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Some Thoughts on Recruiting

We have a recruiting problem.

 

With the regular season over and “awards season” upon us, the next major event on the horizon is Early Signing Day.  Last year, ESD was a success for Clemson as they received NLI from all of their top targets with few surprises thrown in.  Some of those players have been major contributors this year en route to a 13-0 season (the second in 4 years) and another College Football Playoff berth.

And yet, in spite of all of that success, there is a problem:  Clemson does not recruit on the offensive line the way that most people want them to recruit the offensive line.  The Kraken wrote something recently that addressed offensive line recruiting and how the dedication to recruiting along the lines of scrimmage has correlated to Clemson’s ascension into the elite ranks of College Football, and yet the trend continues of under-performing to expectations.

You could put together an All American 2 deep with the high profile offensive linemen that Clemson has swung on and missed or simply failed to recruit over the last 5 years.  During that time, the staff has had its share of hits (Anchrum and Cade Stewart come to mind), but lacked the numbers or star power to be truly impressive.  As many have said, you can’t expect to be in the elite in college football if you can’t consistently win the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

Clemson’s struggles in recruiting the offensive line are myriad.  A lack of NFL success is an obvious knock against Clemson, with starters like Guillermo, Crowder, Gore, and Hearn failing to stick in the NFL.  Numbers also hurt, given Clemson’s strategy with recruiting and the fact that they hold fast to their strategy around how many scholarships they will offer in a given year.  Effort is the final knock, with many alleging that Clemson’s aging offensive line coach is either unable or unwilling to keep up with the hustle of recruiting that is required to bring in 4-5 blue chip recruits every cycle.

Regardless of the reasons, it has been well documented now across Twitter and the darker corners of the Clemson blogs that Clemson just isn’t holding true to the motto “Best is the Standard” when it comes to offensive line recruiting.  This year is as good of an example as any, with a dire need to bring in bodies to make up for two consecutive “light” classes to provide quality depth in 2019 and 2020.

There is an issue with this narrative though, and it has to do with the results.  If recruiting metrics and these pundits are to be believed, Clemson should not be able to perform at such a high level with such consistency.  Indeed, only one program in the entire nation has played at the same level of consistency as Clemson and that is Alabama.  Yet, there are several programs that have recruited consistently on the offensive line at a significantly higher level than Clemson.

In fact, a look at the advanced stats for this year presents an interesting look at the offensive line and it’s performance relative to other programs.  Some of that can be attributed to scheme, some to the talent of players at other positions.  But not all.  Here are some S&P rankings from the season:

  • Opportunity rate: 22nd
  • Standard Downs Line Yards per Carry: 14th
  • Standard Downs Sack Rate: 16th
  • Sack Rate: 16th
  • Passing Downs Line Yards per Carry: 13th
  • Passing Downs Sack Rate: 26th

There’s a lot to unpack here.  Clemson in 2018 did a very good job of run blocking and a good job of pass protecting.  All of the categories other than Passing Downs Sack Rate are top 25 (which is right there as well).  Top 25 of 130 teams (around 60 Power 5 teams) is significantly above average.  None of these numbers are what you’d consider “elite,” but all are certainly in the very good category.

In spite of this apparent weakness or failure, Clemson is winning consistently and experiencing strong, if not elite, play on the offensive line.  I would argue that the statistics above indicate that Clemson is outperforming its associated recruiting on the offensive line and the performance that you’d expect under the circumstances (given the lack of numbers and solidly mediocre level of talent brought in).

So, an objective analysis of this leads to the conclusion that something doesn’t add up.  Clemson appears to be either identifying talent on the offensive line better than their peers, developing the talent that they are bringing in better than their peers, getting incredibly lucky, or some combination of the three.  Luck is hard to quantify even if it certainly exists, but it does beg the question of why Clemson seems to play better on the offensive line than they recruit.

I certainly don’t have the answer to this conundrum, but I do think that there needs to be more thought applied than a blanket statement like “fire Robbie Caldwell,” or “Clemson should take 5 offensive line commitments in every class.”  I don’t think it’s that simple and I don’t think either option truly addresses the nature of the issue.  I do think that more people, when questioning the strategy that Clemson’s staff employs with regard to recruiting in general, should be to ask why Clemson does so well in spite of the supposed handicaps instead of stating what Clemson should do differently.

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CTB
Admin

There are only six teams top 25 in both Opportunity Rate and Sack Rate: Oklahoma, Alabama, Central Florida, Florida, Missouri, and Clemson

Robbie Caldwell is doing a great job.

Palmettodeuce
Member
Palmettodeuce

I do think we have been fairly lucky as far as inj***** go. We also have done a better job of developing . Joe Gore played a great role as a senior, and a couple of successful DL to OL transitions. As a former glorious high school OL man I don’t think star rating is as important as the skill positions, but you still have to get some bodies in here. If you have a decent coach and the want to you can develop into a good enough OL man, more so than the skill positions. Of course then you have the occasional Renfrow that blows that statement up, but we need more bodies for certain.

