2015 Recruits Who Could Start on College Football Teams Right Now
College programs are already counting down the days for premier 2015 prospects to arrive on campus. Though early enrollees are still four months away from making the leap, several standouts certainly seem capable of contributing this season if given an opportunity to forgo their senior campaigns.
No, we won't see top-ranked defensive end Josh Sweat chase down reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston or coveted California quarterback Josh Rosen carve up Pac-12 opponents this fall. Still, it's interesting to imagine college football's stars of tomorrow making an impact beyond high school fields today.
The transition requires polished fundamentals, a motivated mindset and refined physical tools. We examined eight members of the 2015 class who already appear to be college-ready at this stage of their careers.
WR Calvin Ridley (Pompano Beach, Florida)
Calvin Ridley delivered his commitment to Alabama in April while attending the team's spring-game event. He was one of several targets who pledged to the program during that period, including Monarch High School teammate Shawn Burgess-Becker, which pushed Alabama back to No. 1 in national recruiting rankings.
The 6'0", 170-pound pass-catcher could still consider an alternative option—most notably Miami—before signing day. His offer list includes Ohio State, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Florida State.
Why He's Ready
Ridley, the top-rated receiver in 247Sports' composite rankings, will only be able to play in three games as a senior due to age limitations, according to David Brousseau and Steve Gorten of the Sun-Sentinel.. He turns 19 years and nine months old following the third contest, surpassing the maximum age for Florida high school football players.
It's a big loss for Monarch, and spending most of the fall on the sidelines hurts Ridley. However, he's shown plenty of talent in previous seasons and delivered a virtuoso performance this July at The Opening, where he claimed overall MVP honors after starring for the seven-on-seven tournament champions.
Ridley is a hard-nosed competitor who is aggressive in every element of the game, including his ability to effectively lend support as a run-blocker. He's a field-stretching game-changer who can take the top off opposing defenses with precise route running and elite speed.
Ridley averaged nearly 28 yards per reception in 2013, catching 41 passes for 1,131 yards and 12 touchdowns. His physical maturity and instincts will serve him well early in Tuscaloosa.
"Calvin could be a really special receiver at Alabama," fellow 5-star Crimson Tide commit Minkah Fitzpatrick said after covering him at The Opening. "He has all the tools to dominate."
DE Josh Sweat (Chesapeake, Virginia)
Defensive end Josh Sweat is arguably the most tantalizing uncommitted prospect in America. The 6'5", 240-pound Oscar Smith High School standout took over the No. 1 spot in 247Sports' composite rankings this summer and recently revealed his official visit plans in a long-awaited announcement.
Sweat is set to visit Virginia Tech, Oregon, Florida State, Georgia and Ohio State. No timetable is publicly in place for his decision, so other collegiate options shouldn't be counted out just yet.
Why He's Ready
During his masterful performance at The Opening, there were times Sweat seemed to blend in more appropriately with NFL players who served as instructors than his high school peers. He displayed rare athleticism, running the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds and becoming the lone lineman to qualify for nationally televised SPARQ national finals, where he finished second.
"Josh is just a freak athlete," SPARQ champion Kirk Merritt said after the competition "I knew it would be tough to beat him. He's the kind of athlete you never really see, and I thought he was pretty amazing."
Measurables and speed aside, Sweat is much more than a workout warrior.
He tallied 22 sacks and 94 total tackles as a junior. His senior season is off to a strong start, including an opening effort that featured two sacks, three tackles for loss, 90 offensive yards and a rushing touchdown, per Craig Haubert of ESPN.
Sweat appears fully capable of competing at the college level right now and projects as a true freshman starter regardless of where he ultimately signs. He'll instantly change the complexion of his team's defensive front and could emerge as a Heisman Trophy finalist if his trajectory remains on its current track.
"Wherever I end up at the next level, I want to be able to make an early impact," Sweat said this summer.
That shouldn't be an issue as long as he stays healthy.
DB Kevin Toliver (Jacksonville, Florida)
Kevin Toliver pledged to LSU during his sophomore season, giving the Tigers yet another dominant defensive back to build around in coming years. The Trinity Christian Academy cornerback clamped down his side of the field as a junior, helping lead the team to a state title.
