Friday, February 29, 2008

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 11 Texas Longhorns

No. 11 Texas Longhorns (Big 12 No. 2)

2008 Haul: 20 signees, 5 Athlon Consensus 100

Scouting Report:

Mack Brown and the Longhorn coaching staff have turned recruiting into an everyday chore. They have gone out and recruited so well over the past five years that there are no glaring areas of weakness on this roster. Brown has to be commended for the wonderful job he does year in and year out on the recruiting trail and 2008 is no exception.

With the early departure of Jamaal Charles to the NFL, the running back spot is one position that could use some depth. Vondrell McGee has basically staked his claim on the starting spot, so Texas fans should not expect any of the incoming freshmen to start. It is one of the most talented running back classes in the nation, however, so there should be some impact. Of the five ’08 running back prospects Texas signed, DeSean Hales (Klein, Texas) and Jeremy Hills (Alief, Texas) are the two to watch out for. Both are smaller backs that can explode for the big play at any time. Hales is a more complete runner and is certainly the future of the running back spot for the Horns.

On the outside, the Horns bring in two more big, rangy pass catchers. Dan Buckner (Allen, Texas) is the most physically gifted prospect in this class and is not shy about making sure his opponents know it. The verbose Buckner has the tools to back his mouth up, though. D.J. Grant (Austin, Texas) should be another talented, lanky target for future Longhorn quarterbacks.

For all the NFL talent that has been in the Texas’ secondary over the past few seasons (four NFL first day picks and one to be this April), the pass defense has struggled. Texas finished 10th in the Big 12 in pass defense and 99th and 109th nationally in each of the last two seasons. Aaron Williams (Round Rock, Texas) and D.J. Monroe (Angleton, Texas) will look to change that recent trend. Williams is as solid a defensive back prospect as any in the nation and could play corner or safety. Monroe is small but makes up for his lack of size with tremendous tenacity and speed. Nolan Brewster (Denver, Colo.), the son of a coach, is a heady addition to the defense. He is a classic safety/linebacker tweener and should make a big impact wherever he ends up.

The Longhorns added three linebacker prospects as well – not counting Brewster. Dravannti Johnson (Nederland, Texas) headlines this group. With most of the starting spots already accounted for, do not expect any immediate impact from this group.

Along the offensive line, two stellar prospects are headed to the Forty Acres. David Snow (Gilmer, Texas) and Mark Buchanan (Austin, Texas) look to continue Texas’ tradition of strong offensive line play.

As expected, Mack Brown made his living in the football crazed state of Texas once again. All but one prospect in this class is from the Lone Star State (Brewster-Colo.)
Top Prospect: Dan Buckner – WR – Allen, Texas (6-4, 210) AC100 No. 40

As has been stated many times, the 2008 class is loaded will big, fast wide receivers. Buckner fits the mold perfectly. He uses his huge wingspan to high point most passes. He uses tenacious ball skills and solid leaping ability to outwork defensive backs for most balls thrown his way. He will be a great red zone target. Buckner shows great body positioning and control; playing in traffic does not phase the big wideout.

He is at his best in the vertical passing game, using his size and leaping ability to beat smaller corners. He has solid straight-line speed but will never be a slot-type, open-field playmaker. He will, though, make an immediate impact in the deep passing game and in the red zone.

Most of the time, Buckner’s physical ability is a huge advantage. At times, however, he can be too physical. He will need to be careful when putting his hands on smaller defensive backs. Officials on the next level will not be as kind as the Texas high school zebras.

Buckner’s fabulous ball skills were on display in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl when he made a spectacular touchdown reception over Boubacar Cissoko. He is the next in a recent line of big, powerful NFL-type wide receivers (Roy Williams, Limas Sweed).

Best of the Rest:

Aaron Williams – Round Rock, Texas (6-1, 180) AC100 No. 62
Jarvis Humphrey – DT – Cedar Hill, Texas (6-2, 295) AC100 No. 64
DeSean Hales – RB – Klein, Texas (5-10, 165) AC100 No. 77
D.J. Monroe – CB – Angleton, Texas (5-9, 170) AC100 No. 87
David Snow – OL Gilmer, Texas (6-4, 300)
Dravannti Johnson – LB – Nederland, Texas (6-2, 230)
D.J. Grant – WR – Austin, Texas (6-3, 200)
Nolan Brewster – DB – Denver, Colo. (6-1, 200)
Jeremy Hills – RB – Alief, Texas (5-10, 180)
Mark Buchanan – OL – Austin, Texas (6-6, 280)

Sleeper: Antoine Hicks — ATH — Mansfield, Texas (6-3, 200)

Watching film on this young athlete, one thing is very apparent: he is a playmaker. No matter what position he plays, look for Mack Brown to put the ball in his hands. He is impossible to tackle in the open field. His position in high school was quarterback. He is very familiar with the ever-so-popular spread-zone-read-option that won a national championship in Austin three years ago. He also throws a nice deep ball so it would not be shocking to see him get reps at quarterback.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 12 Florida State Seminoles

No. 12 Florida State Seminoles (ACC No. 3)

2008 Haul: 30 signees, 3 Athlon Consensus 100

Scouting Report:

2008 marked a bit of a shift in recruiting philosophy for Bobby Bowden and his staff. In previous season, Bowden relied heavily on closing strong with a few Signing Day upsets to land a top-10 class. This season, they went out early in the recruiting calendar and put together a strong class right from the start.

Offensive line help was an obvious priority. It seems that the offensive line has received the most flack for the downturn in FSU football in recent years, and rightly so. The running game has been anemic and the O-line has been porous to say the least. Bowden and staff landed six prospects in this class to help fix this problem. Offensive line guru Rick Trickett recruits a smaller, more agile lineman for his system. Seminole fans will have to wait and see if these lower ranked prospects really fit his system better than the top talents in the nation. Zebrie Sanders (Clayton, Ohio) is the only highly ranked blocker in this class.

The other issue on this team has been the offensive skill position players. Where are the Anquan Boldin’s and Javon Walker’s of the world? This class should remedy that issue. Jarmon Fortson (Columbus, Ga.) is a star in the making and has performed on every big stage he has played on. JUCO wideout Corey Surrency (Torrence, Calif.) is also ready to come in and contribute immediately. FSU went a long way for the play-making A.J. Alexander (Altoona, Penn.) and fans will not be disappointed.

At running back, the ’Noles landed arguably the top JUCO running back in the nation. Tavarres Pressley (Torrence, Calif.) looks as close to Darren McFadden on film as any recruit has in the past few seasons. He has explosiveness that few players demonstrate on a football field. He can score from anywhere on the field. Look for Pressley to immediately upgrade the mediocre tailback situation.

One thing that has never been an issue for Florida State is the defense. Once again, the Seminoles reload. JUCO talent Markus White (El Dorado, Kan.) and Everett Dawkins (Duncan, S.C.) should be the next two in a long line of talented FSU D-lineman. A pair of Nigel’s will get their shot at continuing the long-standing tradition of linebackers in Tallahassee. Nigel Bradham (Crawfordville, Fla.) and Nigel Carr (Jacksonville, Fla.) are both special athletes and will be the next two stars on the FSU defense.

Two very talented quarterbacks stepped onto campus a short time ago and have not met expectations. Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee never lived up to recruiting hype, but the quarterback coming in this season is the real deal. E.J. Manuel (Virginia Beach, Va.) is as talented a player at the quarterback position since Adrian McPherson. The major difference? Manuel is an incredibly mature young man. He is a smart kid and is already a strong leader on and off the field – something McPherson clearly lacked.

Florida State has once again proved its national appeal. Yes, they landed 15 talented kids from the recruiting behemoth that is the state of Florida. But the ’Noles went into 10 other states for players. They landed four from Georgia, two each from California and Pennsylvania and one each from Kansas, Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, Ohio and New Jersey.

Top Prospect: E.J. Manuel – QB – Virginia Beach, Va. (6-4, 220) AC100 No. 21

Of all the quarterbacks in the 2008 class, Manuel might be the most ready to play high-level football the earliest. Mentally he is a pure leader — on and off the field. He goes through his progressions very naturally. He also has supreme talents. He has a strong arm and can make every throw on the field. But unlike most quarterbacks coming into college, the shorter touch pass is not a struggle for Manuel. (Watch film of Matt Stafford at Georgia his freshman year) Touch is something very few high school kids really have.

Manuel might also be the most mobile pro-style quarterback to come out of high school in some time. He has learned very early how to ‘run-to-throw’ instead of running to run. Steve Young perfected it.

He will need some time under center as he has been in the shotgun most of his young career. Jimbo Fisher will also be able to fix his throwing mechanics. He needs only to add consistency.

