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Closing Out Clemson’s 2019 Recruiting Class Part 2: Defense

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Commits that hit

Florida State v Clemson
Tiger has elite balance and bend but lacks the football IQ to make an immediate contribution in 2019
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The recruiting contact period continued picking up steam last week while many of Clemson’s coaches hit the recruiting trail. Early Signing Day is now less than two weeks away and Clemson still has 24 commitments that are expected to sign their letters of intent on the morning of December 19th. Below, I continue the ESD Primer for the defensive side of the ball. You can find the offensive primer here in case you missed it last week.

A couple quick updates from last week include: Clemson won’t be getting a commitment from Clay Webb on Monday, Luke Griffin signed with Missouri (another tackle prospect lost), Avery Reece committed to Georgia St, but Clemson is looking better and better for Will Putnam.

**All Rankings are per the 247Sports Composite ®**

Defensive End

Status: Need 2-3, 2 Committed

Committed: Etinosa Reuben (#32 DE, #463 Overall, 3 Star), Logan Cash (#40 DE, #564 Overall, 3 Star)

Targets to Know: Derick “Rambo” Hunter (#19 DE, #283 Overall, 4 Star, FSU Commit)

TDC’s Take: This is a much different class for defensive ends than what we saw in 2018. Xavier Thomas, KJ Henry, and the not to be forgotten Justin Mascoll were all blue-chip prospects who could have immediately played at many college programs. Reuben and Cash aren’t those guys.

Should there be concern around the reality of replacing elite level talents Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell with 3-star recruits? No. I’m here to tell you not to worry. Clemson has been overwhelmed with DE talent for years now and will continue to rotate studs on the line for the foreseeable future.

Etinosa Reuben is the staff’s raw, athletic, high upside take to stash and develop for a couple of years. He only began playing football his sophomore year of high school, but top-tier programs took notice quickly. Not many 3-star recruits have an offer list that includes Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, and Georgia but Reuben legitimately did. He possesses long arms and has the quick twitch athleticism scouts drool over. Put him in Clemson’s football factory and wait for the future NFL draftee to develop.

Cash is almost an exact opposite kind of take. He held over 40 offers, including programs like Michigan State and Ohio State. He has put up gaudy statistics against high level high school competition in Georgia, including a state leading 23.5 sacks and 40.5 TFLs during his junior year. However, he doesn’t have the measurables to make him a blue-chip prospect.

Hunter is listed here purely as a longshot. He’s been softly committed to FSU for months and has been very open to continuous recruiting. He has built a relationship with Todd Bates, but it appears he will be signing early which likely eliminates Clemson from contention. As December 19th nears, he is one to monitor and see if he receives an in-home visit from Clemson’s coaches. He is more like to end up at a Florida school for the time being though.

One last note – I hesitate to list Reuben or Cash as defensive ends to be honest. They could both project to the inside if the staff sees the inside as their best fit long term.

Defensive Tackle

Status: Need 3, 2 committed

Committed: Tayquon Johnson (#31 DT, #478 Overall, 3 Star), Ruke Orhorhoro (#52 DE, #711 Overall, 3 Star)

Targets to Know: Tyler Davis (#12 DT, #161 Overall, 4 Star), Jaden McKenzie (#57 DT, #854 Overall, 3 Star)

TDC’s Take: The defensive tackle commitments Clemson has ready to sign are also high upside takes that Clemson will look to develop.

Ruke Orhorhoro only began playing football his junior year of high school and immediately flashed enough athleticism to get top tier P5 offers. He stands 6’4’’ and has increased his weight from a reported 215lbs to a recently listed 271lbs. For this reason, I’m guessing he’ll rough up his hands, put on weight, and move inside to DT. Everything reported about him emphasizes how quickly he’s developing, and fans should feel optimistic.

Tayquon Johnson is another underrated prospect whose ranking doesn’t match up with his offer list. Johnson was being recruited by Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, and Penn State when he picked the Tigers in the Spring. His low ranking can be attributed to the low-level competition at his Maryland High School. He’s unlike our other defensive line commits as he’s known as more of a powerful run stopper than quick twitch athlete.

Clemson is the leader for Tyler Davis and I would expect him to commit on early signing day. His recruitment was hard fought between Clemson and FSU, but FSU’s season of turmoil eventually shifted the momentum of this recruitment to the Tigers. Davis projects as a 3-tech and will likely play early and often in 2019 should he choose Clemson. The only reason Davis, with his elite disruptive capabilities, isn’t a top-50 player is due to his 6’1’’ height. Jaden McKenzie is listed here as a fallback option should something change with the recruitment of Davis.

Linebacker

Status: Need 5-6, 5 Committed

Commits: Vonta Bentley (#16 ILB, #279 Overall, 4 Star), Kane Patterson (#12 ILB, #205 Overall, 4 Star), Bryton Constantin (#6 OLB, #127 Overall, 4 Star), Keith McGuire (#25 OLB, #451 Overall, 3 Star), Greg Williams (#40 ILB, #931 Overall, 3 Star)

Targets to Know: Quavaris Crouch (#2 ATH, #39 Overall, 4 Star)

TDC’s Take: I chose to lump the linebacker class together since Coach Venables frequently cross trains. This is a very deep and talented class that will surely continue the high level play we as fans have come to expect from the Clemson defense.

