By William Qualkinbush
How did Clemson’s signees address the needs of the program? Who could see immediate action, and which signees might need a redshirt season? We analyze Clemson’s 2014 recruiting haul by position:
Signees: Deshaun Watson*
Analysis: Suffice it to say the Tigers addressed any concerns about this position going forward. Watson’s brilliance at the prep level has been well documented throughout the past several seasons. His combination of pocket presence and raw athleticism makes him a perfect fit in Chad Morris’ offense.
Impact: Rarely do freshman quarterbacks enter a healthy situation at the position and have a legitimate chance to win the starting job. But rarely do guys enter college with the package Watson possesses. Even without Watson, Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly have already begun to duel in hopes of winning the job. Throwing Watson’s immense talent into the mix only strengthens the battle.
Signees: Adam Choice, C.J. Fuller, Jae’lon Oglesby
Analysis: The Tigers were able to snag three of the top 40 tailbacks in the country, all four-star prospects according to ESPN.com’s rankings. Choice and Oglesby are the headliners. Both bring different dynamics to the game. Choice, a Georgia native, has a slight build but runs hard. Oglesby, on the other hand, showcased gamebreaking speed and agility right up the road at Daniel High School. The wild card is Fuller, who did virtually nothing in terms of production this season at Easley High School after a new coaching staff radically changed offensive schemes. Still, his upside is hard to miss, and he may possess the best burst between the tackles of any of these tailbacks.
Impact: Assuming all three players get to campus, it appears Choice and Oglesby are the ones who have the best chance to play right away. There have been rumblings about moving Oglesby to slot receiver (or playing him there in spots) and even switching Fuller to defense, where he showed good coverage skills at cornerback. But Choice seems to be the back best equipped to make an immediate impact. With Wayne Gallman and Tyshon Dye coming off of redshirt years and C.J. Davidson and Zac Brooks showing ability last season, all three would have work to crack the rotation.
Signees: Demarre Kitt*, Kyrin Priester*, Artavis Scott*, Trevion Thompson
Analysis: Without knowing all of the particulars in every school across the country, Clemson’s class at wideout has to stack up well against just about every other program. This is an amazing haul, with players coming from three states and providing an array of skill sets. All are considered four-star prospects by ESPN.com. Kitt and Priester are both Georgia natives with similar size at 6’1” and similar speed capabilities. Scott is a Floridian who seems to fit perfectly in the slot at Clemson because of his innate ability to make defenders miss in space. Thompson, the only one not currently on campus, plays faster than he runs. Think Nuk Hopkins in that regard. He will not make as many flashy plays, but he knows how to get yardage.
Impact: All of these players could conceivably play next fall. Losing Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant makes receiver a question mark for the first time since 2010. Priester has some extra time in prep school to physically mature, so he may have the edge out of the gate. Kitt’s relationship with Watson may help him if his blue-chip quarterback buddy comes in and wins the starting job. Clemson’s options in the slot have not blown people away recently, so Scott and Thompson could vie for that role as well. Given his size, Thompson may be able to slide outside as well.
Signees: Milan Richard, Cannon Smith
Analysis: This haul at tight end ended up being much better than people originally thought because of the emergence of Smith over the summer and during his high school season. Richard was already a highly coveted prospect out of Georgia with a mature build and a well-rounded skill set. Smith, on the other hand, skyrocketed up the rankings after most probably considered him a throw-in addition to this class since his father is on the Clemson Board of Trustees. He has better size (6’5”, 255) than Richard and may be better suited for the H-back role Chad Morris utilizes because of his ability to block. According to ESPN.com, Clemson hauled in two of the nation’s three best tight end prospects in this class—an amazing accomplishment.
Impact: Plenty of players return to the fold here in 2014. Stanton Seckinger, Jordan Leggett, and Jay Jay McCullough all logged minutes, although McCullough’s potential transition to a power running back role may be worth watching. Still, it will be difficult to keep this duo off the field given their physical strengths. Learning the offense will be the key for both. Richard is the bigger name, but Smith’s tools have been impressive. It would not be shocking if Smith is the one we are talking about this time next year out of this haul.
