Well, the day has come and gone and it has been a long while since I've seen so many varying opinions regarding the next crop of Clemson athletes.
There are those that are ecstatic and point to the inordinately high star rating, clamoring for quality over quantity. There are those that are ripping the new staff as inexperienced and arrogant, bringing in a paper thin class and finding it distressing that we inked only 12 players while eyeing a 30 strong class from a certain school just down the road. There is even a middle-ground faction (a rarity on message boards these days) that accepts the class, but is unwilling to get too excited or too depressed.
As for myself, I find that I am pleased with the players that will be donning the paw, will be eagerly anticipating watching them perform on the gridiron, and yet do have something akin to a post-holiday regret about what was left on the table and what could have been. Standing back from the emotional furnace and taking an objective look at Clemson's class of 2009, I think it is easy to elucidate that all three factions' arguments have merit and faults.
Star Power – Clemson is certainly not lacking here as this class has teeth and in a major way. Top to bottom, virtually every commitment looks to have an impact at the next level. Sure, some guys may only be role players, but 1-12, all should see the field and contribute in at least a two-deep role. In addition, the cream of the class would be headliners in any school's class.
Tajh Boyd was a huge home run pulled off at the last minute, muscling out the likes of Ohio State and the innovative, Nike sponsored Oregon. One of the top players in the entire nation, Clemson managed to get him on campus and, as stealthy as the most skilled of cat burglars, stole him schools that had recruited him much longer.
Malliciah Goodman combines raw athletic ability with an NFL frame that gives him one of the largest upsides in the entire nation. Throw in another out of region, national level recruit in Bryce McNeal and locking down some of the better talent in-state and Clemson's top 10 match up favorably with just about anybody in the nation. Something else to consider, in any given class, only 10-12 players will make a significant contribution beyond the two-deep.
There are some classes where the staff not only hits on a given player, but the timing is right, there is an opening for the player to succeed, and the much clichéd light is flipped to the on position and 15+ players form the core of a team, but it is a rarity. There is no doubt in my mind, that these 12 players have improved the talent level at the University of Clemson and this class has the potential to impact our program as much as any other class will do for theirs.
Depth – Here is where the concern comes in. As was just stated, typically only 10-12 players make significant contributions beyond a mere two-deep type role. When you sign a full class of 25, you hedge your bets: you can afford missing on some evaluations, you can allow for the career ending injury, you can allow for the light never coming on. When you sign a mere 12, you are walking a razor thin margin of error: no misses on evaluations, no freak injuries, no players getting lost in the shuffle. If one of those things happens, you are already at a disadvantage and may find yourself scrambling to fill a hole where you thought an impact stud would be residing.
While I have previously averred that 10-12 players from any given class make up the top 40 players on a team (the two-deep) and see significant playing time, there is a reason that football teams are 85 strong. Depth is every bit as important as top-end talent. Having quality players 41-85 on your roster enables a great amount of flexibility as a coach. Injuries have far less impact. Competition in practice is fiercer. The quality of the team improves dramatically as those 3 star, hard-working, role players bust their butts in practice. Clemson is sorely lacking in this department and it is a huge concern in this class.
Filling Needs – Clemson did a pretty good job in this department. QB is a question mark and landing the Army All-American MVP was quite a coup. With CJ's return, taking a single running back is fine for depth. Clemson wanted 2 receivers, but with the emergence of Marquan Jones and Brandon Ford, as well as landing Bryce McNeal, Clemson could afford to be very selective. They held out for Kelly, and lost the gamble, but such is the way with recruiting. They locked down two excellent prospects for the offensive line, shoring up some much needed depth. They add a stud at SDE to back up Bowers, adding depth there,as well as adding a project that could blossom to provide some much needed depth at WDE in the form of Darrell Smith. I would have really liked to have seen at least one DT, and they had their man in Mackey, but it fell through.
LB has some nice additions in Shuey, Hawkins, and Christian. Even though the Tigers missed on a big name, if Fields can get cleared, this could be a great corp. Not only are the players talented, but they are diverse in their skill sets, complementing each other and filling needs across all three LB positions.
I would have liked to see a corner, but again, Clemson was very selective and was the victim of some bad circumstances down the stretch. At safety, Clemson had the best prospect in the land, but couldn't keep him. However, a late push landed a talented Meeks who may be more ready to compete right away at the next level than most prospects due to the extra prep year. A second prospect would have been nice. Overall, Clemson did a pretty good job of addressing needs, but with such limited numbers, it was hard to satisfy all the positions required.
Overall, I think this is a much better class than most are willing to credit Swinney. It is tremendously talented and, even with such a small class, managed to fill almost all their needs. Yes, there is a lot of pressure on the 2010 class, but with the recruiting staff Dabo has assembled, I'm not worried.
Furthermore, if there was ever a year that Clemson could afford to take a hit in numbers, it was this year. Fresh off of one of their biggest classes, in a down year in terms of depth in the state, and with one of the deepest, most talented crops in South Carolina coming up in 2010 and even more so in 2011, the Tigers should not suffer too much in depth due to this year and will be able to address it in the coming years. I think the most positive point to take away from this recruiting cycle is Dabo's patience. When a new coach with a new system is hired, the first thing one typically sees is a recruiting frenzy. A whole slew of offers are shipped out trying to find the right fit. Furthermore, one of the biggest knocks against Swinney was his evaluation skills. Fair or not, he had the reputation of being quick to offer and missing on his evaluation of talent. CDS neither panicked nor did he reach the fallback board.
Yes, I would have liked to have seen the Tigers take 18 players, but, in a way, the restraint and patience required to take only 12 and be happy is even more reassuring, knowing that Swinney may have what it takes to be a very good head coach. Whether you love the class or are finding yourself wanting to find the nearest bridge, it is time to welcome the newest members to the Tiger family and find a place in your heart for them as they work to earn their stripes over the course of the spring and summer.
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