Clemson picked up the commitment of a (literally) massive prospect on Tuesday night as 2021 Defensive Tackle Payton Page committed to the Tigers. Clemson beat out Tennessee and a late push by North Carolina in order to secure the Dudley High School product’s pledge. It marks yet another impressive recruiting win by Todd Bates, and continues the run of dominance Clemson has had recruiting the Defensive Line. Page has long been Clemson’s to lose, and a visit for the elite Junior day back in January gave the Tigers a lead that no school was able to surmount.
Once again, Clemson gets exactly who it wants out of the state of North Carolina, showing that despite UNC’s strong recruiting class this cycle, the Tigers still get exactly what they want out of the Tar Heel State. It is important to continue this trend for obvious reasons, but also because another major Defensive Line target happens to be out of North Carolina for the ‘22 class. Travis Shaw, who is currently rated as a 5-star prospect by every service, will be certain to have a tightly-contested recruitment. Not only does this recruiting victory help continue the in-roads Todd Bates has made in the state, but it also gives Clemson a player who has a pre-existing friendship with Shaw. Page’s friendship with Korey Foreman isn’t anything to scoff at either.
Page is an interesting prospect who wowed as a Sophomore, but saw his ranking plummet from as high as 7th overall, all the way to 213th per 24/7’s rankings. As a Sophomore, Page accumulated 26 TFL and 8 sacks; incredibly rare production for a player playing primarily nose tackle. He demonstrated high-level athleticism for someone his size, and showed the type of ability that a potential 5-star prospect could have. While there aren’t any stats from Page’s Junior year, there is a noticeable drop off on film. While one can still see the super athleticism for someone so large, issues with weight gain, work ethic, and lack of technique plagued Page’s junior season (playing at allegedly 360 pounds).
So who is the real Payton Page? Is he a nose tackle with elite athleticism that can disrupt games in multiple ways, or is he merely a space eater at the next level? The ultimate ceiling for Page is a question mark as of today, but a few traits stick out regardless of what the film says. Page has possessed a college ready body since he was in 9th or 10th grade, and is immovable at the point of attack. While length is also a question mark, when Page engages an Offensive Lineman he is almost never going to be pushed back when playing with proper leverage. Page possesses the athleticism to make plays in space after penetrating at the line of scrimmage, and demonstrates effective short area quickness.
Payton’s ceiling may ultimately be determined by his own doing, and the type of work he is willing to put in once he gets to Clemson. The traits you want are all there, and despite his lackluster junior season there is still plenty of untapped potential to be taken advantage of. At worst, Page will be a 2-down space-eater who will not only help mitigate opposing run games, but also give the roster a skillset It doesn’t currently possess, and at best, a high-round draft pick who is capable of not only being a traditional 0-1 technique, but also a penetrating Defensive Tackle with great athleticism for such a large prospect. Page has gotten away with just being bigger and stronger than everyone up to this point, but if he’s going to reach the heights he’s capable of, he will need to take to coaching and closely monitor his weight. Personally, I am a fan of the take if for nothing but the fact that it provides a skillset not currently had on the roster since Tayquon Johnson moved to the Offensive side of the ball. When you sign a DT class like Clemson signed last cycle you can afford to gamble on a prospect like Page. I have had a tough time getting a good evaluation on Page, but believe he will at least be a contributor for the Tigers. It also wouldn’t shock me to see Page drafted on day 2 or even day 1 of the NFL draft based purely on his physical traits. That is far from a certainty, however, due to the aforementioned reasons, but there may not be a better college Page could have chosen to obtain this type of necessary development.
Todd Bates, indeed, deserves all the credit in this recruitment. He keyed in on Page early and made him the lone focus at defensive tackle in the 2021 cycle for Clemson. It is a weak year for DT’s overall, and Bates decided to focus on Page as the zero technique big body that fills a need on the current roster.
Focusing on Page made a lot of sense because it continues our dominance and pipeline in the state of North Carolina with DT’s. From DJ Reader to Dexter Lawrence and with an eye toward monster 5* recruit in the 2022 class Travis Shaw, Clemson has put down roots. I like the Reader comparison many have made, since he has NFL potential, but will need to put talent and work ethic together in college.
I love the take, simply because if Clemson missed on Page they likely wouldn’t have taken any DT’s in 2021 and saved the scholarship for 2022. I’m a fan of keeping the numbers consistent at DT and OL and hate skipping years without at least one take. There are very few day one, transcendent starters at DT. The only other player even being mentioned is Monkell Goodwine as a strongside defensive end who could potentially grow into a 3 tech down the road. It was Page or bust.
Bates and the Clemson coaching staff also deserve credit for keeping UNC at bay and fending off Tennessee’s late charge. Bates was consistent and helped fend off any negative recruiting. Clemson has needed him to be an ace recruiter and he has stepped into and grown in that role. Page wasn’t easy to read and he didn’t do many interviews. My personal intel has been hit hard with a lack of camps and recruits being in school with COVID. I picked up some early feelings that Page was all Clemson and never heard anything that made me think the needle really moved that far to UT. UNC was always on the outside looking in. Clemson also benefited from schools like Bama, who focused on Damon Payne, and other schools focusing on Maason Smith (who is the top DT in the class but a tough pull from Louisiana). I also like the Auburn commit Lee Hunter in this class.
There are a lot of differing opinions on Page. Rivals started him off as a 5* and number 19 overall that later dropped to number 30 overall, but 247 has him at 213 overall and the composite at 80. I have always wanted to see him play in his senior year before feeling good about an overall evaluation—just because a lot of his recruitment hype has been based on potential talent. I think he belongs somewhere in the 50-100 range (probably closer to 100 right now), but athletic, big bodies are a rarity.
Page is a zero technique DT who uses pure power at the high school level to dominate. He is going to need to learn to play with better technique and play with his hands at the college level. He has the strength to hang in college, however, and just needs to improve pad level and advance his technique. Should be able to be a run stuffer who can also give you some pass rush. You love his size and wide body, but definitely will need to work on conditioning and keeping weight down in college.