Ranking College Football's Top Recruiting Classes for 2011
It might be prudent to wait a little longer before ranking the college football recruiting classes for 2011.
After all, there will be decommitments, recommitments, and torrid one-night stands (I'm looking at you, Matt Elam).
There will be massive hauls on Junior Day and months that go by without a peep.
Breakout juniors will get bum knees and drop out of the rankings. Middle linebackers with interest from Bowling Green and Montana State will grow two inches and 20 pounds their senior season and suddenly be the Ray Lewises of tomorrow.
But waiting is not my style—shooting first and asking questions later is (I used to work for the Detroit Free Press).
Pow, here's my rankings of the 2011 recruiting classes so far.
No. 15: Kentucky
On a smaller scale, you're seeing something at Kentucky that is similar to what happened at Florida State once Bobby Bowden stepped down.
New head coach Joker Phillips, who took over for Rich Brooks upon the latter's retirement, is putting together a solid class to conclude his first year.
The Wildcats' first two commits are both ESPN watchlisters: Jon Davis (pictured) is a top-tier ATH/TE, and Darrian Miller is a terrific tackle prospect. Both are in-staters.
Quantity isn't the be-all, end-all, but more prospects like these guys will put the Wildcats in the conversation of, and the competition for, the SEC.
Still, it's a very encouraging start. For Kentucky to be competitive, they've got to win just like their colleagues do—on the trail.
No. 14: Minnesota
The Gophers suffered just shy of 20 decommitments in last year's topsy turvy recruiting cycle, and haven't seen the recruiting production out of Tim Brewster that the hotshot young coach promised when he first landed in Minnesota.
As long as he's still around by the end of 2010, this might be Brewster's year. The Gophers' first (and only) two commits are both ESPN watchlisters.
OL Tommy Olson is a top in-state guard with unreal size and ideal quickness (he runs a 5.1 40, amazing for a lineman).
RB Calvin Phillips is a thick, speedy prospect out of Illinois who drew interest from LSU and the Illini before his verbal to the Gophers as a sophomore.
Great commits are an insurance policy against termination, so if Brewster can hold onto these guys, he'll feel the heat of mediocrity that much less in year four.
No. 13: Georgia
You're seeing some great recruiting out of embattled coaches, and Georgia's Mark Richt is no exception.
I'm hard on Richt, but it's hard not to root for the guy. I hope he and his staff can hold onto safety/athlete Chris Sanders (pictured), an ESPN watchlister and a hard-hitter.
Sanders and inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera could provide a lot of help for Georgia's defense if it struggles through 2010. The Bulldogs kicked off 2011 by recruiting their home state well, and more could be on the way.
No. 12: Michigan
Michigan is continuing to address its defensive backfield issues by taking two cornerbacks to open their 2011 class, one that will be short on scholarships and might lose even more to self-imposed sanctions.
CB Delonte Hollowell was a first team all-combine player at the U.S. Army Junior combine in San Antonio last month. He'll probably have the same or similar recruiting hype as four-star CB Cullen Christian.
Greg Brown is an ESPN watchlist talent and should compete for a fourth star as well.
The Wolverines thought it took a sleeper in WR Shawn Conway, but the returns now are that Conway was just about to blow up on the national stage. He could be a top 10 talent in state, and I really dug his film.
Check it out.
No. 11: Ohio State
The Buckeyes only have two commitments, but both will be outstanding defensive ends at the next level.
Steve Miller and Kenny Hayes are both ESPN watchlisters. Miller, the weakside end, will contend with Trey Depriest as the top defensive player in Ohio. He was drawing interest from Florida and Tennessee before committing.
Hayes is a huge prospect and a bull-rusher at strongside end. In practice, Bucks fans will be reminded of Cameron Heyward if Hayes can add on maybe twenty more pounds and keep his speed.
No. 10: Missouri
Corbin Berkstresser is the Tigers' highlight commit at quarterback—man, they are compiling the quarterbacks—and his arm and experience in three- and four-wide sets will be invaluable to Gary Pinkel's system.
But I also like RB Anthony Pierson, a good-sized prospect with 4.4 speed who drew interest from Iowa and Kansas State. He'll end up a four-star running back with a good senior year.
WR Wesley Leftwich is the third of four commitments. He's another burner who projects well at the outside receiver position.
