National signing day has come and gone, and more and more players are turning to the early-enrollee route in hopes of getting a leg up and earning immediate playing time.
While the Big Ten didn't pull seven teams in the top 10 recruiting rankings like some other conference did, there are plenty of open spots and players looking to fill them from the 2014 class. Now it's on the coaches to sift through the names they've seen on tape and figure out if they can play this early.
There are a few teams that have signed a lot of players with the ability to contribute early.
Which programs signed the most players with the ability to impact their teams immediately?
Ohio State Buckeyes
Urban Meyer continues to set the pace on the recruiting trail for the Big Ten, achieving the No. 3-ranked class of 2014. It's a good thing too, because the Buckeyes have a lot of significant pieces to replace.
Gone will be names like Ryan Shazier, Bradley Roby and Carlos Hyde, to name a few. That means minutes and starting roles at big-time positions are up for grabs.
Not only is the class talented, but Meyer has proven over his career that he isn't afraid to play freshmen when they prove they deserve it. Just last year we saw Joey Bosa and Vonn Bell earn some pretty good playing time.
Who will be this year's version of Bosa for the Buckeyes?
A good place to start would be the guy who is likely to replace the departed Shazier—Raekwon McMillan. The 6'2", 242-pound early enrollee has a great chance to be impactful in the 2014 season. He was a 5-star player and the No.1-ranked inside linebacker by the 247Sports composite rankings, and clearly has the size to be an immediate force as a middle linebacker for the Buckeyes.
In fact, there are four linebackers in this class, and Meyer has zero plans to hold any of them back, as he said to the media.
So there's four linebackers been recruited Raekwon McMillan, Sam Hubbard, Kyle Berger and Dante Booker. Four guys I'm putting pressure on them Coach Fickell and myself to get ready for next year. They have to play for us, in addition to the players we have on our roster already. So just so everybody knows, there's no redshirt plans for those players at all. We thought about that during the recruiting process.
Considering the lack of playmakers outside of Shazier at linebacker, there's good reason to believe those aren't just words to pump up this group, but an actual need for a team that went 12-2 last year and 24-2 over the last two seasons.
On the other side of the ball, Ohio State must replace four starters along the offensive line. Once again, early enrollees could play a key role such as 4-star tackle Kyle Trout and 3-star guard Marcelys Jones. OSU also signed 4-star tackle Jamarco Jones and guard Demetrius Knox, along with rising 3-star tackle Brady Taylor.
The Buckeyes also are looking to find a significant contributor in the "Percy Harvin" role, and to that end Meyer and Co. signed 6'0" 185-pound RB/WR Curtis Samuel. His speed and size could make him ideal for that Harvin-type role in the Buckeyes offense, but he will have competition for sure.
For OSU, the chances are high that there will be at least three significant contributors from this class on both sides of the ball in 2014. Now it's just a matter of figuring out who earns the right to start outside of McMillan.
Wisconsin signed 25 players in this 2014 class, head coach Gary Andersen's first real go-around for the Badgers on the recruiting trail. The Badgers needed to hit on this class, especially with the loss of all but one starter in the defensive front seven.
Addressing their need for athleticism on the edges was also important, particularly with the loss of star wide receiver Jared Abbrederis and a lack of playmakers outside of Sojourn Shelton in the defensive backfield.
Wisconsin went heavy on the wide receiver spot, pulling in five players at that position. While UW missed on its biggest target, Jamil Kamara, they did find a gem or two that could be immediate impact players at wide receiver.
Watkins is a bit raw in technique, but it's hard not to recognize the game-changing speed he possesses. At 6'2" and 192 pounds, Watkins is someone who can contribute immediately. Sanders, a 6'2" 195-pound receiver, went absolutely crazy on the field during his senior season. He racked up 65 receptions for 1,460 yards and 26 TDs, while also adding five rushing touchdowns and a return TD as well.
Of course, we can't talk Wisconsin without talking the offensive line. UW loses just one starter—guard Ryan Groy, from the O-line—but that doesn't mean there aren't spots that will be up for grabs. Wisconsin has 4-star tackle Jaden Gault and 3-star guard/center Michael Deiter in early, and it means they will see opportunities to compete for playing time.
