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A Look Back At Clemson’s Class of 2013: Defense

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NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

As we do each year, we are looking back at previous Clemson recruiting classes. This year we take a look at the class of 2013 since every player has completed their Clemson career. Because of the size of the class of 2013 we’ve broken this up into two articles, this one focuses on recruits that ended up on the defensive side of the ball.

A reminder, a 5 star recruit is expected to contribute immediately and earn starting job relatively quickly. A 4 star recruit may take a year or two to start contributing, and a 3 star player may not contribute until their junior or senior year.

One thing I want everyone to keep in mind as you read this is just how critical this class was to the title game runs in 2015 and 2016. Almost every player on this list played a key role in one or both of these games, even if they were not a blue chip guy. Those unexpected hits are why Clemson seemed to punch above their weight compared to the talent level of the team. When you aren’t recruiting like an Alabama or Ohio State this is what needs to happen to find the type of success we’ve seen at Clemson over the last few seasons.

Mackensie Alexander (CB) – 5 star: Despite losing a year to groin injury, Mac was one of the stars of this class. His ability to be a shutdown corner helped the 2014 and 2015 defenses absolutely dominate. Venables trusted Mac to be on an island against some of the best WRs in the league and the country. His injury in the national championship was unfortunate and we’ll always wonder what would have happened if he remained healthy.

Dorian O’Daniel (LB) – 4 star: It took O’Daniel a little bit to get going, but as a senior O’Daniel broke out. Back in 2013 we liked this take because of his ability to play as a WLB/SAM because of his coverage abilities. We saw a lot of that coverage ability this year, a welcome change from the previous few years at LB. While O’Daniel may not have played as much early on as you’d expect from a 4 star, he will always be remembered for his absolute destruction of Georgia Tech each year.

Shaq Lawson (DE) – 4 star: I think we all know how this one turned out. Shaq was an absolute force at Clemson, especially in his final year. He spent a year at Hargrave, which really helped him mature and get ready for the college game. He was a contributor all 3 years he was at Clemson, including a great senior year that saw him vault into the 1st round of the NFL draft. He is the poster child for what you expect from a 4 star recruit in terms of contributions.

Ben Boulware (LB) – 4 star: The emotional leader of Clemson’s defense, Boulware did well despite his physical limitations at Clemson. Coming out of HS we liked his understanding of the game and his ability to read the offense and make decisions. Unfortunately his speed was a concern and we saw that in coverage. Despite those limitations Venables did an excellent job of scheming around them and rarely asked Boulware to drop into coverage, instead he just caused havoc. Another hit on defense, you’ll see a lot of them in this article.

Jayron Kearse (S) – 4 star: Kearse is always going to be a bit polarizing because of his disappearance after the Georgia Tech game in 2015. Originally a Miami and Auburn commit, Kearse arrived at Clemson and we weren’t sure if he would play safety or wide receiver. Absolutely amazing speed, and a decent ability to defend the pass. He contributed all 3 years he was at Clemson and it is a shame he seemed to spend part of 2015 focused on the NFL Draft and not playing well.

Scott Pagano (DT) – 4 star: Pagano came out of HS in Hawaii with a legitimate 4 star rating because of his size. He needed a bit of work on technique but his physicality at the point of attack made him an excellent pick up for Clemson thanks to his family connections in Greenville, SC. While here he made his way up the depth chart before shocking everyone with his decision to transfer ahead of the 2017 season. He seemed to be in line for some real playing time, even with Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence on the roster. But Pagano wanted even more playing time in an effort to improve his NFL Draft status and transferred to Oregon. A foot injury in the offseason limited his playing time this year and it seems unlikely Pagano will even get drafted.

Ebenezer Ogundeko (DE) – 4 star: Ogundeko was probably the biggest miss of this class. Despite being a 4 star player Ogundeko had some real flaws in his game even though he had similarities to Ricky Sapp. His pad level was a bit too high and he shied away from contact. Unfortunately, we never got to see if Ogundeko could grow into the DE position, he was dismissed from the team after being arrested for credit card fraud and transferred to Tennessee State. Before he started there he was arrested again on suspicion of assault.

