Stock Watch for Top 10 Undecided 2015 5-Star Recruits
The start of September signals a new step in the recruiting process for senior football players throughout the country. Now underway with their final high school seasons, it provides analysts with an opportunity to assess the progress prospects made during the offseason and whether they're ready to challenge for an immediate role in college.
It's also a period when top recruits make plans to visit campuses during the final stretch toward national signing day. Several uncommitted 5-star standouts are still locking down official visits and figuring out which programs remain in the mix.
We ranked the top 10 undecided 2015 athletes, providing an update on which direction they're trending as summer seeps into autumn. Expect to hear plenty about each player moving forward while these coveted recruits enter the spotlight as wanted men.
10. RB Damien Harris (Berea, Kentucky)
247 Crystal Ball Prediction: Ohio State (71 percent); Kentucky (20 percent)
Damien Harris hasn't missed a beat through two games of his senior campaign. The 5'11", 205-pound running back is averaging 19 yards per carry for Madison Southern High School after gaining more than 2,600 rushing yards last fall.
He has 380 yards and four touchdowns on the ground in 2014, per Chris Fisher of 247Sports. His high school rushing touchdown total is now up to 92, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Harris surpass 100 career scores before October.
He spent last Saturday at Kentucky's opener and gave the visit rave reviews during a conversation with Bleacher Report's Kynon Codrington.
"I always have a great time when I'm on campus at UK. It's always a great atmosphere," Harris told Codrington. "Especially being an in-state kid. They show me a lot of love from the fans, coaches and players. My favorite part other than the game is being with Coach (Mark) Stoops and Coach (Chad) Scott. I love trying to develop a closer relationship with them."
He will visit Ohio State this weekend when the Buckeyes host Virginia Tech. Texas A&M, Alabama and Florida round out his top five.
9. WR Tyron Johnson (New Orleans, Louisiana)
247 Crystal Ball Prediction: LSU (88 percent); Texas Tech (9 percent)
Warren Easton High School wide receiver Tyron Johnson flashed his big-play potential last Friday during a 46-7 jamboree victory over Lake Area. He reached the end zone as a rusher and return man.
Johnson took a punt back for a score late in the first half and followed that effort with a 37-yard sprint to the end zone on Easton's opening second-half possession, per Hank Brady of NOLA.com. The 6'1", 191-pound playmaker begins his senior season in earnest this weekend.
He aims to build off a breakout junior campaign that featured 87 receptions for 1,433 yards and 13 scores. Johnson figures to get into the act as a ball-carrier at least a few times per game as the team takes advantage of his vision and smooth downfield maneuvering.
Other programs that made the cut are LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia, Florida State, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Tennessee and Florida. While attending Nike's The Opening in July, Johnson made it clear he has no concerns about taking his time before making a decision.
"It's a long process, and I'm hearing from a lot of teams," Johnson said. "I don't want to rush things, so it's important to hear out what everyone has to say."
8. LB Malik Jefferson (Mesquite, Texas)
247 Crystal Ball Prediction: Texas A&M (58 percent); Texas (39 percent); Baylor (3 percent)
Malik Jefferson continues to play like a man on a mission. After a strong showing during the summer camp circuit, he earned a Player of the Week nomination for his performance in Poteet's opening win.
The 6'2", 215-pound outside linebacker racked up 15 tackles, including three for loss, and a sack. He added two blocked kicks in the contest, showcasing how difficult it is for high school blockers to contain him off the edge.
Jefferson continues to shine as a prospect capable of wreaking havoc in the backfield while elevating expectations as a pass-rusher.
He posted a career-high 12 sacks in 2013, along with 83 tackles and three forced fumbles. Jefferson is already mounting the quarterback pressures this season.
"I think I'm a balanced linebacker, and coaches can count on me to get the job done whatever we need to do," Jefferson said this summer.
He is expected to have an official visit at Ohio State in November, but most anticipate this race will come down to Texas and Texas A&M.
7. DE CeCe Jefferson (Glen Saint Mary, Florida)
247 Crystal Ball Prediction: Florida (98 percent); Florida State (2 percent)
St. Augustine High School laid out the blueprint for handling defensive end CeCe Jefferson this season: avoid him. The 6'2", 250-pound Baker County High School standout forced a fumble and applied pressure on the quarterback but rarely saw plays come his way in a season-opening 20-6 defeat last weekend.
