Dabo Swinney has been an excellent recruiter during his time at Clemson. His energy and vibe are infectious with recruits, and that plus the Tigers’ success on the field has been a great combination.
Case in point? Clemson 2016 class was ranked No. 11 nationally and No. 2 in the ACC. Clemson 2015 class was ranked No. 9 nationally and No. 2 in the ACC. Florida State is really the only program that has been giving Clemson trouble on the recruiting trail, specifically in the context of the ACC, but perhaps that will change if the Tigers beat the Seminoles this season. A Clemson win over FSU in 2016 would mark the Tigers’ second-straight win over the ACC powerhouse.
The FSU recruiting rivalry aside, Swinney has found a way to land some top-notch recruits recently.
Deshaun Watson was obviously the star of the 2014, class but players such as 2015 five-stars Mitch Hyatt, Deon Cain and Christian Wilkins are all on that list, too. The 2016 cycle saw Swinney land five-star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, and he already has two five-star commits in the 2017 class: wide receiver Tee Higgins and pro-style quarterback Hunter Johnson — the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the nation.
So with all that in mind, the commitment of Justin Foster on Monday may not seem to move the needle as much. With that said, the four-star weak-side defensive end from Shelby, N.C. (Crest) is a pretty big commitment for the Tigers.
He’s a 6-foot-4, 258-pound defender who is ranked as the No. 5 weak-side defensive end in the country, according to the industry generated 247Sports Composite. He’s also considered the top-ranked player from the state of North Carolina and the No. 87 player in America.
And if that’s not impressive enough, his offer list certainly is.
Including Clemson, Foster boasts 22 offers. Notable on his offer list are Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Stanford, Tennessee and Texas A&M, among others.
So not only did he choose Clemson over some of the biggest programs in the nation — Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma for example — but he also decided to commit to the Tigers despite offers from in-state schools. As the top recruit from North Carolina, it’s a pretty big statement that he chose to go down to Clemson over N.C. State and a growing North Carolina football program.
With that said, Georgia and Tennessee were thought to be the main competition for Swinney and his staff in this recruiting race — which again points to a big Clemson win considering Kirby Smart and Butch Jones’ abilities on the recruiting trail, respectively.
Though Foster is ranked as a weak-side defensive end, reports coming out of his commitment suggest that he wants to play linebacker or stand-up end at the college level. Really, the difference between a weak-side defensive end and outside linebacker is minimal depending on the scheme, and especially if he remains at or near the weight he’s at right now, playing in open space rather than on the line is probably best.
“I’m open to the stand-up (role). I do not want to put my hand in the ground. That’s one thing I don’t want to do, so (I want to play) linebacker — middle linebacker, outside linebacker or stand-up,” Foster said, according to Anna Hickey of 247Sports.
When evaluating a player who wants to play on the edges of a defense a few things need to show up: athleticism and comfort in open space.
The great news for Clemson is that Foster shows both of those qualities on film. He’s a wide-framed defender who has the body of a middle linebacker but the athleticism and speed of an edge rusher. He’s a quick, downhill player who can get pressure on the quarterback on the edges or set the edge as a run-defender. Foster is very tough and physical at the point of contact, and he’ll make some highlight reel hits.
While it’s easy to see Foster making an impact near the line of scrimmage or in the backfield, he’s also very comfortable in pass coverage. He can drop back into a zone and make plays in open space, so projecting him as an outside linebacker would make sense. Even as a standup defensive end he could drop into zone blitz coverages, so there are a lot of ways that Clemson can use this four-star.
Most of it will depend on his size and development over the next few years. If he bulks up, look for him to be used in the stand-up role. If not, he makes sense as a linebacker.