National Signing Day is more than 11 months away, but that doesn't mean college football fans aren't already looking ahead. After all, there's not much to do in late February.
Recruiting gives us a glimpse into one possible future of our favorite team, and college football recruiting has taken on a life of its own—thanks in large part to the Internet. Prospects from all over the nation can now upload their highlight videos to YouTube and sites like Rivals.com and 247Sports.com compile more information about 16- and 17-year-old high school football players than ever before.
Since good videos can be the difference between earning a recruiting visit or not, the importance of these uploads seems to increase with each passing season. So we though we'd get an early jump on the 2014 cycle by scouring the Internet for the best highlights out there featuring college football prospects from the class of 2014.
Adoree Jackson could be the top defensive back prospect in the nation for 2014 once everything is said and done. This future 5-star recruit hails from California, and as you might expect, most of his top choices for college aren't terribly far from home.
While plenty of Pac-12 programs appear on his list (Stanford is the only Pac-12 program not getting a mention, according to Rivals.com), there are also some powerhouse programs a little further from home Jackson is at least considering (including Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, and Florida).
Even Boise State appears on the list, having already made a scholarship offer.
Perhaps most impressive about Jackson's highlight film are the plays from his sophomore season. Even at the ripe old age of 16, Jackson was making senior-level plays. He clearly has great defensive awareness, and he has an unmatched—at least at the prep level—to break on the ball once it's in the air.
If only someone could break him of the habit of trying to return interceptions right up the middle of the field.
Quin Blanding from Virginia Beach already appears to have the size needed to be a major factor at defensive back for whichever college he chooses to attend. Even more importantly for a d-back, Blanding combines that size with speed and strength.
It's often difficult to compare speeds in a video of a high school game, but Blanding is one of the biggest and fastest guys on whichever field he steps on at the prep level. This sure-fire 5-star may not end up being the fastest guy in the FBS, but there's little question he'll eventually make an impact in college—be it in Ann Arbor, Miami, Tallahassee or someplace else.
Big. Powerful. Fast. Strong. Devastating. All good words to describe Kentavious Street, a 6'4”, 255-pound 5-star defensive end from J.H. Rose High School in Greenville, North Carolina.
Don't believe us? Just check out this highlight video.
His home state schools knew about him early and dropped scholarship offers before anyone outside of the state way paying much attention. But with 2013 in the rear-view mirror, offers are pouring in from places like Florida, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and even soon-to-be-FBS Old Dominion.
Elijah Hood is primarily a running back (although listed by Rivals.com as an athlete) who won't really burn anyone with blinding speed. He runs the 40-yard dash in well over 4.5 seconds—not great for a ball-carrier. But what coaches will absolutely love about him is his strength, awareness and ability to shrug off tackles like minor annoyances than anything else.
While not fast, his effortless running style allows him to spin, cut, and juke his way out of most trouble, and his resulting yards-per-carry average is impressive.
If his speed improves at all during his senior season, he could jump into the top 10 pretty quickly. As it stands, he's already a Rivals.com 5-star recruit.
Some high school players work very hard at becoming one of the very best prospects at their respective position. We're pretty sure Deshaun Watson is the hard-working type, but his highlight videos don't really show it—and that's not all a bad thing.
This Gainesville, Ga. 5-star quarterback has an effortless quality to almost everything he does on the field. At 6'4”, he's nearly a full head taller than most other players on the field in high school, and his head has a lot to do with his style of play as evidenced in his highlight video.
Watching Watson, we rarely see a situation he hasn't been able to think his way out of, whether it's simply escaping a collapsing pocket or being smart enough to throw the ball to a check-down receiver for shorter gains rather than risking an incompletion or interception deep down field.
But when he does go deep, he's usually right on the money.
Here is perhaps the No. 1 prospect in the nation for the class of 2014, according to Rivals.com (and more than a few others), Da'Shawn Hand from Woodbridge High School in Woodbridge, Va.
Bleacher Report's own Recruit Watch is already keeping close tabs on Hand, and there's good reason why. His movement off the snap is unmatched, and he's an agile guy who can burst through any offensive line at the prep level. He has great instincts, and could fit in anywhere on the defensive line depending on team need. He'll most likely find himself playing defensive end in college, where he could be groomed to replace Jadeveon Clowney at South Carolina (the Gamecocks are currently in Hand's “top five” along with Michigan, Alabama, Virginia Tech and Florida).
Watch Lorenzo Carter for just a few plays, and it's easy to see why he's destined to be one of the nation's top defensive recruits in 2014. A Rivals.com 5-star defensive end, Carter is strong, quick, smart and has an impressive 32-inch vertical jump he puts on display often. When not chasing down quarterbacks or stuffing running backs on the outside, he's leaping into the air to knock down passes—and even coming away with a few interceptions.
As we move deeper into the recruiting cycle, keep your eye on Carter—especially if your team is in the market for some added muscle on the defensive line.
We could empty the thesaurus, dumping out all the superlatives to describe Sony Michel, the impressive running back from American Heritage School in Plantation, Florida. But what really stands out about this kid is his eyes.
Sure, he's fast enough (4.5 in the 40), has a good lateral move and is strong enough to shake off defenders, but we really took notice of how rarely he actually gets hit. His vision, be it on kick returns or when coming out of the backfield, allows him to find any hole in the defense and exploit it to the point where we start to question the competency of the opposing defensive coordinators.
This amazing awareness easily places Michel in the ranks of the 5-star prospects in the nation, and more than makes up for his lack of that extra top gear so many elite running backs have these days.
Elite speed is a major part of most 5-star running backs' résumés, and Leonard Fournette is certainly among the elite. At 6'1”, and 225 pounds, he's also part of that new breed of super fast running backs with impressive size and strength.
Fournette is a 5-star back from New Orleans where he is currently weighing his options between a handful of SEC programs along with Michigan and Notre Dame.
What's most impressive about Fournette's highlight video is his ability to find open holes in the defense when they're there or make holes when they're not. Once he's to the second level, there aren't many defensive backs in high school that can run him down, much less make a tackle. Fournette also shows off some skills at receiver, where route running and soft hands are added to his repertoire.
Jabrill Peppers is the definition of an “athlete” prospect. Just one look at his highlight video proves that there's very little this standout can't do on the football field. Whether it's taking snaps in the wildcat, running from the deep back position, catching passes in triple coverage, making spectacular interceptions as a defensive back or busting up a play in the offensive backfield as a blitzing linebacker, Peppers has done it all in high school—and in this video.
There's no chance, no chance Peppers isn't one of the top two or three college football prospects taken next spring, and his Rivals.com 5-star ranking might even be underselling this kid.
Hailing from New Jersey, Peppers doesn't really have that born-in loyalty to one particular program. Let's face it: Rutgers isn't exactly the center of the football world, even after announcing plans to join the Big Ten.
Peppers has reportedly narrowed his decisions to five: Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, Alabama and Stanford. Wherever he ends up attending college will have a better football team because of it.