack some elite talent that would have made this class much stronger. We finished second for a lot of talent after we had secured our initial class. Landing one or two of these guys would have elevated this class.
Last year we finished second for DE Robert Nkemdiche, CB V HIII, CB Kendall Fuller, DT Mont Adams, DE Carl Lawson, WR Marquez North, and RB D. Green (guys who all had an impact as freshman). This year we finished second for WR Trey Quinn, WR Josh Malone, LB Raekwon McMillan (who is learning the definition of the word polar vortex), DE Lorenzo Featherston, DE Andrew Williams, DE Rick Leonard among others. This is to be expected every year but the amount of top, impact talent we have finished second for is beginning to be an issue. We must close stronger on a couple of these recruits each year if we want to push ourselves into consistent 'top 10' classes.
This class is solid but not spectacular. That is fine but when you look at this class with a longer view and take into account needs this begins to look more like an average class. You can pick specific positions and really get excited (QB, WR) but then you look at the longer view (taking 3-4 classes into consideration) you begin to see a class that puts pressure on the 2015 and 2016 classes to be special. Now this isn't a below average class like Dabo's 'Dandy Dozen' but just like that class it means you need to bring in a couple of top ten classes to maintain your overall talent level.
Defensive End--We failed to recruit a true Defensive end in this class. Let me repeat that. We failed to recruit a defensive end. We signed some guys who likely will be forced to move up front to get PT, like Register and Yeargin, but they already promised Register he'd get a chance at LB. Granted we expected to lose Vic Beasley to the NFL Draft and he is a 6* recruit. But next year you have your two starting DE's graduating with Corey Crawford and Beasley along with key reserve Tavaris Barnes. Other than Shaq Lawson (who is like a third starter if he can keep his weight in check) no one else has played any meaningful snaps. Kevin Dodd will benefit from the medical year and the staff are high on the ceiling of Ebenezer Ogundeko but I also see a lot of guys who won't be contributing.
We have failed to bring in an elite pass rushing talent for 3-4 years now and it's getting old. The string of Bullard, Lawson/Nkemdiche, and now Featherston/Williams is alarming. On the surface we are fine with numbers but guys like Rod Byers, Martin Aiken, and even Dodd need to show something this year. We haven't seen Dane Rogers in action but I was never thrilled with his film. We must make that Shaq Lawson sticks at DE and doesn't grow into a 3-tech DT.
I would have been satisfied this year if we had landed a high ceiling developmental prospect. Rick Leonard signed with FSU (I think he will make that 3* rating look silly in the future), as did boom or bust candidate Featherston (either cyberwolf terror or injury prone liability). I have always said that Andrew Williams was overrated because he plays against weak competition and although looks great coming off the bus lacks technique and is just raw despite the physique. We could never get in the game with Georgia commit Lorenzo Carter and didn't pursue NC State commit Kentavious Street. Dabo in his press conference talked about Chris Register as a big MLB so it is clear that he will start at LB but I see his eventual home at DE because he is a big boy. As a defensive end he will need to learn a lot of technique but also get thicker in the legs. Richard Yeargin III is also a candidate to end up at defensive end. He actually dropped in the rankings at the end of the recruiting season because he struggled to cover people in space at the Army All-American game. Since both Register and Yeargin struggle in this area I could see them as these developmental players down the road.
That being said, we now have put a ton of pressure on 2015 and essentially need to bring in a guy who can start immediately in the 2-deep. That is a tall order for any class. Clemson needed to bring in an elite DE pass rusher, and failed to do so once again.
Offensive Line--Last year we brought in G/RT Maverick Morris and G Tyrone Crowder and liked both. We seem to be correct in our assessment of Crowder who came in and lost a ton of weight after ballooning too close to 390+ pounds. He will compete for a spot in the two deep this spring. Jury is still out on Morris. This year we have starting LT Brandon Thomas and RG Tyler Shatley graduating. We have brought in two offensive lineman with Taylor Hearn and Justin Falcinelli to replace them. We like to have 15 players at this position but you need to take 3 to 4 offensive lineman every year. We have the numbers but not the depth of talent. Two straight years of bringing in two offensive lineman gives you a hole in your recruiting for the future. FSU brought in 8/9 offensive lineman this year (one a long-snapper) despite having a veteran line. We suffer from not being able to bring in a JUCO RT as Isaiah Battle moves into the LT position.
