4-star defensive end Justin Thornton has narrowed his interest list down to three: Florida, LSU and Texas A&M.
Thornton is ranked as the No. 3 weak-side defensive end in the nation, according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings, so he would undoubtedly be a top-notch pickup for all three programs. He has terrific size at 6'5'' and 222 pounds, and he also displays great speed, agility and aggressiveness.
His length will allow him to be a very effective defensive end in a 4-3 scheme because he'll be able to create separation, and he already has good technique as just as junior in high school. He uses his hands extremely well to disengage blockers, and he has the quickness and instincts to be great in pursuit.
Simply put, Thornton has the intangibles to be a big-time pass-rusher at the college level.
Taylor Hamm of 247Sports tweeted the news that Thorton had narrowed his interest down to three:
Taylor Hamm @TaylorHamm247
As we reported this morning, 4* DE Justin Thornton down to 3 RT @JTbigdreams6: Florida LSU Texas A&M #Gatornation #GeauxTiger #AggieNation2013-3-4 23:28:50
Three elite programs and one potentially elite recruit. Which program provides Thornton with the best fit?
Frankly, Thornton is talented enough to stand out anywhere and be a difference-maker at the college level, so his best fit may come down to a depth chart/playing-time decision.
He's from Mobile, Alabama, but all three of these programs are out of state, so proximity doesn't seem to be an issue, and he hypothetically can play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme (though he projects to be much more effective as a 4-3 defensive end rather than a 3-4 outside linebacker).
In regards to the potential for playing time and working his way up a depth chart, Texas A&M may provide him with the best chance. LSU went out and signed five defensive ends for the 2013 class, and Florida signed four. Both programs are also very well off in the depth department at defensive end.
In fact, Thornton would be talented enough to jump over those three on the depth chart and compete with Julien Obioha, Brandon Alexander and Polo Manukainiu for legitimate playing time as a backup his freshman season. In time, once Alexander moves on, Thornton could move into the starting role.
Because of Kevin Sumlin's ability as a recruiter, Texas A&M has just as bright of a future in the SEC as both LSU and Florida do. Florida's defense looks set to be dominant, and LSU is always a powerhouse, but many would argue that the Aggies can be a legitimate contender in the SEC—and it's hard to ignore the strides the program is making.
With Johnny Manziel as the leader on the field, the Aggies have elite potential. They showed last year that they can compete and even beat elite teams, and I expect the program to take another step forward in 2013.
That will give Thornton one more season to watch A&M grow in the SEC and potentially even compete for bigger and better prizes, and if that does become the case—it's going to be hard for the stud defensive end recruit to deny the Aggies.
He'll be able to join a major SEC program, and he's talented enough to work himself into the rotation at defensive end right away.
Texas A&M is a great fit for Thornton.