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Grading Clemson Football’s Class of 2012

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

With the end of the 2016 season, the entire class of 2012 has left Clemson. Now that all of these players are gone we wanted to take a look back and see just how good the class was. On Signing Day we always talk about potential and how great classes are, but the truth is that we don’t know just how good the class is until these guys get through four or five years. Our initial impressions of the class, courtesy of DrB, are here.

Expectations for players in a class also differ. If you assume the star rankings are accurate, a 5-star player should be contributing immediately. They may not start right away, but they should get 100+ snaps and ideally be in the 2-deep right away.

A 4-star player is going to take a little longer. There could be a redshirt year involved depending on the position, but a 4-star should contribute by their sophomore year and start in their junior year.

3-star guys are those that will generally redshirt and may not contribute until their senior year. These guys may have physical limitations or just need a lot of time to learn their position.

A note about some players. Not everyone on this list enrolled in Clemson for the 2012-2013 school year. Some, like Shaq Lawson, attended Hargrave or another prep school. We are counting them as part of this class because it is when they signed their LOI or intended to enroll.

Carlos Watkins - (DT, 4-star): Watkins was the star of this class coming out of HS and the only thing that prevented him from completely fulfilling that promise was a car wreck during the 2013 season that ended his season with a medical redshirt. Without that injury he would’ve exhausted his eligibility after 2015, assuming he didn’t leave Clemson early because of how well he was doing. It took some time for him to fully get back in 2014 and in 2015 he was an absolute stud. The first of several hits in this class by the coaching staff, especially on the defensive line.

Shaq Lawson - (DE, 4-star): The second 4 star DL in the class, Lawson spent a year at Hargrave before arriving at Clemson. Once he was here Lawson played in at least 10 games each year as a backup before becoming a starter. In 2015 Lawson became a starter on Clemson’s DL and absolutely wrecked opponents. He turned his final year at Clemson into a first round draft pick. This was a home run signee even with Lawson having to spend a year at Hargrave before arriving at Clemson.

Germone Hopper - (WR, 4-star): Hoping to become the next in a line of #WRU players, Hopper never lived up to his billing at Clemson. He left the team in the spring of 2016 upon graduation to play elsewhere. While at Clemson Hopper was never able to put it together to compete with all of the talent Clemson had at wide receiver. Ultimately a miss, though it may not have been a miss in terms of talent but a miss because in the following years Clemson improved WR recruiting even more than normal.

Travis Blanks - (S, 4-star): Blanks is probably the one guy on this list that got unlucky and it didn’t work out for him. He started his Clemson career in 2012 as a freshman and did well, provoking optimism from most fans. He regressed a little bit in 2013 , but still played a lot, before tearing his ACL in November. Then he missed 2014 because of his knee injury and was never the same. He lost most of his speed and just couldn’t keep up. He left after the 2015 season for the NFL Draft.

I think Blanks was a hit, but injuries obviously curtailed his career at Clemson. Sometimes it happens and it sucks, but the evaluation out of HS was spot on.

Chad Kelly - (QB, 4-star): It is probably fair to say that Kelly is a 4 star talent. The problem was always that he did not have the attitude to back it up. His trouble in HS continued during his time at Clemson and despite having an excellent shot at the starting job in 2014 he got kicked off the team during spring ball and eventually made his way to Ole Miss.

Given his talent level it is understandable that the coaching staff took a chance on Kelly, and he would have been a excellent fit on the field for Clemson, but it is hard to imagine the coaching staff taking that type of chance anymore.

Zac Brooks - (RB, 4-star): Brooks was at Clemson for 4 seasons, including a redshirt year, but despite his talent coming out of HS he never really gained any traction at Clemson. He finished his time as a Tiger with only 600 yards on a 115 carries. Good numbers, but a very small sample size. Rather than play out his final year of eligibility Brooks decided to leave for the NFL and was a surprising selection in the 7th round. After 1 year with the Seahawks, Brooks retired to pursue his dream career in interior design.

Brooks was considered a miss. A 4 star RB is someone who should contribute substantially. I’d expect 115 carries from a backup RB for an entire season, not for an entire career.

