Ranking the Top 10 Athletes in the 2011 Recruiting Class
Anyone new to the sport of recruiting must wonder what the term "ATH" means next to a player's name.
What is an "athlete"? Aren't all players athletes?
The answer is both simple and complex. Yes, all football players are athletes. But some are such good athletes that deciding where they should play—and what they could be best at—is difficult.
Dropping in on the 2011 recruiting class early, we've been able to see how talented some of these players are in different positions on offense and defense, and sometimes, in entirely different sports.
I've ranked the 10 kids (with video!) I consider to be the best pure athletes in the 2011 class. These kids have played and mastered a multitude of positions in high school.
Now that college is around the corner, they have not one but two important decisions to make: where to play their college ball, and what to play when they get there.
10. Everett Golson, QB/PG (UNC)
I'd like to kick things off by giving accolades to North Carolina's 2011 commitment, ATH/QB Everett Golson.
Not only did Golson surpass South Carolina's state record for touchdown passes during his junior season, but he will also try out for UNC's basketball team once he enrolls on campus.
Put the cynicism away, folks. Despite missing the NCAA tournament this year, playing for UNC still means something.
Golson is a top-five pro-style quarterback who held offers from many of the leading programs across the country before committing to UNC a few days after National Signing Day.
Aside from the SC touchdowns record, Golson is a threat to take off and score on his own. He has the athletic edge to burn defenses, and he racked up 400 yards and five scores to go with a 47-touchdown, three-interception passing season in 2009.
He has a clean delivery and great confidence in the pocket. UNC's favorable depth chart situation at quarterback is conducive to a redshirt year followed by open competition with Bryn Renner as a redshirt freshman in 2012.
Tar Heels fans—of both football and basketball—should be excited.
9. Josh Turner, CB/WR
Josh Turner, out of Millwood, Okla., is a talented two-way player at wide receiver and cornerback who is looking to play the latter at the next level.
Though his agility and speed suit coverage and his high school numbers as a defensive back are comparatively better, his wide receiver talents shouldn't be underestimated.
The film below shows he grips the ball tight and has the agility to slip between defenders on short routes.
His great leaping ability would help in high-pointing the ball against receivers or cornerbacks, and his speed could be lethal on stretch plays or reverses, as well.
His size (6'0", 185 pounds) is good for a cornerback, so-so for a receiver.
Despite my defense, Turner told ESPN he wants to play cornerback at the next level. Depending on how venturesome he feels and what team he winds up on, he could be a great player on both sides of the ball, invoking the spirit of Charles Woodson.
As of March 4, his favorites are Miami, Alabama, Oklahoma, Stanford, and Texas.
8. Damiere Byrd, RB/WR
Meet 2011's fastest player, Sicklerville, NJ prospect Damiere Byrd.
Byrd ran a 4.26 40 at the Nike Combine earlier this month, the fastest of any player yet this year.
Byrd's speed is a crucial part of his attack as an all-purpose player. Aside from his receiving ability, he runs a lot of sweeps and reverses, plays that rely on him beating a defender to the point of attack.
He doesn't flash a lot of shiftiness, but I also thought he looked tough to take down on first contact. That's a big part of making the speed dangerous.
Flashiness aside, Byrd's offer sheet is a bit mystifiying. He's not receiving the attention from the top programs in the south that you would expect for an athlete with elite speed.
Last November, Byrd said he was interested in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Oregon, and Iowa, with the Gamecocks as his leader because "they've offered". But as of now, only the Cocks and the Hawkeyes have offered Byrd from that five.
Byrd is also interested in West Virginia, who offered, and East Carolina has jumped on board.
If the offers from Alabama, Oregon and Georgia don't materialize, I could see Byrd landing at South Carolina. He's clearly curious about the legendary SEC speed. We'll find out if he can match it step for step.
7. Rodney Coe, RB/LB
Though Rodney Coe made my list of top running backs for 2011, ESPN likes him as one of the best inside linebackers.
I think his experience playing linebacker will help in becoming a bruising back at the next level. For now, the decision on what position he chooses remains open.
Coe, who hails from Edwardsville, Ill., carries a hulking frame (6'2", 224 pounds) that packs a punch for defenders and running backs alike.
As a back, his speed is functional at the high school level. In college, he'd be better suited for goal-line situations, where breakaway speed isn't necessary.
I really like his agility and vision in the hole. He sees the field like a linebacker and has the height to anticipate and cut away from blocks or filling tacklers.
The linebacker/running back split is rarely bridged at the college level, so he may have to decide on and stick to one position. He is very interested in making it to the NFL, and he will likely base his decision on where he thinks the pros will like him best.
He's looking hard at schools that I would say have good linebacker traditions. His top five right now are Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
I predict his running back skills will, sadly, fall by the wayside unless a program can convince him he was born to run.
6. Hakeem Flowers, WR/RB/S
Hakeem Flowers, out of Greenville, S.C., is the first prospect I've ever come across to have classical music accompany his highlight film.
It's an appropriate choice considering the elegance of his abilities.
His graceful, smooth running style and stellar leaping ability is the target of at least 30 programs all across the country.
The 6'2", 210-pound prospect can outleap anyone on the field, while his lateral speed threatens containment on every play.
He projects as a top-10 wide receiver, but he is lethal on reverse plays and can run out of the backfield. He also played safety in high school.
Miami, LSU, Tennessee, and Florida State were his favorites as of a month ago, but with the way the offers have rolled in, I could see his recruitment taking until Signing Day to wrap up.
Wherever he plays, I hope his offensive coordinator will integrate him into more than just a vertical passing game. He's too good a player to run fly routes all day.
