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The Day After: Evaluating the Clemson Tigers 2017 Recruiting Class (Offense)

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So how do we judge a recruiting class in the modern era of recruiting? Most often we use composite star rankings and class rankings to determine the value of a class. Stars do matter, but they don’t tell the entire story. I’m continuing a longstanding tradition here at STS to evaluate recruiting classes not simply by star rankings but also digging into the actual roster and seeing if our needs are met. This is easily the most talented class of the Dabo Swinney era (and arguably in the history of Clemson football). But roster management and recruiting go hand in hand. You can recruit a bunch of elite skill players, for example, but if you have a gaping hole along the offensive line, it can submarine your season.

All that is to say that we prefer to evaluate a class based upon needs met rather than relying on stars. This is one way to evaluate a class among many different ways. This is an exercise in critically engaging with a roster, which means that it will not be one hundred percent positive (no roster, anywhere, is perfect in college football).

OVERALL

The talent level for this class is elite. Looking at the stars for a minute we have a class with 17 commits that averages slightly above a 4* per player. That is the best Clemson has ever done. But this was a year where a bunch of teams really put together incredible classes. UGA had the second best class in the history of recruiting rankings, all-time. They had a higher star average with 9 more signees than Clemson. Impressive. Ohio State had the second best class that is the 6th best overall class in the history of recruiting with 26 signees (what an accomplishment to steal Carman from Meyer and the state of Ohio!). The real USC also finished their class strong with a slightly higher per star average based on the composite.

Clemson’s class was historically good, but would probably struggle to stay in the top 50 overall. That doesn’t mean it isn’t an amazing class based on the talent, but it does show that a couple of our rivals are that much further ahead in their recruiting right now(and they are doing it with bigger classes).

While the talent acquisition in the class is historically good, there remains 5 scholarships on the board (Clemson signed 17 while 9 seniors left—depending on how you categorize Godfrey, 3 left early to the NFL, 7 transfered and two one year walk-on scholarships from last yr (Cote and Thomason)). That gives you 80 total scholarships. Last year during Clemson’s big junior day Clemson coaches publicly told recruits that Clemson would only 11 players this year. Clemson ended up with 22 slots. Obviously some of that is gamesmanship and creating scarcity as a recruiting tactic, but it also generated a smaller offer board.

I was very glad to hear Coach Streeter cite the number 25 or above for the 2019 class. I felt like this class should’ve been in the 18-19 range with the possibility of getting over 20 and next year should be 25 (a normal, full class) with the potential to get up to 28 or even 29. That is the kind of offer board Clemson can have if it decides it wants to get that high.

The worry isn’t with one small class, it is with two back-to-back small classes (last year’s class was only 14 players). It really puts pressure on your team to avoid injuries, hit on recruits at a much higher rate, maximize the talents of every player on the roster (including preferred walk-ons), and maintain adequate depth at all position groups (each of these things are something the Clemson coaches have been very good at during the playoff run).

I’m not alone in my concern, this from national recruiting expert Bud Elliott:

“The interesting thing is that Clemson signed just 14 players in the 2017 class, meaning it has signed just 31 players in the last two classes. That is a shockingly low number, much lower than elite recruiting counterparts like Georgia (52), Ohio State (47), and Alabama (46). It’s even 10 lower than notoriously selective USC (41). Just about the only top football school with fewer is Stanford, with 29.”

Bud goes on to point out that this works because of Clemson’s insanely good hit rate with recruits, that Clemson’s players develop quicker with the high talent rate, and also stay healthy, but he cautions that Clemson might be “playing with fire” with the low numbers in consecutive classes. I agree with his assessment.

To recap:

  1. Talent level is historically good.
  2. Clemson left 5 slots on the board, which might hurt depth with two consecutive small classes.

Last year I said, “In 2018 I will be disappointed if it is not our best class ever at Clemson.”

We did that. No one should be disappointed. I repeat—this class is historically good.

To find out where those scholarships might have been useful lets break this down.

Quarterback

Trevor Lawrence was the number one overall recruit in the nation (yeah, sorry ESPN). He is the best QB prospect in the past two classes. Yeah, we met our needs and added someone with the talent to win a Heisman trophy.

