-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
Athlon Sports continues its Class of 2011 national team recruiting rankings today with the No. 9 class in the nation.
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9. Clemson Tigers (29 signees – 5 AC100)
Few teams perform better year-in and year-out on NSD than the Clemson Tigers. With the top two players in this class committing on NSD, 2011 was no exception. Tony Steward and Stephone Anthony are the top two linebacker prospects in the nation, and both announced on the final day (along with a few others). This five-man linebacking haul is probably the best in the nation.
The defensive line class — a position that has been a huge strength for Clemson over the past half-decade — is another area of stength. Four tackles and three ends do not add the star power of a Da'Quan Bowers, for example. But depth and size along the D-line are paramount for success, and the Tigers certainly got that with this seven-man haul.
While Clemson's eight nationally rated recruits top only Oregon in the top 10, the Tigers' value in the Athlon Consensus 100 is blatantly obvious. Dabo Swinney signed five of the top-37 players in the nation. The linebacking class speaks for itself, but the offensive skill class is just as impressive.
AC100 athletes Sammy Watkins, Charone Peake and Mike Bellamy add elite level playmaking ability to an offense in desperate need of depth at the skill spots. Peake is a pure wide receiver with fantastic natural ability. He is a tall, lanky prospect whose speed, ball skills and size command safety help over the top much of the time. He could contribute very early.
Watkins, the highest rated of the bunch and younger brother of Florida 2010 signee Jaylen, will play mostly wideout but has the ability to be used in unqiue and interesting ways. His speed is obvious. But what makes him special is his physical style of play. He is a sound blocker and will attack and compete for the football. Again, Watkins could contribute early on as well.
Bellamy will almost immediately remind Clemson fans of C.J. Spiller — with a few small differences. Spiller packed on the weight and played bigger than Bellamy likely will. And while Bellamy has tremendous speed, few have the extra gear Spiller had. That being said, his electric playmaking ability will be tough to keep off the field on third downs and in the return game. It will take some time in the weight room before he can be a between-the-tackles runner.
Swinney signed three quaterbacks to get these talented skill guys the ball. None of the three are elite recruits, but Tajh Boyd's successor could come from this group. Cole Stoudt, the son of NFL passer Cliff Stoudt, is a tall, pro-style passer who is likely the most polished of the trio. Tony McNeal is the best athlete of the bunch, but injuries have slowed his development. McNeal might have the most upside of the group. All three should be "shirting" in some way in 2011 — be it gray or red.
The job Dabo Swinney did outside of the Palmetto State was outstanding. Of the eight nationally rated recruits to sign with the Tigers, six hail from other states — which is a testament to the staff’s ability to cultivate relationships. The state of Florida, in particular, has turned into a stronghold for Clemson talent. The bulk, 13, of this class hails from in-state (as it should), but the border states have been very kind to Howard's Rock. Florida (4), Georgia (2) and North Carolina (5) provided nearly half of this class.
No. 15 Tony Steward, LB (St. Augustine, Fla.)
No. 16 Stephone Anthony, LB (Wadesboro, N.C.)
No. 24 Sammy Watkins, ATH (Ft. Myers, Fla.)
No. 29 Mike Bellamy, RB (Punta Gorda, Fla.)
No. 37 Charone Peake, WR (Roebuck, S.C.)
No. 150 Eric MacLain, TE (Fayetteville, N.C.)
No. 208 Spencer Region, OL (Cullman, Ala.)
No. 213 Lateek Townsend, LB (Bennettsville, S.C.)