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Recruiting

Recruiting board watch: Defensive end

Clemson’s 2018 recruiting class is currently comprised of five commitments, two on offense and three on defense. Cartersville (Ga.) five-star quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 2018 prospect, headlines a Clemson group that is ranked seventh in the country by 247Sports in the early going with all of the pledges rated among the recruiting service’s top 250 prospects.

The class will end up similar in size to Clemson’s 14-member 2017 class, as the Tigers are expected to take anywhere from 13 to 16 prospects.

Clemson is deep at defensive end heading into the 2017 season, though attrition is expected by the 2018 season. Christian Wilkins, a rising junior, and rising redshirt sophomore Clelin Ferrell are candidates to leave early for the NFL after next season. It is within reason to think that rising junior Austin Bryant could get pro consideration, as well.

As it stands now, we think Clemson is likely to sign four defensive linemen in the 2018 class. Right now, the Tigers appear best suited to sign a couple of defensive ends in this cycle considering the potential departures and number of elite prospects at the position they are in contention for.

Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy five-star defensive end Xavier Thomas is Clemson’s top target on the defensive side of the ball, if not overall, in the 2018 class. The native of Florence, S.C., and top-three prospect regardless of position according to ESPN, 247Sports and Rivals announced in December that he will return home to play college football for either Clemson or South Carolina. Though some in the recruiting industry believe Alabama remains in the mix, his decision is still expected to come down to the rival in-state schools. He attended Clemson’s Junior Day on Jan. 28 and said on Twitter last week that he will be back at South Carolina again soon.

Thomas is planning to announce his choice before his senior season begins or at some point during it. The 6-foot-3, 255-pounder grew up a fan of the Gamecocks, with the school located less than an hour and a half away from his hometown, and he is keeping a close eye on the progress of South Carolina’s rebuilding project under Will Muschamp. Clemson, meanwhile, presents an enticing option on the heels of a national championship and with its new facility completed. Both have made the pitch to Thomas that he would be a difference-maker right away for their programs. It will be a tight battle until his recruitment is over.

Thomas isn’t the only five-star end Clemson is eyeing. Clemmons (N.C.) West Forsyth’s K.J. Henry, a top-25 overall prospect by multiple major recruiting services, holds Clemson in high esteem. Henry competed at the Dabo Swinney Camp in June 2015 and returned to Clemson for the Louisville game last October.

The 6-foot-6, 230-pounder with more than 20 offers is in the process of narrowing his recruitment. Clemson was one of the first to offer him back in March 2016, and the Tigers have staying power here. Alabama and Ohio State are other schools that figure to be in it for the long haul as well.

Another top target of the Tigers’ is IMG Academy four-star end Stephon Wynn, who has long been considered a Clemson lean. The Clemson legacy recruit visited the school on several occasions last season and named it among his top eight on New Year’s Eve. Tennessee, Georgia, LSU, South Carolina, North Carolina, Auburn and Virginia Tech were the others on his list in no order. The 6-foot-4, 255-pounder has added offers from Alabama, Miami and Ohio State since the New Year began.

A couple of defensive ends from Georgia are prominently on Clemson’s radar, too.

Snellville (Ga.) South Gwinnett four-star Justin Mascoll received his first offer from Clemson as a rising freshman in 2014 and attended Clemson’s game against South Carolina in 2016. The No. 14 prospect in ESPN’s Junior 300 who now has two dozen offers is thought to favor Florida State, with Clemson and Georgia trailing the Seminoles.

Stockbridge (Ga.) four-star Brenton Cox visited Clemson for the Louisville game on Oct. 1 and picked up an offer from Clemson four weeks later. Georgia leads for the in-state product right now. Clemson, South Carolina, Ohio State, Alabama and Tennessee are others in the mix for the consensus top-150 overall prospect.

Other names at the position we’re keeping an eye on include Bradenton (Fla.) Braden River three-star Taylor Upshaw, Jackson (Tenn.) North Side four-star Greg Emerson, Baltimore (Md.) St. Francis four-star Eyabi Anoma, Cleveland (Ohio) University Heights four-star Tyreke Smith and Montvale (N.J.) St. Joseph’s four-star Dorian Hardy.

Upshaw is the son of former NFL defensive end Regan Upshaw and the brother of Clemson preferred walk-on Regan Upshaw Jr. Emerson was offered by Clemson in October, and Anoma was offered by Clemson in December. Smith visited Clemson for the Louisville game, and Hardy included Clemson in a list of his top 12 schools in January.

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