Robert Nkemdiche is the consensus number one prospect for the 2013 recruiting class according to all major recruiting sites, and what is interesting about Nkemdiche being ranked number one is that it is the fourth year in a row that a defensive end has been ranked as the top overall prospect by ESPN.
Mario Edwards earned the honor for the 2012 class, Jadeveon Clowney for the 2011 class, and Ronald Powell for the 2010 class (although they classified him as an athlete).
While all of them are extremely talented, who would be considered the best of the best?
6’5” 265lbs. 4.72 forty time
ESPN grade 94
Junior stats: 78 tackles, 36 tackles for a loss and 18 sacks on defense while also running for 528 yards and scoring 17 touchdowns on offense.
Nkemdiche has a very rare skill set that combines the body type of a running back with the brute strength and technique of a pure defensive end. He can blast through nearly any linemen and has the speed, quickness and change of direction to track down the quarterback. That talent is reflected in his amazing 18 sacks in a single season.
Unlike previous number ones, Nkemdiche has not yet chosen a school to play for. While he could play anywhere he wanted, the main schools he is still considering are Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss, Oregon, and Texas.
6’4” 290lbs. 4.8 forty time
ESPN grade 90
Junior stats: 79 tackles, 32 tackles for a loss, and 12 sacks
While Edwards has good quickness for a guy his size, the part of his game that makes him impossible to stop is his brute strength. He explodes off the line, blasts past defenders and makes the person with the ball pay.
While he plays defensive end and has the speed to stay there in college, he could easily make the transition to defensive tackle or nose tackle and maintain a high level of play.
Edwards committed to Florida State early on in the process, following in his dad’s footsteps. There was some doubt in his mind however, so he took some visits to closer schools (Texas, Oklahoma, and LSU). In the end, he stuck it out with his commitment and signed his letter of intent with Florida State.
While the 2012 class has not arrived on campus yet (with the exception of a few who graduated high school and enrolled early), Edwards is sure to make nearly everyone’s pre-season Freshmen All-American list.
6’6” 240lbs. 4.65 forty time
ESPN grade 95
Senior Stats: 162 tackles, 29 tackles for a loss, and 30 sacks
The 2011 class was actually the first year that I ever studied film heavily and took a deep interest in college football recruiting. Of course the name on everyone’s mind that year was Jadeveon Clowney. When I watched his film, my jaw literally dropped. He plays with such explosiveness and focus that it was unreal to think that this was only an 18-year-old kid.
He is extremely quick, especially for a guy with his measurables, has great technique, great vision and with all that speed he builds up he hits harder than I had ever seen before.
The last major player to decide in the 2011 recruiting class, Clowney did not make his announcement on signing day, but Valentines Day (his birthday). It was thought to be a race between Alabama and hometown South Carolina. However, Clemson made a late push and got a late visit from him. In the end he did decide to stay home and it seems to be a great decision so far.
Clowney lived up to the hype in his first year as a true freshmen recording 8 sacks and 37 tackles while earning Freshmen-All American honors.
6’4” 250lbs. 4.6 forty time
ESPN grade 89
Junior Stats: 60 tackles and 13 sacks on defense and added six touchdown receptions as a tight end.
Three things immediately stuck out to me when watching Powell's film—that he is a hard hitter, incredibly fast for a guy his size and had great vision. The only knock on him is his relatively thin frame. He could afford to pack some muscle on over his 250 pounds.
Powell chose the Florida Gators over the nearby Trojans, and last season as a sophomore he led the team with six sacks. Unfortunately, he recently tore his ACL and will be missing four to six months.
In my opinion, Jadeveon Clowney runs away with it.
Not only did he absolutely demolish the others in the statistical category, but has truly proven himself on the next level already. Edwards and Nkemdiche could be great but Clowney has the whole package and has shown he can put it all together at the college level.
Runner up: Robert Nkemdiche
Nkemdiche is very similar to Clowney in a lot of ways, but I don't think that a defensive end at the high school level could ever outdo or even match the kind of numbers that Clowney put up.
Bronze: Mario Edwards Jr.
Edwards' versatility secures his ranking over Powell. He could play outside or move in and dominate either position.
Honorable Mention: Ronald Powell
In no way is this a knock on Powell. He's very deserving of the top honors and is one heck of a player. When he gets healthy again he will be doing great things for the Gators again.