We are in dire need of true offensive tackles. Spencer Region and Jerome Maybank are unathletic and overweight guards who won't contribute. Guards Kalon Davis and David Beasley still need to improve their conditioning and ability to pull. Reid Webster has contemplated giving up football and provides depth at guard and possibly RT. Your Centers Ryan Norton (who could also play some guard if he bulks up further) and Jay Guillermo should continue to progress. The point is that those are a lot of guards (who don't inspire a ton of confidence) and not enough Tackles.
At Tackle you have the oft injured Joe Gore who hasn't been able to keep himself on the field mentally as well as physically and projected starter Shaq Anthony who still can't run block at all. Both of them are capable of competing at a higher level, but Anthony in particular needs to gain muscle. Oliver Jones has never been healthy or in decent shape and Eric Mac Lain has yet to fulfill his potential as he continues to transition from TE to guard or tackle (his shorter arms make him more a guard than a tackle though). I thought Mac Lain would be contributing by now so hopefully that happens this offseason. We are an injury away at tackle from being in serious trouble.
Hearn looked to be a miss on his first day of Shrine Bowl practice but showed something the rest of the time. I was never in favor of his early offer and commitment because I felt like much better prospects were on the board but he seems to be passable and I like his height. Falcinelli played against poor competition but is an intriguing prospect. Cannon Smith could also transition into being an offensive tackle (Alabama briefly pursued him), which would make this offensive line class look much better because I like Smith's feet and ceiling as a tackle despite needing a lot of time to make the transition. We always believe that Clemson should take 3-4 OL a year, simply due to the normal attrition at this spot (attrition we are looking forward to) and we failed to bring in a high-rated OT prospect for the umpteenth year. 2015 is off to an amazing start, gaining the commitment of the #1 overall OT and highest rated offensive line product in Clemson history Mitch Hyatt along with OT Noah Green who is a high 3*. We are also in the lead groups of top 100 Guard Zach Bailey, OT Mason Veal, and OT Chuma Edoga. We need to bring in 4-5 quality offensive line in 2015 and it looks like we can, but we'll wait and see whether Clemson can land another high caliber player who isn't a legacy.
Wide Reciever--When you lose first rounders DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins in consecutive years to the NFL you are going to need to bring in a lot of talent to try and begin to replace this. When you add in the loss of key reserve with seemingly unlimited and untapped potential in Bryant, you have a very big hole. It is unrealistic to replace Watkins/Bryant talent but Clemson did a good job here at wide receiver. We still think we should be attracting more 4/5* talent with our system and iconic wide receivers we have produced, especially after seeing FSU's wide receiver class (this would have been met by Malone or Quinn jumping on board--we also went after Travis Rudolph hard but never could get a visit). We added four wide receivers so we also filled our need in terms of numbers.
Currently on campus we have Mike Williams who is poised to take on a starting role and was a pleasant surprise last year as a true freshman contributor. Charone Peake must come back strong from his ACL injury. We need his height and speed to extend the defense this year. G-Hop needs to continue to progress and get his head on straight. Humphries is solid in his role but limited in what he can do at times on the field. TJ Green probably should have red-shirted since he didn't get the requisite 100 snaps. Last year we were thin at wide receiver and needed to have one more body, which we understand, but less than 100 snaps is hardly worth it for the player himself.
The headliner this year is clearly Artavis Scott. We plucked him out of Florida and held off some strong pushes by in-state schools but Scott was solid and very committed to Clemson. His already on campus and should see the field this year. Kyrin Priester was supposed to be on campus last year but had a year of prep school seasoning. Demarre Kitt is also extremely developed right now in the upper body and should see the field. Trevion Thompson gives you the height at the position with good hands but lacks elite speed. All four of these players run good routes but they are all more quick than fast. Scott is lightning quick but we would have liked to have seen a player with more elite speed sign. That will be a need heading into 2015. We met the need of 2014 in terms of expected talent but need some elite speed in 2015, probably no more than two, for which we should be very selective.
