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Clemson Recruiting Nuggets: Tigers Hope To End 2018 Class Strong

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NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama
Clemson versus Alabama on the recruiting trail.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off of the Zion announcement and Grantham ACL, coupled with not actually healing from the Bama shellacking, has left QT a bit downtrodden. The lack of results in the current push towards the finish-line of the 2018 class also has not helped. I will have my “Players of Interest” post for 2019 up in the coming weeks (which has my top 10 on offense and defense).

Clemson has focused on a select number of prospects down the home stretch. There aren’t many slots to fill, but there are still some crucial areas of need for this class.

First, I do realize and acknowledge that this class is awesome. Very high average star rating and the class hit on the premium positions in the game at QB, DE, and OT. That can’t be taken away. However, the issue is with depth and roster management when you have two classes where you take 14 and now 15 recruits. The roster would be much healthier (not in relation to talent, but in relation to depth) if you could add at least 18 but preferably 19 recruits to the class.

If you include Pat Godfrey, you get 9 scholarships off the books with graduates and four leaving for the draft. Then you add three transfers so far (Cooper, Israel, Trapp) and two walk-on scholarships available (if Dabo elects to use them for recruiting) and you get to 18. And that is with zero roster churn. This class could have easily been pushed over 20 with guys still graduating and the image of the program intact. I’m not saying it should go there, but if there are problems with depth in the next two years it shouldn’t be a mystery. It can probably be attributed to this class and was arguably avoidable.

Wide Reciever

WR Justyn Ross (6’4, 205) from Phenix City, AL is the composite number 45 overall player. Ross has long been in the ‘not if but when’ category for Clemson. Well, Clemson now has a fight on their hands. Clemson’s official visit could not have gone any better. Clemson played up the military history of the school and sold Justyn and his mother on the school. Alabama and Auburn, however, have been working to cut into Clemson’s lead. Auburn developed a QB and kind of a passing game and Bama had Derrick Ansley successfully lead their recruiting effort.

Clemson was hoping that Ross would’ve decided earlier. Not only has Bama cut into the lead, they have taken the lead. Scott and Bates when in home this week and that hasn’t changed anything. Clemson needs Auburn to help push him to Clemson and away from Bama and Dabo to hit a home run with his in-home visit.

What changed? First, Clemson losing to Bama didn’t help. But it wasn’t just losing to Bama, but our offensive ineptitude in the game. One of the ways that Clemson has improved its recruiting is being the fun high powered offense in the South. When recruiting against UGA and Bama and LSU and UF and FSU, Clemson has been able to say, “Look, do you want your talents to go to waste in a pro-style, boring offense or do you want to go to a school where we play fast, play a lot of players and throw the ball all over the field and down the field?” It is a differentiation. An important one. That same style of play is a harder sell after this season with Kelly Bryant. It is one of the reasons that I advocate for playing Trevor Lawrence next year (even if it is in some dual QB system).

You add the loss to Bama with Tua coming in and throwing it all over the field, combined with momentum with family members and in-state pressure and this thing has turned. But it wasn’t just the game, this thing started opening up with Ansley and then the game, followed by the official visit cementing Bama’s current status. Also remember that Saban is really good at closing (see Xavier McKinney last year).

It isn’t over, but Clemson will need to swing the Tide’s momentum. Clemson won’t pursue another WR in the 2018 class, instead focusing on the 2019 WR class. Clemson has Kendrick in the class so it isn’t a huge hole, but will need a great player to play the ‘9’ after Overton and Higgins graduate.

Offensive Line

OL Richard Gouriage (6’5, 271) is Clemson’s sole offensive lineman recruit in the class of 2018. If they miss on him then they won’t take another player. Clemson felt extremely optimistic after its official visit. Clemson has someone close to Gouriage in their camp who has helped keep Clemson a viable option during the duration of the recruitment. Gouriage has dealt with the offensive line coaches of UF and Auburn leaving. If those coaches had stayed he would have been going to those schools.

But although the OV went very well, there is reason for concern. Gouriage is now visiting UF officially and they will have a chance to re-sell their program and new offensive line coach. The decision will ultimately come down to Gouriage and his mother and distance will play a factor. Clemson remains a strong possibility, but Gouriage is tough to pin down. I see this being a continual battle all the way up to signing day. Gouriage is a legit tackle prospect with the length and frame to be an elite college player.

Defensive Back

Yikes.