Best of the Rest:

Nigel Bradham – LB – Crawfordville, Fla. (6-2, 227) AC100 No. 14
Nigel Carr – LB – Jacksonville, Fla. (6-3, 224) AC100 No. 59
Zebrie Sanders – OL – Clayton, Ohio (6-5, 280)
A.J. Alexander – ATH – Altoona, Penn. (6-0, 180)
Jarmon Fortson – ATH – Columbus, Ga. (6-3, 220)
Everett Dawkins – DE – Duncan, S.C. (6-2, 250)
Terrance Parks – CB – Fairburn, Ga. (6-1, 200)
Moses McCray – DT – Tampa, Fla. (6-1, 270)
Tavarres Presley – RB – Torrence, Calif. (6-0, 210)*
Corey Surrency – WR – Torrence, Calif. (6-4, 210)*

Sleeper: Avis Commack – WR – Jacksonville, Fla. (6-4, 190)

This long, lanky prospect is solid all-around player. He is not great at any one thing but does everything well. He has good hands, runs decent routes, shows deceptive speed – both with and without the ball – and has the size to be an impact player in the vertical passing game. Commack could give the higher ranked wideouts in the class a run for their money.

* - El Camino C.C.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 13 LSU Tigers

No. 13 LSU Tigers (SEC No. 4)

2008 Haul: 26 signees, 3 Athlon Consensus 100

Scouting Report:

Les Miles picked up right where Nick Saban left off. He stock piled talent for a few years and turned it into a National Championship. Barring a trip to the NFL, Miles should have a nice roster for years to come. Although not star-studded, the 2008 LSU recruiting class is none-the-less loaded once again.

With the decisions to return by Derry Beckwith and Tyson Jackson, the front seven on defense should again be very tough. The offensive front needed to be addressed, however. Miles succeeded by landing six potential blockers up front as well as two, possibly three, tight ends. Greg Shaw (Miami, Fla.) and local product Clay Spencer (Baton Rouge, La.) lead a deep group of offensive lineman. The versatile Matt Branch (Monroe, La.) could end up as a tackle or tight end. Chase Clement (Thibodaux, La.) could end being a star at either tight end or defensive end.

The secondary also took a hit to graduation. Chevis Jackson, Craig Steltz, and Jonathan Zenon are all going to try their hand at the NFL. Two Florida products should help remedy the depth in the defensive backfield. Patrick Johnson of Pompano Beach and Karnell Hatcher of Delray Beach are possibly the best two prospects in this class and should immediately shore up the secondary.

LSU has no shortage of playmakers on the outside. Demetrius Byrd, DeAngelo Benton and Terrance Tolliver signed with LSU in last year’s class. This year’s version is very similar. Benton, originally from Bastrop, La., had to attend Hargrave Military Academy last season in order to get his qualifying grades. Now, he heads back to Louisiana as a member of the ’08 class. There is a Tolliver in this class as well. Chris Tolliver (Rayville, La.) is lightning quick and can separate as well as any receiver in this well-documented 2008 wide receiver class. LSU should again be loaded at wideout.

With Ryan Perrilloux’s ability to get suspended, leadership from the signal caller position may be the biggest issue on this football team in 2008. ’07 recruit Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson (Destrehan, La.) could see some early reps with the first team this summer if things continue on their destructive path with Perrilloux.

LSU does not quite have the inherent recruiting advantages as schools in Texas, Florida or California but it might be a close fourth. The state of Louisiana always produces talent and 2008 was no exception. The Bayou Bengals landed 14 in-state talents. It is the ability for the Tigers to dip into powerhouse states of Florida and Texas that makes recruiting to LSU so successful. Miles landed four kids each, including its top two prospects, from the Lone Star and Sunshine States.

Don’t look now, but the state of Louisiana is loaded in 2009. Look for LSU to really focus on its home territory next season.

Top Prospect: Patrick Johnson — CB — Pompano Beach, Fla. (6-1, 195) AC100 No. 9

Very rarely does a prospect have Johnson's combination of size and speed at the corner position. It is especially important at this position for two reason. First, the size and speed of the wide receiver, in the 2008 class in particular, is getting to be ridiculous. The days of the 5’7” cornerback are slowly fading. Second, generally speaking, the cornerback is the least coached position coming out of high school. The natural instincts are really on display at the corner position in high school.

Johnson has great speed, solid ball skills and ideal size. He can also be a great offensive weapon; he is athletic enough to be given the ball on an end around for example. He does a solid job while tackling in the open field. He breaks down properly. He will, however, need to work on playing low. His body type and big frame make it harder for him against the smaller slot wideouts.

The manner with which he handled the recruitment process raises questions about where his head is located. He has superior physical tools but will he be able to maintain focus?

Best of the Rest:

Chancey Aghayere – DE – Garland, Texas (6-4, 245) AC100 No. 42
Chris Tolliver – WR – Rayville, La. (6-1, 185) AC100 No. 72
Chase Clement – TE/DE – Thibodaux, La. (6-5, 240)
Karnall Hatcher – S – Delray Beach, Fla. (6-2, 195)
Jordan Jefferson – QB – Destrehan, La. (6-4, 200)
Matt Branch – TE/OL – Monroe, La. (6-6, 240)
Ryan Baker – LB – Blountstown, Fla. (6-0, 210)
Brandon Taylor – DB – Franklinton, La. (5-11, 180)
DeAngelo Benton – WR – Chatham, Va. (6-3, 195)
Greg Shaw – OL – Miami, Fla. (6-6, 280)

Sleeper: Kyle Prater — LB — Kerrville, Texas (6-2, 220)

Prater is an attacking, versatile prospect from the linebacker spot. He could end up at either inside or outside backer. In the middle is where he is likely to play due to his ability to flow through traffic. He does a great job of moving through debris and getting to the ball carrier. He also shows great diagnosis ability and has high football IQ.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 14 UCLA Bruins

No. 14 UCLA Bruins (Pac-10 No. 2)

2008 Haul: 23 signees, 3 Athlon Consensus 100

Scouting Report:

Maintaining class stability was likely the first task of new head coach Rick Neuheisel when he arrived in Westwood. Therefore, keeping Dwayne Walker employed as defensive coordinator could be the most productive move Neuheisel will make this offseason. Many of the talented recruits in this class were open about the fact that they would decommit from UCLA if Walker was not a hold over. He stayed and the kids remained true to their word and signed with the Bruins.

This offense was devoid of playmakers last season. The 2008 class is loaded with big play threats. At the running back spot Aundre Dean (Katy, Texas), Milton Knox (Lake Balboa, Calif.), Jonathan Franklin (Los Angeles, Calif.) and Derrick Coleman (Fullerton, Calif.) take a point of weakness for the Bruins and turn it into a major strength. Dean is clearly the most talented and should see the field very early. Coleman is a bit of a sleeper and is more of a fullback than running back. He runs very hard and is a beast to tackle.

Although not star studded, the wide receiver spot is loaded with talent. Again, this spot on Neuheisel’s roster was a point of weakness. They certainly have options now. Nelson Rosario (Oceanside, Calif.), Antwon Moutra (Culver City, Calif.) and Jerry Johnson (Venice, Calif.) are all 6-3 or taller and will be instant impact players on the outside. Cory Harkey (Chino Hills, Calif.) could dramatically overachieve his recruiting rankings.

The defensive backfield was also a point of major concern for this recruiting class. As a result, the Bruins landed what is possibly the best secondary class in the nation. Anthony Dye (Corona, Calif.) and Aaron Hester (Compton, Calif.) could be the starting cover corner combo for the years to come in Los Angeles. E.J. Woods (Encino, Calif) is a human missile from his safety spot and Rahim Moore (Los Angeles, Calif.) might be the fastest safety prospect in the nation. The defensive backfield will be in good hands for the next few seasons.

Depth along both lines was also needed. The offensive line will be a major focus of next year’s recruiting class as the Bruins only landed two prospects in 2008. The defensive line was addressed, at least on the outside. Damien Holmes (Colton, Calif.) and Datone Jones (Compton, Calif.) project as the next set of bookends for the Bruins.

Neuheisel, the former UCLA quarterback, has three quality signal callers coming in this class. The 6-5 JUCO Kevin Craft (Walnut, Calif.), the 6-3 Nick Crissman (Huntington Beach, Calif.) and 6-2 Kevin Prince (Encino, Calif.) will all add depth to a position that was riddled by injuries a season ago.

The kicker of the future for the Bruins is Jeff Locke (Phoenix, Ariz.). Locke is the No. 2 kicker prospect in the nation.

It is no surprise that 21 of 23 prospects (Dean-Texas and Locke-Ariz.) in this class are from California. USC can’t sign them all, right?

There is a clear jump in level of recruiting class with this UCLA class. The top-14 are elite classes and a cut above everyone else in the nation.

Top Prospect: Aundre Dean – RB – Katy, Texas (6-1, 200) AC100 No. 54

This upright running back is a great inside-outside threat. He is very comfortable running between the tackles and is physical enough to pick-up the dirty yards. He also has great lateral quickness and burst out of his cuts. Dean has a nasty stutter step move that he uses to get to the edge. He does not have elite speed but rarely gets caught from behind. He uses his quickness and acceleration to mask his lack of top-end speed.

Dean’s cuts have no wasted movements as he plants and goes as quickly as any running back in this class. He is also a threat out of the backfield in the passing game. He has solid hands and good enough ball skills to be an impact player in the screen/swing passing game.

