1 Thing Every 2014 5-Star Recruit Must Improve Before His College Career
The 2014 recruiting class is filled with future college football stars and instant-impact freshmen. Startling high school success and impressive measurements earned these elite players nationwide notoriety and 5-star status.
Despite the accolades and overwhelming recruiting attention, there is no such thing as a perfect prospect. We take a closer look at the incoming crop of collegiate newcomers and identify a facet of each player's game that requires some refinement before they make a leap to the next level.
Nick Chubb (Cedartown, Ga.)
Running back Nick Chubb decided to stay in state by signing with the Georgia Bulldogs. The 5'11", 216-pound Cedartown High School star is clearly capable of becoming a prevalent part of the offensive backfield after rushing for more than 5,400 yards and 77 touchdowns in the past two seasons, per 247Sports.
Chubb's road to an every-down role depends on his development in the passing game. He has strides to make as a receiver, particularly beyond screen plays, and must practice the art of blitz pickup.
Improvement in this area will place Chubb on the fast track to expansive duties in Athens.
DE Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich.)
Massive defensive end Malik McDowell announced his commitment to Michigan State on national signing day but has yet to send in his letter of intent. A family disagreement has him set to visit Florida State and Ohio State before reaching a final decision.
The 6'7", 290-pound prospect is relatively raw in technique, struggling at times to stay low in the trenches. His handwork must also improve in order to shed blocks at the point of attack. Refined fundamentals are necessary for a large athlete still gaining coordination.
McDowell finished his senior season with 89 tackles and seven sacks, according to 247Sports.
S Jamal Adams (Carrollton, Texas)
Hebron High School defensive back Jamal Adams tallied more than 60 tackles for a third consecutive season, according to 247Sports. Still, the 6'0", 199-pound prospect must become better at wrapping up in the open field if he aims to contribute early at LSU.
Adams is a heavy hitter but often aims low when targeting ball-carriers in the open field, which won't suffice in the SEC. He is more evolved in pass coverage, but the Tigers won't start the safety until he gains consistency in his tackling technique.
WR KD Cannon (Mount Pleasant, Texas)
KD Cannon provides Baylor with another explosive playmaker in the passing game. The 6'0", 162-pound receiver established himself as one of the country's premier offensive weapons with three straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons at Mount Pleasant High School.
It's easy to identify his elite abilities, from the way he attacks the ball to his downfield speed. Cannon's most crucial improvements will occur in the weight room, where he will add to his frame in order to escape the clutches of physical Big 12 defensive backs.
He is slippery in the open field but must be able to break tackles in order to routinely race downfield and rack up extra yardage. Enhanced size will simply make Cannon a more balanced threat in Art Briles' high-flying offensive attack.
LB Tre' Williams (Mobile, Ala.)
St. Paul Episcopal High School star Tre' Williams is a run-stuffing middle linebacker prospect set to play for reigning SEC champion Auburn. He racked up 119 tackles as a senior, earning first-team All-USA honors.
Williams won't have any issues holding his own near the line of scrimmage, but questions arise in pass coverage beyond short zone situations. If he is limited in picking up backs and tight ends in intermediate defense, it will deter the Tigers coaching staff from taking off his leash and implementing him on every down.
LB Clifton Garrett (Plainfield, Ill.)
Illinois outside linebacker Clifton Garrett is a dominant presence in every stage of the defense. The 6'2", 228-pound defender finished his final season at Plainfield South High School with 139 tackles and 2.5 sacks, according to the Chicago Tribune
Garrett's aggressiveness and eagerness to create big plays may ultimately be a double-edged sword. He is quick to attack on misdirection and play action, occasionally leaving him behind as the play develops.
Enhanced anticipation and patience will come from working with a collegiate coaching staff. Garrett is only going to grow more explosive when he better understands when to take a step back.
OT Damian Prince (District Heights, Md.)