With Jaden and Michael coming in at the break for the semester...they have a tremendous opportunity to (play early). Jaden will be in the mix. Michael may be the starting center with the injuries at this point to Dan (Voltz) and to Dallas (Lewallen). That is a tremendous opportunity for a young freshman. ... George (Panos) will come in.
The first three I mentioned right there, they're physically they'll have an opportunity to come in and compete in the fall. A couple of those other young men are a year away from building their bodies up. They understand that.
On the opposite side of the line, the Badgers have two or three guys who could see immediate playing time thanks to the departures of every starter up front.
Wisconsin will have ready-made players in 3-star players Billy Hirschfeld and Jeremy Patterson (WR Sanders' teammate). Patterson is about as physically ready for college football as a high schooler could be thanks to his 6'3", 310-pound frame. Hirschfeld is a great example of what is needed at defensive end in the 3-4 scheme, coming in at 6'6" and 270 pounds.
Unlike the last few years, there will be plenty of spots for competition and chances for freshmen to step up and earn playing time in Madison. Graduating a class that won 39 games and had 26 people in it will make that tough.
Size doesn't always matter in recruiting, especially if you don't have the numbers to fit a large class on your roster. That's what happened with the Michigan Wolverines, but it appears that there could be a number of players set up to contribute early.
It's one part bad play in 2013 and another part playmakers leaving that has this smaller class (16 signed scholarship players) looking at significant playing time from the word "go."
With Jeremy Gallon gone, the most pressing need for this team is to find impact wide receivers. They may be on the roster already, but the 2013 season sure didn't see them shining. Michigan got two receivers amongst a group of seven early enrollees, and they could both get a leg up physically on the rest of the group.
Drake Harris, a 6'4", 185-pound specimen of a receiver, comes in early after not playing his senior season. However, it appears he is physically ready to go this spring, and with the size and speed he had via tape he is a very intriguing prospect for early playing time.
"Physically, he's improved," said head coach Brady Hoke on signing day. "He's doing more and more. I know we ran yesterday and he's feeling more towards 100 percent all the time. We're hoping he'll be ready for the start of spring."
Joining Harris as an early enrollee at receiver is Freddy Canteen, who is a bit more in the Jeremy Gallon mold as a 6'1", 175-pound freshman.
With a receiving group that didn't jump off the page behind Gallon a year ago, these two could step into significant roles early on. However, none of that may matter unless U-M gets things going on the offensive line.
To that end, look for 4-star guard Mason Cole to step into the picture. Whether a brutal year of experience helps an inconsistent and young group grow up remains to be seen, but Cole comes in looking the part of a collegiate O-lineman and if he can prove to be consistent, look for the 6'4", 285-pound guard to be in the mix.
Defensively there is a major gap up the middle thanks to both starters at defensive tackle graduating. Again, early enrollees play a part here as 4-star behemoth Bryan Mone (6'4", 338 lbs) steps into the mix. He has the motor and the size to make an immediate impact, now it's about addressing the mental side of the collegiate game.
Of course, there's also this guy named Jabrill Peppers and his 5-star attributes coming to campus. Anytime you have a physically gifted athlete who is already garnering comparisons to Charles Woodson, you're going to be hoping for a way to let him make an impact.
Head coach Brady Hoke sees a lot of potential but may not be pushing him to be a superstar right out of the gate, like a lot of people are already trying to do. At least, according to his words from his signing day press conference.
I think that we need to let him get in here and be a corner for a while and let him get acclimated to everything about college football. Do I think he's very talented? There is no question. Can he return kicks, could he? I don't think there is any doubt about it. Could there be a plan somewhere for him 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 then let what he does speak for itself.
For Peppers, this could very well mean a significant role in the return game and some looks at corner early on. His time as an every-down cornerback may not be right away, but there's no denying that Peppers has the raw athletic ability to contribute in some way, shape or form to the Wolverines' efforts in 2014.
Michigan's 7-6 season in 2013 showed there is plenty of room for improvement, and while this 2014 class may have been small in numbers, there is some top-level talent that could make a great impact for Michigan early on.
*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for Big Ten football. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.
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