His running style is the only worry. He runs very upright much like the former Colorado Buffalo Chris Brown, Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson and Arkansas’ Darren McFadden. All of those runners have dealt with injury issues their entire careers.

Best of the Rest:

Rahim Moore – DB – Los Angeles, Calif. (6-1, 190) AC100 No. 51
Aaron Hester – CB – Compton, Calif. (5-11, 190) AC100 No. 99
E.J. Woods – S – Encino, Calif. (6-1, 210)
Anthony Dye – CB – Corona, Calif. (5-11, 180)
Datone Jones – DE – Compton, Calif. (6-4, 250)
Nick Crissman – QB – Huntington Beach, Calif. (6-3, 200)
Milton Knox– RB – Van Nuys, Calif. (5-9, 200)
Damien Holmes – DE – Colton, Calif. (6-4, 250)
Jerry Johnson – WR – Venice, Calif. (6-3, 190)
Nelson Rosario – WR – Oceanside, Calif. (6-5, 210)

Sleeper: Cory Harkey – TE – Chino Hills, Calif. (6-4, 240)

This could have been the big, bruising runner Derrick Coleman from Fullerton, Calif. However, the lack of depth at the tight end spot makes Harkey a prime sleeper candidate. He is a solid pass catcher already. With some added weight to his big frame and development of blocking skills, Harkey could end up being a solid all-around prospect. Make no mistake, however, this kid will have an early impact in the passing games, especially in the red zone.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 15 Colorado Buffaloes

No. 15 Colorado Buffaloes (Big 12 No. 3)

2008 Haul: 21 signees, 3 Athlon Consensus 100

Scouting Report:

Despite some early struggles, Dan Hawkins has the Colorado Buffaloes trending upward again. This team was one of the youngest in the Big 12 last season if not the country, so there is a lot returning on the field. Buffs fans can only continue to be optimistic, as off the field, the 15th ranked recruiting class is heading to Boulder this fall.

The 2008 Colorado recruiting class is headlined by the first elite prospect to show up on our countdown. Darrell Scott (Ventura, Calif.) is arguably the best running back in the nation and is likely to win the starting job right away. If Scott does not start, Hawkins did a strong job of creating depth in the backfield since Hugh Charles left. Ray Polk (Phoenix, Ariz.) leaves the sunny desert landscapes for the mountains and snow of Colorado. He will also see some carries as a true freshman.

It is one of the best running back recruiting classes in the nation.

The second strongest position in the class is easily the linebackers. Loaded with two AC100 members, Lynn Katoa (Salt Lake City, Utah) and Jon Major (Parker, Colo.), as well as one of the top JUCO linebackers (Shaun Moehler – Costa Mesa, Calif.), this linebacking crop is also one of the best positional classes in the nation. It could not come at a better time as the team’s leading tackler and defensive leader Jordan Dizon has graduated.

Back in the 80s, Bill McCartney found out that if he kept Colorado kids at home, he could win a national championship. Of course, he had to dip into Texas and California too, but the Centennial state provided the foundation for a title team. Dan Hawkins did a great job last season of keeping in state kids home, something his predecessor could not do (see Calais Campbell and LenDale White). Although not a particularly deep year in Colorado, Hawkins still pulled some talent. He landed the most important players - three of the states’ top four.

It is also no surprise that Hawkins went into California and had success. He landed seven prospects from the Golden Coast. Boulder does have a unique advantage in the Big 12 as it is the western most city in the conference. California will have to be fertile ground for the Buffs if they expect to continue to build the program under Hawkins. Scott obviously headlines this group but Moehler, Max Tuioti-Mariner (Corona, Calif.) and Ryan Deehan (Poway, Calif.) round out a really strong group of California prospects heading east to Boulder.

Top Prospect: Darrell Scott – RB – Ventura, Calif. (6-1, 212) AC100 No. 3

Darrell Scott is the most complete running back prospect in the nation. He has not only the durability, size and power to run between the tackles 20-25 times a game but also the speed and agility to get to the outside and beat defenders to the edge. He shows exceptional feet for a bigger back and has great balance and power for a guy who can play in the open field. He has great vision and patience while allowing his blocks to develop. Scott is also one of the better receivers out of the backfield in this class.

Scott rushed for 3,194 yards and 45 touchdowns his junior year.

Scott has lived in Florida, Texas and California, so he has played against top-flight competition his entire career. Colorado freshman wide receiver Josh Smith is Scott’s uncle but is more like his brother as they lived together in Ventura. This relationship will be a key factor in where Scott ends up.

Scott is the first elite prospect to show up on the top-25 class countdown.

Best of the Rest:

Jon Major – LB – Parker, Colo. (6-4, 230) AC100 No. 65
Lynn Katoa – LB – Salt Lake City, Utah (6-2, 225) AC100 No. 76
Ryan Deehan – TE – Poway, Calif. (6-4, 230)
Bryce Givens – OL – Denver, Colo. (6-6, 275)
Ray Polk – RB – Phoenix, Ariz. (6-0, 195)

Sleeper: Max Tuioti-Mariner – OL – Corona, Calif. (6-4, 300)

Okay, so Mariner probably should be in the ‘Best of the Rest’ section but he is dramatically underrated so ends up as a sleeper. This kid should be in the top-75 regardless of position but because he is likely to play guard he ends up lower. In addition, he may not come into camp at 100 percent but if he is healthy he is a good bet to get some playing time. He has a nasty, killer instinct and looks to demolish defenders.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 16 Oregon Ducks

No. 16 Oregon Ducks (Pac-10 No. 3)

2008 haul: 20 signees, 0 Athlon Consensus 100

Scouting Report:

Offensive skill positions were likely the top focus of the Oregon Duck coaching staff this recruiting season. They certainly have options now. Chris Harper (Wichita, Kan.) is one of the most versatile prospects in the entire nation. He has the body of a tight end or linebacker but the skill set of a quarterback or wide receiver. Look for him to have the ball in his hands. Lack of depth at the wide receiver spot, combined with three graduating seniors will push Harper into a pass catching role of some sort.

The running back spot, however, is now a loaded position for the Ducks. JUCO freight train LaGarrette Blount (Scooba, Miss.) will come in right away and press for time. Backing him up will be the speedy LaMichael James (Texarkana, Texas). James’ 180 pounds are the lighting to Blount’s 230 pounds of thunder. Watch out for return specialist and open field dynamo Kenjon Barner (Riverside, Calif.).

Dion Jordan (Chandler, Ariz.) will need work as a blocker but is ready to step in and be a contributor in the passing attack.

Bellotti only landed two offensive line prospects but they are good ones. Nick Cody (Brush Prairie, Wash.) has one of the most remarkable stories to tell and is an incredibly grounded young man. He has great size and killer instinct in the trenches. Hamani Stevens (Hemet, Calif.) is arguably the best center prospect in the nation.

On defense, JUCO tackle Justin Thompson (Torrance, CA) and linebacker DeWitt Stuckey (Stockton, Calif.) could both see playing time in their first seasons in Eugene.

What is so impressive about this class is the ability to recruit nationally. The Ducks landed four kids from Texas and one each from Kansas, Mississippi, Arizona, and Georgia. Don’t forget, Oregon is still a player in the Terrelle Pryor sweepstakes. Although its unlikely the Ducks land Pryor, it is still a testament to Mike Bellotti and his staff for even being involved with the top player in the nation, who is nearly 3,000 miles away in Pennsylvania.

As usual, Oregon did well in California, landing 10 prospects from the west coast state. Oregon landed only one prospect from its home state: Scott Grady (Tigard, Ore.).

Top Prospect: Darron Thomas – ATH – Aldine, Texas (6-4, 195)

This could have been Chris Harper. The two will likely battle for playing time at the quarterback position with the loser moving to another position. The edge goes to Thomas due to the fact that he is a better passer and is already on campus working in the Chip Kelly system.

Thomas is a difference maker on the ground from the quarterback position. He is a thicker version of Dennis Dixon and is a perfect fit in the spread-zone-read-option offense. He has incredibly fast feet and gets from 0-60 in no time at all. He does not have a strong arm but does show nice accuracy and touch on his passes.

Best of the Rest:

Chris Harper – ATH – Wichita, Kan. (6-2, 230)
Dion Jordan – TE – Chandler, Ariz. (6-6, 220)
Nick Cody – OL – Brush Prairie, Wash. (6-5, 290)
Hamani Stevens – OL – Hemet, Calif. (6-4, 285)
LeMichael James – RB – Texarkana, Texas (5-9, 185)

Sleeper: Kenjon Barner – RB – Riverside, Calif. (5-10, 170)

If LaGarrette Blount is Owen Schmidt and LaMichael James is Steve Slaton, then Barner is Oregon’s version of Noel Devine. He may be small but he is impossible to catch, much less tackle. He will be an immediate impact performer in the return game and in garbage time. He is a home run threat anytime he touches ball. His feet are lighting quick and can accelerate to full speed very quickly.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 17 Washington Huskies

No. 17 Washington Huskies (Pac-10 No. 4)

2008 haul: 26 signees, 1 Athlon Consensus 100

Scouting Report:

After three losing seasons under Ty Willingham, Washington Husky fans have something to smile about. The emergence of the Tim Tebow of the west – Jake Locker – has given hope to U of W fans. Willingham needed to give him some help, though. The 2008 recruiting class did just that.