The big man from Bishop McNamara High School made Maryland's recruiting class when he signed with the Terrapins over Florida and South Carolina. Damian Prince put himself in the discussion for America's top offensive lineman with a dominant run as an upperclassman, capping it off with first-team All-USA honors in 2013.
The 6'5", 295-pound offensive tackle manhandled opponents in high school, but he must sharpen his approach if he aims to contend for a starting role as a freshman at College Park. Prince needs to incorporate more knee bend in his blocking technique because playing high is an easy way to get torched by ACC defenders.
His reach and athleticism are already in place, but it's the process of effectively reaching a rusher off the outside edge that may give Prince initial struggles. Repetition will reinforce better blocking habits and help stabilize Maryland's offensive front.
DE Chad Thomas (Miami, Fla.)
Miami defensive star Chad Thomas opted to stay close to home with a commitment to the Hurricanes. The 6'5', 240-pound Booker T. Washington High School standout helped lead his team to a state title with 72 tackles and eight sacks as a senior, per 247Sports.
Thomas spent a lot of time playing along the defensive interior in high school, but he figures to move outside at the next level. The shift will force him to focus on staying lower upon contact and using his length to become a stealthy pass-rusher off the edge.
Offensive linemen and running backs can size him up and deliver a debilitating block if he becomes lax with fundamentals and stands straight up on the snap.
DE Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas)
Defensive end Solomon Thomas is a man-child, already physically built to contend with experienced collegiate opponents. The Stanford signee spent his senior season wreaking havoc as a run defender and improving in his pursuit of the passer.
Thomas plays with a high motor but appears slightly stiff when forced to move laterally. He will need to develop increased shiftiness in order to avoid the mammoth blockers who aim to impede his progress in the Pac-12.
WR Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla.)
Ermon Lane provided late drama during the final month of his recruitment. The 6'3", 193-pound Homestead High School receiver decommitted from Florida before eventually signing with Florida State.
The Sunshine State standout is an dynamic playmaker who provides an immediate weapon for reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Lane still stands to improve as a route-runner in college.
He shows off explosive burst in the open field but could be smoother cutting in and out of routes. His pad level is occasionally an issue, which will be an early facet for Florida State coaches to focus on.
RB Roc Thomas (Oxford, Ala.)
Incoming Auburn running back Roc Thomas was terrific throughout his senior season at Oxford High School. He carried the football for 2,211 yards and 32 touchdowns, per 247Sports, and earned a second-team All-USA nod.
Thomas is a special runner, but he's merely pedestrian in the passing game at this point. The 5'11", 196-pound prospect doesn't appear comfortable as a receiver, even on short routes.
Not all offensive skill players are natural pass-catchers, and it will take significant practice to improve Thomas in that department.
LB Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga.)
Raekwon McMillan was absolutely beastly during his career at Liberty County High School. The nation's top-ranked inside linebacker and Ohio State signee made more than 150 tackles in each of the past two seasons, per 247Sports.
McMillan is an ideal north-south middle linebacker. His only liability may be found in outside pursuit, as he isn't extremely smooth while adjusting and attacking laterally.
This could cause concern in pass coverage too, particularly against shiftier tight ends in the Big Ten Conference.
RB Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif.)
Freedom High School phenom Joe Mixon rushed for more than 1,700 yards and 23 scores during his senior season, which he capped off with an MVP award at the Army All-American Bowl. The 6'2", 195-pound running back is bound for Oklahoma, where he'll give Bob Stoops a rushing and receiving threat.
Mixon is quick in short bursts, but he doesn't possess elite speed. It's something he'll have to accept with the Sooners, because the days of him running away from opponents by reversing field are finished.
Mixon must establish himself as a between-the-tackles runner and allow the rest of his approach to branch off that aspect of his game.
WR John Smith (Long Beach, Calif.)
USC signee John Smith was a two-way star for Long Beach Polytechnic High School, emerging as an elite recruit at safety and receiver. He is likely to land on offense with the Trojans.
