Over the last decade Clemson has established themselves as one of the premier producers of defensive end talent to the NFL and in less than a week there will be two more Marion Hobby coached players to add to an already impressive list. Both starters from last year, Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd, stand a good chance of going in the first round on Thursday. If both players do hear their names called on Thursday evening it would mark the first time Clemson has ever had two defensive ends taken in round 1. Looking ahead to the 2016 season without those two certainly creates reason for concern. As you can see below, the Tigers only return 31 tackles and 2.5 sacks from last season. There also aren’t a lot of bodies available, which is part of the reason why defensive tackle Christian Wilkins has been taking reps at end this Spring. Sophomore Austin Bryant appears to have the strongside spot locked down, but the weakside starting job is shaping up to be a battle worth watching between Richard Yeargin and Clelin Ferrell. The staff seems to feel pretty good about those first three guys, but behind them is anyone’s ballgame. Chris Register finally appears ready to contribute after switching positions from linebacker and Sterling Johnson greatly benefited from a physical standpoint during his redshirt season. There’s also an eagerness to see what signee Xavier Kelly looks like when he arrives to Clemson this Summer. Despite the question marks surrounding this group I’ve come to learn that Marion Hobby knows what he’s doing and to just sit back and enjoy the show.
RS SO-Chris Register: 1 game played & logged 4 snaps
RS SO-Richard Yeargin: 8 tackles 1.0 TFL 1 sack 2 QBH
SO-Austin Bryant: 23 tackles 2.0 TFL 1.5 sacks 1 FR
RS FR-Clelin Ferrell: Redshirted
RS FR-Sterling Johnson: Redshirted
★★★★ 6-4 250lbs (Witchita, KS)
Pretty crazy that Clemson’s lone take for the 2016 class at DE came all the way from the great state of Kansas. It’s not very common that you hear of big time athletic defensive ends like Kelly coming out of that part of the country, but this kid is going to step on campus this summer ready to contribute right away. Kelly chose Clemson over offers from nearly every perennial power across the country. He’s also a two-sport star with basketball being his second love. Coming out of the prep ranks Kelly already possesses the rare combination of speed and strength that is desired to play defensive end at this level. Oh, he also checks in at chiseled +250lbs, which is one less hurdle he’ll have to climb during his transition to the college game. I expect him to avoid a redshirt this Fall, and he’ll arrive to Clemson with a great opportunity to ease his way into a wide open depth chart. Kelly also has an infectious personality that will make him a fan favorite before too long.
★★★ 6-4 215lbs (Bamberg, SC)
Bamberg Ehrhardt has a pretty good track record of sending quality defensive ends to the Upstate (Ricky Sapp & DaQuan Bowers), and the Clemson coaching staff is hoping that trend continues with their most recent signee. Originally a 2015 commitment, Davis did not qualify so he took the Fall off to focus on school on his own instead of going the prep school route. His plan worked and he enrolled at Clemson in January to participate in Spring practice. The biggest concern for Davis is his lack of weight, but with a probable redshirt season ahead there figures to be plenty of time for him to add to his 6’4″ frame. Davis’ best asset is his speed and that was evident on his senior film where he spent time lining up on the offensive side of the ball at WR. The returns out of practices were more positive than expected, but he’s just got to develop more physically to be able to contribute on a consistent basis.
Without any current commitments, Clemson is working around the clock to bring in a couple DEs in the 2017 class. Two names have emerged as top targets in Zach Carter (Tampa, FL) and Malik Herring (Forsyth, GA). Carter is thought to favor the in-state Gators, but he’s visited the Upstate numerous times and the Tigers appear to have some real staying power in his recruitment. Herring is also favoring an in-state school with Georgia, but he’s visited Clemson twice in the past month so maybe the lead is not as large as many predict. Some other names to keep tabs on if Clemson were to miss on one or both of the aforementioned targets are Jordan Williams (Virginia Beach, VA), Logan Rudolph (Rock Hill, SC), Brad Johnson (Pendleton, SC) and Markeviest Bryant (Cordele, GA). Rudolph is being recruited as an athlete and could fit in at linebacker depending on how the staff evaluates him. Johnson is the lone name listed above that does not currently hold an offer, but that could certainly change depending on how some of the other guys higher on the board fall. I don’t anticipate Clemson signing anymore than two edge rushers this cycle, and there’s a chance that they only take one if they feel good about their positioning with guys in the next cycle. Speaking of the 2018 class the Tigers are already in good shape with several elite prospects such as: Xavier Thomas (Florence, SC), Stephon Wynn Jr. (Anderson, SC), KJ Henry (Clemmons, NC), and Justin Mascoll (Snellville, GA). All four of those guys own consensus 4-star rankings with Thomas garnering 5-star stature from 247sports. Clemson is also in the top group for all four prospects and, as I said earlier, the staff may elect to only take one DE in the 2017 because of their positioning with this bunch.