Who is the top prospect for the Class of 2014?
Obviously the answer to this question is always debatable. In fact, only a few times in history has the top recruit turned out to be the top player in college football, the top pick in the NFL Draft, or both. Jadeveon Clowney may turn out to be the only player in the modern era of recruiting to be the No. 1 prospect coming out of high school (2011) and the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft.
So with that qualifier in mind, the No. 1 prospect in the country for 2014 is running back Leonard Fournette (6'2/230) of St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, La. It seems as though the running back has been minimized in recent years as teams go to a committee approach, lessening the value of any one player. For example, in the last two NFL Drafts, only one running back has been taken (Trent Richardson, No. 3, 2012) in the first 60 combined picks, with no running back going in the first round in 2013.
Knowing that the running back is being looked at more as a replaceable commodity in football these days speaks volumes to the talent Fournette has to still be placed No. 1 in the nation. While we are ranking players based on college impact, watching the NFL Draft is still a good indicator of how coaches and personnel men value different positions when they are using draft picks rather than simply offering one of 25 potential scholarships of equal value.
With his combination of size, speed, power, balance, vision, and determination, Fournette has the ability to have an impact similar to Peterson's at Oklahoma or Marcus Lattimore at South Carolina. He is the total package. Watching his video, one sees a player who knows he's the biggest, fastest player on the field, and he's capable of using any of his tools to beat defenders. Some big backs who are capable of outrunning the opposition never learn to use their power in high school, and there are very few 230 pounders in the world who can rip off a 10.68 100 meters as Fournette did during St. Augustine's track season this Spring.
Fournette is widely considered to be choosing between LSU and Alabama at the
Army All-American Bowl in January, but he's also considering Florida State and
Texas among others.
The Class of 2014 running back class is the best group of running backs I've scouted in my 12 years with Scout.com, and it only seems fitting that the No. 1 player in the country be the best of the lot.
Can Texas A&M Keep the Momentum?
The Aggies had their highest finish ever on Scout with a No. 6 finish in the Team Recruiting Rankings for the Class of 2013. The Aggies jumped out to a fast start last year, sitting atop the rankings through much of the summer and fall before recruiting juggernauts like Alabama and Ohio State pushed past the Aggies.
A&M is sitting on top of the rankings again in the Summer for the Class of 2014, but this Aggie team has a different feel to it on the recruiting trails. This Aggie team feels like the new IT team in the South and Southwest. Texas A&M finished 6th in the nation in 2013 after signing 16 four and five star prospects including four players ranked in the Top 100 overall. A&M already has five Top 100 prospects committed for 2014 including the nation's No. 1 quarterback Kyle Allen (6'3/200) of Scottsdale, Ariz.
Johnny Manziel may only last at Texas A&M for one more year, but the Aggies are here to stay. It's up to Texas, who finished 23rd nationally in 2013 to return to prominence and keep the Aggies in check.
It wasn't just Texas A&M
Texas A&M wasn't the only hot team in the Class of 2013 who set a new high in the Team Rankings, Ole Miss also cracked the Top 10 for the first time led by the Nation's No. 1 prospect defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche (6'4/280) of Loganville, Ga., and the No. 1 offensive line prospect Laremy Tunsil (6'6/295) of Lake City, Fla. The recruiting momentum has carried over to the Class of 2014, and while Ole Miss is still sitting at a respectable No. 15
With so many top prospects that mention Ole Miss among their favorites around the country, it won't be a surprise to see the Rebels crashing the Top 10 for the second consecutive year after having never been there before.
Who is the Surprise team this year?
We're used to seeing Kentucky on top of the Team Rankings… in basketball. But it's nearly July, and there the Wildcats sit in the Top 10 on the football rankings with a class that includes five four-star players including in-state quarterback star Drew Barker (6'4/205) of Conner High School in Hebron.
Five four-star players may seem like a good week for Alabama, but by comparison, Kentucky had only signed nine high school position players ranked four-stars or better from 2004 thru 2012 spanning nine recruiting classes.
What's the big different for the Wildcats in the Class of 2014? Other than the obvious new energetic coaching staff led by Head Coach Mark Stoops, there has been a tangible difference in recruiting philosophy. Nearly every previous staff at Kentucky focused on recruiting players from the South, a good philosophy considering the amount of talent straight down I-75. But just a little over an hour north on the same Interstate is the nation's No. 5 talent producing state: Ohio.
Kentucky is not going to go into a team's home state and beat them for recruits. They're not beating Georgia in Georgia, the Big Three in Florida, or Ohio State in Ohio, but what the Wildcats are finding out, is that it's a lot easier to recruit against Cincinnati, Indiana, Purdue, Wisconsin, and Illinois in Ohio than it is to beat Auburn, Clemson, Ole Miss, North Carolina, Arkansas, and every other Big 10, Big East and ACC school in Georgia and Florida.
