Big Ten Football: 5 Signees Who Will Make the Biggest Impact in 2014
National signing day has come to a close, and if you've been listening to national media, you might be scared that the SEC is going to win every single football game until the end of time given some of the classes hauled in by teams like Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee.
But we're here to talk Big Ten football, which, you may find it hard to believe, is still going to compete for national championships despite being an afterthought in the recruiting world. Please note the heavy sarcasm in the previous sentence.
The reality is that talent scattered all across the country was picked up by teams from the Big Ten, and a number of players are going to step in and contribute from day one. You have Ohio State and Michigan, which unsurprisingly landed classes full of high school studs.
You also see teams like Penn State, Minnesota and Michigan State that appear to be on the rise, a trajectory that will be aided by several key recruits in the 2014 class. The Spartans, you'll recall, are the current Rose Bowl champions.
At the end of the day, national signing day is more symbolic than anything else. It's the day hundreds of high school players take the next step in their careers, though 5-star or unranked, it's up to them how great they want to be in college.
Here are five Big Ten signees who will have an immediate impact in 2014.
All recruiting information via 247sports.com.
RB Jeff Jones, Minnesota
The 55th-ranked player in the class of 2014 isn't headed to a traditional powerhouse. He's headed to Minnesota, and you can expect running back Jeff Jones to help out the Golden Gophers right away.
With some uncertainty at the quarterback position, coach Jerry Kill will need to rely heavily on the running back position to carry the offense next season. Fortunately, the team returns David Cobb, a powerful 225-pound back who rushed for over 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013.
Cobb won't have to look over his shoulder at the competition, but he may soon be lining up next to it if Jones shows up and plays to his potential. To put into perspective what kind of reputation the Minneapolis native has, consider that he also had offers from Michigan and Florida.
But that doesn't tell the whole story, as the Golden Gophers probably aren't offering kids simply because of who else might be after them. In watching Jones, you'll notice a unique combination of power and agility. He can stop and start very quickly, and he almost always falls forward when getting tackled. That is, if he's not still running after breaking it.
Remember that Jones will still be pretty green in 2014, so the tandem of he and Cobb may not fully develop with the latter graduating after next year. But this smells a little bit like Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber III, two backs from the early 2000s who formed a lethal duo in Minnesota's backfield.
Jones may not receive the day-one hype of some of the other players on this list because of where he's headed, but he should have just as much of an impact as any top recruit in the conference.
WR Saeed Blacknall, Penn State
A one-time Rutgers commit, wide receiver Saeed Blacknall joins the Penn State Nittany Lions at the perfect time for a couple of reasons.
The first is the face of the program, quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Unless you're Tom Brady, even the best signal-callers need wideouts who can get open and make plays on their own. Hackenberg is a rising star, and by adding the talented Blacknall into the mix, he'll have yet another option in the passing game.
The second reason is because departing stud Allen Robinson needs to be replaced, which won't be an easy task considering he had over 1,400 yards receiving. Because he stood 6'3", it's literally a tall order for James Franklin and his staff.
An answer to the problem could be Blacknall, who is also 6'3" and as physical as they come. The Nittany Lions also signed 4-star wide receiver De'Andre Thompkins, who was able to enroll early.
But Blacknall, who was coveted by teams like Alabama and Clemson, is the more physical specimen and will have a chance to make a major impact in 2014. It could be a few years before he reaches his full potential, but he'll be an immediate contributor on a very intriguing Penn State squad.
DE Malik McDowell, Michigan State
And yes, this piece pertains to signees only. But should McDowell follow through on his word, he's the kind of talent fans around the country will know about, so we're bending the rules just this once.
Start first with his size, where he's listed at 6'7", 290 pounds. That's mammoth-like for the defensive end position, and he'll fit right in with a Spartans defense that has been extremely tough to score on in recent years.
This is also a guy who had offers from Ohio State, Florida State, Alabama and reportedly the Jacksonville Jaguars (OK, maybe not that last one). McDowell is the kind of athlete who steps onto a campus and makes his presence known immediately.
His height will allow him to knock down passes over and over again, while his frame gives him an incredible combination of strength and agility. We're not trying to create a Jadeveon Clowney-like myth surrounding him, but he's sure to contribute from the very first day in East Lansing.
If he blossoms into a star and lives up to his 5-star billing, the recruiting saga will have been more than worth it for coach Mark Dantonio and the rest of his staff.
LB Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State
The No. 1 linebacker in the 2014 class easily makes the list of Big Ten signees most likely to make an impact early on. When you're the top recruit for the Ohio State Buckeyes, chances are you have just a bit of potential.
Raekwon McMillan is the player we're talking about, and it's a name you should remember, even if you don't plan on following the Buckeyes' spring and fall camps. That's because he'll likely be making plays in meaningful games from the very start.
In fact, McMillan has already enrolled at the university, and more time in Meyer's program only increases the chances of making a big splash as a freshman. Listed at 6'2", 242 pounds, McMillan is the type of linebacker who defines a Big Ten defense.
He's big, athletic and can shed blocks like he's brushing away flies. With offers from all around the country, McMillan was one of the most sought-after recruits from the 2014 class. Even if he's unable to crack the starting lineup on the Buckeyes defense, he's practically guaranteed to see playing time immediately.
If players like James Laurinaitis and Ryan Shazier have set the tone for Ohio State's linebacking corps in recent years, it's McMillan who will continue it. Coming soon to a backfield near you, McMillan will have one of the most impactful freshman seasons of any player in the 2014 class.
Ath Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
Jabrill Peppers is one of the highest-rated recruits in Michigan history, and that's saying something given the kinds of teams the Wolverines have produced over the years.
Peppers, rated the No. 4 overall recruit, could potentially have a Charles Woodson-like impact in Ann Arbor. That's his ceiling, of course, but it gives you an indication about his talent.
The 6'1", 205-pound Peppers played everywhere in high school, though his primary role in the future appears to be in the secondary. With his 4.4 speed, however, don't be surprised to see him returning kicks or being utilized in some form on the offensive side of the ball.
I think, let’s get him in here and let him be a corner for a while and let him get acclimated to everything about college football. Do I think he’s very talented? There’s no question. Can he return kicks? Could he? Yeah, I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. Could there be a plan for him somewhere offensively? There could be. But let’s let the kid walk on campus, go to a class during the summer and be a freshman and let what he does speak for itself.
It isn't fair to expect Peppers to be the best player on the field right away, but if we've learned anything from watching cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III at Florida, it's that athletes like Peppers can have a dynamic impact on the game regardless of age.
Look for this new Wolverine to be one of the brightest young players in the nation in 2014.