I'm continuing a longstanding tradition here at STS to evaluate recruiting classes not simply by star rankings but also digging into the actual roster and seeing if we met needs. Recruiting rankings can't be completely discounted and the systems are getting better but look at the discrepancies between services. Rivals has us #4 overall while Scout has us at #15 (for the record I think the Scout ranking is garbage--they seem to be overvaluing West Coast prospects). This just shows the subjective nature of recruiting and rankings. That said here is a list of guys we finished 2nd for last year: WR Trey Quinn (was basically a starter for LSU), WR Josh Malone (would have starred at Tennessee with better QB play), LB Raekwon McMillan (Ohio State--played in championship game extremely well), DE Lorenzo Featherston (surprisingly saw a lot of playing time for FSU despite being rail thin and injury issues that I thought were overstated). All high 4/5* players who made an impact on their respective teams. Stars matter but they aren't everything.
As was said by other writers--you need talent but also roster management. While past classes have seemed stellar with amazing skill players, who often mask roster deficiencies, we haven't always put enough emphasis on key positions like offensive line the past two years. Remember that we have 15 guys enrolled early--just huge for early development and should mean that some of these guys will be able to play in the fall.
We start with offense:
Dabo Swinney began last year saying he really liked this group of guys and how good the o-line was going to be. In his recent recruiting press conference he admitted that last year was like a game of musical chairs, which is as close to an admission that recent recruiting on the offensive line has not been up to the 'best' standard. Recruiting only two offensive lineman the past two cycles has hurt us. I'm going to spend an extra amount of time breaking down the offensive line because I think it is important.
We lost Kalon Davis, Reid Webster, and David Beasley to graduation and jettisoned Spencer Region, Shaq Anthony and Jerome Maybank. That is a lot of turnover but half of them should have been processed earlier. We currently have 10 lineman on scholarship (11 if you add Byers). At center you have Jay Guillermo and Ryan Norton, all 285 pounds of him on a good day, continuing to battle for the position. Norton absolutely regressed last year logging about the same number of snaps (737) as the previous year but going from 28 knockdowns to only 12 last year. If he can't stay over at least 290 pounds in his senior year then he should be on the bench (lack of depth won't allow that though). It would be nice for Guillermo to finally take possession of the position--he played 207 snaps over 8 games and continued to battle with injuries last year.
At guard you have one of those two centers and Tyrone Crowder who saw action with 203 snaps. Crowder struggled to earn the confidence of the coaching staff with inconsistent pass blocking. Still should have played more because he will be needed this year at RG. The other major option is at Guard (primarily LG) is Eric MacLain. MacLain struggled over the course of the season and lost a lot of foot speed with additional weight gain. You combine that with shorter arms and he couldn't stick at the RT spot. He played 245 snaps but logged 62 snaps at LT against Oklahoma in the bowl game--probably his best performance to date.
LT will be Isaiah Battle who didn't become the franchise 1st round draft pick we has hoped. Stating the obvious but we need him to stay healthy and play up to his potential because we will have freshman backing him up. Just like last year, we will begin with Joe Gore at RT. Poor play and injury led the staff to move Kalon Davis from his optimal LG position. Maverick Morris got some playing time with 59 snaps as a redshirt sophomore. Hopefully he can log a few more snaps this year. I'm not expecting anything from Taylor Hearn or Justin Falcinelli. I still can't believe we only took two offensive lineman last year. Hearn was pretty bad last year and prompted coaches to decide to hold off on early O-line offers as much as possible going forward.
We signed a class of 4 offensive lineman--hallelujah! More importantly, these are really good players who like to play football. Caldwell has needed to change the culture of his position group and hopefully these talented players will inject some needed competition and toughness. All of them possess a mean streak and play through the whistle. Best offensive line class in a decade or two and that is not just orange smoke being blown--we met the need. This will continue next year as we look to sign 4 more offensive lineman despite a small class. The 2017 class will be the real test (please take 3 in 2017 Dabo!).
