When you have a returning roster as talented asClemson’s, there isn’t a lot of room for newcomers to emerge. Then again, when you have a freshman class as gifted as the one the Tigers just brought in, you find ways to get the youngsters on the field.
Additionally, head coach Dabo Swinney is not shy about playing first-year players. He knows that conserving a redshirt for players this skilled is irrelevant because they will be off to the NFL in three or four years anyway.
So here is a list of five newcomers that need to be followed going into the fall.
Matt Bockhurst, OG
After suffering a knee injury before his senior year of high school, it was a given that the four-star prospect out of Cincinnati would redshirt as a freshman. Now he is ready to compete for playing time and with starters Tyrone Crowder and Taylor Hearn — as well as key reserve Maverick Morris — departing, Bockhurst will have an opportunity to earn a starting spot. Also watch for Jackson Carman, a rare true freshman lineman that is physically ready to compete for minutes.
Derion Kendrick, WR
When Deion Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud declared for the NFL draft, they took 107 catches with them. Clemson is fortunate to have rising sophomores Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers ready to step in. But don’t count out Kendrick, a five-star prospect that is already on campus. The Rock Hill, South Carolina, product played quarterback at South Pointe High School the past two years and he will need to readjust to playing his more natural position. But that should happen this spring and by August his ability will get him in the mix.
Trevor Lawrence, QB
Considering the year Kelly Bryant had in 2017, it’s crazy to think that Lawrence could be the starting quarterback next fall. Or is it? If you buy into the hype, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. The high school stats were staggering; the video was off the charts. He first has to beat out Hunter Johnson to be the backup signal-caller and he will enter the spring attempting to accomplish that mission. But no one doubts that Lawrence will be vying for All-American honors at some point during his time at Clemson.
Kyler McMichael, CB
The Tigers lost cornerbacks Ryan Carter and Marcus Edmond, so playing time at that position is available. McMichael also brings some versatility, which increases his chances of playing right away. He could play corner, but if he isn't quite ready for that assignment, he has the build (6-1, 201) to play safety. With Van Smith moving on to the NFL, McMichael may find that safety is his quickest road to getting on the field.
Xavier Thomas, DE
No position group is deeper and more talented than the defensive line at Clemson, especially on the outside. However, Austin Bryant will be gone after next season and Clelin Ferrell will most likely be moving on too. So Swinney and defensive coordinator Brent Venables will need to get other ends ready and the nation’s No. 3 overall prospect will be counted on heavily in 2019.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.