To protect his young star at quarterback, the Huskies landed six offensive lineman, including the massive Alameda Ta’amu (Seattle, Wash.) who checks in at 6-2 and at least 335 pounds. Allen Carroll (Oakland, Calif.) and Senio Kelemete (Seattle, Wash.) round out one of the top offensive line classes in the Pac-10.

This class is also chalk full of pass-catching options for Locker. Kavario Middleton (Lakewood, Wash.) could end being the top tight end prospect in the nation, if he isn’t moved to defense. Chris Polk (Redlands, Calif) is a dynamic player on the outside and was once a USC commit (so he must be good). Jermaine Kearse (Lakewood, Wash.) and Vince Taylor (Issaquah, Wash.) add much needed depth to the receiving corp. Cody Bruns (Prosser, Wash.) might be the most interesting, however. He lacks the physical tools of his fellow pass catching recruits but was arguably the most productive wide receiver in the history of high school football in this country. Just for safe measure, the Huskies landed three running backs as well.

The offense should be very potent for the coming years. The defense, however, is a different story. Washington ranked 107th in the total defense last season and needs upgrades at nearly every position, defensive end in particular. Willingham did a solid job at the end position with Everrette Thompson (Burien, Wash.) and potentially Middleton – who is also a very good defensive prospect. Three linebackers and three defensive backs will attempt to sure up a porous back seven.

Overall, Willingham and staff did a marvelous job of upgrading the talent on offense. The defense is more of a question mark, though. Fans will have to wait and see if the Husky defense improves in 2008.

As expected, the state of California was a fertile proving ground for the Huskies. They landed nine prospects from the Golden State including the very talented Carroll and Polk.

In addition, if Washington expects to compete in the very difficult Pac-10, they needed to close down the borders of their own state and keep talent at home. They did so in 2008 by landing 12 of the top 15 prospects in the state of Washington.

Top Prospect: Kavario Middleton – TE/DE – Lakewood, Wash. (6-6, 250) AC100 No. 44

Middleton has the physical ability to be the best tight end in the nation for 2008. He also has the ability to be a dynamic defensive end as well. He should play on offense, however. He has wonderful receiving skills and has no fear whatsoever about going over the middle to make the tough catch. Middleton will also be a go-to red zone target as he uses his massive 6-6 frame to out-leap smaller defenders for the ball. He has solid hands and nice ball skills.

Middleton is not just an end zone, possession-type receiver at the tight end position. He has some athleticism too. Al la Ben Troupe at Florida, Middleton once leaped over an opposing defensive back who was making a poor effort at a tackle in the open field. This athleticism is what defensive coordinators love about his D-line potential.

His pass-catching ability, big-play skills and red zone dominance should place him in the offensive huddle, though. As a blocker, he has the potential to be very productive. A little work here and there should clean his technique up a bit and allow him to be a solid blocker.

Best of the Rest:

Everette Thompson – DE – Burien, Wash. (6-5, 240)
Chris Polk – ATH – Redlands, Calif. (6-0, 200)
Allen Carroll – G – Oakland, Calif. (6-4, 290)
Alameda Ta’amu – G – Seattle, Wash. (6-2, 335)
Senio Kelemete – T/DT – Seattle, Wash. (6-4, 270)

Sleeper: Cody Bruns – WR – Prosser, Wash. (5-11, 185)

Bruns is a classic over-achiever. He is too small and too slow to be a big time recruit, but he simply does whatever it takes. His level of production is unprecedented in high school football as he set a national record for receptions with 304 catches for 5,080 yards and 72 touchdowns. That’s getting the job done. He is an incredibly heady player who has a great natural feel for the game.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 18 Texas A&M Aggies

No. 18 Texas A&M Aggies (Big 12 No. 4)

2008 Haul: 24 signees, 2 Athlon Consensus 100

Scouting Report:

The biggest issue in College Station in 2008 will be the switch in offensive philosophy. The power option attack of Coach Franchione had a tough time recruiting certain positions that involved the forward pass – wide receivers, quarterbacks etc. That should no longer be an issue for the Aggies. Mike Sherman steps in with a 10-plus win-per-season NFL resume and a love of the West Coast offense. It paid off immediately.

Playmakers on the outside have been missing for the Aggies for sometime but they addressed that by stealing big Jeff Fuller (McKinney, Texas) from Oklahoma and landing Derrick Hall (Beaumont, Texas). The future of the quarterback and running back spots are secure as Sherman landed quarterback Tommy Dorman (North Richland Hills, Texas) and Cyrus Gray (DeSoto, Texas). Dorman is more of a drop back passer and will fit the new offensive system in College Station once Stephen McGee graduates. Gray is a home run threat and will be a star in the Big 12.

The other main area of concern for Texas A&M was the defensive front. This class surely has added depth to the defensive line as the Aggies landed eight D-line prospects (three tackles, five ends).  Big tackle Roderick Davis (Aldine, Texas) and the explosive Andrew Wolridge (Lexington, Texas) headline this group of defenders. Kyle Mangan (Brenham, Texas) leads a group of three linebackers headed to A&M.

All but two of the 24 incoming freshman are from the state of Texas. JUCO defensive end Matt Moss (El Cajon, Calif.) and the versatile athlete K.J. Williams (Norman, Okla.) are the only two prospects in this class not to play their most recent football in the state of Texas.

Top Prospect: Cyrus Gray – RB – DeSoto, Texas (5-11, 185) AC100 No. 61

Gray is quite the opposite of his counterpart Jonas Gray. Cyrus is about 30 pounds lighter than Jonas and is more of a speed back rather than a power runner. He lined up predominately as a quarterback, taking the shotgun snap and running with the ball. His natural open-field running ability is outstanding. He shows great vision and cut-back ability, exploding into creases and slashing through defensive front sevens. He can be a home run threat from the running back position.

For a speed back, Gray is very comfortable between the tackles. He uses his explosion and vision to find holes and squeak through with great quickness. Because he is smaller in stature, though, his penchant to run with a mean streak will catch up to him in college. Gray is a hard worker in the weight room, so he should be able to strengthen his lower body. An aspect he will have to improve, if he expects to run with the same intensity that made him so successful in high school.

Best of the Rest:

Jeff Fuller – WR – McKinney, Texas (6-4, 205) AC100 No. 92
Rod Davis – DT – Aldine, Texas (6-2, 300)
Derrick Hall – WR – Beaumont, Texas (5-11, 200)
Andrew Wolridge – DE – Lexington, Texas (6-3, 240)
Tommy Dorman – QB – North Richland Hills, Texas (6-3, 205)

Sleeper: Anthony Hyde – OT – Colleyville, Texas (6-6, 290)

Coach Fran and his running attack always required smaller, more athletic offensive lineman. With the implementation of the West Coast offense, a big-time left tackle is a necessary commodity. Hyde is just that. He has ideal left tackle size and is surprisingly athletic. He has the frame to add weight and strength while still maintaining his quick feet. He will need to adjust to playing in a pro-style offense as he used very unusual splits and formations in high school.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Team Recruiting Countdown: No.19 Minnesota Golden Gophers

No. 19 Minnesota Golden Gophers (Big Ten No. 3)

2008 Haul: 30 signees, 0 Athlon Consensus 100

Scouting Report:

A 1-11 football team has no business recruiting a top-20 class, right? Well, that is precisely what Tim Brewster and his staff has done at Minnesota. The Gophers, a team that lost to North Dakota State in 2007, did not have many bright moments last season. Brewster has ensured that that is likely to change in ’08.

Of course, the high-energy coach did have one thing to offer recruits: early playing time — and lots of it. Minnesota’s defense finished dead last in the nation last season giving up 518 yards-per-game. Nearly every spot on the defense needs upgrading and Brewster certainly brought in some options.

Safety Keanon Cooper (Dallas, Texas), linebacker Sam Maresh (Champlin, Ill.) and eight JUCO prospects should help bolster that porous defense. The group is headlined by linebacker Rex Sharpe (Yuma, Ariz.), defensive back Traye Simmons (Visalla, Calif.) and athlete David Pittman (Pasadena, Calif.). The infusion of JUCO talent should help bridge the gap between the outgoing seniors and the incoming freshmen.

The offense was not nearly as pathetic as the defense. In fact, Adam Weber put up solid numbers at the quarterback position. He loses his top pass catcher and tailback, though. Brewster addressed this by landing four – potentially six – wide receivers and three, possibly four, running back prospects. Wideouts Brandon Green (Chicago, Ill.) and Vince Hill (New Berlin, N.Y.) could see time right away, as could running back Kevin Whaley (Virginia Beach, Va.).

Tim Brewster was a key component for the Texas Longhorns when recruiting Vince Young. His roots in Texas have paid off in the land of 10,000 lakes. Minnesota landed five kids from Texas including four from Skyline High in Dallas. It could be the start of a pipeline for the Gophers.

