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. Last year Rivals had us #4 overall while Scout had us at #15. This year we are 5th with Rivals and 14th with Scout (10th in the 24/7 composite). I would put this class in the 5-10 range. We have really elite talent that stacks up against anyone in the country, but this isn't a very deep class. When you factor in some of the 2-star players it weakens the overall class.
In recruiting not only do you need talent, but you also need roster management. While past classes have seemed stellar with amazing skill players, who often mask roster deficiencies (see Deshaun Watson and Shaq Lawson), we haven't always put enough emphasis on key positions in our recruiting. This is definitely changing, especially along the offensive and defensive lines.
For an example of this outside of Clemson--look no further than FSU. FSU arguably took a step back this year because of the offensive line. This was brought about because they had two years of only taking two offensive lineman in the class and it hurt their depth (it is the reason they brought in 6 really good o-lineman this year). Talent coupled with positional numbers are the most important part of building a solid and deep roster. Note: any snap counts don't include the Alabama game.
On offense, this class won't produce a ton of immediate stars and true freshman taking snaps from upperclassmen. There is no Mitch Hyatt or Deshaun Watson in the class. What you do get are a bunch of complimentary pieces that round out positional numbers and provide depth and stability for the program. That doesn't mean that you don't have some flashy pieces, but overall this about the future on offense.
This just makes sense though because Clemson is returning the most potent offense in the country and only replacing 2-3 starters on offense (really you only have Eric MacLain at LG since Mike Williams is a former starter replacing Peake and Jake Fruhmorgan was already taking half of Joe Gore's snaps).
This one is very east. We met our needs at Quarterback this year. We needed one and we got a good one, especially when you consider that Watson casts a very long shadow. We currently have 5 QBs on the roster, which is the perfect amount.
Moving forward we should now benefit from Watson's two-year Heisman candidacy. Dabo has already been on ESPN and other outlets saying that you can come to Clemson and do anything (this is directly targeted towards the negative recruiting other programs try to throw at us). We have two talented QBs already committed in 2017, arguably the best QB class in the nation thus far.
Deshaun Watson is the starter and Heisman candidate/frontrunner. He is all but gone after this year and our playoff run next year relies on his ability to stay healthy. Watson just needs to cut down on a few of the interceptions but he is already the best QB in Clemson history.
This year we brought in Zerrick Cooper (6'4, 210) who dropped on a lot of other programs boards because he missed his entire Junior year with a knee injury. Cooper is more of a pocket passer than a dual-threat guy but he will compete for the starting position once Watson leaves. Cooper is a definite redshirt unless he sparkles unbelievably in fall camp or other QBs transfer.
Also at the position you have RS Senior Nick Schuessler, Sophomore Kelly Bryant, and RS Freshman Israel Tucker. Dr. Schuess is a potential transfer this offseason but you really don't want to see him go because he protects Cooper's redshirt and gives you a reliable back-up. Schuess probably won't win you any games but he likely won't lose them either and his time in the system is valuable. If he transfers out Clemson won't gain a scholarship for 2017, so it's best if he sticks around.
Last year I said Kelly Bryant would be the eventual number two QB, that he would beat out Tucker and Schuessler. That remains the case despite the coaching staff wisely saying Bryant and Schuess were tied going into Spring. Bryant must get as many reps this season as possible and be ready to take over after Watson leaves (he only got 61 snaps this year and needs to reach 100 next year, Dr. Schuess got 69 and most of those need to go to Bryant ultimately). I'm never for taking the ball out of the hands of a Heisman candidate for meaningful snaps (especially when those hands belong to a true freshman), but Bryant will need his reps this year. He has to develop as a passer to go along with his elite running ability. I view Tucker as a quality back-up with a nice arm, but not someone who will be in the mix going forward for the starting position. Height and athleticism ceilings are a lot to overcome at QB within a HUNH system. This only gets tougher when you bring in highly rated true freshmen.
