Let’s be frank here. Clemson does not have enough scholarships for what should be a loaded 2018 class. Even with a large number of early departures for the NFL, transfers, and guys graduating after 4 years it is going to be hard to offer everyone Clemson could want. But today we are going to look at everyone that could be leaving Clemson to try and see just how many scholarships Clemson might realistically have for possibly the most talented recruiting class to arrive at Clemson.
First let’s talk about why both the 2017 and 2018 classes are so small. Everyone will point out that the 2017 class is on a 4 year cycle from the 2009 class (2009, 2013, 2017). But that actually doesn’t matter here. The 2013 class had 22 enrolled players in it. A more than acceptable class. The problem is that so many of them left early coupled with a number of redshirts.
For 2018, things are even stranger. Every member of the 2014 class, which is where the 2018 scholarships come from, either left early for the NFL or redshirted. We had a few extremely talented pieces in the 2014 class, but we also had a lot of guys that just haven’t panned out or needed an extra year to develop. That is why there are so many redshirt juniors, normally you’d expect at least 4-5 more guys to have avoided a redshirt and be seniors. That in turn is 4-5 more scholarships to play with in the class.
2018 Clemson Class Breakdown
Above is a table of everyone that would be eligible to leave Clemson either because their eligibility has expired, or because they can declare for the NFL Draft. Right off the bat we have 9 seniors that will leave the program. Clemson is also expected to have a 10th scholarship from the departure of Adrien Dunn this year. Dunn is a 4th year player that went down the hill on Senior Day and the staff appears to have decided to pocket the scholarship for the 2018 class. That leaves Clemson with 10 scholarships for 2018.
Now the next step is to look for early departures to the NFL. Unfortunately Clemson doesn’t have a lot of candidates here. There don’t seem to be any redshirt juniors that could do it even with a great 2017 season. Kendall Joseph would be the only maybe, and even that seems to be a huge stretch. The redshirt sophomore list doesn’t inspire much confidence either.
The true juniors group is where we could see some early departures. Christian Wilkins is an obvious candidate and I’d say it is almost certain he will leave. But other than that the most likely candidates to leave would be Deon Cain, Austin Bryant, and Ray Ray McCloud III. Of this group Cain seems the most likely to leave while Bryant and Ray Ray would have to have some rather spectacular play this year. Even then it would be a surprise.
That leaves Clemson with 11-12 scholarships after voluntary departures. Normally we’d expect to see that right around 20 with a couple of departures planned. This means we have to talk about transfers and 4 year players who are asked to depart with their degree.
Looking at the latter, we’ll go through the redshirt junior list. While many of us may want CJ Fuller or Adam Choice to be asked to depart, don’t expect it because of numbers. Clemson has 4 RBs right with the arrival of Travis Etienne. Even with the 2018 class bringing in 1 RB, you really want 5 on the roster. Maybe if the 2018 class can have 2 RBs you ask Choice to leave, but even then both players will leave after the 2018 season and it makes more sense to just use them as role players.
Obviously Hunter Renfrow isn’t going anywhere, nor should he. But Trevion Thompson is an interesting case. He could be a graduate transfer depending on how this year goes. While not lacking in potential, he just hasn’t been able to outperform the other talent at WR and with his degree he would have a chance to finish his career as a starter somewhere. At TE Cannon Smith could be a candidate depending on how the TE competition shakes out. Other than that there isn’t much here so let’s say 1 player is encouraged to move on.
That leaves actual transfers. Now there are a lot of names everyone wants to throw out, but let’s be realistic. The Davis twins aren’t going to transfer, they’d have to leave this spring or summer and if that was the case the coaching staff would have known and likely used those spots in 2017. You’re also not likely to see guys getting decent playing time transfer. But a good spot to look is redshirt sophomores. A transfer would leave them with a year of eligibility and shouldn’t affect their ability to graduate too much. Someone like Shadell Bell or Sterling Johnson could be a candidate. I also think we’ll see at least 1 QB leave before 2018 Signing Day. Maybe even 2 if Tucker Israel decides to leave.
If we are optimistic and say 3 players decide to move that helps a little. Add in 1 player being asked to leave or graduate transfer and we are now at 15-16 scholarships for 2018. That still isn’t enough. There may have to be some hard conversations, but for some of these players it may not be important that they start. Some guys may just enjoy being at Clemson, being on the team, and practicing with limited snaps. At that point there isn’t much the coaching staff can do. But Coach Swinney is going to have to sit down and have some frank discussions with a lot of players this summer and beyond.
The truth though is that in previous seasons anywhere from 4-6 players transfer or graduate and move on. Anything beyond that would be unprecedented which means that Clemson is going to be looking at a 2018 class numbering around 17 if things break favorably. That is a killer, maybe a few more juniors will leave early this year like 2015?