Roster management is broken into two different parts. The first part is the darker side where players are "forced" to quit the team. I say "forced" because it is not a simple matter of a coach just cutting players. Depending on the coach, a variety of options may be employed. The most common is when coaches have their end of season sit downs with each player and suggest the player should transfer if he's interested in more playing time. Some guys just don't show the ability needed to compete at the level Clemson needs, or they don't have the desire to work hard enough. If playing time is the primary motivation then these guys can transfer to a smaller school, play a couple of years and contribute, and then graduate with a degree. Ideally it works out for all parties.
Unfortunately this side can get nefarious through the use of medical hardship waivers and kicking players off the team for violating team rules. For rules infractions, it should not shock anyone that coaches may be more lenient with star players versus bench warmers who may not see the field. It can be an easier way of getting players out of the program, and some coaches take advantage of that.
As for medical hardships, there have always been claims from players that they were given a medical hardship despite being ok to play. Because the team doctors make the decision, it is possible they are swayed by the coaches desires. Under Nick Saban, there have been multiple reports of this happening, though we only have the players side of the story. At Ohio State another player claims he was going to be cleared to play this summer, but Ohio State decided to rule him medically ineligible during his entrance physical in January. This ruling keeps Ohio State at 85 scholarships heading into the 2015 season rather than being at 86.
But the more important side of roster management deals with recruiting. We currently face a lack of known depth at OL, DL, and LB, but outside of OL we have huge numbers at each position. Including the 2015 class, Clemson has 11 LBs on scholarship. If Clemson played a 3-4 frequently that would be ok, but we don't. We've estimated Clemson plays with just 2 LBs 65% of the time which means we have a 5-deep LB corps. Now the easiest targets here are the Davis twins from the 2015 class. We've hammered home that they should not have been offered scholarships, but even removing them from the roster Clemson could afford to drop another linebacker. Where could those 3 extra scholarships go? Why let me direct you to the OL.
Our OL currently has 13 players on scholarship, but given Jay Guillermo's status it is possible only 12. That covers us for a 2-deep, but that means we have freshmen in the 2-deep. On the OL the ideal situation is to have all freshman redshirt. This allows them to gain weight and learn technique. Occasionally you will recruit such a stud that he forces himself into the 2-deep, but that is a rare case. If we apply those 3 LB scholarships to the OL we have 15 OL. That gives us the opportunity to redshirt our entire freshman class of OL.
The defensive line is another interesting position. Numbers wise we have 9 DTs and 9 DEs for the 2015 season, an excellent number if not slightly high. The problem at DL though is Dabo's practice of spot recruiting. Clemson has a tendency to recruit 4-5 players at a position in one year, then maybe recruit 1-2 guys at a position for the next several seasons. This creates a problem like what we are seeing on the DL. Last year we had a fantastic 2-deep. The problem is 6 of the 8 lineman on our 2-deep graduated. We are now looking at a situation where we have 1-2 juniors, 1-2 sophomores, and a bunch of freshman at each position. Had Dabo made the decision to recruit 2 DTs and 2 DEs each year, Clemson would be sitting at a fairly consistent 16 DLs each year. Obviously transfers and injuries would cause the numbers to fluctuate, but having a 4-deep roster at the DL where guys can redshirt and take time to develop is perfect. It would also prevent steep drop offs in production like the one we are likely to experience in the 2015 season.
To prevent this, Clemson needs to be taking players at each position almost every year. Sometimes for recruiting reasons we may skip on more than 1 RB or QB, such as with Deshaun Watson, but these basic numbers each year would take up 20-22 of Clemson's possible 25 scholarships. Any extras available due to early departures from the team would be able to reinforce positions where players didn't pan out.
4 - 5 OL
So why is all of this important? Last year SB Nation published an article looking at the percent of blue-chip players on the top teams in the nation. Clemson came in at 42%, good enough for 13th in the nation. This falls in line with some of the recruiting analysis we've done here at STS. If Clemson is smarter about the numbers they recruit at each position as well as not giving out nepotism scholarships we could get a roster with more than 50% blue-chip prospects. Every national champion since 2002 has recruited more than 50% blue-chip prospects over the past 4 recruiting cycles. That level of a talent is a huge reason those schools have not only won a national title, but continue to be relevant in national title discussion most years. All Clemson has to do is replace another 6-7 2-star or 3-star players with blue-chip guys and we will see a noticeable difference in the team's performance, they're that close.