One major issue for the future must be addressed, however. The Gopher state looks to be loaded in 2009 and Brewster and company must do a better job of keeping the top kids home. Ohio State (Willie Mobley), Notre Dame (Mike Floyd) and Wisconsin (Brandon Kelly/Joe Schafer) came in and took four of the top five from the state in 2008.

Top Prospect: MarQueis Gray – QB – Indianapolis, Ind. (6-4, 220)

Gray could be as dynamic a threat from the quarterback position as there is in this class. This slightly smaller version of Terrelle Pryor is lighting quick from out of the backfield. He can accelerate into gaps and make people miss in the open field much like Pryor. He is not quite as fluid as Pryor in the open field but is just as athletic.

He might even be a better passer. He does not have the touch that Pryor has but may have a stronger arm and throw a prettier ball. He has a snap release that is quick and efficient. He will need to develop as a college passer, learning how to read coverages and make adjustments at the line of scrimmage. Overall, he is a perfect fit for the spread offense that Tim Brewster is installing in Minneapolis.

Best of the Rest:

Keanon Cooper – DB – Dallas, Texas (6-0, 195)
Brandon Green – WR – Chicago, Ill. (6-0, 175)
Sam Maresh – LB – Champlin, Minn. (6-2, 240)
Kevin Whaley – ATH – Virginia Beach, Va. (5-10, 175)
Vince Hill – WR – New Berlin, N.Y. (6-0, 195)

Sleeper: Troy Stoudermire – ATH – Dallas, Texas (5-11, 180)

Stoudermire, one of the four Skyline High products heading north, will be an instant impact player for the Gophers. He is a versatile prospect, playing quarterback in a zone read scheme for high school, but projecting as a corner, running back or slot receiver. His quickness, change-of-direction ability and speed are at an elite level. He is dynamic in the open field with the ball in his hands. He will be a factor in the return game as well.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 20 Illinois Fighting Illini

No. 20 Illinois Fighting Illini (Big Ten No. 4)

2008 Haul: 28 signees, 0 AC100

Scouting Report:

After a two-win season in 2006, a few eyebrows were raised when Ron Zook and the Illini landed a top-15 class last season. After a nine-win season and a Rose Bowl bid, it should not be a surprise that the 2008 recruiting class is once again in the top-20. Although not nearly as star-studded as last season, this class still has a lot of nice pieces.

Illinois still has the ability to offer very early playing time to true freshmen at a variety of positions. This is, and will always be, a big draw for young talent from around the nation. Nearly every position on this team could use depth or an upgrade. It doesn’t help that the Illini lose a large group of upper class defenders this season.

Losing three of four starting defensive backs has created spots for young secondary prospects to come in and compete for playing time right away. Patrick Nixon (Jacksonville, Fla.) and Tavon Wilson (Washington, D.C.) add depth to the corner spot. Nixon will compete for the starting job right away. A pair of in-state talents will try to replace J Leman at middle linebacker: Nate Palmer (Chicago, Ill.) and Supo Sanni (Homewood, Ill.). Defensive tackle Reggie Ellis (Washington, D.C.), the top player from the D.C. area, should step in and help bolster the defensive line.

After two great season from Rashard Mendenhall, the running back position needed to be addressed in this class. Jason Ford (Belleville, Ill.) and Mikel LaShoure (Champaign, Ill.) could also see the field early in ’08. Other than Arrelious Benn, Juice Williams does not have many pass catching options on the outside. That will no longer be an issue. Cordale Scott (Cleveland, Ohio) and Alfred Jenkins (Jacksonville, Fla.) could both play early and often. Illini fans, do not forget about Florida Gator transfer Jarred Fayson too.

Once again, Ron Zook and staff have done a great job scouring the nation for talent. Illinois landed four kids from Florida, four from Ohio, three from Pennsylvania and one each from Georgia and North Carolina. The Washington, D.C. area has been the bailey wick of assistant coach Mike Lockley’s recruiting efforts. Lockley has seen much success in the area with names like Vontae Davis and Benn. In 2008, the Illini landed four nice prospects from the District of Columbia.

Top Prospect: Corey Luiget – DE – Hialeah, Fla. (6-4, 260)

Versatility comes to mind when dealing with Mr. Luiget. He lined up at quarterback, tight end, wide receiver and defensive end in high school. The athleticism is apparent for a player of his size. He has solid feet and drive, using good power and strength in both run and pass situations. He will be able to pursue backside with his speed and agility.

He is still raw, however. His pad level, hand technique, stance, tackling form and get off will all need refinement. These are all things that can be corrected with solid coaching. His natural athletic ability, strength, agility for a prospect with his size and frame are un-teachable. Luiget, Reggie Eillis and last season’s prize recruit Martez Wilson should create a formidable group within the defensive front.

Best of the Rest:

Hubie Graham – TE – Scranton, Pa. (6-4, 230)
Graham Poisac – OL – Lemont, Ill. (6-6, 310)
Cordale Scott – WR – Cleveland, Ohio (6-3, 205)
Patrick Nixon – CB – Jacksonville, Fla. (6-0, 180)
Reggie Ellis – DT – Washington, D.C. (6-2, 290)

Sleeper: Alfred Jenkins – WR – Jacksonville, Fla. (6-0, 180)

Playing time has always been a major selling point for Ron Zook and his staff. The state of Florida has also been a great asset to the Illini staff. Jenkins brings these aspects together as the Jacksonville native will press for playing time as soon as he gets to campus. He is a big play threat, particularly in the vertical passing attack. Solid hands, great acceleration/speed combined with good body control and open field wiggle put this kid on the field immediately in Champaign.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 21 Arizona State Sun Devils

No. 21 Arizona State Sun Devils (Pac-10 No. 5)

2008 Haul: 27 signees, 1 Athlon Consensus 100

Scouting Report:

The Sun Devils had a difficult time protecting the quarterback in 2007, giving up 55 sacks for nearly 400 lost yards. They ranked 117th in the nation in sacks allowed. Needless to say, offensive line was an area of focus. The Sun Devils landed five promising o-lineman, headlined by big Zach Schlink (Peoria, Ariz.). Schlink is a versatile prospect who could play tackle or guard.

In a conference that is loaded with potent passing attacks, strong secondary play and a solid pass rush are a must. ASU addressed both of those areas landing six defensive backs and six defensive lineman. Safety/athlete Jarrell Barbour (Peoria, Ariz.) will be a big time force in the defensive backfield for the next few years in Tempe. The inside-outside combination of defensive end Jamaar Jarrett (San Marcos, Calif.) and tackle Lawrence Guy (Las Vegas, Nev.) should really bolster the defensive line.

The most talented group in this class is the offensive skill position players. Wide receiver prospects Kemonte Bateman (Los Angeles, Calif.) and Gerell Robinson (Chandler, Ariz.) will be difference-makers on the outside. Both are incredibly blessed with the physical tools to be game changers on the perimeter. The Sun Devils also got their running back of the future in Ryan Bass (Corona, Calif.). Bass is a wonderful blend of strength and speed.
Although not a highly ranked prospect, one quarterback prospect certainly catches the eye. Jack Elway, son of NFL legend John Elway, visited campus in the fall and committed on the spot. The elder Elway visited with him and by simply being there, helped to convince other prospects to join the Sun Devil band wagon.

Arizona State played the recruiting game very well and signed 14 of his 27 future players from the state of California. Five of those prospects came from one high school: the very prominent Centennial High in Corona, Calif. That is called a pipeline.

In classic Erickson style, Arizona State signed five junior college players as well.

Top Prospect: Gerell Robinson – ATH – Chandler, Ariz. (6-4, 215) AC100 No. 79

Robinson has the body and size of an outside linebacker but he moves like a smaller wide receiver. With the team needs in the defensive secondary, a move to safety is a possibility. His real potential will be on offense at the wideout position. He can be amazing with the ball in his hands. 

Robinson combines tremendous athletic ability with quickness and football smarts. He is a very well-spoken kid who still remains very raw. At the moment he uses great intangibles and instincts, combined with sheer athleticism to make plays. He will need to work on refining his game; learning the subtle nuances of the wide receiver position may take a redshirt year. He is more prepared to play safety now, but the upside at wide receiver could be too high to pass up.

Best of the Rest:

Kemonte Bateman – WR – Los Angeles, Calif. (6-1, 185)
Ryan Bass – RB – Corona, Calif. (5-10,  190)
Jarrell Barbour – DB – Peoria, Ariz. (6-3, 195)
Lawrence Guy – DT – Las Vegas, Nev. (6-6, 280)
Zach Schlink – OL – Peoria, Ariz. (6-4, 300)

Sleeper: Jamaar Jarrett – DE – San Marcos, Calif. (6-6, 240)

This young defensive end prospect is a beast in along the line of scrimmage. He is not overly explosive or speedy but has great size and plays with solid all-around technique. He would fit perfectly in a 3-4 scheme where a bigger, more physical player role is needed on the outside edge. Jarrett has the frame to add some 25-30 pounds, which could turn him into an Adam Carricker power-type defensive end.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 22 Virginia Tech Hokies

No. 22 Virginia Tech Hokies (ACC No. 4)

2008 Haul: 31 signees, 1 Athlon Consensus 100
Scouting Report:

Wide receiver was most likely the top priority for the Hokies in 2008 as Frank Beamer saw his top two targets – Eddie Royal and Josh Morgan – depart. Whether the person throwing the football is Sean Glennon or Tyrod Taylor, he should have a deep group of possible targets. The Hokies landed six wide receivers in this class as well as a few athletes that could develop into offensive weapons. D.J. Coles (Goochland, Va.), Austin Fuller (Richlands, Va.) and Derrick McCoy (Amherst, Va.) add needed depth. Two athletes, however, might end up as the best wideout prospects – Dyrell Roberts (Smithfield, Va.) and Marcus Davis (Virginia Beach, Va.) are going to be two very big, physical targets for the Hokies.

