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Top 10 Most Wanted: Clemson Defensive Recruits

I’m going to need my own get back coach if we land half of these guys...
Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images

This is a list that I put together each year of the top Clemson defensive and offensive recruits. This is a combination of my top players/crushes, but also players that Clemson has a realistic chance of landing. This is a subjective mixture, but hopefully you will see there is an internal logic. Need to get this down before some of these players start dropping for Clemson.

  1. BRYAN BRESEE (6’5, 295) is a mountain of a man. The top three players here are all super elite prospects, but Bresee’s versatility and raw aggression puts him on the top for me. Certified man crush. Please excuse the effusive praise I’m about to rain down, but I just don’t have enough adjectives. He is that good in my mind.

Bresee is from Damascus, MD, which is bit rural and a smaller school, but fits with the Clemson small town vibe that loves football. The competition in Maryland isn’t what you would find in Georgia or Florida, but it isn’t awful and Bresee tears it to shreds.

My player comparison has been JJ Watt. A bigger strongside DE body that can play the 3, 5 or even 7 technique (heck, 9 if needed). He can slide around on the line as his body continues to develop. He has this tenacious, violent style of play that will translate anywhere on the Dline. Violent in the best way. Don’t worry about his position.

He is long and big, but fast and nimble enough to get to the QB from the strongside at DE. He also displays an elite change of direction for a guy his size. So many tools. His pass rushing moves continue to evolve and there isn’t any reason to not project him to be a top overall or top 5 pick after three years of playing. He is currently the number one overall player in the 247 composite rankings and would have been top overall last year too (this class is much more talented than last year’s class). The fact that Clemson currently has a commanding lead for this caliber of player—I’m gobsmacked. UGA is the only other school with a legit chance, but right now there isn’t a reason to worry. I posted gifs of Nick Cage in the breeze awhile back when this recruitment changed. Bresee’s early visits to campus were formidable and solidified during the elite junior day. Everyone has been chasing since.

2a. Myles Murphy (6’5, 265) from Hillgrove HS in Powder Springs, GA is placed slightly above Jordan Burch, but the two are both elite 5* DE prospects. Murphy is currently the number 11 overall player in the 247 composite, but he just went to an Atlanta camp and made mince meat of the competition. It wasn’t even close. Murphy is a bit quiet on the recruiting trail and unassuming so he might not get the publicity of other recruits, but he is ridiculously talented. He is another legit 6’5 prospect who can bend and has elite speed at 260-265. Lots of camp speed demons have to adjust when they go from 230 or 240 to higher weights, but Murphy is already there and already dominant. He is thick and powerful with that long, elite reach with his frame. Uses his hands well and showed he can rush the passer with this camp setting. Projects as a strongside DE.

I posted in the comments about two-three weeks ago that this was low-key one of the best recruiting jobs by the Clemson staff this year. Welp, UGA fans are just finding this out this week. The overwhelming lead they thought they had is actually trying to remain in the top pack. Clemson has a slight edge here and an upcoming visit to help cement that lead. Auburn is another school that has impressed Myles. I said earlier that his recruitment hadn’t fully matured yet, but that was mainly to cover my bases if UGA was able to make a move. Clemson had quietly built a solid lead in stealth mode. The red lights are flashing for Georgia, so we will see, but right now you would rather be Clemson by a wide margin.

2b. Jordan Burch (6’4.5, 250) is from Hammond HS in Columbia, SC and, yes, Clemson has a strong chance to land all three of these Dlineman. Burch is the composite number 8 overall player in the country. He resides in USCjr’s backyard so this will be a tough battle between the two instate schools throughout this recruitment. This one is murky and unclear at this juncture. A lot depends on who you talk to about his recruitment. There is a lot of help for USCjr at Hammond, including Muschamp’s son on the team.

Burch as a player is another elite defensive lineman. He can play the strongside or the weakside and is the most developed pass rusher of the three prospects. He can bend and dip, possessing the athleticism and wingspan to be a first round draft choice. He plays running back for Hammond and can actually run the ball in the open field. Great speed sideline to sideline and the frame to carry more weight. Hammond is a small school and in the state of South Carolina the competition isn’t great, but Burch showed out in some camps and justified what everyone was seeing on film. Might need to get stronger and more physical at the point of attack if he stays on the strongside, but that about all I can critique at this point. Like I said, the talent in this class, especially along the Dline is incredible.

This is a big test for Lemanski Hall on the recruiting trail (Hall is also recruiting Murphy). But after USCjr took an elite defensive lineman from Clemson’s backyard, it would certainly be nice to return the favor.

4. Fred Davis (6’1, 180) from Jacksonville, FL is my top uncommitted corner prospect on the board. Clemson is very high on Davis and Davis is high on Clemson. This is another recruitment that Clemson coaches have kept simmering on the down low, but quietly leading. Davis visited for the elite junior day in January and Clemson has kept a small lead. FSU, Ohio State, and Florida are also in the mix, and Bama could strike later. Plays three ways in high school and is a talented kick returner.

Davis is a top 50 player in a stacked class. The corner talent isn’t as elite as other classes, however, making Davis’ recruitment all the more important. He is currently the number 33 composite player overall and knocking on 5* status. Davis has long arms and a lean build, but he isn’t small. At a legit 6’1 he is the ideal corner prospect with regards to measurables. Will need to gain a few pounds of muscle for college, but the transition won’t be huge. Displays elite change of direction and ability to flip hips. Quality backpedal and willing performer in run support.

