Clemson Football Recruiting: How Dabo Swinney Replaced Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins

Greg WallaceFeatured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2014

Sammy Watkins' departure leaves a huge void in Clemson's passing game.
Sammy Watkins' departure leaves a huge void in Clemson's passing game.Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

CLEMSON, S.C. — Jeff Scott is always thinking about recruiting. Always.

As Clemson’s fifth-year recruiting coordinator discussed the Tigers’ Class of 2014 Wednesday afternoon, he said he’d spent most of the last month focusing on the Class of 2015 while tying up 2014’s loose ends.

And after a day or two of downtime (or even less, given that 247Sports 5-star offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt committed Wednesday night) to celebrate the nation’s No. 18 class (according to 247), Scott and Clemson’s coaches will resume their recruiting grind.

They’re always looking for the next star, the next breakout talent to replace those lost to graduation and the NFL draft.

This winter, Clemson’s staff is trying to replace two of its biggest stars in recent memory in quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins.

Boyd finished his collegiate career as the ACC’s all-time touchdown leader and No. 2 in passing yards behind N.C. State’s Philip Rivers. In just three seasons, Watkins set Clemson career marks in receptions, receiving touchdowns and receiving yardage while establishing himself as a potential top-10 pick in April’s NFL draft.

Together, they leave a huge void in Chad Morris’ high-flying, hurry-up, no-huddle offense. But Scott is hopeful the Class of 2014 addressed that need in a big way.

Wednesday, Clemson officially signed 4-star quarterback DeShaun Watson, rated as the nation’s top dual-threat quarterback by 247Sports. And the Tigers also inked a quartet of 4-star receivers in Demarre Kitt, Kyrin Priester, Artavis Scott and Trevion Thompson.

Of the aforementioned players, only Thompson is not already enrolled in classes at Clemson. The rest will go through spring practice with the Tigers, giving them a major edge in their college acclimation.

Dabo Swinney hopes his new receivers can carry him to the heights that Sammy Watkins scaled in three years of college football.
Dabo Swinney hopes his new receivers can carry him to the heights that Sammy Watkins scaled in three years of college football.Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

It’s all part of Clemson’s master plan.

“We knew,” said Scott, also Clemson’s wide receivers coach. “I said earlier today that if we waited until after the Orange Bowl in the locker room to figure out how to replace Sammy and Martavis Bryant (who also declared for the NFL), we’d be in trouble. I knew after Sammy’s first practice that he wasn’t going to be around here very long.”

The freshmen will have their chance to impact a weakened wide receiver corps.

Steady-rising senior Adam Humphries (41 receptions, 483 yards, 2 TD in 2013) returns, as does standout rising sophomore Mike Williams (20 receptions, 316 yards, 3 TD as a freshman). Junior Charone Peake should be cleared by August in his return from a torn ACL, and rising sophomore Germone Hopper is also talented.

At 5’10”, Scott is smaller than Watkins, but has speed and the ability to turn short passes into big plays and break kick returns for touchdowns.

Kitt comes from the same high school program that produced NFL All-Pro Calvin Johnson.

Thompson is also a multi-talented athlete with big-play capability, and Priester is a mature player who spent last fall at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy after failing to qualify academically at Clemson.

No one player can replace Watkins’ unique combination of speed, hands and game-breaking ability. But the infusion of talent will certainly lessen the blow of he and Bryant’s departure.

“You spend time with those guys and show them how they can come in behind those guys and have opportunities to break their records,” Scott said. “This year was big for us from a recruiting perspective. We’ve had three wide receivers since I’ve been here leave after three years (Watkins, Bryant and DeAndre Hopkins) and likely be highly drafted guys.

“There are positives in that, in that they’ve had a lot of success here, a future at the next level. The negative is that you get them for three seasons. We have to continue to stay ahead of that curve and give coach (Dabo) Swinney and coach Morris all the weapons they need for success.”

Watson (who accounted for over 17,000 yards of total offense as a high school quarterback) will have a similar opportunity. He’ll compete with rising senior Cole Stoudt and rising sophomore Chad Kelly in the spring to replace Boyd, and Swinney said Wednesday that he has no problem starting Watson if he earns the job.

Like Boyd, Watson is equally capable passing and running with the ball, and he’ll have an equal shot at the starting role if he can pick up Morris’ system, which is much like the spread offense he ran at Gainesville (Ga.) High School.

If he can find chemistry with his new receivers, then this winter’s recruiting cycle will repeat itself in three or four years. And as Scott sees it, that’s not such a bad thing.

“I hope we’re up here in three or four years,” he said, “talking about replacing them.”

 *Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.

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