Martin Aiken - (DE, 4-star): Aiken arrived at Clemson attempting to continue the Bamberg tradition at Clemson. He never got beyond spot duty while at Clemson and was definitely a miss.

Ronald Geohaghan - (S, 4-star): Geohaghan transferred after 2 seasons at Clemson and never lived up to his billing. He was an athletic 4 star and never showed much of an ability to actually play the safety position. He was passed on the depth chart rather quickly and decided to move on.

D.J. Reader - (OL, 4-star): Though a 4 star recruit, Reader didn’t become a starter until his senior year. But to be fair there was a reason for that, he was originally recruited as an OL out of high school. Clemson always wanted him as a DT, but his rankings came from the OL. It took him some time to acclimate to college ball and playing on defense, but he was a key member of the 2 deep while at Clemson and quickly became a starter for the Texans.

Jay Guillermo - (C, 3-star): Guillermo was a hit on the OL, though there was a time where it seemed like he wasn’t going to make it. Guillermo became a valued member of the Clemson OL and had some good performances in 2015 and 2016. He regressed a bit his senior year, but overall had an excellent contribution while at Clemson.

Patrick DeStefano - (OL, 3-star): DeStefano was forced to quit football in 2013. He redshirted the 2012 season and contributed in 2013, but after several injuries to his shoulder that never healed he took a medical redshirt.

Isaiah Battle - (OL, 3-star): Battle is going to be best remembered for his sucker punch of an NC State player. After that sucker punch he eventually entered the 2015 NFL Supplemental Draft for personal reasons. Battle had some talent to go with his physical presence, but his attitude caused several problems for him at Clemson.

Bradley Pinion - (P, 3-star): Kickers are pretty much always 3 star prospects, but Pinion’s time at Clemson was like that of a 5 star player. Though he started his Clemson career slowly, Pinion ended up becoming one of the better punters Clemson has ever had. He even played well enough to leave school early for the NFL where he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. As we’ve seen in recent years, there is value to recruiting kickers out of HS as opposed to just using a walk on.

Oliver Jones - (OL, 3-star): Jones redshirted and then played sparingly in 2013, but an ACL injury that forced him out of the 2014 season caused him to give up football in the spring of 2015.

Kevin Dodd - (DT, 3-star): Dodd spent a year at hargrave Military Academy before arriving at Clemson where he became the perfect example of a late bloomer. In his first 3 years at Clemson Dodd was relegated to backup duty. But in 2015 he put it all together for an excellent year including absolutely abusing the Alamaba OL in the national championship. Dodd became a 2nd round pick in the NFL Draft.

Josh Brown - (DT, 3-star): Brown did not qualify academically at Clemson and headed to Marshall.

T.J. Burrell - (LB, 3-star): Burrell was a career backup at Clemson and received snaps in most games from 2012-2015. He contributed on special teams as well but never made the jump to a starter. He graduated after 4 years despite having a year of eligibility left.

Jay Jay McCullough - (TE, 3-star): Jay Jay never became much more than a backup at Clemson. His biggest claim to fame may be getting sent home ahead of the 2015 Orange Bowl along with Deon Cain and Amon Lakip for poor behavior. He never showed much at Clemson beyond a general athleticism.

Cordrea Tankersley - (S, 3-star): Tank had a low rating partially because of a lack of game film. But what little the coaches were able to see convinced them of his ability. He attended Hargrave in 2012 and then saw spot duty his first two years on the field for his first two years at Clemson. After that he became a starter for 2 years and was Clemson’s best CB in both seasons. Tank could be a little handsy, leading to several unfortunate DPI calls, but he was effective.

Marty Williams - (DB, 3-star): Marty never enrolled at Clemson because he couldn’t qualify. Instead he went to ECU.

Overall this was an ok class. The DL was definitely the strength of this recruiting class with several players that formed the core of the DL in 2015 and 2016. There were also a few guys in different positions that contributed like Tank or Pinion.

There is a sense, though only a sense right now, that this was sort of the last ok class at Clemson in a negative sense. This class hit on under 50% of the prospects in terms of production which isn’t great. A brief look at the 2013 class right now shows that maybe 25% of the class didn’t work out, a much better return rate.