I can't venture an educated guess as to where he commits, but I'm surprised not to see the in-state Gamecocks or Clemson Tigers closer to the top of his list. It looks like he wants to make a splash nationally, and that means SoCar and Clemson will have to see him go.
5. Quandre Diggs, WR/RB/KR (Texas)
Angleston, Texas' Quandre Diggs is a true all-purpose player.
Check his junior year stat line, courtesy of ESPN: Threw for 399 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions. Rushed for 1,257 yards and 13 touchdowns. Caught one touchdown pass. Posted two return touchdowns. Intercepted three passes...
That kind of production poses a good dilemma for the Longhorns, to whom Diggs committed earlier this month. When it comes to where to put him, the question isn't "if" but "how often."
His shiftiness and low-to-the-ground bulldozing ability will be enormous assets in goal-line situations, where he can beat defenders to the outside or cut up inside for touchdowns.
He'll also be a huge asset in the Longhorns' special teams game. A variety of players will compete for Jordan Shipley's vacated spot, but if none secure a hold, Diggs could crack the rotation once he gets on campus next fall.
I could see him being a productive all-purpose back on an offense that will likely shift and remodel itself for a period post-McCoy. Versatile athletes like Diggs provide an opportunity to bust open the playbook and spring surprises in big games. I'm excited to see how Texas best sees fit to use him.
4. Colt Lyerla, TE/WR/LB
I first heard about Colt Lyerla from ThaRinger.com, an independent and somewhat under-the-radar recruiting site that is a must-read for all recruiting junkies.
TR likes Lyerla as a top-three athlete, and I can't disagree much. On offense, the Hillsboro, Ore., athlete looks like one of the most well-rounded players on this list.
He can take the inside pitch, run straight out of the backfield or play receiver or tight end, and excel at each. He's shifty and extremely tough to tackle, and he's a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball.
At 6'4" and 225 pounds, he has a few inches and at least a few pounds on the defensive backs, and maybe a few linebackers.
I'm not able to attest to his skills as a linebacker without film, but I don't feel they're necessary to declare him one of the most multi-talented players on offense in this class.
The question is, where should he go?
Early suitors include Oklahoma, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA and Cal, but I couldn't dig up a favorites list.
With his versatility, I think he looks best suited for the Florida Gators' offense as an Aaron Hernandez-type catching/rushing tight end. The in-state Oregon Ducks could also have a shot if they show how a player of his abilities can factor into the running game.
I wasn't able to find embeddable video, but you can watch highlights of his, including a game-winning catch, here.
3. Trevon Randle, OLB/APB/KR (LSU)
"Wow" was all I could say when I first listed Trevon Randle as a top linebacker for 2011, and it's about all I can summon now.
The League City, Texas, native who committed to LSU flashes elite speed, coverage, and tackling ability on defense. I marveled at how he was able to hang with receivers like a nickelback and tackle like a true linebacker.
He pairs that with explosive talent and a bruising disrespect for the defender when carrying the ball on offense.
He's a gamer on special teams, too, capable of returning kicks or blocking punts.
If LSU can hold off the Big 12 programs through the long recruiting year, they'll be boasting one of the most versatile defenders of the class.
2. Teddy Bridgewater, QB/WR
When I wrote my 2011 QB rankings, I left out Teddy Bridgewater because, at the time, he'd said he only wanted to play wide receiver.
Then, when I did my wide receiver rankings, I had to leave him off, since he'd picked up a ton of steam as a potential QB.
Finally, I've found the place to put him.
Teddy Bridgewater plays high school ball at Northwestern High School, Jacory Harris' old stomping grounds situated outside of Miami.
Bridgewater took over when Harris left, and since deciding to give quarterback a shot, has become one of the top QB prospects in the class.
The dual-threat athlete stands 6'3" and weighs in at a paltry 170 pounds. He throws great on the run and has a very strong arm. He generates great touch with just a flick of the wrist, and throws across his body with unbelievable accuracy.
As I mentioned, he entertained the prospect of playing wide receiver, and at the right time, I could see him splitting out wide (a la Terrelle Pryor in the Fiesta Bowl) and running the fade route.
But developing him as a quarterback has to be the top priority. The Hurricanes should be the team to beat (despite rumors, no feud is flaring between Northwestern and the Canes), and I think they'd be a great fit for Bridgewater.
Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple spent time in the NFL as a quarterbacks coach for Philadelphia, and he turned Harris into a Heisman contender in the space of a year. Refining Bridgewater's passing game while keeping his wheels intact would make him into the legit Heisman contender his highlight reel says he could be.
Florida, Alabama, Rutgers, and Tennessee are the other teams in line for his services, but I think given his geographical positioning and his relationship to Harris, this one is already decided in favor of the Canes.
1. James Wilder, RB/OLB
Rarely do you see an athlete choose to play the position at which he may be less talented.
Such was the road James Wilder turned down when he decided to play running back instead of linebacker in college.
Good for him.
Wilder is clearly a gifted runner who appears impossible to tackle on film. He is speedy and elusive, strong and balanced, the kind of player who will put his head down and rush for 120 yards and a pair of scores with or without the help of his offensive line.
Wilder was also Scout's No. 1 outside linebacker in their most recent assessment, though the scouts took issue with his tackling technique.
The native of Tampa, Fla., won't have to worry about tackling technique as a running back, but he'll still be able to use his quick-twitch agility and downfield pursuit to break free and score.
He plans on remaining in-state and has a relationship with the Gators' coaching staff that goes way back. He's waiting to see how the Florida offense looks post-Tebow, but I would venture his recruitment is in the bag.