He'll return to Baton Rouge for an official visit in November, but LSU is just one of several potential landings spots Toliver is expected to spend time at this season. Ohio State, UCLA and Virginia Tech each anticipate welcoming him to campus.
Why He's Ready
Toliver is fearless in downfield coverage and provides size (6'2", 185 pounds) that gives defensive coordinators play-calling flexibility. Few cornerbacks bring the combination of physicality and quickness Toliver flashes, although his skill set is surfacing at the position with more frequency at every level of the sport (see: 2013 Seattle Seahawks).
He doesn't sacrifice footwork and does a fine job of jamming opposing receivers at the line of scrimmage. Even when Toliver initially appears to trail the play, his closing speed and wingspan enable him to seal off passing lanes in a hurry.
These abilities set the stage for him to flourish in a press-man coverage scheme, where LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis undoubtedly has big plans for his newest weapon. No stage seems too big for Toliver, who can also come up big in run coverage along the perimeter.
Rarely tested at the high school level, he's clearly a man among boys in the secondary.
"I'm definitely a physical cornerback. That's how I like to play," Toliver said in July.
He's one to watch from opening day of his freshman season and can lock down a prominent role by living up to expectations in practice.
QB Josh Rosen (Bellflower, California)
UCLA landed the prized in-state prospect in March. Josh Rosen committed to the Bruins shortly after returning from a trip to Michigan, where the Wolverines gained late ground in his recruitment.
Rosen, rated No. 1 nationally among pro-style passers in 247Sports' composite rankings, had plenty of programs to consider beyond the West Coast. His offer sheet features Florida State, Tennessee and Texas.
Why He's Ready
The 6'4", 205-pound passer dazzled during his junior campaign at St. John Bosco High School, spearheading an undefeated season that finished with a state championship. He backed up that effort with a confident and commanding performance at Elite 11 finals in July.
Rosen, who threw for 3,200 yards and 39 touchdowns in 2013, already has the physical build of a college quarterback. His pocket presence is tremendous, and passes are launched with precision thanks to impressive footwork.
He remains calm when the pocket begins to close around him, buying time with underrated mobility and exhibiting excellent anticipation for where receivers are headed within the defensive attack. Rosen throws well on the run and never appears overwhelmed in pressure-packed situations, a sign of mental maturity that bodes well for early college success.
If Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley departs for the NFL after this season, expect Rosen to arrive in Los Angeles with the starting quarterback position squarely in his cross hairs.
"I'd love to take snaps on opening day," Rosen said after an Elite 11 session. "I'm going to work as hard as I can to make that happen."
DL Terry Beckner Jr. (East St. Louis, Illinois)
Though Missouri is considered a slight favorite, Terry Beckner Jr. remains wide-open five months shy of national signing day. The 6'4", 293-pound East St. Louis High School standout is still considering scholarship offers that span several conferences.
Aside from Missouri, LSU presents a possible landing spot in the SEC. Oregon, Ohio State and Florida State each seem to have a spot on his radar. This pursuit could last deep into the 2015 cycle.
Why He's Ready
Beckner bullies opponents with raw strength, relentless hustle and attention to detail. Those skills were on full display at The Opening, where he routinely manhandled many of the country's most talented offensive linemen.
Though he's rated third nationally among strong-side defensive ends in 247Sports' composite rankings, his ideal fit may be further inside. Beckner has the formidable frame and fast-twitch quickness to excel in a 3-technique role.
His pass-rushing skills were on full display last season, when he accumulated nine sacks, and they should translate well along the defensive interior. An explosive initial punch puts him in position to knock opponents off balance and eliminate rushing lanes.
Beckner, who tallied 118 tackles as a junior, validated strong regard for his versatility at The Opening. He carried a physical and mental edge during competition.
"You get respect by getting it done on the field," Beckner said after drills. "Everyone is good out here, but if you don't compete, it can make you look real bad. I stayed focused."
That attitude is part of the package that has several college programs clamoring for his commitment.
OL Martez Ivey (Apopka, Florida)
SEC squads rose to the forefront of this recruitment during its early stages and not much has changed in that department. Alabama, Florida, LSU and Auburn are among a collection of teams that are attempting to land Martez Ivey, the nation's top-ranked offensive lineman.
Florida and Auburn appear to be the teams to beat. Although he hasn't officially trimmed his list to that pair, persistence paid off for both programs, and Ivey is predominantly focused on them.