5. RJ Mickens (6’1, 190) from Southlake, TX is Clemson’s top take at Safety. Mickens is currently the number 42 overall player in the composite, but have him pegged around 75 and that is probably where he ends up (42 on Rivals, 58 on ESPN, 81 on 247 right now). The major question for RJ is top end speed. He was timed as running a 4.68, not bad, but not ideal. Although Mickens has played multiple positions in high school, he didn’t really have an NFL future at CB and transitioned to Safety, but could play Nickel in college. Might not have the crazy measurables or potential, but he gives you a college ready player without much risk of being a bust.

Mickens, however, also gives Clemson a true Safety prospect who will understand the position and has been groomed (his father is former NFL CB Ray Mickens). He will come to Clemson with savvy, a high football IQ, and the intangibles of a veteran. Great ball skills, ideal for roaming the center of the field on defense at Safety. He is already pretty thick and won’t have a huge transition physically in front of him. Clemson leads.

6. Sav’ell Smalls (6’3, 235) is from Kennedy Catholic HS in Washington state. He is on the list as a major question mark with regards to Clemson’s class. He is the number 7 overall player in the composite and so talented that he is a definite oversign candidate. But if you grab Bresee, Murphy, and Burch...nah, Smalls is too talented not to sign. He is probably the best pure rusher in this class with an elite first step. He could play weakside defensive end or outside linebacker (Clemson’s Jack or Cheetah position that plays with a hand down and also standing up in coverage). Improving in coverage and has the athleticism to legitimately play wide receiver in HS.

This is a recruitment where Clemson has an iron in the fire, but is happy to watch this recruitment continue and unfold. After Smalls had some initial visits to hometown Washington and FSU, there was so thought those programs led, but Florida, Bama and Clemson loom large here. He is in contact with a group of commits, soon to be commits, and other elite recruits. He is planning another round of visits this Spring/Summer that will be key in his ultimate decision.

If Clemson lands all four this will not only be the best defensive line haul in the 2020 class, but we are talking all-time historically good d-line class. Insanity.

7. Antoine Sampah (6’3, 230) is from Woodbridge, VA and the number the number 30 overall player in the 247 composite. Sampah is a MIKE linebacker who is a brick wall and when he squares you up he is a quick and violent tackler. Massive frame and long arms, but already physically imposing. His main question is moving sideline to sideline and maintaining/improving lateral quickness and agility.

Clemson led early in this recruitment and Brent Venables deserves a lot of credit for that, but Antoine’s recruitment hasn’t completely matured yet. He is seeing a lot of other schools and doesn’t have much control over rides and visits. He is going to see Clemson in the next week and this will be an important visit to reclaim some lost ground. Alabama’s Da’Shawn Hand comes from Woodbridge and is a voice in their corner Bama will leverage. Florida, FSU, and Miami are also in the mix along with UT and Penn State.

8. Clark Phillips (5’10, 180) from La Habra, CA is my own personal preference. Clemson offered back in February and I am told that the staff would like a Nickel DB to fill the role of a player like Ryan Carter. Clark also talked about loving Clemson after getting his offer, so this isn’t totally wishful thinking. He just needs to visit. Oregon and Ohio State are players here, but this recruitment hasn’t settled yet.

Phillips is an undersized but seriously gritty, physical player. He is the number 37 overall player in the composite despite the lack of size at corner. The other knock is that he is more quick than fast, but he ran a 4.54 at the Opening.

9. Elias Ricks (6’2, 188) from Mater Dei HS in California is an LSU commit. The top ranked CB overall and composite number 9 overall. I guy can dream, right? Clemson did offer in February despite Ricks being committed to LSU and Ricks has said he is going to use all of his official visits. This would be one I would continue to pursue if I were Clemson behind the scenes, especially if Coach O has a rough season.

10. Noah Sewell (6’2, 266) from Orem, UT is my personal favorite I’m adding here at the end. I just love his game and how he moves at 266 pounds. He ran a 4.7 but a 4.28 shuttle at this size and is explosive in pads. Hits like a truck and plays wildcat QB for his team in addition to LB. He wants to play LB at the next level and absolutely could for Venables scheme. Plus with DJ Uiagalelei you have a Polynesian connection. Clemson offered in February so this isn’t completely a dream of mine. I know that Sewell is open to leaving Utah and Bama, Oregon, LSU, and A&M are probably in the top group, but Clemson’s culture would be an absolute fit here. Got to get him for a visit, but it would change things for both sides if it happened.

Bonus: DB Tyler Venables needs to be on this list as a legit recruit at Safety. Other names to monitor are DT McKinnley Jackson, SAM/LB Phillip Webb, SAM/LB Kalel Mullings, CB Henry Gray, S Chris Thompson Jr, SDE Jay Hardy, S Jordan Morant, DB Ethan Pouncey, and S Bryson Washington.

Top ten offensive recruits is next to finish up, but as a teaser Bowman is number two and has now publicly said that Clemson leads. He is returning with his family for the Spring game without other visits planned. I told you his visit went about as well as a visit could go...