Signees: Justin Falcinelli, Taylor Hearn
Analysis: Neither of these players are make-or-break for a recruiting class. Both were early commitments for the Tigers. Falcinelli is a three-star prospect out of Maryland that was recruited in tandem with stud defensive end Rick Leonard, who is now in the fold with Florida State. Falcinelli projects as a tackle at the next level. Hearn will likely be a guard at Clemson. He is a relative unknown because of how quickly he jumped at the Tigers’ offer, before anyone else really had a chance to see him play. Those are the kinds of players Clemson traditionally signs, simply because of a lack of supply in fertile recruiting areas and the pedigree of its competition in developing said talent.
Impact: The biggest offensive line news of the day for Clemson will involve the 2015 class. Other than right tackle, starters and backups are set at all four line positions heading into next season. Plus, it is difficult for true freshmen to crack the rotation up front anyway. Both of these are redshirt candidates with a chance to grow and mature moving forward, but unlike the rest of the offense, there is not much flash to this tandem.
Signees: Chris Register*, Jabril Robinson
Waiting On: Cory Thomas, Andrew Williams
Analysis: Register is already on campus and is perhaps the weirdest prospect Clemson signed—not because of who he is, but because of what people say about him. There is no questioning his overall ability, but his fit is a mystery. Analysts seem split right down the middle about whether he will be a linebacker or a defensive end, and there is even a question within that conversation about his potential to play inside or outside. While his measurables may not leap off the page, Register simply makes plays, as evidenced by his strong showing at the Shrine Bowl. Robinson is a big, hulking athlete who does not have an impressive offer sheet but has played well against front-line competition. Thomas, a Tennessee commitment, has shown up on the radar recently. He is big for an end and possesses the necessary skills to play both inside and outside. Clemson feels very good about its chances to land Thomas based on a late official visit that went well on all accounts. Williams is also a big defensive end, but his skills are best used on the edge. Auburn and Georgia are Clemson’s main competition here and there seems to be some pressure for him to remain in the SEC.
Impact: Robinson seems like a redshirt candidate. Register’s impact may be directly related to where he plays on the field. Thomas and Williams are both high four-star prospects that should push for immediate playing time, but of all of the positions on the field, the defensive front seems solidly set with an abundance of returning upperclassmen. Next season, however, the floodgates open up, sending many of the key contributors out of the program. That may be this group’s best chance to hit the two-deep.
Signees: Kendall Joseph, Korie Rogers, Jalen Williams
Waiting On: Richard Yeargin III
Analysis: This class already has two complimentary players in Joseph and Rogers that could team up in the future. Joseph, a native of Honea Path, played middle linebacker for one of the best defenses in South Carolina last season. He is a guy that blow up everything on a regular basis and has great straight-line speed. Rogers plays outside for a great defense in its own right at Buford (GA) High School. He has an impressive offer list. Williams’ offer came out of nowhere, but Clemson has a history of looking for a diamond in the rough at this position. Yeargin III, a former Notre Dame commit, is expected to ink with Clemson today. He would give the Tigers another presence on the outside and is similar to Rogers in many respects. Rogers could make the move to defensive end similar to Vic Beasley.
Impact: Linebacker is another position where depth is good for 2014, but moving forward, this class has the capability to lead Clemson’s defense. Rogers is physically ready to compete for time outside right away. Joseph and Williams may be headed for redshirt seasons. Yeargin III would be another competitor for immediate playing time, and that realization has the Tigers in good shape with him today.
Signees: Jefferie Gibson
Analysis: It seemed like Clemson’s entire 2013 class was filled with defensive backs, so it comes as no surprise the staff was more selective this time around. Gibson was the only take, and his commitment ended Clemson’s relationship with several highly regarded prospects. Gibson is a lanky player with a safety build that was intriguing enough for the nation’s powerhouses to give him a look. The Tigers pulled the trigger relatively quickly, and it paid off. His stature elicits comparisons to Jayron Kearse, maybe without quite the instincts or freakish nature to his athleticism.
Impact: Gibson appears to be yet another redshirt candidate. Physical maturation and understanding of the defense seem to be his biggest obstacles to playing time. But the staff likes his frame and his coachability, which could bode well for him once players like Robert Smith and Travis Blanks exit the program in a couple of seasons.
* – enrolled in January