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Top Ten Most Wanted Defensive Recruits

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NCAA Football: Clemson Spring Game
Happy Camper, Brent Venables...
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

These are the top remaining defensive targets for the 2018 class. This was going to be an incredibly difficult decision between Xavier Thomas and KJ Henry at the top. Thankfully with Thomas already committed, I don’t need to do a 1a/1b deal. My apologies for such a long delay getting this out...

  1. KJ Henry

The 6’5, 240 pound WDE prospect from West Forsyth HS in North Carolina is my top remaining target for Clemson. He gives Clemson an elite pass rusher with long arms and athleticism. Henry has already started to fill out his frame and I see him getting into the 250-260 range without too much trouble. As a Sophomore there was a question about being too thin/lean, but that is no longer a concern. He uses his quickness to ‘get skinny’ and rush the passer, showing a variety of techniques and moves.

KJ Henry has been taking his recruitment slowly. He and his mom initially went on a wave of visits to numerous top schools in the Southeastern region. This resulted in Henry’s current top ten. Right now he is whittling that list down to a top five. His Dad, a RBs coach at Charlotte, is now able to take visits with him in the Summer. These visits are key because Henry and his family are going to do their due diligence and assess every detail. My understanding is the current top schools in no order are Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Georgia. Just outside of that group would be Virginia Tech and possibly Penn State.

I still have Clemson as the leader, but Clemson will need to continue to set itself apart and convince the entire family, especially Dad that Clemson is the best fit in every respect. KJ also needs to continue to grow a relationship with Coach Bates (they have met and there is no reason to believe this isn’t happening but KJ did spend years with Coach Hobby and Coach Brooks recruiting him).

Here is my hard sell to KJ on Clemson’s need at the WDE position. Defensive end is still a major concern for Clemson moving forward. Remember that last year Clemson was so thin at the position that because of one injury they were forced to move an All-American DT to DE. That is not quality depth.

Half of Clemson’s DEs will be draft eligible next year. Clelin Ferrell is a likely candidate to enter the NFL draft next year. Austin Bryant is also eligible after this season and is poised for a breakout year after recovering from injury. Byrant and Yeargin will be Seniors during Henry’s freshman year. Behind Ferrell, Bryant, and Yeargin you have no one who has played a meaningful rep in a game. Chris Register is a current Junior who has played 146 snaps—all in mop up duty.

Clemson does have promising prospects in Xavier Kelly (RFr), and incoming Jordan Williams (Fr) and Justin Foster (Fr), even LaSamuel Davis (RFr) if he can ever gain enough weight. But Bryant, Kelly, Williams and Foster profile more as SDE and not true pass rushing long WDE like Henry.

As a WDE Henry could be in the immediate two deep as a freshman and starting as a Sophomore. Xavier Thomas fills a need at SDE, but Henry at WDE fills a glaring hole on the roster. Micah Parsons would be on the list after de-committing from Penn State, but he has yet to visit campus and has Ohio State, Bama, and FSU higher on his list than Clemson at the current moment.

2. Patrick Surtain Jr. (6’2, 185)

The composite 5* and number 5 overall player from Fort Lauderdale, FL is the total package at CB. He is tall and long, but but still maintains elite quickness and top end speed. He is already physically developed and can tackle at the line of scrimmage and generally get off blocks. He is also an electric kick returner, playing against top competition. We have a better shot at other corners, so Surtain should be lower on the list, but don’t count out Clemson. LSU is the clear leader in this recruitment with Clemson, Ohio State and Florida State occupying that next tier. I wouldn’t count Clemson out of this just yet though.

Surtain visited campus for Clemson’s elite Junior day and Clemson now needs to get him back on campus. If that indeed comes to fruition then this recruitment gets a lot more interesting.

3. Anthony Cook (6’1, 175)

Cook, all the way from Lamar, TX, has been to Clemson twice and the coaches made a lasting impact. Anthony has cited the family atmosphere and his relationship with Coach Reed and Coach Swinney as reasons for his interest in Clemson. Cook cites offers from everybody, but LSU, Ohio State, and Texas are the main source of competition. He is an Army All-American and a composite 5* player at number 10 overall.

Cook is all arms. He is tall at 6’1 but he has a huge wingspan that he uses to jam receivers at the line and knock away balls. He isn’t as physically developed as Surtain, but he plays with great technique and understands body positioning/defending. Cook is so long that he could develop into a Safety, but he has the hips to stick at CB. Texas is working hard to make sure that the number one player in the state does not leave, so this will be a battle, but Clemson has legitimate traction here. Ohio State is also using its run of CB talent and NFL pedigree to attract Cook. Tough pull but worth the investment despite the distance.

4. Payton Wilson (6’4 220)

One of the more underrated LB prospects in this years class, hails from Hillsborough, NC. I’m very high on Wilson. I think his composite ranking of number 84 overall is still too low (it has steadily risen as I predicted it would, but he is still a top 50 player to me). Wilson cut his list to Clemson, UNC, Virginia Tech, and Ohio State. To be clear, all signs point towards UNC and there is no reason to believe Clemson is legitimately in this right now. Clemson got a final visit from Wilson to make one last pitch. Still, if any team can push UNC in his recruitment, it is Clemson. Wilson will decide on his school on May 1st.