"Florida and Auburn are really standing out to me right now," he said this summer. "I don't want to say that other teams are out of it and those are my only two, but I'm looking at those schools most."
Why He's Ready
Ivey provides the athleticism of a basketball forward at left tackle, a position that requires players to contend with speedy pass-rushers along the perimeter. Life in SEC trenches isn't for the ill-equipped, and his performances offer plenty of promise up front.
The 6'6", 270-pound Apopka High School star shoves defensive linemen off the ball with immense force. Ivey has continuously improved his lower-body mechanics and hand placement to become an even more impressive blocker this season.
He shined at The Opening and was the only offensive lineman to actually split reps with Josh Sweat. His ability to quickly shuffle and slide means coaches can trust him to keep the quarterback's blind side protected.
Ivey already flashes the physical tools to contend on a collegiate line, and with continued maturation and awareness, he has legitimate All-American and Outland Trophy potential. Early film studies of his senior season suggest Ivey could be the country's best overall prospect.
DB Iman Marshall (Long Beach, California)
Iman Marshall made headlines in late August when he shared his slate of official visits. He is set to spend time at Notre Dame, Florida State, LSU, Michigan and either Texas or Oklahoma.
The 5-star cornerback asked fans to weigh in on which Big 12 team should receive his fifth and final visit.
"Texas and Oklahoma are both known as top programs, so that made it really hard for me to pick one or the other," Marshall said. "Guys are always looking for different ways to make the recruiting process a little more interesting, and I thought this would be a cool thing to do. I'm bringing in the fanbases to help me out."
Aside from those six squads, he remains extremely interested in closer options such as Stanford, UCLA and USC. Marshall said he didn't want to "waste" official visits at familiar schools.
Why He's Ready
Marshall is a football junkie. He enjoys the preparation almost as much as the game itself and spends a lot of time watching film.
"Preparation is so important because it helps you react as quickly as possible, and that’s what playing defensive back is all about," Marshall said. "When you study something over and over again, nothing is a surprise anymore. You understand what’s coming—the formations, the schemes, everything."
That diligence pays off on a weekly basis, as Marshall blankets receivers and challenges the run with a strong feel for what's coming his way. He didn't allow a single pass completion in league action last season and earned even more respect with a physical performance at The Opening.
"He definitely challenges you," top-ranked quarterback Josh Rosen said. "It's fun facing a player like him because it forces you to bring your best on each and every play. You can't afford to make a mistake."
Beyond his agility and tenacity, opponents also recognized his intelligence.
"He's like a sponge when it comes to absorbing the stuff coaches are teaching out here," 5-star receiver Christian Kirk said. "You can tell he's listening to everything they have to say and then using it to get better."
Marshall, a 6'1", 190-pound Long Beach Poly High School product, is about as savvy as they come before college.
DT Trent Thompson (Albany, Georgia)
The 6'4", 292-pound Westover High School defensive tackle reached a decision in August. After flirtations with multiple programs, Trent Thompson landed with Georgia, the team most expected to end up with the nation's No. 3 prospect in 247Sports' composite rankings.
He previously spent time at USC, Clemson, Auburn and Alabama before bolstering the Bulldogs class with his commitment.
“It’s a load off,” Thompson told Tim Morse of the Albany Herald. “I already knew which school I wanted to go to."
Why He's Ready
Thompson is among the most penetrative defensive tackles we've seen this decade. He surges through constant double-team blocking efforts and wreaks havoc in the backfield, where he made many of his career-high 83 tackles as a junior.
His greatest strides have occurred in pass-rushing technique. After delivering an opening jolt off the snap, Thompson is quick and coordinated enough to disengage into the pocket and unleash violent hits.
Thompson's sack total spiked from five to 12 in 2013, when he exhibited immense range as a defender. His lateral acceleration allows him to patrol the perimeter once he detects off-tackle rushing attempts and frees teammates to exploit space created by offensive game plans that target him.
He looks ready for the rigors of college competition from a physical standpoint and already features fundamentals that few defensive linemen possess prior to collegiate training. Expect him to quickly become a mainstay for a Georgia defense that has stockpiled top-tier talent.
Quotes obtained firsthand by B/R national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.
Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.