Bentley projects as an old school, hard hitting, and explosive Mike linebacker. He will be joined on the inside by Kane Patterson, a recruit Clemson flipped from Ohio State during the Urban Meyer investigation. He possesses many similar traits to Bentley and recently was named Ohio’s Mr. Football for 2018.

Constantin and McGuire are two linebackers who project best outside. Both were underranked early by recruiting services and have been trending consistently upwards during their senior year. Maguire picked Clemson over in-state competitor Penn State during the Spring. He lacks elite athleticism but makes up for his shortcomings with great technical play and a high football IQ. Constantin was a fantastic early find by Brent Venables who committed to Clemson after in-state LSU didn’t show early interest. Since his commitment, Constantin has shined and nearly every camp he’s attended – especially at The Opening over the summer. Constantin, with his open field ability, is the linebacker take in the class with the best chance to play the Will position.

Greg Williams is currently Clemson’s lone in state commitment for 2019. He is a long-term developmental prospect who was offered after a hands-on evaluation by Venables at the Dabo Swinney Camp this summer. He has freakishly long arms that could make him a tackling machine with proper coaching, or he could transition to the defensive line if his frame quickness translates down the line.

Then, there’s Quavaris Crouch. Clemson leads Michigan here and Crouch will announce his commitment during the Under Armor All-American Game on January 5th. Projecting Crouch’s college position is an exercise in futility, but it will either be linebacker, defensive end, or running back. Clemson has long pitched linebacker as his best option, but Crouch’s natural ability lies at RB. Recently, rumblings are he could transition to DE. Regardless, I think he ends up on the defensive side of the ball because he has stated his interest in preserving his body for a long and fruitful career. If he ends up on defense, he will take some coaching and is less likely to contribute immediately. He has also been injury prone during the recent past and his ability to stay healthy will be something to monitor. Regardless, he’s oversign worthy and has all the tools to be an All-American caliber player at whatever position he chooses.

Cornerbacks

Status: Need 2-3, 2 Committed

Commits: Andrew Booth (#2 CB, #19 Overall, 5 Star), Sheridan Jones (#14 CB, #121 Overall, 4 Star)

Targets to Know: Akeem Dent (#3 CB, 33 Overall, 5 Star, FSU Commit)

TDC’s Take: Clemson has an embarrassment of riches in this recruiting class, but Andrew Booth may be the best of them all. He is a legitimate lockdown, long bodied, corner that will continue the recent success at the position by guys like Mac Alexander, Cordrea Tankersley, and Trayvon Mullen. He is physically developed enough to be a day one starter next year if Mullen chooses to declare early for the NFL draft. He jumps of the screen any time you watch him play, is always described as an alpha dog, and brings a hard-working mentality to the position.

Sheridan Jones is another big corner who fits Clemson’s defensive scheme like a glove. He was formerly listed as the #1 CB in the class of 2020 but his reclassification into the 2019 class pushed his ranking downward. He, unlike Booth, will enroll early and continue developing his technique during spring practice. Jones has shown leadership qualities in addition to his on-field talent that will serve him well during his time at Clemson.

Dent and Clemson are currently in the feeling out process to see if there is a fit. Dent previously committed to FSU but has stated he won’t be signing there during the early signing period. Dent doesn’t have the 6’1’’ length like Booth or Jones but he does have elite burst and coverage skills. He’s a five star for a reason. Continue to monitor his recruitment as the calendar turns because Clemson could be a big factor if they choose to pursue him.

Safeties

Status: Need 4, 4 Committed

Commits: Joseph Charleston (#13 S, #148 Overall, 4 Star), Jalyn Phillips (#39 S, #438 Overall, 3 Star), Lannden Zanders (#61 S, #744 Overall, 3 Star), Ray Thornton (#49 S, #604 Overall, 3 Star)

Targets to Know: None

TDC’s Take: Charleston is the most underrated commitment on Clemson’s entire recruiting board. I say that not only because of his talent level, but Clemson’s inability to land elite safeties during the 2017 and 2018 recruiting classes. Charleston was the first commitment of 2019 and Clemson’s coaches believe he is as good as any other safety in the country. He’s has range, ball skills, and an aggressive nature. Look for him to make an immediate impact in 2019.

Phillips, Zanders, and Thornton will all provide much needed depth at the position and each have traits that will allow them to contribute in due time. Phillips is probably the least likely to redshirt of the three, but Zanders and Thornton will enroll early and attempt to play next year. You may have seen the video of Ray Thornton picking off Taulia Tagovailoa in the Alabama 7A state championship game last weekend. Here’s to hoping for more of that in the future!

Specialists

Status: Need someone consistent, 1 Committed

Commits: Aiden Swanson (#4 Punter, #NR Overall, 3 Star)

Targets to Know: None

TDC’s Take: Oh, thank God