Dabo Swinney and his Clemson staff have done some tremendous recruiting, landing many elite, top-of-the-class players over the past decade-plus. While the Tigers haven't inserted themselves into any "Wide Receiver University" or "Cornerback University" conversations, Swinney has sent a nice collection of defensive linemen to the NFL in the first round, and he has two horses ready to become household names during the 2023 draft cycle, Bryan Bresee and Myles Murphy.
Both enormous recruits have looked the part early in their respective Clemson careers. Where do they stack up against former Clemson defensive front players when they were prospects?
Important to remember here: This is how these players were universally viewed as prospects, factoring in off-field and maturity issues. Their NFL careers had no bearing on these rankings. Let's go!
6. Clelin Ferrell, EDGE (2019)
If Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock collaborated on this article, Ferrell would be No. 1. The former Raiders brain trust shocked the draft world in 2019, when they selected Ferrell at No. 4 overall. Per Grinding The Mocks, Ferrell's expected draft position was almost No. 20 overall, which made for an incredibly wide disparity for a player ultimately selected early in the first round. And Ferrell was a case in which the masses were correct. Undoubtedly a stud at Clemson, with 50.5 tackles for loss and 27 sacks in three seasons as a full-time player at Clemson, Ferrell's stiffness around the corner was evident on film and at the combine. His pass-rush moves were average for such a productive player, and his lack of high-caliber burst limited how quickly he could get to the quarterback.
5. Shaq Lawson, EDGE (2016)
Lawson was a three-year contributor at Clemson, his final two seasons spent as one of the first-string edge rushers. His sack production swelled from 3.5 in his sophomore season to 12.5 as a junior, the same year he had 24.5 tackles for loss. A thick, tone-setter on the edge, Lawson's game was more predicated on his natural power than spectacular burst or bend around the corner. The Bills selected him at No. 19 overall, which at the time was viewed as somewhat of a steal in a down edge-rusher class after Joey Bosa. A quality prospect, Lawson lands at No. 5 in these rankings because he wasn't viewed as special.
4. Christian Wilkins, EDGE/DT (2019)
Safe. That word was probably typed in every single scouting report on Wilkins during the 2019 pre-draft process. Long a vocal team captain at Clemson, Wilkins was a mainstay in the opposition's backfield during his illustrious, four-year career with the Tigers. In four seasons as a full-time player, Wilkins aligned at every position and won. He had 16 sacks with 40.5 tackles for loss and batted down a grand total of 15 passes. Because he entered the league at 23 years old -- with a December birthday -- Wilkins' was viewed with minimal upside, and the allure of his profile was more about his wide-ranging abilities more so than about his possession of a true trump card, particularly as a pass rusher.
Pick Six Newsletter
Crafted By The Best NFL Experts
Get the day's big stories + fun stuff you love like mock drafts, picks and power rankings.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
3. Bryan Bresee, DT (2023)
Yet another Swinney success story on the recruiting trail, and probably the biggest recruit to walk the halls at Clemson University outside of Trevor Lawrence, Bresee was the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2020 class. The long, versatile, and sudden defensive lineman looked like a future top pick as an true freshman for the Tigers, accumulating four sacks and 6.5 tackles behind the line across 430 snaps. Hype intensified. Early in 2021, Bresee was a menace against the run and flashed again as a pass rusher. He then tore his ACL against NC State only four contests into the season and a shoulder surgery kept him off the field for spring practice. Bresee's injuries are holding him back. That's it. His burst, power upon contact, and short-area quickness are off the charts. After his junior season, if he can stay on the field, it wouldn't be a shock if Bresee tops this list.
2. Dexter Lawrence, NT (2019)
Another monster recruit Swinney swooned, Lawrence was the No. 2 overall recruit (regardless of position) in the 2016 class, and he played like a mega recruit should during his Clemson career. Blessed with incredible athleticism at 6-4 and around 350 pounds, Lawrence routinely pushed back and would swim off centers and guards with ease to not only present himself as a dominant run defender but a threatening pass rusher. In three years at Clemson, when double teams were incessant, Lawrence registered 10 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. His 48 pressures on 336 pass-rushing snaps as a true freshman signified what was to come from Lawrence, and he had a pressure-creation rate of over 10% -- high for a nose tackle -- in two of those three collegiate campaigns. Come draft time, Lawrence was viewed as decently high upside prospect because he was yet to turn 22 and extraordinarily safe because of his gargantuan size, athleticism, and hand work. But playing a lower-value position got him ranked at No. 2 on this list and is why he wasn't selected until No. 16 overall in the 2019 draft.
1. Myles Murphy, EDGE (2023)
Murphy was a five-star recruit and the No. 1 strong-side defensive end in the high school class of 2020. He's been an alpha for a while. He's a tall, long, and chiseled defender, really what's become the classic Clemson outside rusher. Relative to his 6-5, 275-pound frame, Murphy's burst jumps off the screen. He loves the inside counter and is typically effective with it, indicating he's somewhat advanced for his size. Lastly, Murphy has elite dip-and-rip ability, making his outside speed rush a real weapon. After four sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss as a true freshman, in 2021, Murphy erupted for eight sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss on 552 snaps, plus he more than doubled his pressure total (from 20 to 42). While he does need to build his pass-rush move arsenal and get a touch stronger, Murphy is the best Clemson defensive line prospect in the Swinney era, mostly due to the premium position he plays and his tremendous upside.