With National Signing Day 2017 and another stellar recruiting class behind us, the staff and Clemson fans all move their gaze toward the 2018 class and what it could potentially hold for the reigning National Champs. We decided to go over the 2017 class, discussing the intangibles and measurables each brings to Clemson for the 2017 football season.
The Tigers' class was small in number, but, player-for-player, it was one of their most talented ever. They snagged 15 players total, as they added Coach Dabo Swinney’s son, Will, to the class as a walk-on wide receiver. With that addition, the staff brought in 3 WR’s, 2 QB’s, 3 DB’s, 2 DE’s, 1 LB, 1 RB and 3 OL's to put the Tigers' roster back to the preferred number the staff is trying to retain on a yearly basis.
The biggest needs were at the quarterback and defensive back positions, as losses at those positions had the Tigers looking for immediate impact players in each position group to replace veteran players that accounted for thousands of combined snaps over the past 3 to 4 years. The staff was able to fill these needs with the acquisition of 5-star Hunter Johnson and 4-star Chase Brice to fill the quarterback slots and with 4-star A.J. Terrell, 4-star LeAnthony Williams and 3-star Baylon Spector at defensive back.
With Johnson and Brice, you get two veteran signal callers with unlimited potential. Both players bring a skill set and mindset to Pickens County that was battle tested in their respective high school careers. Johnson was the best QB at several camps and was voted MVP at the Army All-American Game this past season. And Brice took his team to another state title game, garnering a State Championship as he led his team on a late drive to defeat fellow signees Terrell and Williams and their Roswell High School team in the Georgia 5A Championship Game in the Georgia Dome back on December.
The staff also got the desired players on the offensive line, as Coach Robbie Caldwell has made it a recruiting priority to find a “grittier and tougher” kind of offensive lineman than we have seen in Clemson in the past. Take a look at how Sean Pollard and Taylor Hearn handle their business on the field, and you see the blueprint for the Tigers' OL targets moving forward.
In these three 2017 signees, you get just that. Big, mean and nasty. Matt Bockhorst, in particular, plays the game to the whistle. And with Noah DeHond, you get a mammoth kid at 6’7, 330 pounds as high school senior. And Noah is not a “fat body," either. We are talking about a kid that can come to Clemson and get bigger. And finally, there is Blake Vinson, who is already on campus and will see the results of his ability to to enroll in January pay dividends in summer conditioning and the fall.
Moving back to the defensive side of the ball, with Jordan Williams, Logan Rudolph (the lone take from the Palmetto State in the class) and Justin Foster in the fold, you get size, athleticism and cerebral football players. Each of these players led his team on that side of the ball over his career on the high school gridiron.
Rudolph, who is an early enrollee, is nursing and rehabbing an injury with the help of the Clemson medical and training staff. He suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder before his 2016 season ever took place. And this will allow him to really get that shoulder back to 100% before spring practice arrives in March. If you have ever seen Rudolph’s film, you will see why he plays defense. He strikes ball carriers and seeks out the ball with a natural instinct. If you want to describe these three defenders in one word, attacking would be that word, as all three just have a natural ability to explode into the play.
The one position in which Clemson has found itself with an “embarrassment of riches” would be at the WR position. The Tigers are well known as "WRU," and each year they seem to be putting a WR into the 1st round or top 10 of the NFL Draft. The next one in line, Mike Williams, is projected as high as the #7 overall pick.
Once again, the Tigers just reloaded at this position with the pickup of arguably the best WR in the nation, Oak Ridge, TN product Tee Higgins Tee Higgins inking with Clemson. All you have to do is take a look at his highlight film and you see immediately why some analysts, including myself, consider Tee to be the best WR prospect ever singed by Clemson. And that is saying an awful lot, with the recent history of the position at Clemson. Higgins is a rare combination of speed and size, almost Randy Moss-like. And if you wanted to compare him to Clemson wide receivers…..well he’s a combination of Watkins, Williams and Hopkins all rolled into one guy. That should say it all.
The Tigers also signed 4-star Knoxville product Amari Rodgers, son of Tennessee legend and National Championship QB Tee Martin. Rodgers, who has impressed on every level from games to camps to all-star events, is a slot WR in the mold of an Artavis Scott. Like Scott, he was used out of the backfield a lot in his high school offense. But Rodgers is physically more advanced and also more precise in his route running than Scott was at this point in his career upon arriving at Clemson. Expect to see Rodgers in the same role as the now graduated Scott and current Clemson WR Ray-Ray McCloud.
The staff not only met needs and numbers in this small class, but in most cases it exceeded their initial hopes and options in several key areas. QB and WR are two cases where the staff overachieved in a huge way. Netting two of the top quarterbacks in the nation in the same class along with the two best wide outs from the Volunteers' back yard would be considered unthinkable at any school, much less Clemson a few years ago. It just shows you the level at which this staff is now recruiting. Add to that a National Title and now the new Football Ops Center into the mix, and like I keep saying here and will reiterate over and over, "The best is yet to come!"
****2018 Commit List
2017 is in the books as far as the Clemson recruiting class goes, with 15 players now either already enrolled, or signed and ready to join their teammates in the summer for conditioning workouts. All eyes are now turned toward the 2018 class and one that could be historic in terms of Clemson Football.
With currently 5 commits, including the nation's #1 overall payer in Trevor Lawrence, the Tigers have also locked up 3 of the top players in the Palmetto State as well in Jake Venables, Derion Kendrick and Josh Belk. All three sit atop many analysts' 2018 South Carolina Top 10.
2018 LB Commit Jake Venables
Add in 4-star linebacker Mike Jones Jr. from IMG academy in Bradenton, FL, and you have the foundation to a really impressive 2018 recruiting haul for the Tigers, with several highly touted 5-stars already naming the Tigers as a factor and, in some cases, inside their early list of top schools.
The Tigers are looking to take at least one tight end, a couple offensive linemen and at least one other wide receiver prospect, as we consider Derion Kendrick a WR take. They will also look to sign another defensive tackle to go a long with the recent commitment of Josh Belk and possibly two defensive ends. Stay tuned, as we continue to track this 2018 class over the coming months!
“The Best is Yet to Come"
****2018 Offensive Line Targets
2018 OL recruits surround Clemson commit Trevor Lawrence at the Tigers' Junior Day event: Jamaree Salyer (#69), Trey Hill (#55), Nana Asiedu (#54) and Richard Courage, Jr (#75).
With the 2018 class also going to be a relatively small class, offers are at a premium, and the Clemson staff has to be very selective as to offering players at this stage. At the absolute most, the Tigers are looking at 14-15 slots to come open on the Clemson roster.
Clemson has itself positioned to really make a move in the offensive line in 2018, with the needs of at least 2-3 maulers from this class to set itself back in the proper numbers it likes to carry roster-wise for the position group.
Here is a list of the top OL offers the Tigers have out to keep an eye on at present. The staff is interested in a total of two in-state prospects, Kavesz Sherard from TL Hanna and Dorman's Jordan McFadden. The staff is also seriously involved with top-tier players out of the state and region. They have a real hard job ahead of them, as to how they can sort and prioritize this group on the big board. Stay tuned here at CUTigers.com, as we follow this intriguing situation all the way through to Signing Day 2018!