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Late July Defensive Recruiting Class Roundup

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With a week to go remaining in July, Clemson has nearly finished their 2012 recruiting class.

Clemson has 14 high school prospects committed and two prep school prospects they signed as part of the class of 2011 that were not able to qualify initially. With 16 commitments in the books, the Tigers plan to take around 19-20 total in the class.

Here is some quick analysis of how they’ve filled their defensive needs so far-

DE- Clemson needed at least two defensive ends in this class. Clemson picked up one commitment from DW Daniel DE Shaq Lawson in early March. Lawson grew up a Clemson fan and committed shortly after junior day. Lawson is an explosive pass rusher with big hands and long arms. He is widely regarded as a high end three star prospect, and should fit in as a weak side defensive end or possibly even as an outside linebacker in 3-4 sets. Clemson picked up their second commitment from a defensive end in Bamberg’s Martin Aiken in late June. Aiken is a fit at strong side defensive end, and could potentially move inside to defensive tackle down the line. He is widely considered a four star prospect and one of the top 5 prospects in South Carolina. Clemson is also still recruiting Shelby, NC defensive end Jonathan Bullard as a potential oversign prospect. Bullard, one of the top 5 prospects in NC and a five star prospect on Rivals, is very versatile and could play on the strong side, weak side or shift inside and play tackle in some sets, and would be expected to be a major contributor from day 1 if he chose Clemson. He is the type of elite DE we need in this class.

DT-Clemson has taken quite a few defensive tackles over the past two years, but few of them fit in to the mold of impact prospects. So the major need for Clemson in this cycle at defensive tackle is not numbers, but whether or not they can bring in a big fish. Right now they have one commitment- Kevin Dodd, who originally signed in 2011 but is currently prepping at Hargrave. Dodd is an athletic specimen who was not highly recruited due to his academic standing last year, and was widely rated as a three star prospect last year. This year, once he is scouted at prep school, expect him to be considered a four star prospect and one of the top defensive linemen in the prep school ranks. As far as high school defensive tackle prospects go, Clemson’s best bet is Forest City, NC’s Carlos Watkins. A close friend of Bullard’s, Watkins has been a heavy lean to Clemson for some time. However, over the last month several other schools, notably Alabama, have made up ground and closed the gap on Clemson. Still, Clemson has a lot of help here and a lot of factors going in their favor, and should be able to sign Watkins in the end. Watkins is a consensus four star prospect and the top defensive tackle prospect in NC or SC for this class. At 6’4 275lbs, he has the size and athletic ability to contribute at the position very early in his career. If Watkins commits to Clemson, it is possible that the Tigers could call it a day at defensive tackle with a class of Dodd and Watkins. However, they are also currently recruiting several other defensive tackle prospects who they have offered- Prattville, AL’s Justin Shanks, Henry County, GA’s Dalvin Tomlinson, and Thomson, GA’s John Atkins. None of those three have Clemson at the front right now, although Tomlinson has made several visits to Clemson this spring and summer and plans to return again as of now. Clemson has also been strongly evaluating South Aiken’s Josh Brown, who has been impressive all spring and summer on the camp circuit, and could earn an offer from Clemson at some point soon. Watch him closely this fall, and if we lose a target, he would be the fallback offer. He would likely commit quickly if we offered, like Rod Byers last February.

LB- Clemson came into the class looking at taking 1-2 prospects at linebacker. After signing 5 linebackers last year, the position was not seen as a major need, and with the mid June commitment of Goose Creek’s TJ Burrell, it appears Clemson is done at linebacker. Burrell is undersized for the Kevin Steele defense, built more like a SS in the Robert Smith mold, but he is very fast and has performed well at camps and combines all summer. Burrell is widely regarded as a three star prospect. Clemson was and still is in the forefront for Charlotte, NC’s Nick Dawson, who is widely considered a four star prospect, but the Tigers are apparently not as high on Dawson as a lot of recruiting analysts are, and appear willing to let him go elsewhere as things stand today. We still want him here. Clemson also recruited Durham, NC’s Jamal Marcus and Leland, NC’s Keilin Rayner hard earlier this spring and summer, but with numbers tight it is unclear if Clemson will continue to recruit either. Marcus and Rayner are both interesting prospects to follow, however, because both could project at either linebacker or defensive end, and both seem like they would be excellent fits as pass rushing outside linebackers in the 3-4 defense, should Clemson decide to shift to a heavier 3-4 look going forward.

DB- Clemson came in to the class looking to take 3-4 defensive back prospects, and picked up three very quickly in early June. Silver Bluff’s Cordrea Tankersley committed first. Tankersley, a high school option quarterback, was one of the first prospects in the state to get an offer from Clemson and held the Tigers as his favorite throughout the process. Tankersley is generally considered a high end three star prospect. The day after Tankersley committed Allendale safety Ronald Geohagan committed. Geohagan, a fringe four star prospect according to most recruiting analysts, plays in the box as an outside linebacker for his high school team, and is known as an excellent tackler and a generally hard hitting, physical player. There are questions about his ability to play in coverage in college, as he has simply never had that responsibility in high school, but with his size and athletic ability, they are not major concerns. He would likely redshirt as a result of that inexperience in coverage. The Tigers picked up their third commitment in three days when Tallahassee FL defensive back Travis Blanks chose the Tigers. Blanks, a consensus four star prospect, spent three days at Clemson’s camp in June where he absolutely put on a clinic before committing to the Tigers on his ride home to Florida. Blanks then went to The Opening in Oregon where he was named to the All Tournament team. Blanks will play cornerback for Clemson and has nearly ideal size and physical makeup for the position. He also fits in well at the nickel back position that Marcus Gilchrist played the past two years. Blanks is a very versatile prospect who should contribute in Clemson’s defensive backfield early in his career, and we highly doubt he would redshirt. The Tigers are willing to keep the light on for a final defensive back prospect, and at this point it appears that will be Fox Creek’s Marty Williams. An option quarterback in high school, like Tankersley,  Williams is one of the pound for pound best athletes in the state. He will likely play safety at Clemson, however he also did well in drills playing cornerback during Clemson’s summer camp. Williams is a consensus three star prospect right now, but he is one who could move up substantially given the chance to prove himself against top competition. Clemson is also in the forefront for Oxford, AL cornerback Trae Elston. However with the numbers as they are, unless Elston sneaks in before Williams is ready to commit, he will likely not have a spot at Clemson. He says he wants to wait til NSD, and that he'd rather play WR, which he isnt suited for and likely won't get at the next level.

ST- Clemson needed one punter with the impending graduation of Dawson Zimmerman. They received a commitment from Concord, NC’s Bradley Pinion. Pinion chose Clemson over UNC and several other offers, and at this point is likely the top punting prospect in the Carolinas.

Just to reiterate, the top oversigns left are Bullard (lukewarm to Clemson, likely Florida-bound), Watkins, Dawson and Marty Williams on defense. Watkins and Williams are the two best shots of a commit out of that group.