Power Ranking the 25 Best Spring Practice Performances by Early Enrollees

Jonathan McDanal@@jdmcdanalContributor IIIApril 25, 2013

Power Ranking the 25 Best Spring Practice Performances by Early Enrollees

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    Power ranking the early enrollees starts with two basic criteria:

    1. Position on the depth chart after the spring.

    2. Difficulty to break into said depth chart.

    The only thing between the previous season and the post-spring roster is the practice field. It doesn't matter how talented you were in high school, and it certainly doesn't matter where you personally think you should be.

    All that matters is a player's total skill, which is simply talent plus hard work. Someone can know how to cover a route, but if he can't physically do it, he is going to have a comfy spot on the bench with his name on it.

    This spring, dozens of early enrollees earned spots on the two-deep and four-deep charts all over the country.

    Here are the top 25 ranked from lowest to highest.

    *Depth chart information is from the team links on Rivals.com, team rankings are from Jeff Sagarin, and any AP Poll references are from AP.org.

    *Early enrollee names are behind these links for the SEC (via ESPN) and the Big Ten (via Big Ten Network) conferences.

25. Alton Meeks (LB, Iowa State Cyclones)

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    Alton Meeks is officially on the Cyclones' depth chart as of April 22, 2013. Iowa State finished the 2012 season ranked 55th in the country.

    Making on to the nation's 38th-best scoring defense is no small feat, but to do it as a 2-star quarterback prospect is just downright impressive.

    Meeks is already listed as the No. 2 linebacker behind only Jared Brackens. Brackens is a senior, and experience like that is difficult to overcome.

24. Jordan Fieulleteau (WR, UNC Tar Heels)

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    Wide receiver Jordan Fieulleteau's spring went quite well. He finished the cycle at No. 2 on the Tar Heels' depth chart behind Quinshad Davis.

    North Carolina will be looking for every opportunity on the field more than ever in 2013. Running back Giovani Bernard will be playing on Sundays next season, and that has left a huge hole in UNC's offense.

    While Fieulleteau isn't a starter right now, don't forget that there is a whole summer of voluntary workouts for him to make the pass for the pole position. Spring was productive, so don't count him out just yet.

23. Sojourn Shelton (CB, Wisconsin Badgers)

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    Sojourn Shelton is a valuable addition to the Wisconsin Badgers. Even though the Badgers didn't finish ranked in the AP Poll, they finished 2012 ranked 18th against the pass. It's a testament to Shelton's talent that he is already at No. 2 on the depth chart following the spring practice rotation.

    Shelton showed up to Wisconsin with a strong work ethic, and based on his appearance on the depth chart, a strong mind as well. Cornerback is far from the easiest position to learn.

22. Kenny Bigelow (NT, USC Trojans)

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    Kenny Bigelow is going to help USC overcome a major weakness from 2012: lack of defensive depth. The Trojans were under sanctions prior to the 2012 season, and they are still rebuilding a damaged roster.

    Bigelow has moved into the No. 2 slot at nose tackle, and the defensive line will welcome the 280-pound monster whenever he should get his chance.

    If he can continue his work as effectively through the summer, you might just be looking at USC's new front man for the entire season.

21. Jordan Smith (CB, Penn State Nittany Lions)

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    Jordan Smith is a backup cornerback for the Penn State Nittany Lions. The Lions ended the 2012 season ranked No. 30 by Jeff Sagarin, and they performed much better than expected during the first season under NCAA sanctions.

    Penn State also ranked 51st nationally against the pass in 2012, and Smith's ability to crack the depth chart means that he is among the top talents in the country. He may not be first-round draft material, but he's also got at least three years left playing college ball for Penn State.

    That could all change between now and 2016.

20. Tyler Ferguson (QB, Penn State Nittany Lions)

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    Since Steven Bench is transferring out of the equation, Tyler Ferguson is currently the assumed No. 1 quarterback at Penn State. This may change after Christian Hackenberg arrives on campus, but Ferguson will retain his spot on this list regardless of what happens in the future.

    After all, this is about spring, and Hackenberg wasn't in Happy Valley while Ferguson was rising up the chart.

    In case you were wondering, Ferguson would have been higher on this list had he not gotten the No. 1 position by default. Still, qualifying second at a major school is worthy of a top-25 finish here.

19. Alex Figueroa (LB, Miami Hurricanes)

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    As of the end of spring practice, Alex Figueroa is a starting linebacker for the Miami Hurricanes. Miami needs serious help in the pass-defense category, having finished 105th there in 2012.

    Figueroa is that help. It isn't as difficult to crack a 105th-ranked roster as some of the other teams on this list, but it is unnatural to be playing on first string the moment you step on to a college campus.

    Figueroa is a bright addition to the future of the Miami program. A few more recruits like him, and the Hurricanes can compete for the ACC title. After all, they came within two possessions of defeating Florida State last season, and the Seminoles went on to the Orange Bowl.

