2014 College Football Recruits Who Could Start This Season
In April of 2003, John David Booty made history by announcing he would skip his senior season at Evangel Christian High School in Louisiana and enroll at USC a year early. Although Booty failed to beat out Matt Leinart for the starting quarterback job in Troy, his move raised a question on the recruiting trail: are some top level recruits ready to play college football before their final high school season?
Many would argue against that and for good reason. The physicality and speed of the college game are light years ahead of high school football. However, each recruiting class has a select group of prospects who appear to be capable of making the early jump.
There are three running backs in the South who have the size and skills to carry the load for a college team this fall. A quarterback prospect that has the size, arm and vision to warrant serious starting consideration and a safety prospect may be wasting his time playing high school football as a senior.
Speedy Noil, ATH
Noil is one of the most electric players in the country with the ball in his hands. He brings back memories of Peter Warrick at Florida State and is a similar player to Rams receiver Tavon Austin and Seahawks receiver Percy Harvin.
Noil, at 5'11" and 176 pounds, is a speedy athlete from Louisiana. He has outstanding agility, quickness and is a naturally instinctive runner. Noil will settle in as a receiver, but he can also be used as a running back, slot receiver, wildcat quarterback and return man.
He's a player that just needs the ball in his hands, as Noil can take care of the rest. He has an explosive release, can burst upfield to outrun closing safeties and has terrific elusiveness.
Wherever he lands, Noil easily is capable of becoming a team's third receiver and return specialist as a true freshman. Keep an eye on schools such as LSU, USC, Florida or Texas A&M.
Andrew Brown, DT
It is rare for an interior defensive lineman to make an impact as a true freshman, let alone make a list such as this one. However, Brown has the size, quickness and strength at the point of attack to be a beast in the trenches this fall.
Brown, at 6'4" and 282 pounds, can explode out of his stance and use excellent power to make plays. He also has the leg strength to sink his weight and anchor on occasion, which can create a mess in the middle.
Brown uses his heavy hands well and flashes advanced technique. He also displays a great burst to finish plays on the quarterback on running back in short areas.
Scout.com says Brown will make a decision on June 29th. Whichever school he commits to will be excited and will also receive a commitment from a player who could help them in 2013.
Jalen Hurd, RB
Tennessee, which lost out on Derrick Henry in 2013, has a need for a big running back. Butch Jones understands how important it is to have a big back in the SEC and that is a reason why Hurd's early commitment was so significant.
Hurd, at 6'3 and 230 pounds, is one of the top big backs in the nation and the best player in Tennessee. Fresh off a junior season that saw him rush for more than 3,300 yards and 43 TDs, Hurd displayed an excellent blend of power, strength, speed and agility.
He has deceptive quickness, runs with good instincts and also flashes receiving ability. Hurd is lethal on the second level of defenses and is intimidating to defensive backs in the open field. If he were allowed to enroll at Tennessee this fall, Jones would start him.
Raekwon McMillan, LB
McMillan, who is the top middle/inside linebacker in the country, is a physically gifted recruit who's ready for college football. Ohio State is expected to land McMillan, and the Buckeyes wish he could help them this year.
McMillan, who is 6'2 and 242 pounds, has explosive athleticism and great ball-location skills. He can quickly process information, let his instincts guide his movements and quickly fill run alleys vs. the run.
McMillan hits like a truck and is a classic thumper (big, hard-hitting linebacker). He also has great lateral agility and speed which allows him to play with range. McMillan is a linebacker who could easily be a two-down 'backer for a BCS school's defense this season.
David Cornwell, QB
Although Cornwell will not be handed the starting quarterback job at Alabama, he is talented enough to start anywhere as a freshman, even in 2013.
Cornwell, who is 6'5" and 230 pounds, has tremendous arm talent. His mobility and athleticism can be debated over, but there is no questioning the natural ability of his right arm.
Cornwell has excellent arm strength but also understands when he must pitch rather than throw. He can light up defenses with outstanding accuracy, touch and can throw into windows with great anticipation. Cornwell shows good field vision, will go through his progressions and makes solid decisions.
He could easily check out of Norman North, enroll at a college next month and challenge for the starting job.
Sony Michel, RB
Michel, who is the best player in Florida, is a special talent at the running back position. Although he will not start as a freshman at Georgia due to Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley's presence, he still will warrant some carries.
Michel, at 5'11" and 205 pounds, is an elite prospect. He has been on radar since he was in the eighth grade has a complete skill set as a runner. Michel has excellent vision, can cut on a dime, explodes through holes and can really challenge linebackers on the second level.
He also has terrific hands and can be split out wide to make an impact in the passing game. Michel also will be a great kick off returner in Athens. Mark Richt loves "Gurshall", but surely would love a three-headed monster including Michel more.
Tony Brown, CB
Brown, who is also an accomplished hurdler, is one of the most athletically gifted recruits in the country. He has great versatility, as Brown (a cornerback) could leave college as an All-Conference safety.
Brown, who is 6'0" and 188 pounds, is a press and jam cornerback who can play on the field (wide side) or boundary (tight side). He has explosive strength in his arms, hands and shoulders which allows him to punch receivers and through off their timing with the quarterback.
Brown has loose hips and displays awesome short area quickness. He closes on the ball in a flash and is difficult to separate from. Brown also has outstanding instincts and is not afraid to support the run.
There is no question he is capable of playing a starting nickel cornerback role for a defense today.
Da'Shawn Hand, DE
Hand, who will develop into a similar player to Terrell Suggs of the Ravens, is a tremendous pass rusher who also has the strength to play the run. The Virginia defensive end is one of the top players at his position in recent memory.
Hand, at 6'5" and 247 pounds, can fire upfield with great quickness and uses his hands well. He can convert speed to power during his rush and bends around the pocket well. Hand has played defensive tackle, but will be on the edges in college as well as standing up.
Hand has the power to set the edge vs. a tight end, stack a block, shed and use his athleticism and range to make tackles on outside runs.
If Hand could play college football in 2013, he could win the starting "designated/third-down pass rusher" position in camp and would finish the season as a full time starter.
Quin Blanding, S
Mike London, who could bring a special recruiting class to Virginia, has a special headliner to his class in Blanding. Safeties are more important to defenses than many believe and Blanding will prove that claim in Charlottesville.
Blanding, at 6'2" and 200 pounds, is an incredibly instinctive ball-hawk on the back end. He gets in and out of his backpedal with great transition quickness after quickly recognizing passing route combinations. Blanding has good play speed and can quickly undercut receivers to jump passing lanes for interceptions.
He also quickly recognizes run plays and does not shy away from filling alleys. Blanding can squeeze the line of scrimmage as a run defender and will deliver a big hit when he can.
He would start for London's defense this fall.
Leonard Fournette, RB
Fournette, who is the top running back prospect since Adrian Peterson, is the top player in America. He lacks no glaring weakness and is ready to be a bell-cow running back in college.
Fournette, who is 6'1" and 225 pounds, can run with speed on one carry, use power and strength the next carry and split out wide and play like a receiver on third downs. He possesses outstanding vision, can be smooth with his burst through holes and can push piles to carry defenders dragging on him for extra yardage.
Picking up the blitz and stacking at the point of attack with his hands are two subtle elements to his game that he stands to improve upon.
Fournette is a high-character guy with a great work ethic. He is ready for college football today and should be ready for the NFL in three years.
Edwin Weathersby is the College Football Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. He has worked in scouting/player personnel departments for three professional football teams, including the New York Giants and Cleveland Browns.