Cordrea Tankersley (CB) – 3 star: Coming out of college Tank headed to Hargrave for a year of prep school. In his original film we loved his physical work but there was some concern if he was too big to play CB and if he’d be better suited to play safety at Clemson. Thankfully he stuck at corner and became a key partner opposite Mac Alexander in 2015 and the lockdown corner in 2016. He didn’t always get the appreciation he deserved because he was overshadowed by Alexander, but Tank was an excellent CB for Clemson.

Adrian Baker (CB) – 3 star: Baker arrived at Clemson as a speedy corner who excelled in M2M coverage. He had great instincts with the ball because of his work as a WR in college. His first few seasons at Clemson saw limited action, but an ACL tear in 2016 prevented him from competing for a starting position. After the season Baker decided to transfer for more playing time to Oklahoma State, unfortunately he left the team midway through the season last year because his injury never completely healed.

Dane Rogers (DE) – 3 star: Rogers was another project DE in the mold of Shaq Lawson. When he arrived we loved his physical talent and thought with the right coaching, especially with this staff, would get him to a point where he could contribute. Unfortunately he never got there and he ultimately left the team in 2016 to transfer to North Carolina A&T where he did not play football.

Korrin Wiggins (S) – 3 star: Wiggins, along with Tyshon Dye, wins the, “What If,” award for this years class. Wiggins arrived on campus and quickly moved to safety because of his excellent ball hawking skills and his ability to diagnose a play. His freshman and sophomore years were full of promise, but he tore his ACL before the 2015 season started and he just wasn’t the same after that. Wiggins lost a step and you could see it in 2016. After graduating Wiggins decided to transfer as a graduate to finish out his career at ECU.

Jadar Johnson (S) – 3 star: Another accurately rated 3 star, Johnson was originally a CB coming out of HS but his height meant he was always likely for the safety position. Coming out our concern was with his footwork at corner but we felt his aggressiveness would be a positive trait. Once he moved to safety Johnson consistently earned more playing time until his senior year in 2016 when he became a starter and excelled. In 2015 he also tied for the team lead in interceptions. This was a hit and again another example of getting it right with a 3 star recruit.

T.J. Green (CB) – 3 star: Green was accurately rated as a low 3 star, especially because there wasn’t much film on him coming out of Alabama. This was absolutely a project take by the coaching staff and we even speculated that Green might end up switching and staying at WR. But Green stuck with the defense after a freshman year at WR and rounded out into a talented safety. Despite our prediction he didn’t even have to redshirt, partially because of our depth problems at the position, and turned 2 years of safety play into being a second round draft pick with the Colts. Green is the type of diamond in the rough coaches are looking for when they take 3 star guys. Two years of production in 3 years is pretty good.

Marcus Edmond (CB) – 3 star: We thought Edmond was a borderline take at Clemson and definitely a project. Last year Edmond seemed to really progress and everyone was hopeful he’d have a big year in 2017, but early season injuries derailed that. Despite his injuries he’ll always be remembered for 2 amazing plays, his first down stop against Louisville to seal Clemson’s victory in 2016, and his game winning interception against NC State in overtime.

Ryan Carter (CB) – 2 star: Easily the most improved on this list, coming out of Grayson HS we were not exactly high on Carter. Though Carter always impressed with his physicality and willingness to play tough on film, the big concern was just the simple physical tools. At 5’10” 180 lbs. there was real concern if Carter could transition to college ball at this level. He did that and more. Carter has become one of the most valuable members of Clemson’s defense, being relied upon even after lockdown corners like Mac Alexander and Cordrea Tankersely graduated. This one was a miss by us and an example of Dabo swinging for the fences and getting one.

I think it is fair to say that the class of 2013 was a home run on the defensive side. With the exception of Ogundeko, Wiggins, and Baker every player was a contributor. Even Pagano was living up to his billing before he decided to transfer last year. That isn’t usual and I think it is a credit to the ability of this coaching staff to develop players. Yes, almost half of the class was blue chip guys which gives Clemson an advantage, but guys like Carter, Johnson, and Tank all had critical roles in Clemson’s national title run.

Be on the lookout for tomorrow’s post about the offensive players from this class.