Defensive Tackle--I'm a bit confused as to what we are doing here to be honest. I get that we like what is on campus but long term we needed to bring in at least one high end defensive tackle. Having Carlos Watkins get a medical redshirt really does help our numbers though because he was essentially the starter at the time of his accident. Grady Jarrett, Josh Watson (who briefly decided to leave but is now coming back), and Deshawn Williams will all graduate next, thats 3 off the 2-deep. DJ Reader and Watkins will take over as the entrenched starters once they leave. The staff feels like they hit on Scott Pagano, which is encouraging but we will have that gap in recruiting again thanks to this class. Two years ago we had the same talent on campus but because of the lack of roster management beforehand they struggled that season. We need to be training the next generation right now.
You need a 5-man rotation at DT. In 2014 we're just fine. In 2015 we'll have Reader, Watkins and Pagano. That leaves two spots open, for either a conversion from Strongside DE or younger guys. We got only one and needed two to let them sit a year. If you're only going to take one then he needs to be a War Daddy.
We grabbed undiscovered Jabril Robinson who plays as a defensive end in high school, may not have the frame to carry 300 pounds well, and is extremely raw. He is also a likely prep school placement. There were a lot of players available but we decided we wanted players with more height at the position and didn't pursue players like Texas commit Poona Ford and USCjr commit Dexter Wideman (I have heard that is because of grades but if he gets into school I will be ticked we didn't push harder). We need to bring in quality talent in 2015. We didn't meet the needs of defensive tackle, we should have brought in at least one quality defensive tackle like we did in 2013.
Linebacker--We have, however, ballooned the numbers at Linebacker for whatever reason. Its more puzzling when you consider we have played so much 4-2-5. I find some of these takes to be suspect this year. We lost 2 starting linebackers in Spencer Shuey and Quandon Christian and added Korie Rogers, Kendall Joseph, Chris Register, Richard Yeargin III, along with the grayshirts for Jalen Williams and the Davis twins. We better like what we have on campus because we just signed two classes of LB. That is what makes the 5 heart Dabo Davis grayshirts all the more egregious.
I feel like there is some tension here between Venables and other staff members with these LB takes. He wanted Jalen Williams and certainly doesn't want the Davis twins (no one would). The plan must be to move either Register or Yeargin to DE because without a position change for someone we have overloaded the numbers here big time. We also missed on McMillan who would have been a talent upgrade but certainly oversigning at the position. On campus we have Stephone Anthony returning which really helps our defense immensely at MLB but WILL is up for grabs. Back-ups at MLB are Ben Boulware and BJ Goodson. Tony Steward will be given every opportunity to take over at WILL with Kellen Jones providing depth and at SAM you have T.J. Burrell, and redshirt freshman Dorian O'Daniel (along with the possibility of Jayron Kearse adding weight and taking snaps here but after seeing Kam Chancellor in the Super Bowl I hope we keep him at Safety personally). With only Anthony and Steward graduating this year we have added too much at the position for my liking.
Korie Rogers is a legit elite talent though. I can see him playing this year at WILL and he is the prize of our defensive class in 2014. Nothing was said publicly but Auburn tried to flip Rogers at the end of his recruitment but he decided to stay with Clemson. This was much more of a threat than anyone knew and the staff did an excellent job hanging on to him. Kendall Joseph is a Venables guy and I will defer to him but I wasn't enamored with the early take and question the stiffness like Dr. B said. I like Register and Yeargin a lot but not so much in space. Register just hits really hard--difficult to not want that in a MLB. Overall the grayshirts are a disaster and hamstring our future recruitment at the position. The numbers are too high but Rogers gives you the talent. Clemson really only needed 2, and took 5 "official" linebackers (2 of which are candidates to switch to WDE).
Defensive Back--After signing 8 DB's last year we essentially already signed this year's class (kind of like what is being done with the LB grayshirts). I will spare you my Ryan Carter tirade but I would have shaved that eight from last year down to 6-7 and signed one true CB in this class. We flirted with taking Wesley Green and DJ Smith in this class but decided they were both overrated or had too many red flags and stopped recruiting them. I will be watching their careers because we gave our rival needed numbers and depth at a position they have nothing at this year.
