Countdown to Signing Day: Five positions to watch

Tigers Gifford Timothy (70), Oliver Jones (65) , Scott Pagano (56), Tyrone Crowder (55) and Maverick Morris (69) during  pregame warmups at the Orange Bowl

Photo by Mark Crammer

Tigers Gifford Timothy (70), Oliver Jones (65) , Scott Pagano (56), Tyrone Crowder (55) and Maverick Morris (69) during pregame warmups at the Orange Bowl

As we hit the homestretch on this recruiting cycle, SB Nation analyzed the five toughest positions to find top talents.

Some of them, Clemson's had great success, and one in particular, has been the center of discussion for a while in TigerTown.

The five...

5. Defensive Line

SB Nation excerpt: Edge-rushers aren't that hard to find, but strong-side defensive ends, nose tackles, or three-tech defensive tackles? The bigger a player's body needs to be to play his position at the college level, the smaller the reservoir of available talent. Consequently, defensive linemen are one of the hardest positions for recruiters to find, let alone project.

How Clemson's done: Not bad at all when you look at the NFL and future NFL talent the Tigers are producing. Sure, there's plenty of four-star-plus prospects, but they've also discovered guys like Grady Jarrett and Vic Beasley. Clemson will likely have the top d-line in the ACC and they have depth for years to come.

National notes (2011-14 Scout unit rankings, star average): What's interesting is Clemson hasn't had a top-five ranked unit in the last four years. They've gone under the radar and plucked some top-rated guys here and there. In the span, Michigan has actually signed three top-five d-line units by star average, while Ohio State, LSU and Alabama signed two.

4. Tight End

SB Nation excerpt: The big tight end who comes on the field when the offense wants to double team the edge and run the ball isn't a difficult player to find. But if you want that player to be especially mean-spirited and to stand at 6'5, 260, don't expect him to grow on a tree.

How Clemson's done: This has been an interesting area for the program. For the '14 class, their two-commit TE unit of Milan Richard (4-star; 6-2 232) and Cannon Smith (3-star; 6-5 235) is rated No. 4 nationally by 247Sports. Recently, they haven't reeled them in, but they have also been moving guys around, transitioning a pair of receivers to TE (Brandon Ford, Stanton Seckinger). In the last year or so, they moved a previous 4-star TE to the o-line in Eric Mac Lain. Chad Morris will tell you that the tight end is one of the toughest and most critical elements to his offense, and they're looking pretty good going forward.

3. Cornerbacks

SB Nation excerpt: Every team needs more than two starter-quality cornerbacks these days, but that doesn't mean that the ideal cornerback is a common type of human. Despite his smaller size, the elite cornerback often has traits that don't show up in the genetic lottery in combination very often.

How Clemson's done: After signing eight DBs last year, the Tigers technically don't have a corner in the mix for 2014 (though RB C.J. Fuller is a rumored candidate). Of the eight-man '13 group, Mackensie Alexander was the prize, a five-star, who never got off the ground to do injury last season. Three more DBs also redshirted in Adrian Baker, Ryan Carter and Marcus Edmond. Alexander's play in the next few years will certainly be the bellwether for Tiger recruiting in this area, but they could have a few more hits than misses in that last class. Losing both starting CBs, Bashaud Breeland and Darius Robinson, there will be plenty of competition this spring and fall to get on the field.

2. Quarterback

SB Nation excerpt: Most college offenses are designed to be less-dependent on having transcendent passers than NFL offenses are, but every team is still hoping to land one. That makes competition for the promising ones exceptionally fierce.

How Clemson's done: Goes without saying here, Clemson's done exceptionally well in QB recruiting. Tajh Boyd, Chad Kelly, Deshaun Watson - and we'll see how this three-star from Ohio, Cole Stoudt, can compete coming up real soon.

National notes (2011-14 Scout unit rankings, star average): For '14, Clemson has the No. 3 QB class with Watson, but over the last four cycles, four teams have had two top-five pulls at QB: Florida, Auburn, Texas A&M and Southern California.

1. Offensive Line

SB Nation excerpt: Every offense is designed to involve at least five players from one of the world's smallest gene pools: the tall, heavy, and quick-footed. Defensive linemen are often more athletic and sometimes similarly sized, but their responsibilities on the football field are considerably different. An offensive lineman has to have the agility to get in front of blitzing linebackers along with the powerful base necessary to stand his ground when facing a defensive tackle with an explosive first step and 310-pound frame.

How Clemson's done: So, here we are, the o-line and Clemson. We examined in-depth the Tigers' lack of elite recruiting in this spot. Last season, four-star and top-100 offensive guard Tyrone Crowder came on board, while rising junior Isaiah Battle has shown some promise coming from a prep school background. Going back a bit to Dabo Swinney's "Dandy Dozen," Brandon Thomas is proving to be one of the best o-lineman signed at Clemson in a long time. But the jury is out from there, and with a couple on board this cycle, it appears the Tigers' resources are being poured into hauling in highly-rated 2015 prospects.

National notes (2011-14 Scout unit rankings, star average): Four of the last five national title winners have had two top-five units here (Auburn and Alabama). Last year's, Florida State, was a top-five in 2011. Clemson has placed in the top-15 nationally once in the last six cycles and only three times in the last 13.

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Comments » 10

TigerNE writes:

Well this should certainly make the haters happy who always tell us "we'll never be any good until we recruit like ____ (fill in SEC team name)." Our O line would have to break the ranking trend.

TigerFan95 writes:

Brandon,
Any idea of how many O-linemen we plan to sign in that 2015 class? And why are we not signing more than two this cycle? If the scholarship numbers are right on TigerNet, we’re losing 10 of our 16 linemen over the next two years. Unless we play some true freshmen in 2015 we could go into the 2016 season having only 6 O-linemen on our roster that have ever played a snap in a CFB game. Is that not insane?