He has excellent downfield speed and leaping ability but will take his game to another level when he starts running routes with more confidence. Smith is largely unpolished in that regard, rounding off patterns and occasionally getting lost in traffic across the middle.
Repetition can remedy that shortcoming and set the stage for Smith to start helping USC immediately.
RB Sony Michel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Georgia signee Sony Michel led American Heritage High School to a state title as a senior. The 5'11", 205-pound running back punished opponents en route to more than 1,800 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns per USA Today.
Michel's speed is apparent, but you wonder if he has the power to take on a taxing load at the next level. He evades defenders with his quickness but struggles to break tackles more often than not.
DE Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga.)
Carter has the makings of a scintillating speed rusher, but it's fair to wonder whether he is ready to hold his own inside as a true every-down end. He can get caught up in traffic along the interior and must pack on some pounds to prepare for the rigors of unforgiving SEC trenches.
WR Malachi Dupre (New Orleans, La.)
Malachi Dupre stepped up as a dynamic playmaker for Louisiana powerhouse John Curtis Christian as an upperclassman. The future LSU receiver flourished in a run-heavy attack, averaging more than 18 yards per catch with six touchdowns as a senior, per MaxPreps.
There's no question Dupre is a tremendous downfield threat and ideal red-zone target, but we've yet to see him display substantial versatility, especially on pass attempts toward the center of the field. Dupre must gain increased route precision if he hopes to develop as a complete receiver in Baton Rouge.
ATH Bo Scarbrough (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
Versatile offensive playmaker Bo Scarbrough was a catalyst at receiver and running back at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The 6'2", 225-pound prospect could play either at Alabama but is slated to start off in the backfield.
Scarbrough is a long-striding runner, which can be a slight detriment at running back. He comes out of cuts high and presents defenders with a large target to pinpoint.
LB Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala.)
Rashaan Evans led Auburn High School with 77 tackles and 17.5 sacks as a senior, per 247Sports. The outside linebacker will leave his hometown to join forces with cross-state rival Alabama.
Rushing the quarterback and penetrating the offensive backfield are his strengths, but pass coverage will test Evans. He didn't have to deal with those duties on a consistent basis in high school and must be ready to dedicate time to detect pre-snap reads when covering receivers.
CB Jalen Tabor (Washington, D.C.)
Cornerback Jalen Tabor tallied five interceptions and interrupted 17 pass attempts during his senior season at Friendship Academy, according to The Washington Post. The 6'1", 182-pound prospect is already enrolled at Florida after flipping late from Arizona.
Tabor lacks elite straight-line speed, a quality featured by many SEC receivers. He needs to continue crafting himself as a physical defender who denies space along the sideline and limits receivers near the line of scrimmage.
RB Dalvin Cook (Miami, Fla.)
Miami Central High School star Dalvin Cook carried the team to a state title in 2013. The 5'11", 190-pound running back rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and 34 touchdowns, according to 247Sports.
If Cook can develop a deeper arsenal of open-field maneuvers and lateral steps, it will increase his chances for success at Florida State. He is an excellent downfield runner but simply can't expect to break as many tackles as in the past with raw power.
CB Marlon Humphrey (Birmingham, Ala.)
Humphrey has everything you look for in a defensive back from a physical standpoint. His best opportunity for improvement in coverage is to do a better job of peeking back at the quarterback. If he can focus more on the development of passing plays while keeping tabs on his receiver, there will be plentiful chances for him to pick off passes.
DT Andrew Brown (Chesapeake, Va.)
Oscar Smith High School star Andrew Brown was named Gatorade National Player of the Year following a senior season that featured 93 tackles and 18 sacks, per USA Today. He decided to stay in state by signing with Virginia.
Brown relied predominately on brute strength at the high school level but needs to improve in technique. He can do a better job of hand placement and escaping scrums while engaged with blockers during early stages of a run play.
