As the Clemson football program continues to establish itself as one of the most dominant college football teams in the country, they enter the 2018 with one of the surest signs of health as a program.
If you look back at the past nine years in college football and Alabama’s five national championships, their calling card has been consistent. Their defensive line has controlled the line of scrimmage and been the driving force behind their excellence.
Since 2010, 13 Alabama defensive linemen have been selected in the NFL draft. Of those 13, seven players were selected in the first three rounds.
In 2018, Clemson will return their entire starting defensive line, including the bedrock of that unit Christian Wilkins. The two-time All-American defensive tackle could have easily taken his leave for the NFL, where he almost certainly would have been a selection in the first three rounds, as well, and very well might have been a first-round pick.
He’s already helped lead his team to three College Football Playoff berths and won a national championship. However, he came back to try to help take Clemson back to the promised land and to cement his status as one of the best defenders in college football history.
But while Wilkins is the headline-making return, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant’s decision to come back to school are equally important. Along with Dexter Lawrence’s return for his true junior season, the Tigers welcome back 45 tackles for loss and 26 sacks from their starting defensive line.
With the rest of their two-deep also returning (Chris Register, Albert Huggins, Nyles Pinckney and Justin Foster), Clemson will bring back 56.5 tackles for loss and 30 sacks back from their defensive line as a whole. And while that would seemingly cement their defensive line rotation, that’s not even close to true thanks to an elite incoming recruiting class.
In a 17-player class, Dabo Swinney signed five defensive linemen in 2018 and four of them are already on campus. However, it’s not the quantity that bolsters an already impressive unit even further, it’s the quality.
Xavier Thomas is a 5-star defensive end ranked as the No. 3 overall prospect in the country according to the 247Sports composite rankings. KJ Henry is another 5-star defensive end who is listed as the 14th-best player in the nation.
Josh Belk is a 4-star defensive tackle from right at home in South Carolina and 3-star Darnell Jefferies is another interior presence from Georgia. Those four are already in the Clemson workout program and they’ll be able to try to make their mark on the depth chart beginning in the spring. Another 4-star, defensive end Justin Mascoll, will arrive in the summer.
With Thomas and Henry considered potential first-round picks at some point, they most certainly didn’t sign with Clemson under the premise that they’d sit and learn behind all their talented returning teammates. They’ll be a part of the rotation and may even usurp significant numbers of snaps from the veterans.
And ruling out players as talented as Belk, Mascoll and Jefferies would also be a mistake, though if they do wind up redshirting and spending a year or two learning behind this incredible line, that’ll be okay, too.
The end result, regardless of who plays, should be the best defensive line in the country on paper. And if Alabama has taught us anything over the past decade, it’s that having one of (if not the most) the most talented defensive lines is a pretty solid recipe for success.
So Clemson has a pretty good problem on its hands as they embark on sorting through this embarrassment of riches in the spring.
The post Clemson football: Sorting through the embarrassment of riches on the DL appeared first on Diehards.