Mitch Hyatt (6'5 285) is a franchise LT. There are some concerns (mainly by Rivals as they bumped Hyatt from a 5* to a 4*) over his ability to maintain his agility while carrying extra weight. Mitch will have a bit of an adjustment as he calibrates his technique with his foot speed but I think this is overblown. He will need to continue to gain strength and adjust to the weight. He will be a dominant force for Clemson and starts in our 2 deep. We have a gaping hole at RT that Joe Gore wasn't able to fill last year (hopefully it was largely the appendicitis), so these freshman will get every chance to prove they can handle the position with these two cupcake games to start the season.
Don't sleep on powerhouse Plant HS's Jake Fruhmorgan (6'5 288). Jake is ideally suited to play that RT position with Mitch at LT but I see bookend Tackles for years to come. The only thing that is going to keep Jake off the field is a lack of upper body strength. Already a great technician, his dad played at Alabama so he understands the game and how to play the position. His feet are elite, especially in pass protection and zone blocking. A guy like Battle had the tools and athleticism but not the knowledge of how to play the position. While Fruhmorgan is suited for RT he could play any number of positions along the offensive line, even center in a pinch.
Noah Green (6'4 280) will most likely redshirt. He has good athleticism but will need to move inside and play guard. His technique is still a bit raw and his pad level is too high (although you can say that for almost any high school o-lineman). I think he will help us down the road.
Zach Giella (6'5 305) is more of a developmental prospect than the other three. Another definite redshirt. I think he moves inside ultimately--he played a lot of center for his high school, which may be where he ends up. I do like his mean streak, he plays angry and well through the whistle. Also like his size but he will need to reshape his body and work on his technique. While I am not opposed to the take, especially as a 4th lineman in the class, there were some other decent lineman available like Boulware (who wanted to commit at one point) or Austin Clark (very interested but picked USCjr after we took Fruh only to decommit to VT).
Stating the obvious but Deshaun Watson must remain healthy for Clemson to do well next year with our defense, which will take a step back. We decided to put all our chips in the Watson basket and it wasn't a bad strategy. It would be really nice to have a competent back-up since Nick Schuessler couldn't fill in for a shattered Cole Stoudt last year though. This would be an ideal place to attract a competent back-up. A lot of pressure will be put on these two incoming freshman. Chad Kelly screwed up our depth.
Deshaun Watson casts a big shadow. It helps in recruiting every other position but, obviously, not at QB. Kelly Bryant (6'4 205) is the QB with the highest ceiling. A lot of people were down on him after his poor performance in the Shrine Bowl game but he was actually pretty good overall during practices. He needs to continue to put on more weight because he has the frame to carry 220 pounds and be a true dual threat. He is an effective runner who doesn't have blazing speed but he is deceptively quick and will be able to run over people eventually. I say his ceiling is higher because his skill set fits more with this offense than Isreal with his ability to run.
Kelly gives you a big arm that will need to be refined as he works on accuracy and touch. His mechanics aren't fluid and he throws mostly bombs and intermediate routes--not much touch work. Bryant's biggest challenge will be staying healthy. He has struggled with Crohn's disease and lost a lot of weight last year. He went through his entire Senior season healthy though and should be good moving forward.
Tucker Isreal (6'0 190) is an intriguing prospect. I was really happy to land him because he is an excellent talent as a second QB take with Watson. I went back and re-evaluated his film and came away with a more favorable impression. He owns a ton of records in the state of Florida, just ridiculous numbers--4446 passing yards in his Senior year, 56 TD's and only 11 interceptions. Gunslinger. Throws the ball to all fields but my earlier critiques still stand. His height is the reason he isn't more highly rated. He also isn't going to make many plays with his feet as a dual threat. He ran a 4.95 40, which is pretty slow--even for a QB. I also have questioned his deep ball arm strength that needs to improve in college. He is a gunslinger though and could be more ready to play this coming year than Bryant, although Bryant has the higher overall ceiling. Should be a good Spring battle with Watson injured all Spring. We met our needs at QB this year and need to take 1-2 next year (looks like we will just take Cooper though in 2016).
This is going too long so I will break it up into a series and get this out.