FanPost

Clemson Recruiting by Position

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Many of us STS readers love recruiting nuggets and analysis. I’m certainly in that group. So, take a look with me, at how well Clemson recruits each position group. We can see where Clemson recruiting is elite, and where it lags behind. Now, we all have our theories. Does the data support what we believe?

So, how do we evaluate recruiting by position? I’m going to use 247’s composite scale; 1.000 is a unanimous #1 overall, the 5* threshold is about 0.9800 roughly the top 32 guys, 4* is about 0.8900 roughly the top 350 guys, 3* is about 0.7950 roughly the top 2700 players. The four decimal places will give us more separation and a clearer picture than looking at stars alone. There is a big difference between player #350 and player #2700, even though they are both 3*s. We will adjust the data for position, as some positions are going to draw higher rankings than the same level player at different position.

Before looking at any data, my guess was D-Line would be rated higher than average and TE lower than average. I also guessed Clemson recruits D-Line and WR positions the best, and O-line and TE positions the worst. We’ll see if my guesses were correct.

In theory, a P5 team should not have to take any player below a mid-level 3*. Why? There are 65 P5 teams, plus Notre Dame, that will sign around 1650 players. There should still be 1050 3* players left over for G5 teams. If there are 1050 3*s left after the P5 has its pick of the litter, why would you sign anything less than a 3*? Two reasons; either you think the recruiting industry overlooked a player, or you are giving a guy a scholarship for a reason other than his football ability. STS commonly refers to the second group as 5 heart Dabos. I’m starting with the 2014 class, as DW4 is too important not to be included. Really, he marks Clemson’s rise to an elite team. I’m moving forward from there, and including the 2020 class, as it is mostly complete.

I’m going to use an expected value calculation for both average ranking by position group, and quantity ranking. The quantity ranking will look at is Clemson getting enough guys at each position. There will always be a ton of debate about how many guys to take at each position. The fairest thing I can think of is to account for a starting 11 on offence and defense, and add one special teams player. This means we are using an expected value based on 23 signees per year. Specifically, I’ll use 1QB, 1RB, 3WRs, 1TE, 5OL, 4DLs, 3LBs, 2Ss, 2CBs. Clemson only averaged 21.14 signees, because Dabo leaves scholarships on the table every year, and he doesn’t run kids off like some other programs do. Fifth-year red shirts can explain a few less scholarships, but there is more than enough attrition from the draft, transfers, and quitting, to cover those fifth-year guys. Our results are going to skew the quantity as mostly negative, because 21.14 is less than 23. How the position groups stack up against each other will still be shown and that is really what we are after.

I’m considering each player’s position to be what they were recruited to play for Clemson, not how the recruiting services classified them. This makes the numbers more accurate and relevant. It also removes any "athlete" designations, which are useless for this. A team might be expected to be a bit heavy on LBs and safeties since they tend to play special teams at a higher rate than other positions. Final positions may not be locked for some new guys, so I’m using my best judgement.

Let’s start with some simple data. Here is a breakdown by position of how our recruits rank from 2014-2020.

Position

number of players

total ranks

avg ranks

Clemson Rank

CB

10

9.4648

0.94648

1

Surprise #1. Few bad takes and multiple elite takes

WR

18

16.998

0.944333

2

QB

9

8.3998

0.933311

3

DL

29

26.9088

0.92789

4

several lower ranked takes pulled DL below QB

RB

9

8.2094

0.912156

5

OL

26

23.1821

0.891619

6

out-performed LB & S

LB

19

16.8234

0.885442

7

lower than expected maybe too many bad takes

TE

8

7.0764

0.88455

8

S

12

10.5168

0.8764

9

consistent weak spot

ST

4

3.229

0.80725

10

The thing that jumps out here is that the talent at OL is above that of LB and safety. In hindsight, does this explain some of Clemson’s strong offensive performances? Does this explain why, prior to this year, the D has been prone to coverage busts that are usually on safeties and LBs? You might assume that busts are caused by issues with coaching and discipline, but this data suggests talent may be in play. There is a surprise #1, which I attribute to the relative lack of bad takes, combined with wins like Alexander, Mullen, Terrell, Booth, and Davis.

How about numbers? Did Clemson get enough guys at each position?

Position

number of players

expected #

difference

Clemson rank

% of expectation

Clemson rank

QB

8

7

1

1

114.2857143

1

RB

7

7

0

2

100

2

DL

26

28

-2

4

92.85714286

3

TE

6

7

-1

3

85.71428571

4

S

11

14

-3

5

78.57142857

5

LB

16

21

-5

T7

76.19047619

6

WR

15

21

-6

8

71.42857143

T7

CB

10

14

-4

6

71.42857143

T7

OL

24

35

-11

9

68.57142857

9

ST

2

7

-5

T7

28.57142857

10

Dabo generally prefers kickers and punters to earn scholarships after starting as a walk-on. We can debate the merits of that, but that explains the lack of signees.

