If you see Dabo Swinney today, odds are he’s smiling. A seemingly happy guy anyway, the Clemson head coach now has the 2018 recruiting class all in and it was an unquestioned success. The Clemson train is rolling along and it will be hard to stop.
Here are five things we learned about Clemson following Signing Day.
1. Clemson can go anywhere and land a top prospect
The top-ranked player in Georgia signed with Clemson. The top-ranked player in Florida signed with Clemson. The top-ranked player in Ohio signed with Clemson. And on Wednesday, the No. 1 player in the state of Alabama, wide receiver Justyn Ross, sent his letter of intent to Dabo Swinney, picking the Tigers over Alabama and Auburn. The bulk of the Tigers' 2018 class is from the Carolinas and Georgia. But Clemson showed this year that if the coaching staff covets a player outside their footprint, they can go get him regardless of what other programs are involved.
2. Once again, small on numbers, long on talent
Last year, because of limited scholarships available, Clemson only signed 14 players. They were 14 very good players, but their ranking suffered (still wound up as the No. 6 overall class in the country) due to the smaller numbers. The same was true this cycle. The Tigers signed just 17 players, but this group may be one of Clemson’s best hauls ever. Using 247Sports' Composite Rankings, the Tigers inked five five-star prospects and 10 players that are ranked in the top 150. Georgia was the consensus winner of the 2018 recruiting race but Clemson’s average star rating is very similar to that of the Bulldogs.
3. The quarterback
It was debated all recruiting season: Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields? Many experts consider them both to be once-in-a-decade type of prospects, making it remarkable that they hail from the same state and finish high school in the same year. Clemson’s preference was obviously Lawrence, the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2018 class per 247Sports. The Tigers offered Lawrence first and then accepted his commitment in December 2016. At 6-foot-6, 208 pounds, Lawrence has the proper frame and with just one look at his high school tape even untrained observers will notice that he can make all the throws. The Cartersville, Georgia, product is already on campus, which will make for a fun spring as he competes with last year’s prized quarterback recruit, Hunter Johnson, for snaps behind Kelly Bryant.
4. Restocking the defensive line is not a problem
It was a pleasant surprise when Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins decided to return to Clemson for another run. But following next season, they will be gone and Dexter Lawrence may be moving on to the NFL too. So Clemson needed to get some bodies that will be ready to play in 2019. The Tigers did more than just get bodies. Defensive end Xavier Thomas from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, is ranked as the No. 3 player in 247Sports' Composite Rankings of the 2018 class. Fellow end KJ Henry of Clemmons, North Carolina, is No. 14 on that same list. They also picked up another top 150 end in Justin Mascoll and highly-rated tackle Josh Belk. Looking forward to Signing Day 2019, the Tigers will probably have more of a focus on tackles than ends. Regardless, Clemson will have plenty of options after their current stars move on to the pros.
5. They got two ready-to-go wide receivers
As surprising as it was that the defensive linemen stayed, the early departures of Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud also caught many off guard. The good news is that wide receiver is a position where freshmen can make an early impact and the Tigers added two elite talents in Ross and Rock Hill, South Carolina, product Derion Kendrick, the highest ranked player in the Palmetto State this year. Kendrick is an early enrollee, which is helpful because he has to readjust to playing receiver after quarterbacking his South Pointe High School team the past two years. Ross has good size (6-4, 201) and had 13 touchdown catches as a senior.
— 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.