Watch out for 2017 commits Hunter Johnson (6'3, 200) and Chase Brice (6'3, 205). Johnson is a composite 5* QB prospect from Brownsburg, Indiana. Some recruiting services have him as the top overall QB in the 2017 class. He is already attracting some top talent from the Indiana/Tennessee area (he is a former Vol commit). Johnson is listed as a pro-style QB but he is probably a better runner than Cooper and throws a pretty deep ball. Brice is from Grayson High School in Georgia and will be another recruiting asset for the 2017 class. I didn't think we could get two QB's this good but that just shows Clemson's emergence. I wouldn't count either of these guys out of the QB battle in 2017 and 2018, although Bryant will be given every opportunity as the experienced veteran.
I couldn't be happier about the change in recruiting philosophy on the offensive line. We are placing value on building numbers and finally getting to 15 Olineman on the roster (we are currently at 13 but 2017 should bump us up to 15 or 16). Look at what I said last year:
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!).
Hallelujah, indeed! How important was this offensive line class to the playoff run? I am very happy that we took 4 offensive lineman this year and appear to be in position to take another 4 in 2017 with three good prospects already committed. We met our needs at offensive line with regards to numbers but need to bring in a couple of Tackles in the next class to sure up depth and replace Hyatt (who may turn into a 3-year player--he only gave up 2 sacks all season....wow.).
The only senior this year is going to be center starter Jay Guillermo who finally took over for Ryan Norton this season and never looked back. Can I get another hallelujah, amen, something!?! Other than the Alabama game, Clemson was able to consistently run up the A-gap for the first time in 15 years. We replace Norton and starters at LG (Eric Mac Lain) and RT (Joe Gore). Mac Lain made huge strides during bowl practice last year and Mr. Clemson was instrumental in speeding up the maturation of the younger players, especially Mitch Hyatt. Joe Gore was one of the players Clemson needed to step up after a highly inconsistent career. He did so and more after being unable to secure the starting job as a junior.
Starters who are locked in are LT Mitch Hyatt, C Gullermo, RG Tyrone Crowder, and RT Jake Fruhmorgan. At LG you will have a battle between Maverick Morris (429 snaps), Taylor Hearn (180 snaps), and RS freshmen Noah Green and Zach Giella. RS Sophomore Justin Falcinelli (123 snaps) is your backup Center who could also slide over to LG.
That isn't a bad group to pick from, but those three guys really represent all of your depth along the offensive line. Morris played a lot when Crowder was dealing with a foot injury and the offense struggled against FSU and even Syracuse to run the ball as effectively with him in the game. He needs a strong offseason.
Taylor Hearn is making me eat crow. He came on late in the season and was our only backup at Tackle after Fruhmorgan got dinged up. You don't want him there full-time and still needs to cut some weight but what an awesome surprise. He is still your only depth at both tackle positions other than RS and true freshman, however, which is why recruiting Tackles is important moving forward. Green still has the ability to help at Guard or Tackle in a pinch, but still needs to make strength gains. Same goes for Giella who is going to be an interior guy and possibly a center down the road.
Sean Pollard (6'4, 315) is the most likely candidate to avoid a redshirt. He could remain at Tackle based on need over the long term. Chandler Reeves (6'6, 265) is a project but has the length to stick at Tackle in two years. I keep saying this but don't sleep on Tremayne Anchrum (6'3 320). He is only 6'3 but has the arm length (down to his knees) to play Tackle. He is also the most technically advanced player in this class. Like Pollard, he is already enrolled. John Simpson (6'4 300) is also a candidate to avoid a redshirt depending on his play in camp. Simpson is still a raw prospect when it comes to technique, but has the athleticism to contribute along the interior. Lots of versatility with these incoming guys.
In 2017, we already have 3 Oline commits. OT Noah DeHond is a 6'7, 317 lb. mountain of a man we beat Alabama to land. Matt Bockhorst (6'4, 295) is an offensive guard who Ohio State and Notre Dame didn't recruit heavily because they didn't want any guards in this class and needed tackles. Oh, I'll take the midwestern Ohio composite 4* with a serious mean streak from a great program in St. Xavier--thank you very much. This guy is good and will make those programs regret that choice. Lastly, Blake Vinson (6'5, 280) is another Tackle prospect with an offer sheet from all the major programs in the South. The North Marion HS, FL prospect was supposedly going to Florida and will rise up recruiting rankings throughout the year. We are also still in the mix for big prospects like OT Trey Smith and Micah Clark.