At the most important position in college football, we added the top talent. Just like with Deshaun Watson, sometimes having the best QB in the game can make all the difference.

Beating UGA for TL makes it that much sweeter. On one level adding TL and Xavier Thomas makes the rest of the class just gravy. (here is our 2017 breakdown where we collectively debate the impact of TL and predicted he wasn’t going to waiver in his commitment—fun to re-read the comments)

Clemson does like to carry 5 QB’s on the roster, however. The transfer of Tucker Isreal and Zerrick Cooper gives Clemson 4 scholarship QBs. Kelly Bryant is a senior so we will need to take two QBs in the next class. Preferred walk-on Ben Batson (who I think is a dynamite pick-up as a preferred walk-on, he could’ve played at a lot of different schools) is an option at QB for the 5th slot, but he might work his way onto scholarship as a DB/Safety in the future because he is a pretty good athlete.

You need to take two QBs in case another transfer happens with TL and Soph Hunter Johnson battling for the back-up spot in the Spring. Chase Brice also turned heads on the practice squad and will be a quality back-up. You want to keep all four on the roster as long as you can.

I will say that the very early returns after having Lawrence on campus have been glowing. One source said as good as advertised and then corrected and said—no better than advertised. Obviously that is just the physical part of the game where a 6’6 frame makes an impression. TL will need to show he can handle the mental preparation and transition to college—but if he can...(again, I advocate for a two QB system to start the season with KB the starter and TL taking every third series or so and then letting the better player progressively win the job as the season continues with this defense)

Running Back

Go big or go home. Clemson swung for the fences with Zamir White, led early in the process, and then had to watch as UGA locked him down. In a down year for RBs this was a fine strategy. Tony Elliott zeroed in on Lyn-J Dixon who fits the mold of an Andre Ellington, change of pace back. With no elite talent in the pool with White going to UGA and Lingard to Miami (the only two RBs in the composite top 50, and there were only 4 in the top 100) there was a bunch of 4* range talent to pick from.

Given that Dixon fits a particular style of back not currently in the RB room we can say that we met our needs in this class. Clemson likes to carry 5 RBs and with the transfer of Senior CJ Fuller (something you don’t want to have happen with regards to depth unless you use the scholarship in the same class), Clemson will need to add two RBs in the 2019 class and one needs to be an elite level talent.

Clemson gets two more years with ETN, but Choice will graduate and Feaster is a risk to jump to the NFL if he has a breakout season (RBs, with good reason, are the position group most likely to forgo their senior season to save their knees/legs). Clemson will need to replenish this position group with talent that can play immediately in 2019.

Tight End

Last year Clemson did not take a TE, but we said in the write-up that we needed to take a Jordan Leggett type of pass catching TE who can play the ‘3’ position and be a threat in space in 2018. Braden Galloway gives you a developmental talent (he just had surgery again on his broken foot unfortunately) who could redshirt, but has a bunch of upside for a local underrated talent.

The injury and redshirt for Junior Garrett Williams helps stretch out the numbers at TE (blessing in disguise for the roster?). Next year Milan Richard and Cannon Smith graduate, leaving Williams and Soph JC Chalk to go with Galloway. We met our current needs and have depth for now with Richard, Smith, and Williams giving you a solid rotation for the 2018 season (Williams gives you a plus blocker as well).

Clemson will need to bring in two TEs that will need to provide depth and possibly play early in their careers depending on the development of Chalk and Galloway. Shadell Bell transferring gives you one less pass catching TE so one of the 2019 takes would preferably be in the Leggett mold. We are currently fine with 5 scholarships at the position but the next two takes will be important and we need to hit on both.

Wide Reciever

Jeff Scott does it again.

Last year we took two wide receivers in Amari Rodgers and Tee Higgins. This year we bring in another talented pair with Derion Kendrick and Justyn Ross. We definitely met our needs in this class both in terms of talent and numbers with Cain and McCloud departing early. What is interesting about both years of takes is that both are ‘2’ (think Sammy Watkins) and ‘9’ (think Mike Williams) position players.

