To be the best at anything is quite an accomplishment, but that statement means the most when you're talking about sports, specifically college football.
The whole college football world is obsessed with being ranked No. 1, both in the BCS rankings and in the recruiting rankings. It's part of the culture of college football, and it's a huge reason that so many people love the sport.
When you're ranked No. 1 in football you're the best in the world, but you also have a proverbial target on your back. There is no greater honor for a football program, but there's also no greater pressure. Everybody wants to knock off No. 1.
While the world of college football recruiting also revolves around rankings, we take a bit of a different approach. Recruits are ranked after many hours of film study and scouting, and the rankings don't change on a weekly basis, but only during select times when reevaluation is needed.
It's a slower process but it's just as intense. Being the No.1 recruit is also just as important, and it's an honor that comes along with great responsibility, privilege and, yes, pressure.
For the first part of the 2014 recruiting cycle, 5-star strong-side defensive end Da'Shawn Hand was essentially viewed as the nation's No. 1 recruit. In fact, 247Sports still ranks him No. 1 overall (Note: Ranked No. 2 according to the 247Sports Composite).
Hand is a very talented defensive end recruit. He has good size at 6'5'' and 247 pounds, and he couples that with elite speed for a defensive end. He runs a 4.60 40 according to 247Sports. Hand is fundamentally sound; he plays with good explosion, quickness and he's very good at using his hands to create separation as a pass rusher. For as quick and agile as he is, he also displays good strength and he will be strong against the run in college.
For all intents and purposes Hand fits the description of an elite recruit, but is he a worthy No. 1 overall recruit?
For the most part I'd say the recruiting world agreed on yes, but then ESPN released their first edition of the ESPN 150 and that sentiment was put to the test. Hand was shockingly ranked as the No. 4 recuit in the 2014 class, falling behind 5-star running back Leonard Fournette, 5-star cornerback Jabrill Peppers and 5-star defensive tackle Andrew Brown.
Although the argument can be made that No. 4 is far to low for Hand, the more interesting talking point that came out of this reveal centered around the No. 1 spot, naturally.
Fournette is an elite running back recruit, and he's certainly deserving of the honor. He's 6'1'' and 232 pounds, so he has great size, but he's also very quick and agile. He can be a power runner, but he also has the speed and athleticism to run on the edges and dominate in open space.
What makes Fournette the most impressive though is the power that he runs with, combined with all of that agility and speed. He'll run through defenders at the college level, and frankly, he's the type of running back that we haven't seen for quite a while.
He's already drawn comparisons to Adrian Peterson, and that's saying something for a player that hasn't even played his senior year of high school yet.
The fact of the matter is that Fournette is a transcendent player like Peterson though. Once in a while, we get a recruit that's so good that he almost defies what we think we know about recruiting or even football in general.
Think about former No. 1 overall recruit Jadeveon Clowney and what he's been able to accomplish at South Carolina. He plays as if he's on his own level. Even the best players in college football look average playing next to him, and that's how you know you have a superstar on your hands.
That type of player is deserving of a No. 1 overall ranking, thus Fournette is deserving of the No. 1 ranking.
That's not to say that Hand isn't incredibly talented, because he is. He just lacks that "once in a decade" type feel to him that a recruit like Clowney had, and a recruit like Fournette has.
Fournette projects to be one of the best running backs in college football right away. Hand has the potential to be a great defensive end, but he's going to need to put on some more weight and get a bit stronger before he gets to that level.
Who should be ranked No. 1?
It's hard to put the difference between great and transcendent in words, but if you've ever watched sports you know that there's just something about those truly "out of this world" players that separates them from the rest.
James Harden is a great NBA player, but he looks average when compared to LeBron James.
Matthew Stafford is a tremendous and talented NFL quarterback, but even he looks average when compared to Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady.
That's the difference between great and beyond elite.
Hand has the potential to be great. Fournette, has the potential to be transcendent.