The Tigers added a much-needed skillset to the WR room on Friday, when 4-star Nathaniel Joseph opted for Clemson over particularly Florida State, but also Florida and Texas A&M. Joseph is the first commit in what promises to be a loaded 2023 class, possibly even Dabo Swinney’s strongest ever.
A slot WR with game-breaking acceleration and play-making ability is something Clemson fans have been calling for for years in order to diversify the skill base within the receiver room. While it has taken a bit longer than expected, Joseph is that player, or at the very least fits the mold, and stands to benefit immensely playing in between the sizes previously recruited at the position in recent years. Joseph hails from Miami and will look to continue Clemson’s good luck historically in poaching South Floridian pass-catchers.
What Clemson gets
The Tigers add a unanimous 4-star prospect at WR, with a skill set and body type that the room has been crying out for. Capable of taking every touch to the house, Nathaniel is an electric playmaker anytime the ball in his hands, even at the slight stature of just 5’8” 170 pounds.
His suddenness and change of direction make him incredibly slippery to tackle in the open field, and he operates exceptionally well in space. Joseph possesses the type of burst and acceleration that is potentially game-breaking and allows him to reach top speed extremely quickly. Give him even a small crease and he is capable of taking it all the way.
This ability to change direction provides promise that Joseph will be more than an effective route runner as well. He is quicker than fast, and while he has good top speed, it is not elite for his size. The short-area quickness, and as a by-product the ability to seperate, will be where he makes his money.
But he is also more than just a WR, excelling as a return man where his burst, instincts, and change of direction rule the day. Half of Joseph’s highlights are actually returning the football, where he puts his greatest attributes on display. Through 3 games into his Junior season, he has already returned 2 kicks for TDs, and will likely continue to add to that total as the season goes on.
The most obvious critique of Joseph has to be his size. Generally, players this small do not have as much physical upside as others. Being shorter, he will have to answer questions about physicality, and durability on the next level. It also limits his positional versatility.
Despite the small size, Joseph flashes good leaping ability, and more importantly, a willingness to attack the ball in the air and win 50/50 battles. Ideally, you would like to see him become more consistent in catching the ball away from his body. That’s not to say that he has bad hands, merely that he should trust his hands more.
With a commitment coming later this month, which school has the edge for 2023 four-star Nathaniel Joseph? @adamgorney digs in on his recruitment and several others in this week's Rumor Mill: https://t.co/PBRlaPctZs pic.twitter.com/NgvRpDMpma— Rivals (@Rivals) September 4, 2021
This is an interesting projection because it can be difficult to determine the true value of players 5’8” and below. There are a few traits, however, that have typically served as accurate indicators towards future recruit/draft ranking. These traits are statistical production, top-end speed, and athleticism. The ceiling for such a prospect will largely be determined by these factors.
We can already see elite production in the return game, and Joseph has shown nothing to indicate he will not be a menace while seeing targets from the slot. The burst is electric and he’s clearly an athlete, but the lack of true “burner” speed will likely limit his ultimate upside. The 24/7 Composite has him rated as a top 200 player, and I believe that to be fair even. though I could see him continue to rise as well.
I think 24/7 also hit the nail on the head with their Ray-Ray McCloud projection. They play similarly, and will in all likelihood be used the same way at Clemson. I expect Joseph to take over return duties probably immediately, and earn early snaps on the inside at slot receiver. His value as a game-wrecker, field-stretcher, and as a returner will raise his ranking and eventual draft status, but his skill set is certainly more conducive to college ball than the pros. Ultimately, Clemson is getting just. what the doctor ordered, and the perfect weapon to complement their current talent.