18. Leon McQuay III (CB, USC Trojans)

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    Leon McQuay III has quickly established himself as a building block for the USC Trojans. Having only arrived this past winter, he's already the starting corner on the Trojans' roster.

    The Trojans were 53rd in passing defense and 40th in scoring defense last season. McQuay is one of the major improvements in the secondary. The other is coming on the next slide.

17. Su'a Cravens (S, USC Trojans)

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    Su'a Cravens is the other pillar of USC's secondary, and he's also a starter after just the spring evaluation period.

    Cravens arrives as a highly-touted safety that was the No. 4 overall recruit of the 2013 class. He has parlayed that hype into actual skill that has put him as one of the most valuable prospects on the nation's 18th-most-valuable team.

    If Cravens can anchor the defense as well as expected along with his cohort Leon McQuay, then USC could be on the way back up the Pac-12 ladder as quickly as it slid down it.

16. Demarcus Robinson (WR, Florida Gators)

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    Demarcus Robinson is one of only two players on this list that made it to only No. 3 on his depth chart. Robinson is behind Quinton Debose and Andre Debose on the Florida depth chart, and that's why he appears here.

    Until the Gators have a quarterback that steps up and becomes an asset to the team, the wide receiver rotation is going to be a little questionable. The two ahead of him may be better receivers, or they may just have better chemistry with quarterback Jeff Driskel.

    Either way, Robinson got up to No. 3 on a depth chart for the country's AP No. 9 squad while limited by injury. That is no minor accomplishment.

15. Kelvin Taylor (RB, Florida Gators)

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    Kelvin Taylor is the other No. 3 on this list. He was a victim of an unreal level of motivation from Mack Brown. Brown was not performing to the level expected of a 4-star recruit, and that caused many to think that he wouldn't appear very high on the 2013 depth chart.

    He apparently got the message, because he turned out a great spring that kept Taylor just off the two-deep. Taylor has set himself up to make a run for either of the top two positions in the fall.

    The summer's workout period will be his final opportunity to overthrow an established talent.

14. Christian LaCouture (DT, LSU Tigers)

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    Christian LaCouture is one of the many players who will be helping LSU overcome the mass exodus that is the 2013 draft.

    With players like Bennie Logan gone, it will be up to the previous backups and the current new recruits to pick up the slack. Making it as a backup on the country's No. 12 scoring defense is good all by itself. Making it in your first set of practices is amazing.

    LaCouture is going to be a great player at LSU, and he's not wasting any time proving it.

13. Fehoko Fanaika (OG, LSU Tigers)

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    Fehoko Fanaika, like Christian LaCouture, is already a backup at LSU after his first practice cycle. Fanaika is the No. 2 offensive guard.

    The highest-ranked offensive guard to leave the program is Josh Dworaczyk, who is ranked 43rd at his position. That means that Fanaika wasn't the beneficiary of anyone's departure from the program. His position at backup is all based on his skill.

    Fanaika is at an SEC school that's known for putting players in the NFL. Chris Faulk, the offensive lineman, declared early for the 2013 NFL draft. Fanaika had a great spring, and it could be the beginning of a future as bright as he wants it to be.

12. Alex Anzalone (LB, Florida Gators)

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    Alex Anzalone appears here as a backup linebacker for the Florida Gators. He's not ranked any higher, because he is behind a sophomore. Everyone above him on this list is behind someone who has been playing longer than the man in front of Anzalone.

    Regardless of who is in front of him, Anzalone is still a No. 2 on one of the best defenses in the country. This spring, Anzalone showed that he has more than just talent, and the Gators rewarded him with almost-guaranteed playing time in the fall.

    He might even be out there as a starter by the time the season kicks off. After all, it's just a sophomore that's ahead of him.

11. Darious Cummings (NT, Florida Gators)

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    If earning a backup slot on a Top 10 team is difficult, then earning that slot at a prime position is even harder. Darious Cummings has earned the No. 2 slot at nose tackle.

    He is the go-to point man in case anything happens to Leon Orr. Again, this team was ranked fifth against the run in 2012. A team can't accomplish that without a stout defensive line.

    Cummings is able to contribute to a suffocating defensive line in the top current conference in the country.

10. Daniel McMillian (LB, Florida Gators)

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    Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins and Lerentee McCray are all heading for the NFL this cycle, and Florida was hurting on defense. However, Daniel McMillian enrolled early and showed the Gators that they had nothing to worry about.

    Earning a backup position at a Top 10 team is not easy, and there are many players on this list that did that very thing. McMillian is going to be a star at Florida if this kind of start says anything about his future.

9. Joey Ivie (DT, Florida Gators)

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    Joey Ivie is a No. 2 defensive tackle at Florida, and he's sitting behind senior Damien Jacobs. (Jacobs was a JUCO transfer, so he had a decided advantage over Ivie as it was.)

    Ivie is a stellar player at his position, and Florida is going to need player like him if it is going to live up to the lofty expectations from the fanbase. Florida placed those expectations on itself by earning the No. 5 ranking in scoring defense last season.