Offensive line was also an area of concern. The Hokies added three promising youngsters to their O-line corp. Nick Benton (Wilmington, N.C.) and Vinston Painter (Norfolk, Va.) have massive frames and are likely the future bookend tackles for Frank Beamer and Co.

With the departure of Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi, depth in the linebacking corps was a must. Longtime Hokie defensive coordinator Bud Foster certainly has some options after signing five linebackers in this class. The group is headlined by Bruce Taylor (Myrtle Beach, S.C.) and Quillie Odom (Chatham, Va.). Taylor is very raw but has the size and potential to be a solid inside linebacker. Odom is more prepared to play today, however, and has more physical ability.

The state of Virginia has always been a very talented football state and 2008 was no exception. The Hokies took advantage and landed 24 prospects from home. That is the definition of protecting your borders.

The top prep program in the nation is Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va.. Beamer and staff did a nice job of scouring the prep ranks for three prospects. Linebacker Quillie Odom, athlete Kendrick Pressley and defensive end Leon Mackey all are headed to Blacksburg from the Chatham institution.

Top Prospect: Ryan Williams – RB – Manassas, Va. (5-10, 195) AC100 No. 38

This Steve Slaton clone has a well-rounded game. This comparison comes from Williams’ surprising power for a 195-pound runner. He is not afraid to initiate contact and runs behind his pads. He also has, like Slaton, home run-threat ability. He can make defenders look silly in the open field. His quick, short-space bursts and acceleration are top flight. He uses a short, choppy running style to get to the corner and go the distance.

Williams will also be a major threat in the passing game. He is very confident in a pass-catching role and will really put pressure on linebackers assigned to cover him man-to-man. He has the ability to get vertical and stretch defenses even from out of the backfield.

His burst was on display in San Antonio at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, where Williams showed nice open-field quickness. He outran some top-level prospects.

Best of the Rest:

Vinston Painter – OT – Norfolk, Va. (6-5, 300)
D.J. Coles – WR – Goochland, Va. (6-4, 200)
Bruce Taylor – LB – Myrtle Beach, S.C. (6-3, 230)
Nick Becton – OT – Wilmington, N.C. (6-6, 290)
Lorenzo Williams – CB – Fayetteville, N.C. (6-2, 195)

Sleeper: Marcus Davis – ATH – Virginia Beach, Va. (6-4, 220)

Davis may end up at safety or the Bud Foster coined ‘rover’ position but he clearly has the size to be a dominant presence with the ball in his hands. He has great feet and open field moves for a kid of his size. He is surprisingly fluid and could be a dynamic threat in the passing attack for years to come in Blacksburg.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 23 Pittsburgh Panthers

No. 23 Pittsburgh Panthers (Big East No. 1)

2008 Haul: 19 signees, 3 Athlon Consensus 100

Scouting Report:

With one of the worst offenses in the Big East in 2007, skill position players that can make big plays and stretch the field were a definite area of concern. Pitt certainly addressed this need. Jonathan Baldwin (Aliquippa, Pa.) is a special talent that could play tight end or wide receiver. An athletic 6-6 outside threat is tough to find; he starts from day one. Jarred Holley (Easton, Pa.), Cameron Sadler (Monroeville, Pa.) and Mike Shanahan (North Huntington, Pa.) will all add playmaking ability to the offense. Sadler is a tiny prospect but can take it the distance on any play. He will be an impact player in the return game as well.

Dave Wannstedt is losing two bookend tackles in Jeff Otah and Mike McGlynn along the offensive line and Lucas Nix (Jefferson Hills, Pa.) will fill that void right away. Nix has the potential to play on both defense or offense. With his athletic ability, size and solid feet, offensive tackle will be his destination.

Is Pat Bostick the future of Panther football at the quarterback position? He may be, but just in case he isn’t, the former NFL Coach of the Year landed a nice pair of signal callers. Greg Cross (Brunswick, Ga. by way of Fort Scott, Kan.) and Tino Sunseri (Pittsburgh, Pa.) will push Bostick for the reigns of the newly revamped Panther offense. Cross has more play-calling experience and can make plays with his legs.

The next big star in the Pitt defensive front will be Shayne Hale (Monroeville, Pa.). He played linebacker in high school but could be a terror off the edge as a defensive end. His closing speed is astonishing.

All in all, the Pitt staff once again has done a great job recruiting, especially in the fertile grounds of the Keystone State. Fourteen of the 19 signees call Pennsylvania home. Now, Pitt fans need to see all this talent translated into wins.

Top Prospect: Jonathan Baldwin – TE/WR – Aliquippa, Pa. (6-6, 220)

There has been some debate about where Baldwin (AC100 No. 16) will end up in college. Some scouts say he will be a wide receiver. If The ’Stache decides to move him outside, he will be sacrificing one of the major aspects of Baldwin’s game: inline blocking. He is an outstanding blocker. When dealing with pass-catching tight ends in this class, he is easily the best blocker of the bunch.

Baldwin’s athleticism is what makes scouts think wide receiver, though. He has great size and vertical leaping ability. He will go up and make the circus catch — which was evident in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, when he leaped over a defender to snag a long touchdown bomb. He has great straight-line speed for a player of his size.

Baldwin will be a dynamic red zone threat no matter what position he ends up at.

Best of the Rest:

Shayne Hale – LB/DE – Monroeville, Pa. (6-4, 240) — AC100 No. 55
Lucas Nix – OL – Jefferson Hills, Pa. (6-6, 300) — AC100 No. 35
Chris Burns – RB – New Wilmington, Pa. (5-10, 190)
Cameron Sadler – ATH – Monroeville, Pa. (5-7, 165)
Antwuan Reed – CB – Johnstown, Pa. (5-10, 180)

Sleeper: Jarred Holley – ATH – Easton, Pa. (5-10, 180)

If Jonathan Baldwin is the bigger, vertical threat, Holley will be the slot man. He will be very effective in the short passing game working around the line of scrimmage on bubble screens and quick routes. He also has the potential to return kicks and/or play defense at the corner back position.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 24 Auburn Tigers

No. 24 Auburn Tigers (SEC No. 5)

29 signees, 0 Athlon Consensus 100, 2 JUCOS

Scouting Report:

The biggest change for this football team could be in the offensive design. Auburn hired former Troy offensive coordinator Tony Franklin in order to implement the spread offense. Does the current roster give him the pieces needed to do that? At quarterback, Kodi Burns could be that guy, but if not, athlete Deron Furr (Columbus, GA) could fill that roll. He is lightning quick from out of the backfield. The only major question is can he throw the ball in high division-1 football?

Upgrading the depth in the defensive backfield was also a must in this class and Tommy Tuberville certainly accomplished that. He and his staff landed six potential defensive backs. T’Sharvan Bell (Kissimmee, FL) plays a great high point safety. Add Christian Thompson (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) and Marcus Jemison (McCalla, AL) and the safety position is well stocked. At corner, D’Antoine Hood (Phenix City, AL) and Neiko Lipscomb (Tucker, GA) add needed depth on the outside. Lipscomb could turn out to be the best player in this class.

After losing three out of four starters along the defensive line, Tuberville added two potential stars in Raven Gray (Wesson, MS) and Cameron Henderson (Birmingham, AL).

Auburn also did a great job of adding depth to the backfield with three talented prospects. This running back class is very balanced; Onatario McCalebb (Ft. Meade, FL) is the shifty speedster while Eric Smith (Seffner, FL) will be the bruising short yardage guy. Reggie Hunt (Daphne, AL) is also a nice looking player.

Top Prospect:

Ontario McCalebb – RB – Ft. Meade, FL (5-10, 170)

This was a tough call as this class lacks the clear elite prospect. Furr, Henderson and Bell were also options here. Make no mistake, this little running back prospect is a versatile athlete. Defense is a possibility but it is most likely that he will have the ball in his hands. McCalebb is a home run threat every time he touches the ball. He uses effortless open field moves and great speed to get to the edge and make people miss.

He obviously is going to need some bulk and weight if he expects to be a full-time running back in the SEC. However, in the new Tony Franklin spread, McCalebb will be a perfect fit. He will be used a lot out of the backfield in the passing game. His dynamic athletic ability in space is ideal for the quick, short passing game.

