Da'Shawn Hand is the nation's No. 1 overall recruit from the 2014 college football recruiting class. Robert Nkemdiche was the No. 1 overall recruit from the 2013 class. Both players are projected to play defensive end at the collegiate level.
The opportunities for analysis and comparisons are endless.
We've already broken down Nkemdiche to a great extent and now the only thing that's left to do is see how he plays for Ole Miss. With the attention now firmly on the 2014 class though, it's time to turn our attention to 2014's marquee recruit.
Who better to compare Hand to than Nkemdiche?
Both project to be elite defensive ends, and much like Nkemdiche, Hand can be a transcendent talent.
Here's a few scouting points that I personally look for in evaluating defensive ends and how Hand compares to Nkemdiche in these criteria:
Note: Player information via 247Sports.com.
Analysis: Hand does have a slight height advantage over Nkemdiche, though both players have more than adequate height for a defensive end. The reason height is important is because, in most cases, it directly correlates with length.
To a defensive lineman, and specifically a defensive end, length is extremely valuable. Most offensive tackles are anywhere from 6'4'' and up, so a defensive end needs to be big enough to be able to compete on the edges with taller, bigger tackles.
For a defensive end, length is also important in regards to containing the edge. On runs to the outside, the end will often times get reached blocked, which means the tackle is able to get in between the end and the outside edge. Good length allows the end to have a much easier time ripping through or swimming over the reach block in an effort to keep his outside shoulder free.
RN: 285 lbs.
DH: 247 lbs.
Analysis: This is an area where I'd like to see Hand improve over the next year.
At 285 pounds, Nkemdiche is big enough to be an elite defender against either the run or pass. He's still quick enough to be a pass-rusher, but his size allows him to hold his ground against the run, and he can go toe to toe with the best offensive linemen in the country. His size also gives him the versatility to slide inside and play the 3-technique, and he could also play defensive end in the 3-4 scheme.
Hand will need to work on putting on some more size in the offseason and through next season, while at the same time maintaining his speed. In order to be a truly dominant defensive end in both phases of the game, size is a must.
RN: 4.65 40-yard dash
DH: 4.60 40-yard dash
Analysis: Both players have elite speed for their size, and this is a must at the defensive end position nowadays. They both have the quickness to simply beat offensive tackles to the edge and rush the quarterback at a high level. Speed will also come into play against the run, as both players project to be elite in pursuit, whether it be in the backfield, down the line or downfield.
For further comparison's sake, 247Sports had Jadeveon Clowney down for running a 4.55 40.
Note: From here on out everything will be ranked on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best.
Analysis: Both of these players are elite athletes, and frankly, it would be unfair to put one over the other. Their two different body types really would skew that analysis.
They both have great speed, considering their size. (Nkemdiche actually played running back in high school.)
You don't become the No. 1 overall recruit without being a great athlete. It's as simple as that. There's no reason overthink this one.
Analysis: The reason you'll see Nkemdiche with the smaller number here is because he was so big and physically dominant in high school that he didn't even need to use much technique. He was able to bull rush blockers or use his speed to get around them.
Hand, on the other hand, is a bit smaller and perhaps a bit more agile, and you can tell that he's had to use his technique a bit more. He's very adept at using his hands to combat the blocker, and if you watch his film you can see that they're always up and moving. He gets good extension when taking on and "two-gapping" a head-on block (two-gapping means that he can go either way depending on where the runner cuts), and he has a variety of moves that allow him to get off the block.
It's a bit blurry, but you can clearly see the extension I'm talking about in the pictures below. It allows him to keep the blockers hands from getting inside his shoulder pads. In the second picture, you can see how he's able to use that extension to disengage from the blocker away and make the tackle once the ball-carrier commits inside:
Analysis: This is where Nkemdiche has a big advantage because of his size. He's so physically dominant that he can just push the tackle backwards, and then he's able to either rip underneath or continue working the outside shoulder.
Hand also has a good bull rush, especially at the high school level, but at this point Nkemdiche is undoubtedly ready to take on offensive tackles at the college football level. That said, Hand still has another year to work on getting bigger.
It should be rather obvious that both players project to be very good. Nkemdiche is by far the most physically ready of the two, but remember, he also has a whole year advantage on Hand. I expect that by the time we're talking about Hand signing a letter of intent, he'll be just as ready as Nkemdiche is right now.
Overall though, Nkemdiche still has the most upside because of his uncanny combination of size and speed, and his technique will continue to improve in time.
Either way, there's a lot to like about both players, and they undoubtedly have earned their respective No. 1 overall rankings.