The fourth commit is a JUCO talent at DT, Sheldon Richardson, a 300 pounder
who will help the Tigers' run defense inside.
No. 9: Arkansas
Off of a so-so recruiting year (that, granted, finished strong when the Hogs poached Calvin Barnett from Okie State), the Razorbacks are back in the hunt.
Bobby Petrino and co. have gained commitments from two Arky natives, QB Brandon Allen and ATH/WR Demetrius Dean, both ESPN watchlisters.
Allen should make Hogs fans worried about Ryan Mallett's impending departure breathe a little easier—he's guaranteed to be a four-star pro-style QB who has already discussed early enrollment.
Dean is a huge, HUGE wide receiver prospect that could move to tight end. He has above-average speed for someone his size and should be Allen's favorite target once the two get some practice time under their belts.
No. 8: Nebraska
The Huskers will win the recruiting battle the old-fashioned way—landing top offensive linemen who will manhandle defenders and bring back the Huskers' gashing ability on the ground.
ESPN watchlist lineman Ryne Reeves is an in-state talent who could end up the top prospect at center. At 6'3", 287, he's huge.
The Huskers also pulled Tyler Moore, a 6'6", 270 pound tackle, out of Florida. He's an ESPN watchlister that will anchor Nebraska's line as soon as the coaches see fit.
Finally, Jamal Turner is a dual-threat quarterback recruited by most of the rest of the Big 12. With the Huskers' depth at QB, Turner could end up as an athlete or wide receiver. It depends on his senior season, and on how well Nebraska develops its QBs in 2010.
No. 7: Stanford
Jim Harbaugh and company don't know the meaning of the word offseason. The Cardinal are after some top talent, and found a few playmakers in running back Amir Carlisle and Ty Montgomery.
Carlisle is a top 10 running back prospect whose punishing style will suit Harbaugh's straight ahead rushing attack.
Montgomery is a top-tier possession receiver out of Dallas who has really impressive hands and can adjust to the ball in the air well. Catch his highlights below.
Evan Crower is another watchlist QB for the Cardinal, who also took four-star Brett Nottingham in the last recruiting cycle. Crower, a pro-style talent out of San Diego, was drawing interest from USC and Arizona before his commitment.
Stanford was another team with serious decommitment issues last year—word is their compliance department is at odds with many of the recruits' academic qualifications—so I'm giving this my tentative endorsement. Their ranking is subject to change if these guys don't land in Palo Alto.
No. 6: Alabama
The Crimson Tide kicked off their 2011 recruiting by going 3/3.
Inside linebacker Shannon Brown is the most recent commit. He's a hard-hitting player who will be a top five prospect at his position. The Gators were pursuing Brown prior to his commitment—always a good sign in this business.
Brent Calloway is a two-way player whom ESPN projects as an outside linebacker in Alabama's 3-4 defense. The speedy talent was drawing interest from the top SEC schools and USC before committing prior to the start of his junior year.
And first but not least, Marvin Shinn is a 6'3" wide receiver out of Prichard, Alabama who will keep 'Bama's outside receiver position stocked upon Julio Jones' departure.
The Tide are also anticipating JUCO transfer Quinton Dial on campus in 2011. The 310 lb talent had to spend time at community college to get his grades up before enrolling, but he'll be an impact player on the line as soon as he gets on campus.
No. 5: Oklahoma
Oklahoma is in on a boatload of terrific recruits for 2011 after a stellar finish to the 2010 season–did you know they were Scout's No. 2 class? That they technically beat Texas?
Regardless, the Sooners have already put together another intimidating trio of talent in QB Kendal Thompson, WR Kameel Jackson and TE Chris Barnett.
All three are ESPN Watchlist players, and Barnett (pictured) might be the top player at his position when it's all said and done. He's huge (245 lbs), fast (4.5 40) and intelligent (1450 on his SAT).
Jackson is a solid possession receiver (read: above 4.4 speed) but I don't know if the 6'1" Thompson fits into what I envision an Oklahoma quarterback to look like. I'm used to tall, thin slingers with limited athleticism like Sam Bradford and Landry Jones. He reminds me a little more of recent Alabama commit Phillip Sims.
Finally, Oklahoma took a talented pair of teammates in P.L. Lindley and Jordan Wade, an OLB and a DT. Wade was a Central Texas Player of the Year, while Lindley compiled 90 tackles and four sacks as a junior.
