-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)
No. 16: Clemson Tigers (20 total signees)
ACC Rank: 3rd
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 3
National Signees: 7
Where They Got 'Em:
The Palmetto State is extremely territorial. There are South Carolina areas and Clemson areas that normally follow party lines when it comes to recruiting. The Gameocks have shaken that standard up with the likes of Marcus Lattimore of late. However, the Tigers have countered with a tremendous influence in the state of Florida.
That said, the Carolinas will always be key for Clemson recruiting, and that is obviously not lost on Dabo Swinney. The Tigers signed 15 players (11 from South Carolina, four from North Carolina) from the two states, including two of the top six in each state. There were 13 nationally rated prospects from the Carolinas this cycle and Clemson inked four of them.
The top-rated player in this class, Travis Blanks, comes to Clemson from the Sunshine State and only further indicates the Tigers' power in the talent-rich state of Florida. Swinney also signed two from New York, including the top player in the state (quarterback Chad Kelly). One each from Tennessee and Arkansas round out the 20-man haul.
Areas of Focus:
First and foremost, Swinney did an outstanding job of getting nearly half of his class to enroll early. Missing the senior prom or graduation might be a tough pill to swallow for 17-year-olds and parents, but for football fans, having nearly half of a top-20 recruiting class participate in spring practice is invaluable. The Tigers enrolled eight prospects in January, and by the time summer camp opens, they will be nearly sophomores.
More importantly was who enrolled. The offensive line class for Clemson was outstanding as Swinney focused on restocking his offensive front. Four of his five OL signees are already on campus, working in the weight room and learning the play calls, including both nationally rated prospects Jay Guillermo and Patrick DeStefano. DeStefano has the bloodlines to be a great ACC player as his father played at Duke in the late '70s, while Guillermo is listed as the No. 1 center prospect in the nation by the mothership. Prep school tackle Isaiah Battle should be prepared to contribute early on as well after a year at Blue Ridge School.
Additionally, the top-rated player in this class, defensive back Travis Blanks, is also already enrolled in class. One of the top defensive backs in the state of Florida leads a deep secondary class that could feature four safeties. Blanks missed some time due to injury as a senior but proved he could be a playmaker all over the field with 104 tackles on defense to go with 35 receptions and eight touchdowns on offense as a junior. This is an incredibly versatile group, so don't be surprised if one or more end up at linebacker or even wide receiver.
Speaking of wide receiver, the No. 2-rated player in this class is wideout Germone Hopper. The dynamic all-purpose player rushed for over 4,000 yards and 50 scores in his prep career — finishing as Philip O. Berry's all-time leading rusher. He also could make a big impact on special teams as a kick and punt return specialist.
Getting him — and all of those other stellar current Clemson wideouts — the ball will be the nephew of a Hall of Famer. The No. 6-rated quarterback in the entire nation, Chad Kelly, has former Buffalo Bills' four-time Super Bowl starter Jim Kelly as an uncle. The dual-threat tore up the Empire State to the tune of 3,050 yards passing, 991 yards rushing and 41 total touchdowns. He led his team to back-to-back state championships and will be a perfect fit for coordinator Chad Morris' spread scheme.
New defensive coordinator Brent Venables should also be exicted about the incoming defensive line class. Big nose tackle Carlos Watkins, after 29 sacks over his final two prep seasons, spearheads a solid five-man D-Line group. Nationally rated end Shaq Lawson is the top edge rusher after 199 tackles — including 23 tackles for a loss in 2011 — and 22 sacks over his final two high school seasons. Massive early enrollee Kevin Dodd (6-5, 280) adds immediate depth. This is a powerful fivesome that should help rebuild the Tigers defensive line in short order.
Running back Zac Brooks, who played all over the offense at Jonesboro High, is listed as the lone running back in this class.
Offense: QB: 1, RB: 1, WR: 1, TE: 1, OL: 5, ATH: 0
Defense: DE: 2, DT: 3, LB: 1, DB: 4, K/P/LS: 1
62. Travis Blanks, DB (6-1, 195), Tallahassee (Fla.) North Fla. Christian
81. Germone Hopper, WR (6, 170), Charlotte (N.C.) Philip O. Berry
89. Carlos Watkins, DT (6-4, 275), Forest City (N.C.) Chase
Other National Signees:
115. Chad Kelly, QB (6-3, 209), Buffalo (N.Y.) St. Joseph’s Collegiate
147. Patrick DeStefano, OL (6-4, 275), Spartanburg (S.C.) Dorman
190. Jay Guillermo, OL (6-2, 287), Maryville (Tenn.) High
207. Shaq Lawson, DE (6-3, 240), Central (S.C.) D.W. Daniel
Travis Blanks, DB (6-1, 195), Tallahassee (Fla.) North Fla. Christian
Patrick DeStefano, OL (6-4, 275), Spartanburg (S.C.) Dorman
Jay Gulliermo, OL (6-2, 287), Maryville (Tenn.) High
Zac Brooks, RB (6-2, 180), Jonesboro (Ark.) High
Oliver Jones, OL (6-6, 320), Ninety Six (S.C.) High
Kevin Dodd, DL (6-5, 280), Taylor (S.C.) Riverside
Isaiah Battle, OL (6-7, 285), Brooklyn (N.Y.) Blue Ridge Prep (Va.)
Bradley Pinion, P (6-5, 220), Concord (N.C.) Northwest Cabarrus
Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
2. Texas Longhorns
3. Florida Gators
4. Ohio State Buckeyes
5. Florida State Seminoles
6. Michigan Wolverines
7. Stanford Cardinal
8. Miami Hurricanes
9. Georgia Bulldogs
10. USC Trojans
11. Oklahoma Sooners
12. Auburn Tigers
13. LSU Tigers
14. Texas A&M Aggies
15. UCLA Bruins
16. Clemson Tigers
17. Fri., Feb. 24
18. Mon., Feb. 27
19. Tues., Feb. 28
20. Wed., Feb. 29
21. Thur., Mar. 1
22. Fri., Mar. 2
23. Sat., Mar. 3
24. Sun., Mar. 4
25. Sun., Mar. 4