Best of the Rest:

Raven Gray – DE – Wesson, MS (6-4, 260)*
Jermaine Johnson – OT – Chatham, VA (6-6, 305)**
Deron Furr – ATH – Columbus, GA (6-3, 212)
Cameron Henderson – DE – Irondale, AL (6-5, 235)
T’Sharvan Bell – ATH – Kissimmee, FL (6, 175)


Neiko Lipscomb – DB – Tucker, GA (6-2, 180)

This tall, lanky prospect has legitimate potential for three positions (WR, CB, S). Team needs will likely push him to the defensive perimeter. His size is more of that of a safety but he has that rare fluidity for a taller prospect. He is comfortable in press situations as well as zone schemes. He could be a future star for the Tigers.

* - Copiah-Lincoln Community College (JUCO)
** - Hargrave Military Academy (Prep School)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 25 Missouri Tigers

Every week day for the next five weeks, Athlon Sports (otherwise know as me) will be counting down its top-25 recruiting classes. Today we begin with...

No. 25 Missouri Tigers (Big XII No. 5)

23 signees, 1 Athlon Consensus 100

Scouting Report:

Chase Daniel is heading into what should be an incredibly productive senior year with the Tigers. Gary Pinkel had to go out and get his signal caller of the future and he did just that. Of course, it helps that Ballwin, Missouri, quarterback Blaine Gabbert is likely the best quarterback prospect from the state of Missouri in quite sometime. To top it off, landing Gabbert was a double-edged sword as not only does Missouri get their guy but they stole him from Nebraska. Gabbert had been a Nebraska pledge prior to the coaching turnover in Lincoln.

The two other areas of concern were offensive line and secondary. This year’s class has five offensive line prospects including future left tackle Dan Hoch (Harlan, IA). Pinkel looked South to Texas to add defensive backs. Cornerbacks Kip Edwards (Arlington, TX) and Robert Steeples (St. Louis, MO) paired with the undersized and underrated safety combo of Kenji Jackson (Mansfield, TX) and Zavier Gooden (Pflugerville, TX) should give some needed depth to the defensive backfield.

Gary Pinkel and staff also did a great job of replenishing their offensive skill position players. The Tigers complex offense needs a lot of pieces and this class certainly affords options. Tight end Andrew Jones (Smithville, MO), former Wisconsin commit Wes Kemp (St. Louis, MO), wide receiver Rolandis Woodland (Cincinnati, OH) and dynamic athlete Gahn McGaffie (Galena Park, TX) all could be future play makers in the wide open Tigers’ attack.

Missouri continues to utilize the great state of Texas as the Tigers landed 11 prospects from the Lone Star state in the ’08 class.

Top Prospect:

Blaine Gabbert – QB – Ballwin, MO (6-5, 225)

Gabbert, AC100 No. 32, has prototypical size for the quarterback position. He has an arm that can make every throw in the playbook. He is patient and confident in the pocket. His mechanics are strong, and he has a nice, compact release. He is a very solid pocket passer.

His skills do not end there, however. Gabbert also is a nice athlete. He also shows a great ability to avoid pressure and move around in the pocket. He will be a nice fit in the Gary Pinkel spread look, where the quarterback has always been an impact player on the ground.

Gabbert played nearly his entire senior year with a shoulder injury. He was limited to only 102 pass attempts.

Best of the Rest:

Andrew Jones – TE – Smithville, MO (6-5, 225)
Dan Hoch – OT – Harlan, IA (6-6, 300)
Gahn McGaffie – ATH – Galena Park, TX (5-10, 170)
Wes Kemp – WR – St. Louis, MO (6-4, 220)
Aldon Smith – DE – Raytown, MO (6-6, 230)


Drew Temple – Kansas Ciy, MO (5-9, 190)

The younger brother of recently graduated Tony Temple, Drew Temple could end up being a star in Columbia. He runs much harder and tougher than his size would indicate. He is a solid blocker and a good pass catcher. Although not very big and without elite speed, Temple still possesses the perfect skill set needed to succeed in Pinkel’s spread offense.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Terrelle Pryor: Ohio St, Penn St, Michigan

I will be very happy when Terrelle Pryor finally ends this nonsense that has been his recruitment process. Yes, it is the most important decision he will likely make in his life but it is time to end the suspense.

There is only one thing that really matters: where will Terrelle Pryor go to college?

Two words: Ohio State.

The Buckeyes have been the leading candidate for Mr. Pryor since day one. Not only that but it is a perfect fit. He will be used in exactly the same fashion as Timmy Tebow was used his freshman year in Gainesville. Expect Pryor to get 75-100 snaps next season as Todd Boeckman finishes his career at OSU in Chris Leak like fashion. The Buckeyes kept some very talented defensive players from leaving early and will be loaded on defense, much like the Gators of two years ago. He will have a chance at a national title in year No. 1.

Lets consider the hoops angle. Yes, he says basketball will not even be an option. But you know, just in case, a recent No. 1 overall pick and national championship appearance isn't bad to have in your back pocket.

Not to mention Mike Adams, one of the best offensive line prospects in the nation, said during a Signing Day interview that Pryor will be headed to Columbus. The quarterback's coach at Jeannette High has too, in fact, given his "endorsement" of The Ohio State.

National title chance. Top-flight hoops program. Great rushing attack to back you up. OSU has been the leader since the beginning. His coach says its the Buckeyes. His friends and fellow recruit say OSU.

Terrelle Pryor is going to play football at The Ohio State University.

I would personally like to see him at Oregon - for a variety of reasons, some of which will remain unspoken - but it will not happen. Unfortunately, he would have been a blast to watch play in that Chip Kelly offense, but its not likely.

Terrelle, I have already figured it out. You can go ahead and sign now, lets end this thing and make it official.

Having said all of that, something is up. That fact that a father and son had not sat down one time in the last two years and compared college choices is unfathomable. You mean to tell me, the first time the No. 1 prospect in the nation and his father ever spoke about where they wanted him to go was the night before Signing Day? Something isn't right. I have no proof of anything; I have no inside information. But the logical train of thought is pretty clear. We will have to wait and see.

Hey, THE Reggie Bush just lost a settlement case with a former financier. He had to pay him back his money.

Friday, February 8, 2008

2008 Sleepers

The term role player has long been regarded as one with negative connotations. On a basketball court, it’s a scrappy, less-talented ball player who can do a little bit of everything. On a baseball diamond, it’s the utility infielder who will play any position you ask him to.

In recruiting classes, the “role players” can end up being stars.

Yes, the top-notch, five-star type players are needed if one expects to win a national championship in college football these days. But staying competitive in today’s NCAA landscape means developing talent better than the next guy. That is where the two-and three-star players come in. They are the underlying foundation of depth on conference championship teams.

Just ask Oklahoma, Ohio State, Alabama, West Virginia or Wisconsin.

The Buckeyes and Crimson Tide both had linebackers recently who were not only high draft picks but are now NFL stars: A.J. Hawk and DeMeco Ryans. Both were three-star prospects coming out of high school.

Oklahoma’s record-setting freshman quarterback, Sam Bradford, was not a big-time recruit.

Pat White and Steve Slaton were both asked to play other positions – by LSU and Maryland respectively –  coming out of high school until Rich Rodriguez and WVU gave them a shot in the backfield. Next season, White is likely to become the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher from the quarterback position.

Wisconsin’s bruising tailback P.J. Hill was a two-star fullback and nine defensive starters for the Badgers were ranked three-stars or lower coming out of the prep ranks.

So who are those sleepers this season? Here are some mid-level prospects who might have a chance at being stars for their school of choice:

Darius Ashley        Cincinnati, OH    RB    5’9” 190    Louisville

This kid also was the leader and main factor on a state championship football team. This was the highest division of play in Ohio, though, so no small feat. He is tough. He is fast and he wins. Steve Kragthorpe and company got a nice player in Ashley.

Willie Bohannon        Mobile, AL        DE    6’3” 240    Tennessee

Bohannon has the size/speed combination that is so valuable to defensive coordinators. He has great pass rush ability as well as lateral quickness in the run game. He played very physical football in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic. Now all John Chavis has to figure out is where to play him.

Cody Bruns            Prosser, WA        WR    5’11” 185    Washington

This little over-achiever is going to be a great receiving option for Husky quarterback Jake Locker. He is just a bit too short and just a bit too slow, right? Well, Bruns simply gets the job done. He set national high school career receiving records with 304 career receptions for 5,080 yards and 72 touchdowns. He is too smart a player not to be successful.

Alfred Jenkins        Jacksonville, FL    WR    6’ 178        Illinois

There is no secret that freshmen will be given the shot to play at Illinois. Jenkins is no exception. He has great speed and will make things happen with the ball in his hands. Juice Williams will need another receiving option next season across from Arrelious Benn, and Jenkins could be the guy.

Wes Kemp            St. Louis, MO    WR    6’4” 226    Missouri

Originally headed to Wisconsin, Kemp recently switched to the Tigers. He might be moved to tight end, and in Gary Pinkel’s system, he is a perfect fit. His size and athleticism make him an ideal piece to the Pinkel offensive puzzle. He will be a faster, slightly smaller version of Martin Rucker.