We did lose Bashaud Breeland unfortunately to the draft along with Darius Robinson. We have the numbers at the position and only lose Martin Jenkins and Garry Peters next year. Mackensie Alexander will play at one CB position this year with a senior at the other position and Marcus Edmond will step into the 2-deep. Then we have Cordrea Tankersley as a Sophomore and Adrian Baker as a redshirt freshman providing further depth. We need to sign 2 defensive back next year and still need an elite CB after finishing second for Darby, Fuller, and VHIII in recent years. If Fuller does get in it will be a long transition to DB.
Our lone defensive back signed is Safety Jefferie Gibson. We said last year that we had serious concerns at the position but we have the numbers and just need to make better use of who is on campus. Robert Smith, Travis Blanks, Jayron Kearse and Korrin Wiggins make your two-deep with Ronald Geohaghan and Jadar Johnson providing depth. We got Gibson to flip from NC State, where he was a WR commit so he had good hands, after he made an early commitment and the only real knock on Gibson is his speed. He ran an awful 40 time at a camp and that hurt his stock as a prospect. We met the needs at the position in 2013 in terms of numbers and we have decent talent on campus if Edmonds develops into a contributing corner. Would have liked to have signed one true corner in this class but the 5 heart Dabo signing of Ryan Carter made that impossible this year. Clemson signed one and really did not need any at the positions, other than possibly an elite cover corner to compliment Alexander.
Quarterback--You need 3 at the spot. We lost Tony NcNeal and Morgan Roberts to attrition and Tajh Boyd to the NFL. We have signed one QB in DeShaun Watson. Clearly this fulfills the talent at the position and we couldn't have signed a better QB for this system. In terms of numbers it would be nice to have another guy on the roster, especially if either Cole Stoudt or Chad Kelly decide to transfer. We will also be thin if anyone gets injured (think Maryland). We promised Watson he would be the only QB we would recruit so that had to be the case. We met our needs in terms of talent and numbers. Need to sign two QB's in 2015.
Running Back--You need 5 at the spot. We only lose Hot Rod McDowell this year and have Zac Brooks, DJ Howard, and walk-on CJ Davidson. Howard is a senior and won't see much playing time with Tyshon Dye and Wayne Gallman coming off redshirt years as your bigger back options. Davidson gives you an element of speed and Brooks still needs to gain weight and prove his durability. If anything, we need to progressively upgrade the backup spots, and replace the starter's talent, so we really only needed 1, possibly 2 if you want one big and one scatback. We signed 3. We signed Adam Choice as an intriguing option QB in high school who needs to learn to be a RB and Jae'lon Oglesby, who might end up in prep school, really impressed me this year. I thought he needed to gain some more weight to be an option at the college level but he has the speed and vision. CJ Fuller is a guy we don't see making it in by August, and even then may move to DB, and there is work for Oglesby to do. We met our needs and signed enough if Oglesby can get in, we will be fine even if only Choice makes it in.
H/Tight End--We lost Darell Smith and upgraded with Milan Richard. We have good numbers on campus with a healthy Sam Cooper and Jordan Leggett. Jay Jay McCullough still needs to learn the offense but is ideal for the H-back position. Stanton Seckinger still needs to gain 20 pounds and improve his strength. All of these players must improve their blocking skills. Richard gives you an injection of talent at the position and numbers are good moving forward so we fulfilled our needs.
Walk-ons--I wanted to highlight this portion of the class. One thing Dabo does well (to a fault when these become scholarships far too often) is amass free agent talent. Hunter Renfrow is an undersized but quality WR we stole from App State, Kurt Fleming is an intriguing jumbo athlete, and Alex Spence and Christian Groomes are quality kickers.
Again, this is a solid class that does a good job in the areas of QB, TE, WR, and even RB but doesn't help our future at the positions of DE or DT. Offensive line is still not a high enough priority and we have hindered our LB recruiting for the future. We recognize that not every class we sign will be a top tier class but the expectations for 2015 need to be elevated because this class is a bit weaker. We need to fill some serious needs in 2015 (top ten class), especially along the lines.
How do you rate the 2014 class from a NEED perspective?