“They ran the ball pretty well; they also ran it away from me,” he told Phillip Heilman of The St. Augustine Record. “I got just a small amount of action. I had to get a lot of chase-down plays, and that kind of wore me down a little bit."
Jefferson and his coaching staff must find ways to adapt to opponents' approaches because he is a marked man following previous seasons of stupendous production. He compiled 32.5 sacks during his sophomore and junior campaigns.
The opener should serve as motivation, particularly after St. Augustine running back Patrick Stewart provided bulletin-board material.
“CeCe? He’s an athletic guy, but honestly, he’s not the best I’ve been up against,” Stewart told Heilman.
Jefferson was supposed to watch Florida's opener, but the game was ultimately postponed because of weather. Alabama seems to remain the strongest contender beyond state borders.
6. WR Christian Kirk (Scottsdale, Arizona)
247 Crystal Ball Prediction: Texas A&M (78 percent); USC (16 percent)
Christian Kirk is capable of owning opponents early and putting them away. The Saguaro High School star did just that against rival Chaparral High School, contributing in various phases throughout a 41-14 victory.
Kirk caught a 70-yard touchdown on the game's second play, per Justin Emerson of USA Today. He ended up scoring four times, though two visits to the end zone were nullified due to Saguaro penalties.
The 5'10", 191-pound playmaker showed off a dynamic skill set that has some comparing him to former Florida standout Percy Harvin (see video above). Kirk finished the contest with 186 receiving yards, 117 rushing yards and two punt returns for 63 yards.
Those 366 all-purpose yards tell the story of how he can affect matchups. He accounted for 30 touchdowns and more than 2,000 offensive yards as a junior, including 832 on the ground.
His efforts during a 2013 state championship run also featured 55 tackles and two interceptions on defense.
"He's just so spectacular," Saguaro coach Jason Mohns told Scott Bordow of AZCentral.com after Kirk's latest performance. "He's physical, he has an extremely high football IQ, he has great vision and his top speed is electric. You can't help but have your jaw drop."
He is set to use an official visit at Texas A&M this month. USC, Auburn, Arizona State, UCLA and Ohio State are also featured among his top six collegiate options.
"I just want an offensive coordinator who is open to me playing every wide receiver position on the field," Kirk said in July. "When a guy tells me 'We want you here in the slot,' and they don't want to move me anywhere else, that's not what I'm looking for. I may not be 6'3", but I want to be a true wide receiver who stretches the field."
5. DL Terry Beckner Jr. (East St. Louis, Illinois)
247 Crystal Ball Prediction: Missouri (80 percent); Ohio State (11 percent); USC (6 percent); LSU (3 percent)
Terry Beckner Jr. soared up national recruiting rankings with an impressive summer effort that included a dominant performance at The Opening. After establishing career highs across the board in 2013, he's back to his old tricks for East St. Louis High School.
The 6'4", 293-pound defensive lineman tallied seven tackles in a season-opening loss. Beckner registered four solo tackles despite facing constant double-team efforts and few direct rushing attempts in his vicinity.
"You get respect by getting it done on the field," Beckner said this summer.
Rated third nationally among strong-side defensive ends, he displays enough power and a proper frame to rotate inside as a tackle. Beckner possesses college-ready size and the kind of motor coaches covet in young players.
"I'm trying to prepare for the next level as much as I can right now," he said. "I'll be ready to compete."
Beckner, who compiled 118 tackles, nine sacks and two interceptions as a junior, plans to visit Oregon this season, per Justin Hopkins of 247Sports. Missouri is considered a strong favorite to land the standout.
4. DE Byron Cowart (Seffner, Florida)
247 Crystal Ball Prediction: Florida (93 percent); Florida State (5 percent); Oregon (2 percent)
According to Armwood High School head coach Sean Callahan, Byron Cowart could've brought his best game earlier in a late August loss to Plant High School. However, the 6'4", 250-pound defender made up for it with the play of the matchup in a victory over Durant High School last week.