    Ivie had a great run this spring. He isn't a starter yet, but there are still a few more months before 2013 kicks off.

8. Tyler Moore (OT, Florida Gators)

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    Tyler Moore is the only early enrollee to earn a starting position at Florida. He is a No. 1 offensive tackle for the Gators, and he will be assisting them in their quest for an SEC East crown in 2013.

    Moore is a 315-pound, 6'5" beast of a man that will literally anchor the offensive line. With teams like Alabama losing ground in the offensive-line game, Florida's ability to put a monster like this in the middle will help them immensely if they should make it to the conference title game.

    With prospects like this all over the depth chart, Florida's future is looking much brighter than its recent past.

7. Ronnie Martin (CB, South Carolina Gamecocks)

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    Ronnie Martin is now a backup corner for the South Carolina Gamecocks. South Carolina finished the 2012 season at No. 6 in the Sagarin rankings, and they were close to a conference title in the process.

    The Gamecocks ranked 21st nationally in pass defense last season, and they lose only one major player from their secondary: D.J. Swearinger, the No. 4 cornerback in the 2013 draft.

    Martin has clearly earned the respect of his coaches through his spring performance. He is a sophomore sitting right behind senior Jimmy Legree. More importantly for this list, he's right in front of junior Sidney Rhodes.

6. Steven Elmer (OT, Notre Dame Fighting Irish)

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    Notre Dame is a championship contender, and Steven Elmer is part of that squad's bright future now. He is No. 2 at offensive tackle, and Notre Dame needs guys like him (6'6" and 297 pounds) to help move past the draft losses at running back.

    Elmer was a 4-star recruit ranked No. 6 at his position. Due to his potential, look for his name at No. 1 on the depth chart in the fall. It shouldn't come as a surprise if his summer and fall practice cycles push him up another notch.

    As a freshman sitting behind a senior, the road will be more than a little rough, but he's capable of moving up that final position.

5. Reggie Wilkerson (CB, Georgia Bulldogs)

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    Reggie Wilkerson is a freshman linebacker sitting behind a sophomore on the No. 4 team in the nation (according to Sagarin).

    While that doesn't look that great for him, Georgia posted the country's No. 8 pass defense in 2012. Breaking into a top-10 depth chart is insanely challenging, and Wilkerson has already come close after only one round of trials.

    With voluntary workout season coming, the only thing standing between him and the No. 1 spot is work ethic and a playbook.

4. Chris Mayes (NT, Georgia Bulldogs)

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    Chris Mayes sits behind junior nose tackle Mike Thornton on Georgia's roster, and Mayes is poised for takeover after this spring.

    Mayes is taller (6'4" vs. 6'1") and heavier (315 pounds vs. 302 pounds) than Thornton, and a summer full of drills and weights could push him over the edge to starter.

    Georgia's rush defense ranked 80th last season, so it's not completely insane to think that he could get there by the time 2013 kicks off. The Bulldogs definitely need some help, and Mayes could be the guy.

3. Reggie Carter (LB, Georgia Bulldogs)

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    Reggie Carter was a 4-star middle linebacker coming out of high school, and he's already at No. 2 behind junior Amarlo Herrera.

    Georgia's rush defense need the help of some strong linebackers, and Carter is easily a step forward for the Bulldogs. The fact that the Dawgs know this after only a spring is what puts him so high on the list.

    Georgia finished No. 4 in the Sagarin rankings last season. Making a depth chart that good is excellent. Proving that you are a step forward at the position for a school that good is amazing.

2. Ryne Rankin (LB, Georgia Bulldogs)

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    Ryne Rankin was a 3-star middle linebacker, but he has made it to the two-deep chart at Georgia just like 4-star Reggie Carter.

    With that accomplishment under his belt, his resume is already building toward a future in the NFL. There is a lot of time between now and his draft, but it's still a great start for him.

    Rankin can help Georgia overcome the weakness to the run, and having made it this far up as a 3-star prospect proves that he has the work ethic to move up another position.

    He's behind junior Ramik Wilson for the moment, but he can use the summer and fall practice sessions to his advantage and potentially make that change.

    Experience is valuable in any endeavor, but it's not an insurmountable obstacle.

1. Tray Matthews (S, Georgia Bulldogs)

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    Georgia is the highest-ranked team with early enrollees listed on a current depth chart. In fact, Georgia is the only Top Five team on that long list.

    That makes Tray Matthews the only early enrollee to make it to the starting lineup of an AP Top Five team. Matthews is a safety, and he's simply another case of coach Mark Richt making a statement on the recruiting trail.

    Talent like this doesn't come along every season at most schools, but Georgia is not most schools. Matthews is currently the starting safety over redshirt junior Connor Norman.

    He's a freshman ahead of a junior on the roster of a team who finished fourth in the Sagarin rankings. Whether it's from work ethic, raw talent or both, that's an astounding turn of events for the youngster.

    One would be hard-pressed to have a better spring in an entire lifetime.