After this year seniors Hunter Renfrow (no.....don’t leave) and Trevion Thompson graduate. Hunter plays the ‘5’ position (think Hunter Renfrow/slot) and so does Thompson (in addition to playing some 9). Soph TJ Chase also plays the ‘5’, but there will need to be some cross training, especially if we continue to use some 4 wide sets.

You also have Overton and Powell as juniors at the ‘9’ and ‘2’ (although I bet Powell cross-trains at the 5). Plenty of snaps for all nine of the players. The talent is still elite despite the early departures of Cain and RayRay, but Overton and Higgins will need to step up at the 9 and Rodgers and Powell will battle for the two (this is a huge offseason for Powell).

Watch for DK to make an immediate impact. Ross has the frame, length, and size you want at the position. He will have a bit of an adjustment period, but has all the tools to be a dominant member of WRU.

Clemson will need to bring in three wide receivers in 2019 (currently nine on the roster but Clemson likes having 10). Brannon Spector (brother of LB Baylon Spector) is currently committed as a wide receiver/athlete take. You need at least one WR who can play the ‘5’, but really just continue to grab that elite talent. Scott is targeting Frank Ladson from South Dade, FL who was ranked in the top 150, but since Clemson got involved he is skyrocketing to 5* status.

OFFENSIVE LINE

We were doing so good, meeting all our needs.

Clemson likes to have at least 15 offensive lineman (I advocate for 16-18) and currently have 14 total with the additions of Carman and McFadden. Clemson needed an additional Offensive line take (at Guard or at Tackle) in this class and will need to take 4 OLineman in 2019. We did not meet our needs with regards to numbers and still could improve our talent level and quality depth across the line. This is a position group that again needs to stay healthy in 2018.

Gone are three guards starter Taylor Hearn (early to the NFL—something the coaches knew about early on by the by), starter Tyrone Crowder, and key reserve Maverick Morris. In this space four years ago I questioned the take of Hearn and I was dead wrong. I hope he proves everyone wrong again in the NFL! Those are a ton of interior snaps now gone—thousands of snaps.

Mitch Hyatt returning is huge. He really is a 6* recruit this year. He and Falcinelli are Senior starters with a ton of experience who will need to be replaced. Then we have a logjam of 5 juniors. Zach Giella has yet to play a meaningful snap. Cervenka is next in line at Center. Pollard and Anchrum are your lone remaining Tackles with any experience. Guard John Simpson steps into a starting role next season.

Next you have a gap with two Sophomores that Clemson needs to step into at least reserve roles. Tackle Chandler Reeves and Guard Cade Stewart will need some reserve snaps this year to build depth. All three Freshman from last year redshirted. Bockhorst is a Guard who needed time to recover from a knee injury in high school. He can hopefully play a reserve role this coming season. Vinson and DeHond continue to develop. Vinson is currently ahead of DeHond and could play Tackle or some Guard in a reserve role this season.

Despite not meeting the positional number Jackson Carman was a huge pickup. I mean huge. He is the second highest composite rated offensive lineman in the Swinney era (Hyatt was .9897 and Carman was .9894—minor note, the 2015 composite 5* rankings were abysmal). If Carman can start this year (which could mean putting him at Guard to get him on the field, using him as a backup Tackle, and then transition him to Tackle next year) then Clemson can field an elite offensive line next season. The high end talent carries the day. Jordan McFadden is a prospect that will take a redshirt year to reshape his body and refine technique but he has the athletic upside to stick at Tackle in the mold of Brandon Thomas.

We brought in Salyer, Hill, Asiedu, and Gouriage for the elite junior day and ultimately couldn’t land any of them. But we aren’t that far off. If Clemson could’ve closed with Gouriage, a top 100 Tackle, then the need would’ve been met. I think Clemson missed on the opportunity to grab a lower rated, high upside, prospect to fill an open slot like 4* Jovaughn Gwyn (who wanted a Clemson offer) before the early signing period deadline. Instead we let him go to our in-state rival. Taking two lineman in a year won’t break your offensive line recruiting, but you have to hit on at least one of them (preferably both) or you have depth problems.

This concludes the offensive portion.