If the Sooners can lock down more talented players like TE Ray Hamilton, OT Garrett Greenlea, and the future Adrian Peterson, Malcolm Brown, they'll crack the top three again with ease.
No. 4: Clemson
The Tigers are in great position to add top targets like OLB Stephone Anthony and Lateek Townsend to a class that already features five ESPN watchlisters.
S Brandon Ellerbe and DT Deshaun Williams make for a scary defensive haul. They could be immediate impact recruits for a Clemson D that will lose all-ACC S DeAndre McDaniel.
Shaq Anthony is a raw OT prospect with enormous upside, and RB Marlin Lane's sub-4.3 speed will remind Clemson fans of departed APB CJ Spiller.
Finally, Cortez Davis is a 6'5" defensive back the Clemson coaching staff will have a hard time finding the right place for. I'm looking forward to further evaluation on him—he's an athlete to ESPN, and could make a position switch if he's too big for a college defensive backfield.
If and when Anthony and Townsend commit, this class will skyrocket even more. As it is, Swinney is showing his stripes as a top national recruiter.
No. 3: Florida State
The Seminoles are landing the cream of the crop in the Sunshine State.
Defensive tackle Derrick Mitchell dropped yesterday—he's a watchlist player and a 6'5", 285-lb monster with 4.8 40 speed.
A day before his commitment, two more linemen dropped: the suavely-named Sterling Lovelady, and the epically titled Nile Lawrence-Stample, who really showed off his motor at the scouting combine in Miami in early February.
The star of the class is safety commit Karlos Williams (pictured), Scout's fourth-best player at the position, who also committed earlier this week. CB Keelin Smith will be another great defensive back as well.
Besides Lovelady, the Noles added center Trey Pettis (who actually looks more like a guard to me) and RB Eric Beverly, who was drawing interest from the Illini and a few other Florida programs, but is generally being regarded as a sleeper.
With the way the 'Noles last class closed, anything can happen—including, unfortunately, titillating commitments that turn back into decommitments. One can't help but wait and see how the Gators will respond to Jimbo Fisher's silent but sure shot across the bow.
No. 2: LSU
Lock your doors, Louisiana moms, unless you want your eligible sons to play for LSU.
The Tigers are absolutely plundering their home state for top talent, locking in top OT La'El Collins, top DT Anthony Johnson, bruising RB Kenny Hilliard and speedy OLB Trevon Randle, who was pursued by most major Big 12 programs before committing.
WR Jarvis Landry and RB Jeremy Hill have softened their commitments as of late, but Hill maintains he's still a Tiger, and Landry will still be tough to crack.
LSU is proving that home field advantage and an early start are crucial no matter how much time is left in the process. Plus, we saw in the past recruiting cycle that counting out the Tigs on anybody is never a safe bet.
I expect them to hold onto WR Terrence Magee, Landry and WR Alonzo Lewis—all key recruits that address LSU's dwindling depth on the outside—and land at least a few more top talents.
DE Jermauria Rasco is set to drop any day now; when he does, it will solidify LSU's second place rank. But it won't help them top...
No. 1: Texas
Thought Texas would be down and out after reaching the national title stage and losing?
Think again, my friend. The Longhorns showed how to reap rewards from their Junior Day, reeling in 13 total commitments over a two day period.
The committees included Scout's top cornerback, Leroy Scott; its top safety, Sheroid Evans (pictured); its No. 2 defensive tackle, Desmond Jackson; a top offensive tackle, Taylor Jones; and WR Jaxon Shipley, little brother of Jordan, who could be just as good, or better.
Earlier this week, coach Mack Brown set down his fork, dabbed at his lips, marveled at the ribeye he was eating, opened his telephone, and received a verbal from the No. 3 outside linebacker, Steve Edmond.
As if on cue, Texas landed four-star offensive tackle Sedrick Flowers just today.
In all, the Longhorns boast a whopping 15 commitments already, 10 of which are ESPN watchlisters.
This weekend, the Longhorns do it all over again as they pay host to five-star-RB-to-be Herschel Sims and WR Ladarius Brown, among others, at a second Junior Day.
At this rate, Mack Brown will have the 2015 class signed by the Fourth of July. Which is good, because he had some barbecuing he needed to get to around that time.