Clemson's Dabo Swinney is already putting together a strong 2015 recruiting class.
CLEMSON, S.C. – Dabo Swinney remembers a time when recruiting took a break after national signing day.
“To be honest with you, you didn’t get started until mid-to-late March, talking about guys and going out in April or May,” he said when discussing the Tigers’ Class of 2014 last week. “Now, you go out in January, and we spent most of January on (the Class of) 2015. We’re talking about ‘16s on the phone. My son’s a ’17. I about called him today and asked, ‘You still liking Clemson?’
“It never stops. It isn’t the way it used to be five years ago.”
These days, college football recruiting is constant, with one recruiting cycle blending into another and recruiting relationships built moving from year to year.
A week after Swinney’s staff capped a solid 2014 cycle by signing the nation’s No. 18 class, per 247Sports, Clemson’s 2015 class is off to an excellent start.
The Tigers have eight verbal commitments for the 2015 class, which is currently ranked No. 5 nationally by 247. That includes six high school seniors and 2014 linebacker signees J.D. and Judah Davis, who were announced as part of the 2014 class but are expected to “grayshirt” and delay their enrollment until January, thus counting against the 2015 class.
Here’s an early look at how Clemson’s class has been shaped so far and how it’ll take shape by February 2015.
Already On Board
Two years ago, Clemson’s 2014 class got a huge jump-start when Gainesville (Ga.) quarterback Deshaun Watson signed with the Tigers on national signing day; he proved to be a class cornerstone and is expected to battle for the starting quarterback job as a true freshman.
Last week, the Tigers got a similar boost when Suwanee (Ga.) offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt pledged to the Tigers. Hyatt, the nephew of former Clemson lineman Dan Benish, is rated by 247Sports as the nation’s No. 3 overall player, its No. 2 offensive tackle prospect and a 5-star commitment.
Clemson already had commitments from 4-star wide receiver Shadell Bell of Decatur, Ga., rated as the nation’s No. 25 wide receiver prospect, as well as 4-star Charlotte, N.C., athlete Van Smith, rated as the nation’s No. 31 athlete prospect by 247Sports.
The Tigers also have commitments from 3-star offensive tackle Noah Green of Boiling Springs, S.C., and Orlando, Fla., quarterback Tucker Israel, rated as the nation’s No. 23 dual-threat QB and a 3-star prospect by 247Sports.
In 2014, a large group of upperclassmen on the roster limited the Tigers to 20 signees. However, Swinney said that he expects to sign a full 25-member class in 2015, leaving plenty of room for growth.
Areas of Need
In 2014, Clemson’s class was tilted toward the offensive side of the ball. With Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant departing early for the NFL, leaving rising senior Adam Humphries and redshirt junior Charone Peake as upperclassmen, the Tigers needed receivers. They got them, signing an excellent class of four wideouts.
Clemson also signed four linebackers, a pair of tailbacks and a pair of tight ends.
2015 will tilt much more toward the trenches.
The 2014 class featured only one defensive lineman (defensive tackle Jabril Williams) and a pair of offensive tackles in Justin Falcinelli and Taylor Hearn.
The Tigers lost two-time All-ACC left tackle Brandon Thomas to graduation, and a pair of linemen (junior right tackle Gifford Timothy and freshman guard Patrick DeStefano) were forced to give up football due to injuries.
Other tackle prospects include rising juniors Isaiah Battle and Shaq Anthony, expected to start spring as the starting tackles, and converted tight end Eric Mac Lain, among others. But depth is a concern.
“Losing Gifford Timothy, who had another year left, and losing DeStefano, who had three years left, that has really hurt us at that position depth-wise,” Swinney said. “I like the guys we have on campus, but we have to go and sign some tackles in this next group.”
With Hyatt and Green, two are already in place.
The defensive line is equally important. Starting ends Vic Beasley (who flirted with an early NFL entry) and Corey Crawford are rising seniors, as is backup Tavaris Barnes. Defensive tackles Grady Jarrett, Josh Watson and DeShawn Williams are all rising seniors as well.
“The defensive line was not a big priority for us this year because we didn’t lose a defensive lineman,” Swinney said. “But we have six seniors, so next year that becomes a major priority.”
A defensive line that was a young liability three years ago has developed into a major strength. But the next wave needs to be ready, with players like rising sophomore end Shaq Lawson, rising junior defensive tackle D.J. Reader and redshirted freshmen like defensive end Ebenezer Ogundeko and defensive tackle Scott Pagano needed for larger roles quickly.
“We have been growing these guys up, and they have developed into really good players,” Swinney said. “The guys that are here are going to have to develop because when we lose Vic, we can plug another guy in. When we lose Grady Jarrett, boom, we have another guy ready. That’s important. But we have to go out with this class and do a really, really great job signing defensive ends and defensive tackles.”
Clemson can sell opportunity at defensive end. The Tigers have finished second to SEC programs on a number of high-profile ends over the last two years, including Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss) and Carl Lawson, Elijah Daniel and Andrew Williams (Auburn).
Quarterback will be another key need. Even with Watson on the roster and Israel committed, Clemson has offers out to a number of talented quarterbacks and is expected to sign two in 2015.
Following back-to-back 11-win seasons and Top 10 national finishes, Clemson is on the radar of a number of talented recruits.
East Lake (Fla.) athlete George Campbell is a high-priority target: He is rated by 247Sports as the nation’s No. 7 overall prospect and a 5-star athlete. He is also considering Florida, Florida State and Michigan. He is also a teammate of 2014 wide receiver signee Artavis Scott.
Lexington, N.C., defensive tackle Shy Tuttle is rated as the nation’s No. 3 defensive tackle, No. 10 overall prospect and a 5-star prospect by 247Sports. He is being heavily pursued by Clemson, North Carolina and Alabama.
5-star Albany, Ga., defensive tackle Trent Thompson would be a keystone addition to the class; he is rated as the nation’s No. 2 overall prospect. He is being pursued by Georgia, Clemson, Florida State, Michigan State and Alabama, among others.
Marcus Lewis, a 4-star cornerback from Washington, D.C., is rated as the nation’s No. 17 athlete by 247. He has Clemson and Virginia Tech as his top choices.
If Clemson signs another quarterback, 3-star quarterback Kelly Bryant of Piedmont, S.C. would be a popular choice. Bryant is also being pursued by Ole Miss, South Carolina and Duke, among others.
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.
Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace