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Clemson Football Recruiting: Optimizing Roster Positions

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

We've always talked here at STS about the importance of numbers in recruiting. We've said that a team should always take 4-5 OL each year, 2-3 DL each year, and other similar sentiments. This is all done because it is important not only to have the depth for the current season, but building for the future. If a team recruits one position for 1-2 cycles but then takes no one new for 2 years, the departure of that large group will leave the team without much experience. Transfers and other defections can also kill that position's ability all to easily.

Below is a chart of "ideal" numbers at each position as well as where Clemson stands going into the 2016 season. Note that these numbers have come from an examination of other top schools as well as conversations with several football coaches. These should not be taken as hard numbers, but as a guideline. Significant deviations can indicate potential problems if Clemson has injuries or late defections due to transfers.

Position Ideal Scholarship Number 2016 Clemson Scholarship Number
QB 4 5
RB 5 5
WR 10 11
TE 4 6
OL 18 14
DE 9 6
DT 9 9
LB 8 10
CB 7 10
S 7 6
ST 4 3

QB is pretty simple, you want to recruit 1 QB each year and Clemson has averaged out to that. Yes, the Tigers have 5 QBs on the roster, but the team will be losing two with graduation of Dr. Schuess and early departure of Deshaun Watson. We have 2 QBs coming in with the next class, but it is hard to think Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel will remain with the team, one is likely to transfer.

Running back is similar philosophy to QB, but there will be some years where a team wants to or needs to grab a 5th or even 6th man. At least 3 RBs are going to get a decent number of snaps, and Clemson had 5 RBs with snaps in 2015. Clemson has 5 going into 2016 and it seems like all 5 will get snaps. The question will be how the staff manages these snaps since only 2 players got over 100 snaps last year. That would seem to be a real waste with the potential we have at RB in 2016.

Wide Receiver may be our best position. The recommended number is 10, and Clemson has 11 fairly talented WRs. Frankly it is an embarrassment of riches and there is a valid concern about getting the ball spread around, especially with the return of Mike Williams. For Clemson it also helps that the experience is spread out among the classes so when some guys leave for the NFL we do not have a group that is completely new.

Tight End is one of the first positions where Clemson could cut numbers, especially in our system. Clemson rarely uses 2 TEs but we have 6 on the roster. Dropping one, and ideally 2, would free up spots for more critical positions. For Clemson it isn't as though these guys lower on the depth chart get that many snaps, the 3 lowest snap totals only had a combined 89 snaps this year. Now there were 7 TEs used in 2016 so snaps should go up at the bottom level, but it is hard to justify having so many TEs that some guys are only getting 20-30 snaps a season.

Now OL is the first position of concern. The recommended number of OL is going to be around 18. Maybe numbers fluctuate slightly, but Clemson's 14 OL for 2016 is just too few and we see it with talk about how little depth there is at certain positions on the line. With 18 OL you are recruiting 4-5 OL each year. With that many your freshman and sophomores can spend time developing while the upperclassmen perform. In 2016 Clemson is going to have some real problems if anyone goes down to injury. Those 4-5 extra lineman would really help here. Clemson already has 3 OL for the 2017 class and hopefully Dabo and company will be able to secure another couple of commits before Signing Day.

Defensive line is another high numbers position. Because Clemson runs a a base package with 4 DL, they want around 9 DTs and 9 DEs. As we've seen over the past couple of years, the two deep gets extensive use on the DL. At DT 5 players had over 100 snaps. At DE we only had 4 players above 100 snaps, but that probably had something to do with Lawson and Dodd being such dominant players. With 5 players at each position potentially getting 100 plus snaps, another 3-4 players gives a team a good foundation to build on for the future. This is where Clemson gets into trouble because while the team is fine with 9 DTs, there are only 6 DEs. Even if Kevin Dodd had stayed, we'd still be a little short for the future. These low numbers manifest themselves for Clemson with concerns about the pass rush off the end and some general uncertainty about the DE position.

Now there are three positions where numbers can be a little flexible, LB, DB, and S. A lot of this is going to depend on what type of scheme the team runs. If you run a 3-4 then you're more likely to have 10-12 LBs to have enough depth, while only having 2 LBs means you may only need 8-10 LBs. This trickles down your DBs. I talked to several  friends in the coaching community as well as looking at several teams, and the rule of thumb seems to be you want 20 -22 players between LB, CB, and S. Clemson frankly has too many with 26 players. The reason for this is simple, most of our questionable recruits are DBs or LBs.

The final spot is special teams. The numbers here are simple, you need a punter, kicker, and then another 2 spots that can go to some combination of a long snapper and backup kickers. Some coaches prefer to use a walk-on as the long snapper and backup kicker, but others prefer to guarantee they will have a talented option with a scholarship.

So what does all of this mean, really it shows up in depth. The top talent at Clemson is going to compete with everyone, and we saw that in 2015. But that extra edge and that ability to continue success into the future comes from having the proper numbers at each position. Clemson was extremely fortunate with injuries on the OL in 2015, an injury in 2016 could be deadly. At DB Clemson has too many players that don't contribute, those spots could be better served filling out the OL, or DE to provide that depth. It is these little things that will allow Clemson to take the next step and remain a force at the top of college football.