CLEMSON -- Fantasy football aficionados are familiar with post-hype sleepers: highly touted rookies from the previous year who do not quite meet lofty expectations, becoming forgotten or undervalued as second-year players.
So who are Clemson's post-hype sleepers? The prime candidates are members of the 2009 recruiting class who are emerging during the first two weeks of training camp:
Bryce McNeal, WR
McNeal faced two weight issues as a true freshman last year: his rail-thin, 168-pound frame, and the mass of the playbook.
With a year to absorb the offense and get stronger, the Minnesota native has added 12 pounds and landed in the middle of a deep wide receiver competition.
McNeal's 4.4 second speed in the 40-yard dash combined with precise route-running ability, especially on downfield routes, gives the Tigers a deep-threat option to complement bigger-framed possession receivers, who also populate the roster.
"He's learned how to play faster and tougher mentally," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "He is very fast. He has tremendous natural instincts as far as creating space and getting open. He plays really long and has great ball skills. The biggest thing is physically where he has grown. He was so small last year. He has gotten stronger. He's much better at being able to bounce off people and not get re-routed."
In 2009, McNeal was viewed as a top-10 wide receiver prospect. He joins freshman DeAndre Hopkins and next year's prize commitment, Charone Peake, to give the Tigers plenty of future upside at the position.
"I think it's a lot slower now just because I know what I'm doing," McNeal said of game speed. "I'm not worried about my weight. I could play at 180 my whole career as long as I get stronger."
Roderick McDowell, RB
The Tigers lose 21 touchdowns with the departure of C.J. Spiller -- but they also lose 216 carries.
With no tailback experience behind Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper, McDowell is slotted as the third option and is an injury away from becoming an integral part of the offense. In two scrimmages, McDowell has looked up to the task, rushing 24 times for a team-best 203 yards.
Malliciah Goodman, DE
One could argue his true freshman season last fall was a breakout, but Goodman's true breakout will be more memorable.
"He is a smart player for a young guy," Swinney said. "He's hard to run a boot on; it's hard to reverse on him. And then he can reach from here to that stadium there."
Goodman registered two sacks and five tackles for loss as a freshman in 329 snaps. Da'Quan Bowers has three sacks in 955 career snaps. While Goodman will begin the season in a reserve role, he'll have plenty of opportunity in Clemson's defensive line rotation.
Corico Hawkins, LB
The undersized true freshman started the bowl game and has emerged as the starting middle linebacker in training camp, displacing veteran Brandon Maye. What Hawkins lacks for in size, the staff says the sophomore makes up for in football IQ and toughness. During the first two scrimmages, Clemson's first-team defense has held the offense to 2.3 yards per rush.
Quandon Christian, LB
The hard-hitting Christian has risen to the top of the depth chart at strong side linebacker -- the only freshman in the projected lineup.
At 6-4 and 210 pounds, Christian is part of an interesting young group of linebackers including Tig Willard, Justin Parker and Hawkins that could improve the Tigers' run defense.
Jonathan Meeks, S
Some were touting Meeks for early playing time at safety last year with Michael Hamlin and Chris Clemons in NFL camps. This summer, DeAndre McDaniel and Rashard Hall have a stranglehold on the safety position. Still, reviews out of camp have been positive regarding Meeks' summer performance. Meeks, just one of three true freshmen to play last fall, had two tackles for loss in the first scrimmage, and could impact special teams and will provide depth in the defensive backfield.
Willy Korn has lost his second quarterback competition in as many summers.
The once highly touted Byrnes High product transfered from Clemson to Marshall this spring, in hopes of earning a starting quarterback job at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
On Friday, Korn began working with the safeties.
"Sure, he is disappointed," Marshall coach Doc Holliday told the Huntington (W.Va.) Herald-Dispatch. "His dream was to be a quarterback. We all have dreams. Unfortunately, his dream didn't come true."
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