With the spring evaluation period drawing to a close and summer approaching, The Clemson Insider provides an update on Clemson’s recruiting board for the 2018 class and where the Tigers stand with their top targets at each position.
In this part of the series, we take a look at defensive tackle:
Clemson has six defensive tackles on scholarship entering the 2017 season. Christian Wilkins, Albert Huggins and Jabril Robinson are all rising juniors, while Sterling Johnson and Dexter Lawrence are rising sophomores. Nyles Pinckney is a redshirt freshman.
The Tigers are deep and talented at defensive tackle, as has been the case in recent years. But with Wilkins widely projected to be a first-round pick in the 2018 NFL draft, and Lawrence on a trajectory for early entry into the 2019 draft, Clemson is looking to add quality interior linemen in this cycle. The Tigers could take as many as three tackles in the 2018 class, though two is the probable target number as it stands now with the scholarship numbers.
Clemson currently has one commitment from a defensive tackle in this class, Richburg (S.C.) Lewisville four-star Josh Belk. One of the top prospects in the Palmetto State, Belk chose the Tigers over offers from Auburn, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Ohio State and South Carolina among others when he committed in January following Clemson’s elite junior day.
The apple of Clemson’s eye at defensive tackle in this class is Covington (Ga.) Newton four-star Darnell Jefferies (pictured). Jefferies emerged as the Tigers’ top tackle target after receiving an offer from Clemson during his first visit to the school for junior day in March. He visited three more times over the next five weeks, most recently for the Orange & White spring game in April.
Earlier this month, Jefferies released a list of his top 10 schools that included Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Louisville, LSU, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oregon and South Carolina. Jefferies, who is close friends with Clemson defensive end commitment Justin Mascoll, plans to make a decision this summer, as early as next month. Odds are in Clemson’s favor here.
Last week, Raleigh (N.C.) Sanderson four-star Alim McNeill named Clemson one of his top 10 schools along with Duke, Florida State, Louisville, Michigan, North Carolina, N.C. State, Penn State, South Carolina and Virginia Tech.
Clemson offered McNeill in April, and he visited a little less than two weeks later. He visited for the Pittsburgh game last fall, as well. McNeill, a two-sport standout who also wants to play baseball in college, intends to take his official visits and make a decision after his senior season.
Another name to know is Baltimore (Md.) Gilman School’s Thomas Booker, who collected an offer from Clemson in January. Booker is rated as a defensive end by the major recruiting services with the exception of Rivals, which lists him as a tackle. At 6-foot-4, 271 pounds, he has the potential to play either position at the next level.
Notre Dame is seen as the team to beat in Booker’s recruitment, with Northwestern and Duke among those in the frontrunners discussion. Stanford would instantly become a contender with an offer. Booker has expressed interest in Clemson, which hopes to get him on campus this summer before he moves toward a decision.
Bradenton (Fla.) Braden River three-star Taylor Upshaw could also project at defensive tackle. Clemson offered Upshaw, the brother of Clemson walk-on linebacker Regan Upshaw and son of former NFL defensive end Regan Upshaw Sr., two weeks ago. It was essentially a grayshirt offer with the guarantee he would have a spot in Clemson’s 2019 class, though Clemson told him the offer could go for the 2018 class should space become available later in the cycle.
Upshaw announced a top 10 of Clemson, Kentucky, Louisville, N.C. State, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Tennessee and Vanderbilt this week. Clemson likely sits at the top of his list.