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Saturday, January 4, 2014
Recruit and return: Clemson Tigers

By Jared Shanker

Under coach Dabo Swinney, Clemson has finally rid itself of the underachievers label that haunted the program for much of the last decade. The program has turned the corner, and the Tigers are putting together the kind of recruiting classes to continually compete for ACC championships. Now Swinney can pitch an Orange Bowl win to recruits in 2014 and beyond, too.

Key losses: QB Tajh Boyd, OT Brandon Thomas, OT Gifford Timothy, OG Tyler Shatley, RB Roderick McDowell, WR Sammy Watkins*, DE Vic Beasley*, LB Quandon Christian, LB Spencer Shuey, CB Darius Robinson, K Chandler Catanzaro.

Instant impact freshman: The obvious choice is incoming quarterback Deshaun Watson (Gainesville, Ga./Gainesville), the No. 1 quarterback in the 2014 class. While there are capable replacements for Boyd already in Death Valley -- including former ESPN 150 and No. 4 high school signal-caller Chad Kelly -- there is an opportunity for Watson to play early, if not win the job outright. He is enrolling at Clemson for this coming semester and is eligible to participate in spring practice. In this era of college football, it is not all that rare for a true freshman to start at a BCS school, and it would not be much of a surprise to see Watson follow in the footsteps of Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, who started every game as a freshman in 2013; Hackenberg was the No. 1 quarterback in the previous recruiting cycle.

Top 2014 recruits: With the electric playmaker Watkins likely gone to the NFL, the Tigers will need a handful of players to step up at receiver. Swinney is hoping some of the talented 2014 receivers he is bringing in will have the same freshman impact as Watkins did in 2011. After Watson, the top prospect in Clemson’s class, the next three highest-rated commitments are receivers. Artavis Scott (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake) and Demarre Kitt (Tyrone, Ga./Sandy Creek) are Nos. 9 and 22, respectively, at receiver and both are in the top 165 of the ESPN 300. Four-star receiver Kyrin Priester is coming in from a postgraduate school. Milan Richard (Savananah, Ga./Calvary Baptist Day) and Cannon Smith (Columbia, S.C./Hammond) are top-three tight ends. Two ESPN 300 running backs are joining the offense, too, as Jae'lon Oglesby (Central, S.C./D.W. Daniel) and Adam Choice (Thomasville, Ga./Thomas County Central) will enroll soon. So it is clear the offense should remain one of the ACC’s best for the next few seasons.

Questions for signing day: There are a handful of prized four-star defensive recruits in Clemson’s class, but the defensive side of the ball remains the biggest need for the Tigers heading into signing day. They missed out on Raekwon McMillan to Ohio State in December, but the silver lining is there are still a handful of defensive recruits the Tigers are recruiting. Swinney needs a few more defensive linemen and one of their targets is ESPN 300 defensive end Andrew Williams (McDonough, Ga./Eagles Landing Christian Academy). Williams could come down to Auburn and Clemson. Depth on the defensive line will be needed, as the Tigers are expected to lose Beasley and potentially Josh Watson early to the NFL. Four-star cornerback D.J. Smith (Marietta, Ga./Walton) is No. 88 in the ESPN 300, and Clemson could be in his top group as well along with South Carolina and Tennessee.

* Underclassmen expected to declare for NFL draft