With the departure of two longtime starters at the safety positions in Michael Hamlin and Chris Clemons, the Clemson coaching staff made recruiting safety a priority for the second year in a row. After receiving verbal commitments from, at the time, the top two safety prospects in the entire country in Craig Loston and Devonte Holloman, Clemson fans rejoiced. However, a coaching change and a soap opera story line decommitment left the Orange and Purple without a single prospect at one of the most needed positions; enter Jonathan Meeks.
Meeks left Rock Hill with a handful of Division II scholarship offers but received little interest from the upper echelon teams of the college football world. However, after seeing what he could do at the prep level in the defensive backfield, the offers poured in from across the southeast, including Tennessee, Florida, Virginia Tech, UNC, N.C. State, and the two Palmetto State programs.
Meeks has outstanding athleticism for a safety. The former do-it-all quarterback/athlete accounted for much of his team's offense at the high school level, but found a new home quarterbacking the secondary of the Hargrave Tigers. He shows good lateral quickness and a nice ability to stop and start. His agility that serves him so well as a slashing runner on punt returns, also allows him to also excel in coverage, whether in man or zone. In fact, several schools were impressed enough with his coverage skills to offer him as a corner at the next level.
In a man under scheme, where Meeks would have help over the top, he would have the ability to take away short throws on one side of the field. However, his hip turn and fluidity isn't as good as I would hope for in a coverage corner and his top end speed could provide some mismatches in the offense's favor on long drag routes or crossing schemes.
Meeks' future destination is much more likely to be at the safety position. I mentioned his ability in man coverage, but I think Jonathan is even better playing in space. His read and react ability is quite good and fairly advanced for his stage of development as a player. He displays quick diagnosing ability on short routes, especially curls, hitches, and outs and positions himself well to break up the play. He drives on the ball in the air and will make a play on the ball or wallop the receiver, whichever is handy. There is some concern that Meeks jumps the shorter plays a little too often and gambles in the secondary to make a big play. In situations where opposing quarterbacks are given time for plays to develop and a pump fake, Jonathan could find himself vastly out of position, surrendering a big play. He needs to become more disciplined in his assignments.
One of the assets that makes Meeks such an intriguing prospect is his extra year of development. He is physically read to compete for a two-deep or even starting spot for Clemson as a true freshman. He bulked up from 180 lbs to a much stouter 190 plus and has continued to work hard in the weight room. By the time the season starts, I wouldn't be surprised to see Jonathan playing closer to 200 lbs having added some needed muscle to help in run support.
Meeks could end up playing either safety position at Clemson with proficiency, but, at this time, his pass coverage skills are ahead of his run stopping abilities. That being said, he is still extremely raw and unpolished and has a lot of unrealized potential. In his early career, he will make some big plays and be exciting to watch, but will also likely have some fairly significant busts. As he develops a better understanding of the safety position and a little more discipline, Jonathan has the ability and upside to be a potential All-ACC caliber player.
My Personal Rating: Low 4 star. Much more ready to contribute physically and will be expected to as a true freshman. Outstanding athletic ability for a safety and has all the tools to be very good at either safety position. However, he is still quite raw and needs a lot of technique work as well as gaining greater experience/knowledge of the safety position. While I expect him to make two-deep, maybe even start, his ability to reach the field will depend on how quickly he grasps the defensive schemes and harnesses his athletic potential and tempers it with discipline.