BrandonRink writes:

in response to TigerFan95:

Brandon,
Any idea of how many O-linemen we plan to sign in that 2015 class? And why are we not signing more than two this cycle? If the scholarship numbers are right on TigerNet, we’re losing 10 of our 16 linemen over the next two years. Unless we play some true freshmen in 2015 we could go into the 2016 season having only 6 O-linemen on our roster that have ever played a snap in a CFB game. Is that not insane?

It's curious for sure. Right now, they are down for 12 offers to 2015 OL already (with one a commit already and another now a commit of another school). They had 14 offers out for 2014 and will sign two. But with the numbers how they are, it should be one of the bigger o-line classes Clemson has signed in a while.

tigerrob44#291802 writes:

Last year we recruited 10 players from ESPN’s top 300 list. So far this year we have 9 committed to us from the top 300. I believe national signing day is next Wednesday so we will know what we have and don’t have next week. I was looking at the 2013 recruits and some of them red-shirted and some of them played and played very well. Our 2014 recruits are very highly thought of by lots of people and some of them will be super stars while others may just be pretty good Div 1 players. Like I said yesterday, I believe Mike Bellamy was a 5 star recruit and looked like one on his first carry as a Tiger. The problem with Mike was between his ears. Too bad because we probably could have used him to go along with “Hot Rod” for a really great tandem of running backs. All top rated recruits don’t pan out but the vast majority of them do. The star rating system is one way to have some kind of an idea of what the possibilities may be for a particular player. Not rating them at all would leave you in the dark for the most part and then your coaches would be totally responsible for finding the best players. That would be an impossible task in my opinion. We have a good coaching staff in place right now and have a lot of really good players on the team now and more on the way. I just don’t see how anyone can look negatively at our program right now in spite of the 5 losses to SC. The 2013 loss was a joke. They should have never been in the game. We turned the ball over 4 times too many and we lost because of it. Next year they will have a hard time making a first down against our defense and our offense will run roughshod over their overrated defense. The best is yet to come from the Clemson football team. Beatomg FSU down in Tallahassee won’t be easy but it is doable. It will take a mistake free game and real good play by all but we can do it. Opening in Athens is anyone’s guess right now. We will have an awesome defense and Gurley may have a hard time gaining any yards to speak of. With our defensive secondary in place for the most part, we could have a defense comparable to the ’81 defense and they show nuff were good.

TigerFan95 writes:

in response to BrandonRink:

It's curious for sure. Right now, they are down for 12 offers to 2015 OL already (with one a commit already and another now a commit of another school). They had 14 offers out for 2014 and will sign two. But with the numbers how they are, it should be one of the bigger o-line classes Clemson has signed in a while.

What's the chances of Cannon Smith converting to O-line once he's on campus? I see that 247 has him projected as a TE/OT. On that note, I notice that Pagano is in the pic with all those O-linemen. Was that just by chance or is that a sign he may converting over to that side of the ball as well?

BrandonRink writes:

in response to TigerFan95:

What's the chances of Cannon Smith converting to O-line once he's on campus? I see that 247 has him projected as a TE/OT. On that note, I notice that Pagano is in the pic with all those O-linemen. Was that just by chance or is that a sign he may converting over to that side of the ball as well?

Smith seems to have the frame where that move could be in the cards down the road like Mac Lain. It may depend on how some of the '13-14-15 class/recruiting pans out.

As far as the pic, I imagine Pagano is hanging with that group because they all weren't participating in the Orange Bowl. His future is likely DT with Jarrett and Williams moving on after next season.

tigerrob44#291802 writes:

According to ESPN’s top 300 list of players at their positions we got in 2013: #7 tight end Jordan Leggitt; #5 guard Tyrone Crowder; #67 tackle Maverick Morris; This year so far we have commitments from: #2 tight end Milan Richard; #3 tight end Cannon Smith; #27 tackle Justin Falcinilli; #35 guard Taylor Hearn. If we had twice this many it would be a really good recruiting two years for an offensive line. It’s ok as is but just not quite enough to fill the holes we need filling. Don’t we have most of our offensive line coming back next year?

BrandonRink writes:

in response to tigerrob44#291802:

According to ESPN’s top 300 list of players at their positions we got in 2013: #7 tight end Jordan Leggitt; #5 guard Tyrone Crowder; #67 tackle Maverick Morris; This year so far we have commitments from: #2 tight end Milan Richard; #3 tight end Cannon Smith; #27 tackle Justin Falcinilli; #35 guard Taylor Hearn. If we had twice this many it would be a really good recruiting two years for an offensive line. It’s ok as is but just not quite enough to fill the holes we need filling. Don’t we have most of our offensive line coming back next year?

Yeah next year really isn't the issue with seven seniors projected back and up to four starters depending on how it all shakes out. What TigerFan is pointing to is the lack of upperclassmen/numbers projected for 2016 picking up two each in the '13 and '14 classes. We'll see if it's an issue down the road.

waran writes:

in response to BrandonRink:

Yeah next year really isn't the issue with seven seniors projected back and up to four starters depending on how it all shakes out. What TigerFan is pointing to is the lack of upperclassmen/numbers projected for 2016 picking up two each in the '13 and '14 classes. We'll see if it's an issue down the road.

I don't think it will be a problem for Dabbo and Chad. They will be out of here before then. Is there a good Clemson Alum as a coach anywhere?

BrandonRink writes:

in response to waran:

I don't think it will be a problem for Dabbo and Chad. They will be out of here before then. Is there a good Clemson Alum as a coach anywhere?

Well if you've seen Dabo's new contract (http://www.orangeandwhite.com/news/20...), I think you'd have to count on him being here at least through '16 (guaranteed 27 million).

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