QB Kyle Allen (Scottsdale, Ariz.)
Kyle Allen connected on nearly 70 percent of his passes as a senior, surpassing 2,500 passing yards and 29 touchdowns, per 247Sports. He enrolled early at Texas A&M, where he will compete to replace Johnny Manziel as a freshman.
Allen is absolutely lethal within 20 yards of the pocket, delivering strikes with more precision than any of his 2014 counterparts. He can improve the touch on his deep ball, which will come with increased physicality at the collegiate level.
CB Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas)
Brown does a quality job of identifying the ball as it comes out of the backfield for a rushing attempt but can still make strides as a tackler. He is a physical hitter but takes improper angles at times that leave him out of position to effectively bring down a ball-carrier.
WR Speedy Noil (New Orleans, La.)
Edna Karr High School star Speedy Noil played quarterback for the majority of his upperclassman experience but will make a permanent move to receiver at Texas A&M. The 5'10.5", 176-pound playmaker deserves this nickname and makes defenders look foolish when they fail to account for his quickness.
Noil is a potent threat on the outside edge, especially when putting his speed on display during a post route. However, he has yet to prove himself as a viable threat in the intermediate and short passing game, where he must contend with traffic.
CB Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif.)
USC signee Adoree' Jackson intercepted six passes and returned three for touchdowns in 2013, per USA Today. The Junipero Serra star is also a dangerous special teams weapon, evidenced by three touchdown returns as a senior.
Jackson is arguably the most electric member of this class, but he has work to do at cornerback, where he is likely to line up early at USC. Competing against a more capable crop of receivers than he's ever encountered, Jackson won't be able to lean on sheer athleticism to win battles.
He will be counted on to handle assignments and containment, despite some size limitations. Jackson can do himself a favor by establishing a physical approach in coverage that limits a receiver's space to operate.
S Quin Blanding (Virginia Beach, Va.)
Blanding bullies opponents with impressive strength and drops the hammer in run coverage. As good as he is in the box, there remains room for improvement.
Blanding never hesitates in his pursuit of a play, but that anxiousness hurts him at times when facing misdirection. He's best when surveying the field fully before pulling the trigger and darting toward the action.
DE Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va.)
Disruptive defensive end Da'Shawn Hand is headed to Alabama after another strong high school campaign. The 6'4'", 265-pound prospect compiled 16 sacks for the second consecutive season, per 247Sports.
Hand has ridiculous natural power that will only become more dangerous when he gets his technique down. He often tackles while standing practically straight up. That won't cut it in Tuscaloosa, where he will learn how to deliver a blow from a lower center of gravity.
OT Cameron Robinson (West Monroe, La.)
His reach is a major asset in pass-blocking, but he can maximize that strength by getting better with his positioning. Robinson's hand placement will also become more consistent in Tuscaloosa.
DB Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J.)
Peppers is about as polished as they come out of high school, but he can afford to become more stout against the run. His frame is built to support more weight, which will help him become more of a force near the line of scrimmage when covering the edge or blowing up a screen play.
DE Myles Garrett (Arlington, Texas)
James Martin High School star Myles Garrett is a menacing defensive end who signed with Texas A&M. He racked up 88 tackles and 20.5 sacks as a senior, per 247Sports.
Garrett is college-ready as a pass-rusher but isn't quite where he needs to be as a run defender. He can get caught up in the interior fray sometimes and doesn't always set the edge, where he can dominate.
RB Leonard Fournette (New Orleans, La.)
LSU signee Leonard Fournette is the most heralded running back recruit in quite some time. He rushed for more than 1,700 yards for a fourth consecutive season in 2013, per 247Sports.
When assessing each of these 5-star prospects, you have to really nitpick to find issues, and this is especially the case with Fournette.
He runs with a high pad level, which makes him an easier target for defenders. Fournette is also somewhat stiff at the ankles, where he could become more limber with sideways jukes and present an even tougher task for tacklers.