Wilson is a big body with speed. He shoots gaps and packs a punch at the point of contact. Athletic enough to play some RB for his high school. He is an Army All-American. Clemson will be fine with the LBs on campus and Venables and Jones already committed, but I fully endorse signing Wilson as an oversign caliber prospect at the position.

5. Greg Emerson/Matthew Jones (Emerson, 6’3, 290; Hill 6’4, 305)

Emerson has yet to visit Clemson, but he lists Tennessee and Clemson as two schools that will receive official visits. He is a name to stash because he isn’t going to make his decision until late in the process. He lives in Jackson, TN and is the composite number 67 player overall, but two recruiting services have him in the top 30. Will be a 3 tech DT who can be disruptive and rush the passer from the inside.

Matthew Jones is the unknown prospect in this class. He is from Brooklyn, NY and doesn’t take many visits or communicate much with coaches of any school. He recently took unofficial visits to Penn State and Ohio State in April and I would have Clemson behind those frontrunners. Depends on how much Clemson wants to push to get him on campus. Doesn’t look like that push is happening now. Clemson still wants to take 2-3 DTs, though, so watch Emerson and Jones later in the recruiting cycle if they don’t end up committing before the fall.

6. Darnell Jefferies (6’2, 275)

Jefferies, from Covington, GA, is your 3 tech to go alongside committed DT Josh Belk who will play more of a nose tackle role. Jefferies is currently 392nd overall in the composite and a 3* prospect, but this is likely to change. Darnell blew up during the Spring with offers from 24 programs including Ohio State and Florida. Jefferies continues to make visits. He recently visited UF, UGA, and Georgia Tech. Clemson remains in a commanding position despite Jefferies claiming no public leader. DJ has been to Clemson a bunch of times during the Spring, four by my count, which is a lot for any prospect interested in Clemson (both with regards to the prospect and with the coaching staff). Clemson’s coaches have not felt the need to push DJ into a commitment, opting to let Jefferies continue to enjoy the process.

7. Tyson Campbell (6’2.5, 180)

This is a tough one because Clemson is in on a bunch of talented DBs. The DB board, like in years past, won’t really shake out until later in the recruiting season. Campbell comes from Fort Lauderdale, FL and wants to take his visits (generally not wise to take an early commit from a South Florida recruit anyway, if you want to keep the Dabo Policy in full effect). I do think Clemson will take 2 DBs in this class with an outside chance of taking three (depends on how they feel the current group of CBs pan out over the summer). Clemson will also continue to value size at the position and this is where Campbell gets a leg up on other DBs.

Surtain and Cook (Lytton too) give you the elite corner level, but right underneath that you have a bunch of interesting prospects. Campbell is big and physical. He probably projects as a Nickel/Safety because of his size but he has the speed to stay at corner and he definitely has the physicality. He plays some Safety for his HS team. Another long prospect, but Campbell’s technique is raw compared to other top corners. Still he is extremely strong, doesn’t shy away from contact, and covers a lot of ground.

LSU and Miami are flashing as the major schools right now, but I don’t think this one will be over too soon. Clemson is right there in that top group as well. Tyson really enjoyed his visit during the elite Jr. day and Clemson will look to maintain that momentum with a visit over the Summer. Tyson is the composite number 45 overall player in the country.

8. Kyler McMichael (6’1, 190)

Kyler is from Norcross, GA and attends Greater Atlanta Christian School. McMichael is often listed as an athlete because he plays RB and DB in high school, but he projects as a DB in college. He is the composite number 142 player in the country, and I think that is an appropriate ranking. McMichael also visited for the elite Jr. day and has seen his recruitment and rank rise steadily since the beginning of the year.

This was a kind of LSU, Clemson battle with teams keeping Kyler on the back burner just a little bit, but at the end of February Ohio State, Alabama, and Florida State all offered. FSU is going to get a visit from Kyler and they are a team to watch. Kyler doesn’t play against top competition, but he is a fast riser up team boards.

9. AJ Lytton (5’11, 175)

Lytton is from Upper Marlboro, MD and is the composite #21 overall player in the country and a 5* recruit. I have AJ further down this list because he seemed totally locked in to FSU. I would put Lytton in that elite group just behind Surtain and Cook, but I haven’t seen any evidence that he isn’t going to FSU—until today. Lytton is currently visiting Clemson, which is a first step. He puts Clemson in his top 5, but before you get your hopes up the pipeline from the MD/DC area to FSU is strong. The other player I have firmly in the FSU boat is LB Terajda Mitchell (6’2, 232) from Virginia Beach, VA. Mitchell is a MLB and a big hitter, but I personally have him slightly behind Wilson because I don’t see the elite agility. Still a top 50-75 prospect. He was supposed to visit this past week, but the visit was rescheduled. We will see if a visit materializes since FSU and even Ohio State are well ahead of Clemson. Brent Venables has been on him for a long time though, so you can never count Clemson out.

10. BT Potter (5’11 170)

Special Teams love...

Potter is the answer to our kickoff woes. He can punt and kick field goals. We definitely will offer a grayshirt, but I’m borderline wanting to offer him a full scholarship. Depends on how the punting situation improves over the summer. It did not look good in the Spring game and there is a huge opportunity to step in and play right away for Clemson.