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STS Roundtable: Recruiting on the Upswing

Syndication: The Greenville News Ken Ruinard / staff / USA TODAY NETWORK

Texas A&M and Louisville be showing off NIL dollars and leaning into the new world of recruiting, but it seems Clemson is doing just fine cutting against the grain and maintaining their focus on education and recruiting the “whole person” and not just the athlete. Back in June I wrote about how the Tigers were finding success in the NIL landscape. Since then, conference realignment has highlighted both financial and competitive weaknesses in the ACC. Despite that, Clemson’s recruiting is only getting better. Let’s dive in and discuss just how good it is, where holes remain, and the future of Clemson football.

Clemson is up to #3 in the 247 rankings with 17 commitments including 16 blue chip prospects. This is a change in strategy with the staff taking more early visits and filling up more quickly than last year. What surprises you most — good or bad — about this recruiting class?

Drew: Good: Defensive recruiting hasn’t fallen off at all, despite losing Venables and Bates to the soon to be 6th or 7th best team in the SEC. Nick Eason is the real deal, and it’s hard to not see him as an upgrade, at least in terms of recruiting, over Bates (who was Rival’s 2019 recruiter of the year). Clemson’s consistency over the last decade, in part, is due to their ability to consistently recruit studs in the front seven.

Bad: Watching WRU struggle to recruit wide receivers has been disappointing. Ohio State continues to stack 5* talent, and thus far, Grisham has failed to compete with elite recruiters. I was not expecting wide receiver recruiting to fall of to this extent after Jeff Scott left. DJ bouncing back or Cade taking over and showing that he’s the man could turn all of this around before signing day though. The same can be said for running back, although Coach Spiller is still working on developing relationships and is hindered (in a good way) by a stacked, young depth chart. He’s whiffed on a couple 4* targets, but if Clemson runs the ball like I think they will this season, his job will get much easier. Next year is the crucial year for Spiller, in terms of recruiting.

Ryan: I’m pleasantly surprised that the class has filled up so quickly. To see Clemson at 17 recruits while Georgia is at 13 and Alabama is at 11 is very encouraging. Clemson slow-played too many recruits and got burned last year. This is shaping up to be a championship-level class and lends a ton of optimism for what Clemson can do for the remainder of the four-team playoff era (likely through 2025).

Matt G: Probably my biggest surprise is the fact that we’ve done this in areas that may not have been traditional Clemson pipelines. Obviously we’ve snagged stars from Alabama like Justyn Ross and EJ Williams in the past, but it’s always going to be a bit of an uphill battle going into Alabama and getting elite recruits. That makes landing Peter Woods and Chris Vizzinia especially big wins. We’ve also done work in Texas, which, again, we’ve gotten guys there before (Andrew Mukuba, Cade Klubnik), but is still definitely a challenge when you consider the instate schools, plus OU and LSU.

10 of the 17 recruits are defensive players. When Brent Venables announced he was headed to Oklahoma, there was a spate of de-commitments on the defensive side of the ball. Does this dispel any long-term concern about Coach Goodwin’s ability to recruit at a high-level?

Drew: I mentioned this above, but absolutely, Coach Goodwin has hit the ground running. It helps that the defensive side of the ball is stacked with elite recruiters, but Coach Goodwin certainly isn’t turning off these high level recruits. I think the bowl game was a crucial test, and Goodwin and the Clemson defense looked they they hadn’t missed a beat. That must have set the minds of recruits at ease.

Matt G: It says a lot that Goodwin is starting off hot. Obviously these guys are seeing something they like in Goodwin. Picking up Nick Eason has also been a huge boon.

Ryan K: It certainly dispels any concerns about recruiting I had. Clemson, Alabama, and Georgia should remain the premier destinations for defensive recruits for at least several more seasons.

Two of the top five players in the class — Harris Sewell and Zechariah Owens — are offensive linemen. What are you expectations for the offensive line both short and long-term with Thomas Austin taking over for veteran coach Robbie Caldwell?

Drew: Sometimes you need new blood, but I want to point out that Clemson’s offensive line recruiting over the last few classes has been solid, but the results on the field have been questionable. Honestly, I’m more interested on what the recruits look like once the get on field at this point. Offensive line is one position where I feel that performance hasn’t matched recruiting in recent years. I think that changes this year and it could propel Clemson into another level of offensive line recruiting in the future.