Kentucky already has eight public commitments from the state of Ohio while signing just 14 total players from the Buckeye State in the 10 years prior to Stoops' arrival. That doesn't mean the Wildcats have abandoned recruiting the south as Kentucky still has six players from Florida and Georgia, but there has definitely been a shift in area philosophy… for the better.
What's going on out West?
It's too early to say there has been a
complete power shift in Los Angeles from USC to UCLA , but the sanctions levied
against the Trojans coupled with new blood at UCLA has definitely shifted
momentum in a big way.
Jim Mora and UCLA finished with a Top 5 class in 2014, and that was before adding an after Signing Day transfer from 5-Star defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes (6'4/305) of Auburn, Calif. who signed with Notre Dame.
With a victory over USC in his first try and a Top 5 class in his first full season, there is a lot of reason for Bruins fans to be confident about Jim Mora the future of his program.
But what about the Trojans?
National and local media did an excellent job of convincing the general public that the Trojans were doing a terrific job of not just surviving, but thriving through the NCAA sanctions as USC posted a 10-2 record in 2011, but the reality was that the true sanctions, the scholarship reductions of 10 per year, had not yet begun to hurt the team.
Much of the focus in January of 2013 for the Trojans was who USC didn't sign as there were several high profile defectors including Vanderdoes and the nation's No. 2 cornerback Jalen Ramsey (6'0/190) of Brentwood, Tenn. But under the circumstances, USC signed an unbelievable class of talented players getting 12 signatures from players who were all ranked four-star or higher.
However with a 7-6 record in 2012 with a senior quarterback and a team that had yet to feel the full effect of 45 scholarships to offer over a three year span, coupled with high profile defections in January, and USC had the look of a team headed in the wrong direction.
USC was burned late last year with a high pressure pitch on players to grab what was a limited number of scholarships only to see them decommit as they moved farther along the recruiting process. While the Trojans have had their difficulties on the field and on the recruiting trails the last six months, USC appears to be taking a more cautious approach to the 2014 class with only five public commitments. Some of the prospective recruits may be taking a wait and see approach on their own to see how USC bounces back from the 2012 season, but there's no doubt the high pressure approach employed by USC in 2012 has been put on the back burner.
Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and …???
The talent in the Midwest is being concentrated in a select few schools. Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame all finished in the Top 5 in the Class of 2013 Team Rankings, but the next two Midwest or Northern teams in the rankings were Pittsburgh at No. 21 and Rutgers at No. 31.
Yes Nebraska at No. 11 is in the Big Ten, but they're considered Midwest as much as Texas A&M is considered South, which is not really at all. With Penn State getting hammered by the NCAA, recent coaching changes as Wisconsin and Illinois, it was a dismal year for recruiting in the Midwest unless it was the Big Three.
Is that going to change in 2014?Michigan State is recruiting well after finishing an un-Spartanlike 45th in 2013, and Penn State is holding its own with a trio of four-star commitments while still suffering from NCAA sanctions.
Teams like Iowa and Wisconsin have always outperformed their recruiting rankings, but as Michigan and Ohio State keep concentrating the talent in Ann Arbor and Columbus, if the rest of the Big Ten doesn't pick up the pace, it's going to be the Big Two.
Is Anyone going to Stop Alabama?
There might be one force that can stop Alabama right now, and that's Alabama. We haven't seen a run like Alabama's since the mighty Nebraska teams of the 90's, but Alabama has a much more fertile recruiting base in order to sustain such excellence while Nebraska faltered.
Is Alabama going to win every BCS Championship for the next five years? Of
course not (I think), but we're to the point now where a 10-3 season like
Alabama's 2010 campaign can be considered low-tide, pardon the pun. It's
remarkable to maintain that level of consistency in the SEC. Just ask rival
Auburn who won the BCS Championship in said 2010 campaign, only to go winless in
conference just two short years later.
Nick Saban has always been a great developer of talent, and the Crimson Tide select as much as they recruit these days. The 2013 Class mathematically finished behind Ohio State and Michigan, but among the Scout analysts, they were a unanimous No. 1 fitting in this era of BCS formulas.
What to look for as we Countdown to Signing Day?
- Where does Leonard Fournette sign?
- Where does upstart Kentucky finish? Top 20?
- Will anyone north of Knoxville finish Top 20 not named Ohio State, Michigan, or Notre Dame?
- Can USC bounce back?
- Can Texas?
We have another six months of recruiting including an exciting 2013 season to find the answers.