2015 College Football Recruits Who Have the Potential to Turn a Program Around

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistMay 16, 2014

2015 College Football Recruits Who Have the Potential to Turn a Program Around

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Technically speaking, every college football recruit in the 2015 class has the potential to turn a program around.

    High school players are pure potential energy, as evidenced by overlooked recruits like Khalil Mack, who broke records at Buffalo and went No. 5 overall in the 2014 NFL draft.

    But recruiting services get better and more accurate every year. The process is far from (and never will be) infallible, but for the most part the players with the greatest program-transforming potential are ranked at or near the top of the class.

    Still, in putting together this list, I attempted not to go all chalk. It would be useless just to rank the top player at each position on the 247Sports Composite. You could do that yourself.

    Instead I picked through the top 60 or so prospects, noting players with considerable upside. Some may not rank as high because of current polish, production or physique, but with the physical tools they possess, the right system could turn them into impact players.

    For the most part, I also tried to vary the positions.

    For example, the top quarterbacks will all be counted on to change their respective programs, but I highlighted the one with the highest ceiling (in my opinion).

    Let's get started.

ATH (OLB) Jerome Baker

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    Composite Rank: 39 (No. 3 ATH)

    Jerome Baker could not compete at the FBS level quite yet. Listed as an athlete and capable of playing running back, his future looks like it lies at the linebacker position, and 205-pound linebackers do not last long in the top conferences—no matter their speed.

    But even though he is, and will continue to be, a bit undersized for the linebacker position, Baker has a rare combination of strength and sideline-to-sideline speed that could eventually change a defense. He has great football instincts, plays hard and hits people harder. Then he wraps them up with good form and doesn't let them slip away.

    A state-of-Ohio kid, Baker is predictably favored to play at Ohio State. But per Miles Joseph of SB Nation, an April road trip changed his recruitment and opened his eyes to at least one burgeoning power.

    "It was amazing," Baker said of his time at the University of Tennessee. "It was my first time being down south. It was huge, the people were great. Overall the trip was just breathtaking. My dad and brother all said the same things on the way back, it was just a great trip."

    Now that's a program Baker could help change.

WR George Campbell (Tarpon Springs, Fla.)

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    Composite Rank: 17 (No. 1 WR)

    George Campbell is a freak of nature—the type of prospect whose measurables require a double-take the first time you read them.

    At 6'3", he runs a 4.36 in the 40-yard dash, per his 247Sports profile. By comparison, Atlanta Falcons receiver and former Alabama superstar Julio Jones measured just under 6'3" and ran a 4.39 at his NFL combine according to NFL.com.

    That seems like a fair comparison for Campbell, who does not yet have the short-area explosiveness Jones had as a prospect.

    However, he might be even better as a vertical threat. His long arms help him make preposterous catches in the deep third, which is where he will do the majority of his damage.

    That's a talent any school can use.

QB Torrance Gibson

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    Composite Rank: 11 (No. 2 QB)

    There's a certain type of quarterback prospect—tall, strong-armed, athletic, charismatic—that you know for a fact will be a polarizing figure at the college level. And though they don't come around every season—the 2014 class, for example, didn't have one—Torrance Gibson is every bit that type of player.

    Only time will tell if he is more Cam Newton and Jameis Winston than Logan Thomas, but either way Gibson shakes out, he will define at least a two- of three-year stretch for whatever program he chooses.

    At 6'4", 200 pounds, he has a lankier frame than similar prospects such as Newton, Winston and Terrelle Pryor, but his top-end speed is probably better. His ESPN.com profile calls him a "uniquely gifted athlete," projecting his skills as a wide receiver even though he is expected to play quarterback at the next level.

    But really, Gibson could play almost any position he wanted to.

RB Taj Griffin

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    Composite Rank: 50 (No. 3 RB)

    The Oregon football program does not need to be turned around, but it landed a player capable of doing so nonetheless when Georgia product Taj Griffin, the top-ranked all-purpose back on the 247Sports Composite, committed cross-country to play for Mark Helfrich.

    Go YouTube his highlights and you'll see why that's a big deal. Griffin is a burner and a nightmare to tackle out in space. He has a deep array of jukes and spin moves that help him stay on his feet, sort of like a newer, running back version of Dante Hall in his prime.

    In the video above, Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee says he expects Griffin to become the No. 1 playmaker in Oregon's offense—and sooner rather than later.

