Ranking 2010's Top 15 Recruiting Classes On Defense
Die-hard football recruiting followers like myself are always looking for ways to rerank the top classes, changing the order of the teams according to different variables.
For instance, does USC's relatively low number of signees (20) make it a weaker class than Auburn's, which signed 32? (Yes, given the bust rate of your average recruit.)
With that in mind, I'd like to rerank 2010's top recruiting classes based only on the defensive signees.
After disregarding all those glitzy offensive playmakers, what teams suffer? Who enters into the top 15 conversation? Who, if anyone, falls out entirely?
Take a look.
No. 15: USC
USC's class was truly top of the line, but most of the fireworks were on offense.
Still, the Trojans landed Scout's No. 3 defensive tackle, George Uko; the sixth-best middle linebacker, Hayes Pullard; and a pair of talented cornerbacks in Nickell Robey (a former Georgia commit who flipped on Signing Day) and Demetrius Wright.
Safety Dion Bailey was Rival's seventh-best, and a top target for UCLA and Notre Dame up until signing day, too.
A pair of JUCO four-stars, OLB Glen Stanley and DE Marquis Jackson, could contribute immediately for a Trojans defense that took its share of lumps last year.
What this defensive class lacks—somewhat seriously—in depth, it makes up for in precision. There's not a bad get in the bunch.
No. 14: Pitt
A great defensive class always starts on the line, and that's where Pitt excels.
Two great defensive ends—weakside end Bryan Murphy and strongside five-star TJ Clemmings—will anchor both sides of the Panthers D-line for years to come. Clemmings will be able to redshirt behind Greg Romeus if the Panthers see fit, always a luxury at the end position.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald was Scout's No. 15, a 6'1, 276-lb prospect out of Penn Hills high school who should be a force in run support.
I think safety Brandon Ifill is an underrated prospect at safety, as well. The athletic prospect has great ball skills and speed and is only lacking in size.
Linebacker was a sore spot–MLB Derrick Burns was the only signee, and he was a RB to Rivals—but the three linemen should develop into a fearsome line given time. That Pitt is one of the better developers of defensive players weighs somewhat into this decision, as well.
No. 13: Auburn
A decorated Auburn class shines on the defensive line but stalls elsewhere.
Scout's no. 7 defensive end, Corey Lemonier and its 11th and 17th-best defensive tackles, Jeffrey Whitaker and Kenneth Carter, were all big landings, and ones the Tigers really had to push for.
From there, middle linebacker Jake Holland and outside linebacker Ladarious Owens, both mid-four stars, will be strong additions to the Tigers LB corps.
The secondary signings are mostly projects, bad news for a team that finished third-to-last in pass defense for the conference. But the defensive line recruits should improve Auburn's pass-rush immediately, which is another way to combat an anemic passing D.
Contrasted to the USC class, depth and warm bodies are the name of the game. Auburn signed 16 recruits to the defense—as much as some lesser schools sign total—so the scholarship numbers favor improvement no matter how you slice it.
No 12: Ole Miss
Feeling the heat from a strong Mississippi State class, the Rebels closed strong, inking DE Delvin Jones over LSU, Florida, Alabama and Florida State and snatching no. 15 CB Tony Grimes from Maryland and Michigan.
The Rebels' bread and butter is on the defensive line. Defensive ends Carlos Thompson (Scout's no. 17 prospect overall) and Wayne Dorsey reload a Mississippi line that loses two NFL talents in back-to-back years in Peria Jerry and Greg Hardy.
Dorsey, a top JUCO end, is like the Cameron Newton of defenders in this class, dynamic and game-ready from the first whistle.
Another JUCO, safety Damien Jackson, is tearing up the Rebels' spring training as you read this. A four-star to Scout, Jackson's quicks and hard hits should help keep the Rebels in the top-half of the conference in rushing and passing defense.
No. 11: Oklahoma
Provided he plays defense, Sooner fans will know the name Tony Jefferson, maybe by the end of the 2010 season.
The top-tier safety/outside linebacker prospect could see the field early in nickel downs and as a rover, or could play outside linebacker with more time to add weight.
The other name to watch for early is Corey Nelson, a solid outside linebacker whom the Sooners lifted from Texas A&M on the eve of signing day. Scout's No. 4 prospect at the positon, Nelson is strong against the run.
He and OLB Rashod Favors will provide depth for a Sooner linebacking corps that loses solid tacklers Ryan Reynolds (not that Ryan Reynolds) and Keenan Clayton.
Other names to watch for: OLB Aaron Franklin; DTs Daniel Noble, Torrea Peterson and Eric Humphries; and DE Geneo Grissom.
No. 10: Michigan
The Wolverines needed defenders, and they got a great crop, first and foremost in the secondary.
Y'all heard about Demar Dorsey, right? ESPN's 12th-best prospect overall (and the "definition of upside") is a great center-field safety and one of the most exciting prospects Michigan has signed on defense since Army All-American defensive end Brandon Graham back in 2006.
Michigan also grabbed Scout's third-best cornerback in Pennsylvania CB Cullen Christian, who could crack the two-deep out of summer camp.
Athletic safety/linebacker Marvin Robinson was a prospect generating a lot of buzz early, though it trailed off to close the year. But he should be an early contributor in Michigan's new 3-3-5 look at the hybrid safety-linebacker position.
Another safety/linebacker, Josh Furman, was Scout's seventh-best safety overall, and could see time early if the Wolverines' pass defense continues to struggle.
The defensive line signees are light on early contributors, long on projects that could provide good depth in the future. Ohio's Jibreel Black is the most likely, with the size and quicks of Brandon Graham, whose dominating presence will hope to replace.
