Clemson is recruiting at a level never before seen by this football program.
The Tigers currently sit third nationally in the 2021 class rankings, per 247Sports Composite. Last year, Clemson had the third-best class in the country.
It was evident during the shortened spring how many of those early enrollees were game-ready at such a young age.
Big bodies like Myles Murphy and Bryan Bresee were impressive, and there’s little doubt that the pair of blue-chip defensive linemen can impact the Tigers this fall.
More and more, this is the case. Fewer and fewer players are needing two or more years to be ready physically and mentally for the grind of college football.
But at the same time, there’s still a sense of development in the Dabo Swinney-built powerhouse that’s likely to never leave the program as long as the two-time national title-winning head coach is in place.
“Our evaluation is still critical,” Swinney said. “Our development is still critical.”
Swinney has always had an affinity for the player without the four or five stars beside their recruiting rankings. Remember Hunter Renfrow? He owns the ultimate underdog story in Clemson history, going from an undersized recruit with no Power 5 offers to a walk-on-turned-hero when he caught the game-winning touchdown in Clemson’s 2016 title win over Alabama.
Renfrow, who had over 2,000 receiving yards and 15 TD catches, turned his unlikely college career into a job with the Las Vegas Raiders of the NFL.
“He is going to continue to improve and continue to get stronger,” Swinney said after Renfrow’s Clemson career ended. “He is still a work in progress from that standpoint as he was as weak as a noodle when he came to Clemson, and now he did seven reps of 225. He’s Hercules now from where he came in. Just excited for his opportunity. He’s really developed into a great player.”
Swinney also enjoys taking a youngster with raw skills or one in need of some serious instruction. Remember Kevin Dodd? The defensive end was far from ready to play when Clemson found him. Dodd spent a year at Hargrave Military Academy and played sparingly his first three seasons, never finishing a year with more than eight tackles or even a single sack.
By the time 2015 rolled around, Dodd was ready to produce 12.5 sacks and 62 tackles to help lead the Tigers to their first College Football Playoff berth.
“Kevin Dodd is a great example to our team, to the media, to everybody,” Swinney said in 2015. “Guys get better; not everybody is Sammy Watkins as a freshman.
“(Dodd) was a guy that we took simply on potential. It’s hard to coach size. He had the size and athleticism, but he wasn’t a very good football player, and he had to develop academically, too.”
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Those kinds of players have just as much a place in Swinney’s program as the ready-made superstars.
Enter Greg Williams.
The redshirt freshman fits Swinney’s developmental guy to a tee. The coaching staff first found Williams at their summer camp. He was “skinny” and “underdeveloped” but had he incredibly long arms and traits they just couldn’t ignore.
“We had him stand next to (former Clemson linebacker) Tre Lamar...and he skied over Tre,” Swinney said. “We felt like he was a guy we could really develop and liked his skill set, his athleticism, his ability to move. Just a guy we believed in and he’s come in here and put the work in.”
There was one problem: Williams was a linebacker coming out of Swansea, S.C. Clemson decided to move him to defensive end, which Swinney called a more “natural position.”
Williams, who's 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, needed a year to learn new techniques and grow physically, something Swinney saw during spring practice.
“He’s starting to flash,” Swinney said. “He’s starting to play with a high motor because he’s getting more confident. I think he’s got a bright future, I really do, if he’ll just stay the course.”
Williams wasn’t a complete unknown, though, when he became a member of the 2019 recruiting class that ranked 10th nationally. He was a three-star recruit and made the 2018 Shrine Bowl team for South Carolina. He had 78 tackles with a sack, two forced fumbles and three interceptions his senior season.
Williams was the 12th-ranked player in S.C., according to 247Sports, but out of his 12 collegiate offers, only two were from Power 5 programs: Clemson and Missouri.
It was hard to stand out as a linebacker in a Tiger class that included Bryton Constantin, LaVonta Bentley, Kane Patterson and Keith McGuire — all higher rated at the position.
It’s hard to believe Williams will make a huge impact this fall. Clemson has veterans Xavier Thomas, Justin Foster and K.J. Henry higher on the depth chart. Murphy is too talented not to play at some point in 2020.
“(Williams is) a long way from being a polished guy, but he’s learning every day and he’s got the right work ethic and the want to,” Swinney said. “He’s got a skill set that’s a very, very good fit for that spot.”
But there may very well be a point when the Tigers need a long-term developmental player to step into a major role. History says so, and it usually works out in Clemson’s favor.
“Greg Williams is a guy where you're going to look up here in two or three years and he's going to be Kevin Dodd," Swinney said. "You know, like where did that guy come from? He's one of those developmental guys that I think has a bright future for us."