Apart from defensive end and offensive line (thank you, thank you Jackson Carman—think if we were sitting here at this late juncture with no elite offensive line talent), defensive back is the most important position in this years class. I have advocated from the beginning taking a minimum of three DBs and possibly 4 to help with depth. Remember that Clemson needed to play a 5’7 corner against NC State and RayRay McCloud at key junctures this season. We had 5 corners injured at one point this season and will head into 2018 with only three corners who have played any snaps at the position (4-5 real candidates for playing time period if Kyler McMichael stays at corner).

I love Kyler McMichael. He is an elite recruit and the staff should be applauded for landing him from the state of Georgia. Hopefully he can stick at corner, where he will start, but I see him beginning at CB and Nickel next season and then moving where he is needed the most. Clemson just doesn’t have the depth at Safety or Corner.

Everything else has not been good. Remember that the same kind of thing happened last year. Clemson landed CB Williams early and then got the big fish AJ Terrell, but struck out when they put their eggs in the Xavier McKinney basket. We pocketed the scholarship for this year.

Fast forward and Clemson has whiffed on many a DB prospect. Q. Monday, Tyreke Johnson, Bookie, Cook, Tyson Campbell, and on down the line. I am fine with shooting for moon when you have gone to three straight playoffs, but this is becoming a pattern of missing on players. Clemson might need to carry a bigger DB board in the future. Clemson could have easily grabbed plenty of talented players early in the cycle or tried to keep them from committing like Sims or McKinley (and again, I am fine that we tried to land the big fish with the limited numbers). But what is concerning is having a player like Monday give as close to a commitment as possible and then lose him to Auburn. Same thing with McKinney.

Clemson folks felt they had Leon O’Neal (6’2, 195) coming to Clemson after his official visit (some sites wanted to tweet about it). And Matthew Hill’s (6’1, 190) interest in bucking Auburn fizzled after the Army All-American game and his increased time with the Auburn staff selling him on being a WR and overall athlete. The Clemson OV hasn’t given Clemson the boost they are accustomed to with OV’s.

I can’t fault the staff on these though. I didn’t buy the hype on O’Neal because I knew about the strong ties keeping him home. Jimbo needed to do work to reaffirm those ties and his WR coach Brewster earned his stripes. I think that says it all...Needless to say, Clemson trails for both. It is true that his 7 on 7 team recorded a commitment video for O’Neal. But then they recorded a second video as well.

This weekend all can be forgiven.

Patrick Surtain Jr. (6’2, 190) from American Heritage, FL is the top CB in the 2018 class. He would immediately land in the two deep and could potentially grab starter snaps as a true freshman. He is tall, long, fast, and athletic with advanced technique and an NFL pedigree. He will be taking the OV with his mom, but not his father who is also his coach at American Heritage (he is being honored as one of the best HS coaches in America). LSU has led this recruitment throughout. Surtain did visit Clemson back on their Jr. visit day last year and has maintained steady contact with Coach Reed. Clemson coaches have remained optimistic, feeling like they could ultimately land a visit and they did. In fact, this visit bumped Archer CB Taiyon Palmer from visiting (Palmer has recently blown up with the need for corners intensifying after so many prospects signed during the early signing period, he was committed to Duke as a 3*). Never count out Dabo, but overcoming the LSU advantage (Surtain does have in-state ties) and the Bama momentum from his recent OV (this vaulted Bama into serious contention) will not be easy. Landing Surtain would be CJ Spiller level epic recruiting (and it did just happen with Jackson Carman).

The other prospect visiting who is another extremely important official visitor is Mario Goodrich (6’2, 180) from Lee’s Summit, MO. Mario is the composite number 114 overall player and profiles as a versatile DB who can play corner, nickel, or safety. I think he could legitimately play both positions, perhaps starting at corner and moving to safety depending on how his body matures. Clemson coaches want him as a corner. He is a legit 6’2 and a physical tackler, kick returner, and displays enough athleticism to play wide receiver for his HS team.

In December he named LSU his leader, but did not sign. He does seem to be fairly impressionable, but that is just going off of a reading of his overall recruitment. He recently went on OV’s to UGA and LSU, with the possibility of visiting Arkansas next week. Interesting that Goodrich and Surtain, two LSU leans, are visiting on the same weekend. Goodrich is still looking for the right fit and Clemson has the opportunity. I would be extremely happy if Clemson can land Goodrich.

At this point I will settle for landing one or two of the remaining prospects.

Maybe we did have room for another LB take after all? No?