CTB
Admin

I’n not too worried about OL recruiting. Hopefully we land Putnam but there are always late bloomers, especially at OL.

Drod768
Member
Drod768

Great article and thanks for addressing this. I’ve heard it said that the offensive line is one of positions that take the longest to develop, which is why you see less impact underclassmen than say running backs. Especially in college when the recruiting services are evaluating these kids when they are 16 and 17, and some may not be done growing. Additionally, some players might be 3 stars, but have a huge lack of resources at their high schools and don’t have a good weight lifting regiment and or any sort of nutrition plan. Maybe even more importantly, is the culture of discipline Dabo and his staff have built. A lot of putting in work in the weight room and eating right (and not spending every other night downing Pitchers of Clemson Goodnights at TDs) takes discipline, not to mention the technical discipline to keep pad level low, not jumping offsides, and still put in 100% effort even when you… Read more »

The Kraken
Admin

If you’re wondering my thoughts on this, and I have written about this often, here goes: We had OL recruiting, S&C, and development problems from 1998-2014. The OL was the one thing holding us back as a program. Since 2015, we have been better in all three. This is the major reason why we got better when Chad Morris left and not worse. Don’t show me a solution until you show me a problem. We compete and win on the elite level and we’ve gotten over every hump the sport has to offer. Dabo has proven that his allocation of recruiting resources have built, at worst, the 2nd best program in college football. To build that, you have to have good OL play, which we do. We also play upwards of 10 OL most games. Our backups, Pollard, Bockhorst, and Carman, can perform at near-starter level. We have flexibility at every OL position except maybe LT, where there would be… Read more »

AlphaTiger
Member

Oh, Kraken, you sweet man in a bubble. There are a LOT of peddlers of this (STS is primary culprit here, IMO) – namely that we can’t and don’t recruit OL well, that Caldwell needs to go, and that the sky is falling everywhere at all times. There are some that are worried that we haven’t replaced CW and the Dex Star on the DL for the next 4 seasons…because those 2 come around every recruiting cycle, right? It’s very odd to me.

Wrw311
Member
Wrw311

The forum in Rivals also cries about OL recruiting. But they seem to cry about everything, i’ve realized it’s just a paid Tigernet (as far as community goes, actual content is really good)

Hopefultiger
Member
Hopefultiger

From an historical standpoint (and by this, I mean the late Bowden/early Dabo years). I don’t think either coach put in the real effort to recruit this position well. And up until say 2014, Clemson had a pretty bad OL. Things have improved a LOT in the last 4 years. Our OL is on the good side of mediocre regularly and THIS year I think our OL is actually good. IMHO, the single thing holding Clemson back is our lack of NFL success… Programs like UGA can and do absolutely HAMMER us on this. It affects our ability to land elite talent in bunches. The ONLY answer to this is successfully putting players in the league in the 1st three rounds of the draft…

The Kraken
Admin

No offense, but this is what I mean by creating a “solution without a problem.”

When you’re currently #1 in the nation in yards per carry, 11th in sacks allowed per game, you’re in the CFP for the 4th year in a row, won the Natty in 2016, and are getting better on the OL every year, how are we being held back again?

saber8689
Member
saber8689

Fair enough, but recruiting is a lifeblood for a college program, and current classes matter 2 to 3 years down the road.

If you look at the potential 2020 OL it is scary…you basically have to hope Reeves and Dehond develop which is not a given because of their injuries.

Either way, you will have over half a 2 deep including some starters as true or redshirt freshman on the OL…that’s a problem.

The Kraken
Admin

You left out Carman and Vinson which would potentially make the 2-deep all juniors and seniors.

We won the Natty in 2016 when half our 2-deep was first or second year players.

Even if it’s not ideal, the way Dabo has allocated recruiting resources has built a monster and earned leeway. If you’re sure we’re screwed for 2020, make a specific MTD out of it and get your deserved credit later on.

trackback

[…] well they’ve recruited on the offensive line compared to us. For more info on that check out KLV’s latest article. On defense, we have out recruited them by quite a bit. Their LBs are slightly higher rated, but we […]

tigerninja
Member
tigerninja

Thanks for the well reasoned take KLV. Not enough of this in some other corners of the internet. One can simultaneously believe that our OL recruiting and performance is significantly improved from early in Dabo’s tenure and also that we still have room to improve.

Judge jeff davis
Member
Judge jeff davis

So I’m guilty of doing exactly this, and I’ve been critical of the 2019 OL recruiting, so this article really helps out. Many thanks for highlighting what is going right with the OL. We have certainly come a long way from when we’d get held to 20 yards rushing as a team a la Spence/Bowden days.

I like the possible OL in 2019, honestly, but concerned about 2020. Obviously the staff knows more than I ever will about this, so gotta have trust with that.