Matt G: I’ve definitely been impressed with Austin’s recruiting so far. I imagine it has to help that he’s a more recent graduate who can attest to the benefit of being a player at Clemson. When the hire was first made I know there was some concern about another legacy hire. I really will try not to judge Austin until he gets a few seasons in to recruit more and develop his guys, but so far so good.

Ryan: Drew makes an interesting point that I initially overlooked. The issue may be more about development than recruiting. Marcus Tate, Dietrick Pennington, Collin Sadler, and Blake Miller are all four-star O-line prospects that joined Clemson in the previous two classes. I suppose it will be most important to see them develop this year, but it is nonetheless encouraging to see the O-line talent coming in not dip and perhaps inch up incrementally.

Which position group are you concerned about that you think Clemson still needs to address in this recruiting class?

Drew: I mentioned it above. Wide receiver recruiting has been disappointing. It’s not that I’m disappointed in the players Clemson has managed to land, because they’re talented guys, but I’m disappointed in the players Clemson’s hasn’t landed, if that makes sense. Losing Joesph to Miami hurts. Clemson hasn’t landed a receiver ranked in the top 10 (according to 247) since Ladson and Ngata in 2019. I like the guys we have landed, and EJ Williams and Beaux Collins were both close, but we haven’t landed anyone at the Watkins/Ross/Higgins level in a while. I don’t think Grisham is on the hot seat, but if things don’t improve, Dabo may have to light that fire.

Matt G: Wide Receiver is a bit concerning. Some of my frustration builds on the lack of development we’ve seen from some of the guys we’ve gotten, and then is compounded by not hitting homers recently in recruiting. The loss of Ray Ray Joseph to Miami is frustrating, but it sort of sounds like there was more going on there.

There’s also been some handwringing about running back. Definitely a concern, but I don’t want to freak out in year two of CJ Spiller. Recruits seem to be reacting positively and I think if they see Shipley, Pace, Mafah, etc. continue to develop they’ll be more confident in wanting to play for Spiller.

Ryan: At Running back, Clemson put all our marbles in the Trevor Etienne basket and played conservative with scholarship offers. When Etienne chose Florida we were not well-positioned and landed just one three-star prospect. Our trio of running backs is still young and the offensive line has struggled for two straight years so it makes sense that Coach Spiller is having a little trouble adding a big-time running back recruit to this class.

Wide receiver is where I have my eye. Clemson has seemingly done fine on the recruiting trail, but we haven’t seen the dividends yet. Beaux and Dacari Collins were highly rated — especially the former — and are entering their sophomore years. EJ Williams was also highly rated but was banged up last year. The same goes for Joe Ngata. Clemson has brought in talent, but hasn’t converted it into production the last few seasons. I don’t know if that is scouting misses, developmental misses, or just a little stretch of bad luck (especially with injuries). Regardless, wide receiver is the spot where I’d like to see Clemson land a big fish before this classes is closed out.

What one player are you most excited about in this class? More broadly, what position group of players are you most pleased with?

Drew: Harris Sewell is my guy. My heart can’t take watching Clemson’s interior offensive line get dominated like it did at points last year. Things got better later in the season, but I said some very unkind things about the offensive line early in the season. Clemson hasn’t consistently fielded a dominant offensive line under Dabo. It’s been the one glaring hole in the program. Hopefully a guy like Sewell can bring some nastiness.

In terms of position group, I like the offensive line, but I love the defensive line. Woods, Burley and Green are versatile guys that can play multiple positions. Ojiegbe and Hoffler are both guys capable of coming of the edge and causing issues. My only small quibble is the lack of a true blue chip edge rusher like Murphy in the the last 2 classes, but I like the guys we got.

Matt G: Flapjack Owens!! He seems like a beast. An enormous dude that seems like he plays with some intensity and swagger.

I also have to throw in Stephiylan Greene and Jamal Anderson Jr. Greene’s from Rome and as someone who grew up in the Rome/Northwest Georgia area I love seeing guys like him, Trevor Lawrence, the Spector brothers, and Kobe Pace find their way to Clemson. And Jamal Anderson Jr. is the son of the OG Dirty Bird, Jamal Anderson! As a Falcons fan I have to love us getting him.

Ryan: In terms of position group, I’m probably most excited or relieved to see a nice haul at offensive line. It is a little bit of a cop out answer to select the highest rated recruit, but the individual player I’m most excited to see it DL Peter Woods. That’s because that’s a position where he can make a quick impact. I imagine he could earn snaps rotating in with Ruke Orhorhoro and Tre Williams in 2023.