    That's not quite shortstop of the New York Yankees, but the way Oregon's offense has rolled the past decade, it isn't too far off.

S Jamal Peters

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    Composite Rank: 45 (No. 3 S)

    Of the non-scoring or -turnover plays in football, nothing sways momentum quite like a big hit. It happened as recently as the Super Bowl XLVIII, when Kam Chancellor of the Seattle Seahawks leveled Demaryius Thomas and set the tone for a dominant victory.

    Jamal Peters is probably the best hitting safety in this class, the type of guy who can immediately improve a team's rushing defense.

    And though I swore I wouldn't take college choices into too big of account, the fact that Peters is favored to land at Mississippi State, a program on the rise, makes him an even more intriguing candidate for this list. Scoring him would be a coup for the Bulldogs, continuing to push them toward the top flight of the SEC West.

    We'll see how his recruitment shakes out.

DE Josh Sweat

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    Composite Rank: 13 (No. 2 DE)

    Josh Sweat is one of the fastest-rising players in the class of 2015, and it is not difficult to see why. Even though he is still growing into his body, the rangy 6'5" frame he possesses for a defensive end is unique.

    Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer compares him multiple times to Jadeveon Clowney in the video above, and although he isn't as bulky, the speed, length and occasional dominance are hard to ignore.

    Another good comparison might be Myles Garrett, the 5-star defensive end who rose up the rankings toward the end of the 2014 cycle. Like Sweat, Garrett, who will play at Texas A&M next season, was a tool-sey prospect who didn't quite click until his senior year. By the time postseason all-star camps were over, he was the No. 2 player on the 247Sports Composite and No. 1 on the site's subjective rankings.

    Sweat has similar potential, and with a big senior season, he could shoot even higher than his current ranking of No. 13.

    Virginia Tech would do well to keep this kid in-state.

CB Kevin Toliver II

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    Composite Rank: 2 (No. 1 CB)

    Kevin Toliver is a modern cornerback for a modern world.

    Just watch the video above, and you'll understand what that means. He gets angry just talking about football, and that chip on his shoulder is evident on the field. It is an insult if you catch a single pass against him, and Toliver does not take well to being insulted.

    Beyond that, Toliver also has the frame (6'2", 185 lbs) and physical inclination to become a good press coverage corner in a man-to-man scheme. He is the type of prospect that would have intrigued scouts and coaches in any era, but the Seattle Seahawks have made his style particularly en vogue in for 2014.

    Toliver looks, plays and sounds like the second coming of Richard Sherman, only he figured out his true calling earlier in the development process (Sherman began his career as a receiver).

    That extra time to work on his technical skills should be invaluable for Toliver, who is committed to LSU and could morph into a scary blend of Sherman and Patrick Peterson before his career is through.

    And that, my friends, is terrifying.

DT Trent Thompson

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    Composite Rank: 1 (No. 1 DT)

    The 2015 class is stacked at defensive tackle, but Trent Thompson stands out as the consensus best of the bunch. 

    He's the top-rated overall prospect for a reason.

    Although there is disparity about his measurables—247Sports has him listed at 292 pounds while ESPN lists him at 311—no one can deny Thompson's rare blend of size and quickness. A man so large should not be able to shoot off the line with such force. Thompson's burst often seems to defy logical physics.

    We've seen defensive tackles of this ilk change programs in the past. Ndamukong Suh did it at Nebraska, and Nick Fairley (sort of) did it at Auburn. Thompson is that type of transcendent talent.

    Whoever lands him will be rightfully stoked about it.

Bonus: QB Jarrett Stidham

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    Composite Rank: 36 (No. 5 QB)

    Jarrett Stidham was left off the proper list because of my hypothetical guideline about only having one player at each position. However, because we know where he has committed, it is impossible not to at least give him mention in a piece about changing a program.

    Stidham pledged himself to Kliff Kingsbury and the Texas Tech Red Raiders earlier this offseason, and if he keeps that pledge up through national signing day, he will be the most important signing for the program in quite some time. At 6'3.5" with a good-but-developing arm, he has the perfect skill set to play for Kingsbury at a school with great offensive pedigree such as Texas Tech.

    Stidham could be the start of a new Big 12 powerhouse.

     

    Recruiting information courtesy of 247 Sports unless otherwise noted.