Building the Clemson Offensive Line: Elite Players Needed

Brian Smith

During the past two recruiting campaigns, Clemson signed a grand total of 10 offensive linemen. Despite that large total, the 2021 class needs to be a home run along the offensive line. The Tigers also need players willing to immediately buy into the Clemson mentality.

Clemson certainly built depth, if nothing else, with the signing of the past two offensive line recruiting classes. With that, to increase the odds of Clemson continuing to reach the college football playoffs, signing elite talent could be the difference moving forward.

Why, one might ask, would Clemson need to hit the proverbial home run with offensive line recruiting this year? Three prime reasons:

  1. This will be the last year for one Travis Etienne. He makes up for many ills. After the 2020 season, a mere mortal, whomever he will be, shall take handoffs.
  2. At the conclusion of the 2020 season, Clemson will likely lose Jackson Carman to the the National Football League. Perhaps he will be like Etienne and spurn the money for another year at Clemson, but the odds go against him playing his senior season in Death Valley.
  3. Beyond Walker Parks, the Tigers did not sign a truly elite offensive tackle from the 2019 or 2020 classes.

From these three points, Etienne leaving will soon become reality. Yes, Clemson recruited running back really well, but Etienne truly does change games (think about the semi-final game vs. Ohio State) because he makes chunk plays in the running game and the passing game. Until otherwise proven, Clemson’s running back production will likely go down after the 2020 season.

With that out of the way, adding at least two truly elite offensive linemen to the 2021 recruiting class would not only add depth to the offensive line, it would also likely increase competition heading into spring and summer of 2021.

With the signing of another (and hopefully two) elite offensive lineman, a player like Parks could potentially have a player line up next to him that creates that rare tandem to dominate. It’s an offensive line coach’s dream. With the skill talent being brought into Clemson, imagine a truly dominant offensive left or right side of the line.


For the record, Parks possesses immense talent. The Lexington (Ky.) Frederick Douglas lineman could play tackle or even move to guard. He has the feet to be a mobile player; To place Parks’ athleticism into perspective, he should be leading wide receivers on slip screens, as well as kicking out defensive ends before heading downfield to block during middle screens to running backs and tight ends. He’s a rare athlete.

Now who will his buddy be? Maybe it is one of the players signed during the past two classes. Perhaps it will be one of the class of 2021 players still being recruited by Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and his coaching staff. Regardless, take the following as you may.

As a good friend of mine and former NFL lineman told me Saturday, “Linemen get together to discuss how to block these freaks.”

To place the conversation into context, the best athletes usually play defense (Carman being an exception). Thus, offensive lines need to study the best ways to block specific players. Find the the most mynute ways to defeat quicker, more athletic defensive linemen.

Offensive linemen need to gel to maximize their potential, even if there is a unique blend of talent along the starting five. With that, here are two players that Clemson would do well to sign.

Nolan Rucci, OT, 6-8, 275, Lititz (Pa.) Warwick

If the Tigers are going to pull an upset in recruiting, this would be the one that could allow Clemson’s offensive line class to be considered elite. Penn State (father Todd played for the Nittany Lions), Wisconsin (brother Hayden currently plays tight end for the Badgers), and Notre Dame (unofficial and official visits coming up in March and April) will likely be the competition.

Why Clemson Has a Shot: The Tigers are still an elite program; few, if any, program matches what Clemson does with official visits. If the Tigers get Rucci on campus for an official visit, Clemson will be in the hunt for Rucci’s services. Still, this should be considered an uphill climb.

The Film Does Not Lie: I wanted to cut up a handful of video clips. The problem, he’s such a natural athlete, it does not matter much. It’s blatantly obvious wy Rucci’s talent, to date, earned offers from numerous prominent programs. Just sit back and enjoy Rucci’s Hudl video:

Tristan Leigh, OT, 6-6, 280, Fairfax (Va.) Robinson

One could argue that Leigh is the quickest offensive linemen in the country as it relates to his first step. He’s an athlete first and foremost. With Leigh’s explosiveness, he could do very well as an offensive guard or an offensive tackle. It really does not matter.

As it stands today, the Tigers are in a heated battle for his services, but many consider Leigh to be a Clemson lean. With programs such as Oklahoma, USC, and Notre Dame just being a few of his recent offers added to the likes of Alabama, LSU, and Penn State, Clemson will certainly be in a battle until Leigh signs on the dotted line.

Why Clemson Has a Shot: Leigh already visited for the big January junior day. It helped improve Clemson’s chances of signing Leigh not only because of the visit itself, but coach Swinney extended Leigh a scholarship offer. Overall, Leigh now has a firsthand evaluation of the Clemson program.

Film Does Not Lie: Much Like Rucci, no need to splice up clips. Leigh’s highlight film is really fun to watch. He did not give up a sack as a junior, and Leigh plays in one of the best geographical areas in the country. He’s going up against top-notch competition week after week. Take a closer look at Leigh’s film:

Clemson may only sign three offensive linemen for this class. Probably depends on Carman and how the 2019 offensive linemen as well as 2020 offensive linemen look in fall camp. With that, Clemson needs high-end talent that’s willing to work together.

That’s what made Clemson great the past several years. It’s a team atmosphere that continues to acquire elite talent. Let’s see if the Tigers can add a few more elite players to the offensive line. There will be a few other offensive line candidates discussed, but the two aforementioned prospects are viable candidates and truly elite offensive linemen. That’s just what Clemson needs.