"Byron finally played like Byron's supposed to play," Callahan told Doug Pugh of the Tampa Bay Times. "It didn't happen till the third quarter, but we're hard on Byron because he's got those kinds of expectations that come with his play."
He lived up to those expectations with a crucial sack late in the third quarter, halting mounting momentum for Durant. Cowart, who collected 13 sacks last season, flashed the pass-rushing pedigree that makes him one of the most impressive edge players in this class.
Expect him to continue chasing down quarterbacks during the course of this season, using largely unparalleled physicality to outwork offensive lineman. He verified that asset at The Opening, looking more like an NFL veteran than a teenager from a body frame aspect.
Cowart is viewed as a Florida lean and was set to take in the eventually cancelled Gators season-opener. Despite his image as a Gainesville-bound recruit, he recently put Oregon atop an expansive offer list, per Andrew Nemac of OregonLive.com.
"I want to go when they play UCLA," Cowart said. "What makes them the leader is just... the Nike platform is big."
3. CB Iman Marshall (Long Beach, California)
247 Crystal Ball Prediction: USC (100 percent)
Iman Marshall was rarely tested during a season-opening victory over Crenshaw High School and caught a touchdown pass, per Eric Sondheimer of the Los Angeles Times. The 6'1", 190-pound cornerback shouldn't expect too many throws headed in his direction this fall after he built a reputation as the nation's No. 1 prospect at the position in 2013.
Marshall didn't allow a single pass completion against Moore League opponents last year and leads a Long Beach Poly High School squad with championship aspirations. His physical style of coverage attracts plenty of attention, but it's intelligence that truly sets him apart.
"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 during August training camp. "When you study something over and over again, nothing is a surprise anymore. You understand what’s coming—the formations, the schemes, everything."
USC is considered the team to beat here, though other West Coast options include Stanford and UCLA. He announced in August that official visits will take place at LSU, Florida State, Notre Dame and Michigan, while leaving the last visit up for grabs between Texas and Oklahoma.
Needless to say, several teams are still vying to the scintillating defensive back.
2. OL Martez Ivey (Apopka, Florida)
247 Crystal Ball Prediction: Florida (79 percent); Auburn (21 percent)
Based on early film study of his senior season, Martez Ivey belongs among perhaps three or four players who warrant consideration as the top overall 2015 prospect. The 6'6", 270-pound Apopka High School offensive tackle is clearly evolved beyond his counterparts in high school trenches.
His power was on full display in late August, when he collected three pancakes on the opening drive of a matchup. Ivey sets the tone early and wears down opponents during the course of four quarters.
Unlike last season, he now appears to have a much better understanding of how to use his lower body to gain leverage before capitalizing with improved footwork. His slide-step has really come together well and allows him to take proper angles against perimeter pass-rushers.
"The guy is a just a beast," 2016 5-star defensive tackle Rashan Gary said at The Opening.
That's an appropriate way to put it. Considering the progress he's made since entering his senior season, there's tremendous upside to Ivey's game in coming years.
This recruitment process seems to center around a pair of SEC rivals.
"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."
He would bring first-year starting potential to either program.
1. DE Josh Sweat (Chesapeake, Virginia)
247 Crystal Ball Prediction: Florida State (42 percent); Virginia Tech (36 percent); Ohio State (9 percent); Georgia (9 percent)
We may have reached a stage where we shouldn't be surprised by anything top-rated 2015 prospect Josh Sweat does on the football field. Still, you have to admire the way the 6'5", 240-pound playmaker fills a stat sheet.
Sweat started the season with a commanding performance on both sides of the ball, though it came in a losing effort. He totaled two sacks, three tackles for loss, 90 total offensive yards and a rushing touchdown, per Craig Haubert of ESPN.
Predominantly lined up at defensive end and wide receiver, Sweat displayed the elite athleticism that has helped him gain immense popularity among recruiters nationwide. He clocked a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash at The Opening, resulting in understandable comparisons to Jadeveon Clowney.
Sweat looks just fine without Andrew Brown playing beside him. The top-ranked 2014 defensive tackle is now a freshman at Virginia, but Sweat certainly seems capable of duplicating his success from a junior season that featured 94 tackles and 22 sacks.
Recruit ratings and information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.
Quotes obtained firsthand by B/R national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.