D’anton Lynn        Celina, TX        S    6’1” 180    Penn State

Penn State dipped into Texas to pull an underrated defensive back prospect. Lynn will be very good against the run. His aggressive, attacking style of play allows him to play down in the box. His speed and athleticism give him the ability to play sideline-to-sideline.

Kyle Parker            Jacksonville, FL    QB    6’ 192”    Clemson

This Todd Reesing look-alike played very well at the Under Armour All-American Game. He has such a natural feel for the game, that it might be hard to keep him off the field. He goes through his progressions very quickly and accurately. Watch out Willy Korn!

Curt Phillips            Kingsport, TN    QB    6’3” 218    Wisconsin

This kid is the complete package of physical ability at the quarterback position. He has nice height and a well-built, muscular frame. His arm strength is more than adequate. It is his athleticism that makes him so intriguing. He has the ability to be a run option from out of the backfield. Phillips gained 9,206 total yards and was responsible for 115 touchdowns over three seasons.

James Vandenberg        Keokuk, IA        QB    6’2” 185    Iowa

Vandenberg leaves Keokuk High with almost sole possession of the Iowa state passing record book. He also led his team to the 3A state championship. On film, he shows nice footwork and nice fundamentals. He is productive, he is a winner and he has nice technique. That is all I need to know.

Rod Wilks            Smyrna, TN        WR    6’2” 205    Tennessee

Wilks has been compared to Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals. He is not quite that physically gifted but he certainly plays a similar brand of football. In fact, Wilks might even be a touch faster than Mr. Fitzgerald. He likes the contact and will make the tough catch. Wilks will be a playmaker in Knoxville.


Here are some guys who are not so much sleepers as they are underrated. These five names are all outside of the top-125 in the Athlon Consensus 100, but all should be in the top-100.

Nick Cody            Brush Prairie, WA    OL    6’5” 290    Oregon

This young offensive tackle may be the most underrated prospect in the nation. Cody has a great story and a great head on his shoulders. He is a well-grounded, hard-working mauler along the offensive line. He looks to bury defenders on every play and with his size could be an all-Pac-10 type player. I had a chance to interview him during his live commitment.

Listen Here

Jarmon Fortson        Columbus, GA    WR    6’3” 218    Florida State

Fortson put on a show in the Georgia Dome during the 3A state semi-finals. He led his team to 20 unanswered points in the final six minutes of play to pull off the miraculous comeback 26-24. He made spectacular catch after spectacular catch. The big, physical receiver will be a threat in all levels of the passing game.

Max Tuioti-Mariner        Corona, CA        OL    6’4” 300    Colorado

This kid is a beast. He, like Cody, looks to bury defenders on every play. It is this killer instinct that transforms physically limited solid players into all-conference type bruisers. Stick him next to true freshman starter Ryan Miller and the left side of the Colorado offensive line is set for years to come.

Darron Thomas        Aldine, TX        ATH    6’4” 205    Oregon

The Ducks are getting a dynamic playmaker in Mr. Thomas. He has lightning-quick footwork and his acceleration is second to none. I would like to see him get a shot at quarterback as the Chip Kelly system would fit his skills perfectly. He does lack the arm strength coaches like, but he has good touch and accuracy.

MarQueis Gray        Indianapolis, IN    QB    6’4” 220    Minnesota

Arguably the second-best dual-threat quarterback behind Terrelle Pryor, Gray is a dynamic playmaker. This kid has the speed to get downfield in a hurry. He will be a great fit in the spread offense that Tim Brewster is trying to install. He has great acceleration, size and arm strength. Gray is a much more polished passer than a guy like Darron Thomas.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Alabama Crimson Tide: 2008 Recruiting Champions

The phrase “Roll Tide” has never been more appropriate than today. After a very late flurry on the part of Nick Saban and his staff -- including landing six prospects in the last week -- congratulations are due to the Alabama Crimson Tide and their 2008 Athlon Sports Recruiting National Championship.

This whole process started back in February of 2007 when Reform, AL defensive end Michael Williams became the first to join the Crimson Tide’s 2008 class. Nearly one full year later, the reform was complete at 3 pm ET today when Gadsden, AL linebacker Jerrell Harris announced his intentions to play for Alabama.

In between, 30 prospects decided that Tuscaloosa would be where they would play their college ball. This class is easily the most balanced class in the nation but it really begins and ends with one young wide receiver from Foley, Alabama: Julio Jones. Jones, No. 2 in the AC100, is a mythical blend of size, speed, toughness and natural instincts. He has a chance to be an immediate impact threat on the outside.

Jones is not the only playmaker in this class, though. Burton Scott, Mark Barron, Mark Ingram and Chris Jordan all have the ability to make things happen with the ball in their hands. All four are listed as athletes and could make instant impacts at a number of positions.

More importantly for Tide fans, however, was the excellent job Nick Saban did addressing the obvious lack of talent in the defensive front seven. Potentially five linebackers (including the incredibly talented Harris), four defensive tackles and five defensive ends clearly add needed depth to the defensive front for Kevin Steele and Co.

Saban and Steele did not stop there. They also landed four, possibly five, defensive backs. With names like Alonzo Lawrence – who actually shut down Julio Jones in the Ala-Miss All-Star Classic – and Robby Green, the Tide did a masterful job of reaching into surrounding states and pulling talent. Green is from Louisiana and Lawrence hails from Mississippi.

Last but certainly not least is the new star quarterback, literally. Lake Worth, Florida product Star Jackson signed his letter of intent today to play for Alabama. Jackson is a 6-3, 190 pound scrambling dynamo that could find himself pushing John Parker Wilson for the starting job.

Signing Day Winners:

Clemson Tigers

The Tigers had a great day today, closing very strong with some expected names and a few surprises. Jacksonville running back Jamie Harper is an outstanding prospect and will likely continue the recent trend of very talented ball carriers for Clemson. They also added a big offensive lineman from Alabama in Antoine McClain. Tommy Bowden was not satisfied, however, as he dipped in the Georgia Bulldogs’ class and stole tight end Dwayne Allen from Mark Richt and Co.

Arkansas Razorbacks

Bobby Petrino is known for his offensive prowess and he made strong moves on signing day to ensure that there will be firepower in Fayetteville. Already with top in-state runner DeAnthony Curtis in the fold, Petrino stole two other talented prospects that could help rebuild his offense. Jerico Nelson, formerly a Purdue commit, and Joe Adams, formerly a USC Trojan pledge, both switched today and are headed to Arkansas.

North Carolina Tar Heels

Last season Butch davis did a masterful job of putting together a crazy talented recruiting class. Until today, the 2008 version could have been considered a complete bust. Snagging four very talented kids – Christian Wilson, Robert Quinn, Herman Davidson and Quinton Coples -- really boosted an average class today.

Miami Hurricanes

The flag planting that was south Florida recruiting this season for the Hurricanes came to fruition today. Lineman Ben Jones and wide receiver Tommy Streeter completed the sweep of Miami-Northwestern High, giving Randy Shannon seven signees from one local high school. They were not done, however. The U also landed arguably the most ready-to-play corner in the nation, Brandon Harris, and then stuck it to Urban Meyer and the Gators when they stole back Ramon “Cookie” Buchanan. Cookie had been committed to Miami, then switched to Florida before finally signing with the Hurricanes.


Anyone involved in the Terrelle Pryor sweepstakes not named Oregon

The most important letter of intent still remains unsigned. Jeannette, PA quarterback Terrelle Pryor held his noon press conference today just as he planned, but it left everyone wanting more. He announced today that he was not ready to announce. A supposed trip out west to Eugene and the Oregon Duck campus is in the works for this weekend. This is not good news for Ohio St, Michigan and Penn State who all felt they had a chance at the record-breaking athlete. Ohio State is still the team to beat but the Pryor saga will continue for a few more days… at least.

Purdue Boilermakers

It has been a rough couple of weeks for Joe Tiller’s program. Arguably the top two prospects in their class jumped ship today. Wide receiver Roy Roundtree and athlete Jerico Nelson both made 13th hour switches and headed elsewhere. The hits just keep on coming for a coach who was basically told that he is finished after this season.

The Big East

With the obvious exception of Pittsburgh, every team in the Big East underachieved in recruiting this season. Cincinnati could not capitalize on success during the season, nor could UConn The big three -- WVU, Rutgers, and Louisville – didn’t come close. WVU lost nearly every top prospect (although they did get good news with Josh Jenkins’s commitment today) once Rich Rodriguez left for Michigan. Rutgers lost most of the top in-state talent to bigger, more prestigious programs. Louisville’s class is loaded with JUCO talent, which can be a very dangerous proposition.

Auburn Tigers

This one is more of a compilation of issues. Five-star running back Enrique Davis, who signed with Auburn last season, scorned the Tigers for divisional rival Ole Miss. Not only that but new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin lost out on one his would-be future weapons in Jarmon Fortson. He signed with Florida State today and will be a star in Tallahassee. Last but not least is the story written above: the Crimson Tide dominated inside the state this year, landing nearly every major prospect in Alabama.