Schroedingers Tiger
Member
Schroedingers Tiger

My only complaint is with regards to the number of takes at OL. I think taking less than 3 in a class is really bad. But I also believe that Dabo and co. are probably trying their best, since their jobs depend on it. Something I would like to mention regarding advanced stats: I’m getting the impression that some of these advanced stats are being used without enough nuance for conditioning and/or correlations. I doubt any model for a team sport such as football (baseball seems one of a kind in a lot of ways) will be able to develop estimates for parameters such as OL play which are independent of other factors such as QB play and the other positions. Of course that’s not the point of models like Bill C’s as I understand it. The point of those statistics is to build an accurate, predictive model for a team’s play. However, (this is my main point) these statistics… Read more »

The Kraken
Admin

Yes, but you can’t leave everything the same. Recruiting resources and the number of scholarships are finite so everything wouldn’t stay the same. Some unique things we do are immeasurable, like how 5-hearts and walk-ons advance the culture and family atmosphere. It seems like people want to change Dabo to make him act like everybody else.

I assume the “OL recruiting is a problem” folks are saying that offense is going to be substantially weaker in 2020 because of the OL. Because if it’s not, then what’s the point of the criticsm? I invite anyone who is confident that we have a problem offensviely in 2020 to go on record about what the dropoff will be and how it will be reflected on the field or statistically.

Schroedingers Tiger
Member
Schroedingers Tiger

I definitely agree that you cannot leave everything else the same, just trying to speak to some of the dependencies between OL stats and other factors.

Some of the same people who harp on an OL recruiting problem typically also point to the lack of all 85 scholarships being used on recruited players instead of walk ons. So while resources are indeed finite, they aren’t necessarily being optimized currently.

I don’t think we have an OL recruiting problem, I think we’ve just been incredibly unfortunate these past two cycles to miss on so many recruits which the staff clearly wanted. But I also think those who complain about any problems have a cogent argument to make, even if they don’t express it well.

philosotiger
Member
philosotiger

I’ve been thinking about my response to this article quite a bit before replying. As a result, it’ll probably never be seen. Nevertheless, here goes. I have definitely been a critic of O-line recruiting, and of some of the personnel too – namely Coach Caldwell. While about 90% of what I post is at least somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I have expressed criticism for coaching, recruiting, play-calling, and so forth. I’ve had to really re-think quite a few things: how can I be so critical of a program that has demonstrated so much success; how do I feel the team could and should improve; what it is that I enjoy about Clemson football, and football in general. For starters, I am quite aware that there are people who create content on this site who have already forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know. So, in regard to Kraken’s comment on this article (which I really appreciated him taking the time to… Read more »

The Kraken
Admin

Thanks for the well thought out response. I’m going to try and touch on as much as I can here, however, this all boils down to a narrative from another site that clearly wasn’t explained well enough for it to be understood by their readers. For starters, you’re not alone. I’m old school and I love drive blocking, man-blocking, and power running schemes. I wanted that style to return here post-Tommy. However, I’ve had to change my own ideas as to what works and I have adjusted my philosophy. I will continue to adjust my philosophy as the game changes. The population has grown, there are less scholarships, every P5 team has 300 pound DTs you have to move out of there, QBs and WRs come in exponentially better prepared, and most importantly, the rules of the game have changed to help them be more effective. The game is still won in the trenches, but spreading teams out to run… Read more »

RockdaleTiger
Member
RockdaleTiger

Yeah, but what kind of BBQ do you like?

philosotiger
Member
philosotiger

The good kind. Obviously.

RockdaleTiger
Member
RockdaleTiger

Shane’s, then?

philosotiger
Member
philosotiger

I don’t know what that is. Is that a place local to Clemson/Central? I went to the Smoking Pig last time I was down there, but that was four years ago.

I bbq quite a bit at home on my plain old Weber. That’s a whole other conversation though, which I’m happy to have sometime.

philosotiger
Member
philosotiger

Kraken, you’re the man. Thank you for the thorough and thoughtful response. You’re right about my conflating recruiting, on-field performance, and play calling. While the three are related, especially the first two, they are indeed separate issues. And this article was about recruiting. I suppose I’ve probably been conflating the issues in my mind without thinking about it. No surprise – you don’t typically know that you have a blind spot until someone points something out that you haven’t been seeing. But now that I think of it, that type of thinking has been implicit in a lot of the online rants. You’re right about the herd mentality. I think part of that is going back to problems that have existed in previous years. And one would think that the on field results would be (and in fact are) the obvious answer. But sometimes when people are looking for a certain type of solution, they might not notice that another… Read more »

The Kraken
Admin

I appreciate your comments and thank you and happy holidays to you as well.

Wrw311
Member
Wrw311

For what its worth, its not just one site. Poor Paul Strelow and Cris Ard on Rivals fight this on a daily basis it seems

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