Clemson Adds Depth With 2014 Class
By Eric Russell
For the Clemson Tigers, signing day was about adding some much-needed depth, especially at receiver. Adam Humphries is the only returning starter. Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant are two of the most notable absences. The big receivers had a lot to do with the success of the program last season.
In the 2014 class, many of the big names poised to be a factor in the offense are already on campus. A tandem of Georgia guys, Kyrin Priester and Demarre Kitt, show promise, but perhaps the biggest name in the bunch of receivers vying to become often-targeted Clemson wideouts is Artavis Scott.
Priester will be joining the team from prep school. Kitt originally committed to Georgia before later deciding to join Clemson. He comes from the same high school program in Tyrone, Ga., that produced Calvin Johnson, a member of the 2004 recruiting cycle.
Clemson lost its top rushers from last year, Rod McDowell and Tajh Boyd. However, D.J. Howard, Tyshon Dye and Zac Brooks all return to the offensive backfield. One of these backs likely will emerge as a key contributor in the run game, but Clemson hasn't stopped looking for the next great one.
The Tigers' 2014 class includes Adam Choice, the No. 10 running back in the nation according to Rivals, and Jae'lon Ogelsby, who came from Clemson's backyard. Choice certainly has the speed and ability to make big plays. Head coach Dabo Swinney called him "as gifted of a runner as (the Tigers) have had" with the ball. The interesting thing to see with Choice is how he will adapt to the other task of the running back position. Choice was a quarterback in Thomas County Central's option attack in high school. He's going to have to work on blocking and catching the ball out of the backfield. Chad Morris' offense likes to utilize the backs in the passing game. Regardless, the incoming backs will have time to hone their skills as they likely will redshirt considering the returning depth.
Clemson also loaded up on linebacker help, most notably landing Chris Register and Korie Rogers. The Tigers are pretty set at inside linebacker, but Register has the ability to line up in different spots. Look for him to be the biggest impact signing from a class which featured seven linebackers.
The defense didn't need much in this class. Clemson didn't lose anybody up front and the secondary is set despite the loss of Bashaud Breeland and Darius Robinson.
Head Of The Class: Deshaun Watson
Morris outdid himself when he got a commitment out of the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson has already been getting advice from Tajh Boyd, arguably the best quarterback in the school's history. If his skill and football smarts pan out, he will be in contention with Boyd for that distinction.
Watson is listed as a dual threat quarterback on most of the major recruiting sights, and he is athletic, but he's a pass-first guy. He shattered records in high school for passing yardage and touchdowns. He has shown in some interviews that he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder to prove that he can pass, similar to what we heard from Boyd.
Bruce Miller, Watson's head coach at Gainsville High School, told Sports Illustrated that he had never seen a talent like Watson in his 40 years in the business.
The 6-foot-3 quarterback's accuracy and arm strength are what will make him so potentially dangerous in the Clemson attack. Watson's quick release will bode well, as the Tigers like to get the ball out quickly to guys in open space.
Watson is also efficient, as Trent Dilfer told SB Nation during an Elite 11 camp. He joins the likes of Chad Kelly and Boyd as Elite 11 quarterbacks to sign with Clemson. Kelly will be one of the quarterbacks Watson battles with for the starting job.
Even if Clemson goes with Cole Stoudt or Chad Kelly, Watson is the type of player who could turn into a redshirt freshman phenom the following season. He loves to study the game and his football brain may be his best quality. That will also be what makes the quarterback battle this spring more interesting. Stoudt should have the upper hand, having performed well as Boyd's backup the past few seasons, but Swinney says the spot is up for grabs.
Clemson was able to lure Scott, a Tarpon Springs, Fla., native, away from ACC foes Florida State and Miami as well as Florida and Georgia. The 5-foot-11 receiver may not bring the size Watkins and Bryant had, but he does possess the speed. He'll be there this spring building chemistry with Watson.
Scott is also elusive once he gets his hands on the ball. He could line up pretty much anywhere during his high school days and cause havoc for defenses.
Clemson likes to spread the ball around. Outside of Watkins, six other players had 20 or more receptions. Without a Watkins-like presence on the roster this year to catch 100 passes, there will be even more opportunities for receivers outside of returners like Humphries and Mike Wallace.
While the 2014 Clemson class only featured two offensive lineman, they got a pretty good one in Taylor Hearn. Listed as a three-star offensive tackle by most recruiting services, Hearn's potential is even greater.
I covered him during his senior year at Williston-Elko High School in Williston, S.C., and it's easy to see he's on a different level than most offensive linemen in terms of strength and physicality.
Whomever becomes the Tigers' running back can count on some great run blocking, Hearn's specialty. He believes in the 'play through the whistle' mantra. Offensive line should be one of the focuses for the 2015 class — they got a commitment from 2015's No. 1 offensive tackle — but they may have a future star lineman in their 2014 class.
Clemson only lost one starter from last season's line. There are still a few underclassmen on the depth chart for the O-line as well, but Hearn is still optimistic about his potential to compete for playing time early.
What It Means
The Tigers' 2014 class didn't have much drama. Everything went as expected. The most significant thing that will be remembered about this class down the road will probably be Watson's signing. After losing the face of the program, the Tigers potentially got the next centerpiece for the team. Overall the class is considered to be among the Top 20 in the nation by most recruiting sites. ESPN gave it the highest ranking at 12th, and Scout.com gave it the lowest at No. 28.