Quantity is where OL recruiting doesn’t make sense. How can Clemson be this short on OL players? Teams play five OL at a time and four DL at a time yet Clemson has taken more DL than OL in the last seven years. Some scholarships used on lower-ranked DL recruits could have should have been used on OL. Another place to get OL scholarships is the leftover scholarships Clemson has, every year. Taking one more player per year puts about four more guys on the roster, but we consistently have room for that.

Clemson took two QBs in a class a couple times, putting them "over budget" on takes there. Good thing they hit a lot on CBs, because they don’t take many.

Let’s look at how many years Clemson recruited below a top 25 level at a given position. Less-than .8700 average typically puts you outside the top 25 in recruiting.

Years below .87 except ST or 0 ST

WR

0/7

Expected

DL

0/7

Expected

QB

1/7

KB & Tucker Israel

RB

1/7

0 signed 2015

CB

1/7

0 signed 2017

OL

2/7

Wow

TE

3/7

LB

3/7

ST

4/7

S

5/7

Ouch, safety looking rough again

We see here that Clemson never does a poor job at WR or DL. RB and CB only made the list due to no takes in a given year. We should never have zero DB takes. OL is not looking as bad as expected, but safety is a problem.

What if we look at recruiting at an elite level for a given position? Only four teams in the last seven years have recruited above a .9400 average for a given year.

Years above .9400

WR

5/7

Expected

CB

5/7

surprised, but makes sense when you think about it

QB

3/7

DW4, Hunter Johnson, TLaw

DL

3/7

RB

1/7

Feaster

OL

0/7

TE

0/7

LB

0/7

S

0/7

ST

N/A

The WRU is a real thing. Once again, CB is sitting pretty. There have not been any elite classes at OL, TE, LB, or S for Clemson.

We’ve looked at a fair bit of data, but to this point we have not adjusted recruiting rankings for positional bias, or even established that positional ranking bias exists. Let’s do just that. Logically, the top 23 players should average out to contain 1QB, 1RB, 3WRs, 1TE, 5OL, 3.5DLs, 3.5LBs, 2Ss, 2CBs and 1ST; creating a top 23 dream team of recruits. The 3.5 for DL and LB accounts for the variance of 4-3 and 3-4 defenses. Think about it this way; if you could get the top 23 overall players each year, but they all play the same position, you wouldn’t win a single game. Some people are going to dislike the inclusion of a special teamer here. I know football culture considers kickers and punters to be almost sub-human (right up until your team needs a game winning kick).

This chart looks at how many players at each position make the top 23 players.

Number of players in top 23

Avg #/yr

Expected Value

%EV

rank

RB

2.285714

1

228.5714

1

RB

DL

6.571429

3.5

187.7551

2

DL

QB

1.714286

1

171.4286

3

QB

CB

2.857143

2

142.8571

4

CB

WR

3

3

100

5

WR

LB

2.428571

3.5

69.38776

6

LB

OL

2.857143

5

57.14286

7

OL

TE

0.428571

1

42.85714

T8

TE

S

0.857143

2

42.85714

T8

S

ST

0

1

0

10

ST

We can see that RB is way out in front here, while TE and S bring up the rear.

Now you might say that only looking at the top 23 overall is not good enough on it’s on. So let’s look at what happens if you use the top 1QB, 1RB, 3WRs, 1TE, 5OL, 4DLs, 4LBs, 2Ss, 2CBs and 1ST. I used four for both DL and LB to make the math work.

Position

top ranking players

DL

0.997057143

QB

0.995342857

CB

0.99465

RB

0.9941

WR

0.991338095

OL

0.988457143

LB

0.988085714

S

0.985542857

TE

0.978

ST

0.843157143

As you can see we get similar results.

If we add in Clemson’s recruiting for comparison we get this:

rank vs expected

avg ranks Clemson

top ranking players

difference

ST 1

0.80725

0.843157143

0.0359071

1

WR 3

0.944333333

0.991338095

0.0470048

2

CB 2

0.94648

0.99465

0.04817

3

QB 1

0.933311111

0.995342857

0.0620317

4

DL 4

0.927889655

0.997057143

0.0691675

5

RB 1

0.912155556

0.9941

0.0819444

6

TE 1

0.88455

0.978

0.09345

7

OL 5

0.891619231

0.988457143

0.0968379

8

LB 4

0.885442105

0.988085714

0.1026436

9

S 2

0.8764

0.985542857

0.1091429

10

I don’t think there is anything to read into the special teams here as Clemson only took two in seven years. WR and CB are up top, yet again. Good showing by QB and DL. OL is not great here. LB and S are looking rough, yet again.

Let’s put these two together to get an order of how a teams positional recruiting "should rank" if everything were even.

Position

should rank

DL

1.5

QB

2.5

RB

2.5

CB

3.5

WR

5

OL

6.5

LB

6.5

S

8

TE

8.5

ST

10

These rankings are note-worthy in adjusting expectations of how well we should recruit each position.

Let’s take a moment to refer back to our first ranking, and compare it to what we should see looking through the "should rank" filter.

Position

Clemson Rank

Should rank

difference

CB

1

3.5

2.5

WR

2

5

3

QB

3

2.5

-0.5

DL

4

1.5

-2.5

RB

5

2.5

-2.5

OL

6

6.5

0.5

LB

7

6.5

-0.5

TE

8

8.5

0.5

S

9

8

-1

ST

10

10

0

We see a strong improvement above expected for both WR and CB. We also see RB and DL not looking good here. Take a peek at OL. They are slightly above were they should be; a big blow to the "Clemson stinks at recruiting OL" argument.

I’ve dropped a bunch of charts on you. Let me put them all together combining each positions rank from each chart.

Position

raw rank

% EX

Yrs > T25

Yrs Elite

Adj. T23

Adj. RVE

Sum ranks

Avg Rank

1. WR

2

T7

T1

T1

T1

2

14

2.333333

2. CB

1

T7

T3

T1

T1

3

17

2.833333

3. QB

3

1

T3

T3

T4

4

18

3

4. DL

4

3

T1

T3

9

5

25

4.166667

5. RB

5

2

T3

5

10

6

31

5.166667

6. TE

8

4

T7

T6

T4

7

36

6

7. OL

6

9

6

T6

3

8

38

6.333333

8. ST

10

10

9

T6

T4

1

40

6.666667

9. LB

7

6

T7

T6

T7

9

43

7.166667

10. S

9

5

10

T6

T7

10

47

7.833333

I’m going to stop here and call this my ranking of how well Clemson recruited each position from 2014-2020. Let’s recap this.

#1 WRU is real. Jeff Scott is the man. Dabo probably helps here. The only thing that stops WR from being a runaway #1 is Clemson doesn’t actually take enough.

#2 We recruit great DBs, just not enough of them. We rarely see DB rotation while the game is in doubt, mostly because Venables doesn’t have enough guys he can trust. This showed its ugly head the worst when Mac Alexander went down in CU vs BAMA I. Clemson probably would have won that Natty if Mac didn’t get hurt, or if they had a similar take to fill the void.

#3 They have landed some big time QBs and some roster filler as well.

#4 They have landed some awesome guys on DL. They also have too many lower ranked takes that should have gone to OL and DB.

#5 Tony Elliot usually misses his number one target (Bowman and Feaster are the exceptions) and stays on him long after everyone knows he missed. Sometimes he misses on the second choice because he didn’t come off his first fast enough. Thank goodness so many people overlooked ETN.

#6 TE has been a big bucket of mediocre. No elite recruits and almost no elite results. Leggett’s receiving and Williams blocking were sometimes elite, but Clemson failed to recruit a guy that could do both in this span.

#7 OL is probably a little better than we all thought. If there were more takes it probably wouldn’t be thought of as a problem. Numbers are severely lacking.

#8 Special teams is hard to analyze with only two data points.

#9 There were a couple good takes at LB, but there was a bunch of bad ones as well. Venables helps land a bunch of guys at other positions, but he could take a step forward with his own group. We are seeing Dabo hold Brent’s feet to the fire for too many bad LB takes, causing us to possibly not take Trent Simpson, due to LB numbers. *** Update #1: BV got his man*** Update #2: It looks like Swinney only signed off on Simpson because Flowe is going elsewhere.

#10 Wow, Clemson has done a poor job at safety. Clemson really needs to do better here. Mickey Conn needs to pull his weight and improve safety recruiting, especially in Georgia.

How did I do on my guesses?

1. DL rated higher than average: Mostly right. DL has more players at the top of the rankings and the decimal averages are higher. I missed RBs.

2. TE ranked lower than average: Mostly right. TE don’t have many players at the top and the top guy each year is ranked lower than all positions but special teams. I missed Safeties.

3. Clemson recruits DL and WR the best: Sort of… Clemson recruits and hits on high ranked WRs at an elite rate, but the number of takes is actually low. They recruit a bunch of good DLs but have a number of questionable takes dragging the average down. I just straight whiffed on CBs which came out as our top ranked position by multiple measures.

4. Clemson recruits OL and TE the worst: Not really. TE recruiting is pretty bad, but I overlooked how poorly Clemson has done at safety and LB. Also, one of the biggest revelations of this whole thing is that OL recruiting, while not great is better than we all thought.

Now that I have put some data in front of you, did it change any of your thoughts or opinions on Clemson recruiting? Was anything confirmed for you? Let me know in the comments.

These opinions are not necessarily those of the Proprietors of Shakin' The Southland.