In all, the Maize and Blue signed 12 straight defenders to close the class (I'm including top national punter Will Hagerup in that group), evidence that Rich Rodriguez's staff got the message about what has really been going wrong with Michigan since he took over in 2008. Frankly, I couldn't be more pleased.
No. 9: Penn State
The Nittany Lions might experience a down year defensively in 2010 what with all the attrition. But once this class reaches fruition, they should be back to their old self again.
Scout's top middle linebacker, Mike Hull, and Rivals' no. 6 outside linebacker, Khairi Fortt, will be two of the best Penn State's ever fielded, leading the Big Ten in rush defense once they get a year or two in Tom Bradley's system.
Three solid defensive line prospects could see time early: DT Dequan Jones out of New York, DE CJ Olaniyan out of Michigan, and DT Evan Hailes out of Virginia are all ranked at the top 15 in their positions.
Safety and cornerback were all but forgotten, so the Nittany Lions will have to aim high in 2011. But as far as the front seven goes, this is as good as it gets.
No. 8: LSU
Not your typical, heart-stopping LSU recruiting class, but solid across the board.
The Tigers should expect early contributions from DE/DT J.R. "Ego" Ferguson, a nationally-recruited prospect who settled on the Tigers on their epic signing-day haul, and OLB/DE Justin Maclin, a quick-footed hybrid prospect who could be a lethal edge rusher.
Ends Travis Dickson, Jordan Allen and J.C. Copeland—a steal from Tennessee—will provide backup support on the D-line for years to come.
Safety was a big position of need for the Tigers, who lost Chad Jones to early NFL draft entry, and they reloaded well, grabbing Scout's No. 4 safety, Eric Reid, and No. 13, Tharold Simon.
Scout predicts a position change for Ronnie Vinson from safety to cornerback. Either way, the athletic recruit should see some time at defensive back.
No. 7: Georgia
Despite dropping late decisions from DB Nickell Robey (USC), DT Jeff Whitaker (Auburn) and LB Telvin Smith (Florida State), the Bulldogs, in my mind, still fielded a top 10 defensive class.
DEs Jalen Fields and TJ Stripling and DTs Garrison Smith and Michael Thornton add speed and size, respectively, to the Dawgs' defensive line.
They'll try to help UGa return to the top half of the conference in rush defense, and mask the loss to the linebacking corps suffered when Rennie Curan opted out of his senior year.
The Georgia coaches are also counting on JUCO safety Jakar Hamilton to get in the mix at safety early.
But the prize get is Alec Ogletree. The hybrid athlete has the body of a linebacker and the athleticism of a defensive back.
I expect early playing time for Ogletree as the Dawgs adjust to a new-look defense and try to keep pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
In the right system, Ogletree has the upside of an Eric Berry. He and OLB Demetre Baker round out a class with the most at stake in the top ten.
No. 6: Cal
The Bears were the only team to my knowledge to sign the top prospects (to Scout) at two defensive positions.
They grabbed OLB/DE Chris Martin away from Notre Dame once Charlie Weis was fired, then lifted safety Keenan Allen away from Alabama on Signing Day.
The news that Allen will be playing receiver at Cal I took as a blow to the prestige of this defensive class (not to mention it won't help improve Cal's 111th-ranked passing defense, either).
But Bears fans can also count on solid play from linebacker Cecil Whiteside, an athletic, long-armed defender who could play middle or outside, and has also taken snaps at defensive end.
Dave Wilkerson is a classic run-stuffing middle linebacker who could also make the two-deep.
And don't forget DE Gabe King, Rivals' No. 5 strongside defensive end, who could play in a rotation with King or fill in on the weakside to put the best talent on field.
If Allen had stayed on at safety, this would be a top five defensive class without question, with gamers at every level of the defense.
No. 5: Alabama
The Tide signed the top cornerback in the country in DeMarcus Milliner, a big, 6'1 prospect who is just a few pounds away from a likely move to safety.
Milliner and CB John Fulton will be counted on early as the Tide looks at add depth to its defensive backfield. I also expect JUCO transfer Dequan Menzie and/or safety Nick Perry to crack the two-deep.
Though light on linebackers on first look, it sounds like the Tide are moving RB Jalston Fowler to LB to make up for the loss of all three starting linebackers. OLB CJ Mosley is a top 10 talent as well—he could back up sophomore Courtney Upshaw as a true freshman.
The Tide also addressed defensive line depth issues by signing three ends and four tackles, though only the ends were highly-sought recruits. Alfy Hill and Adrian Hubbard are two who could make it into the rotation next year.
No. 4: UCLA
The Bruins closed with the strongest defensive recruiting performance of the season on National Signing Day, stealing—get this—No. 15 cornerback Anthony Jefferson away from Oregon; five-star DT Owamagbe Odighizuwa away from Nebraska; No. 12 OLB Josh Shirley away from USC and Miami; No. 16 safety Diterich Riley away from USC and Notre Dame; and no. 9 MLB Jordan Zumwalt away from Stanford (vengeance, I'm sure, for the Cardinal stealing QB Brett Nottingham).
They grabbed ATH/OLB Anthony Barr from Notre Dame—he's a top 10 prospect who I think could've been a great tight end in Brian Kelly's offense— and landed No. 8 DT Cassius Marsh.
Also watch for OLB Aramide Olaniyan, a piercing tackler who was originally committed to Duke before reopening his recruitment after visiting Michigan for the Notre Dame game.
If the Pac-10's third-worst rush defense doesn't improve next year, we'll know it's not because of inferior talent anymore.
No. 3: Florida State
The Seminoles are enrolling my favorite middle linebacker recruit, Jeff Luc, who already has the size of an NFL linebacker and hits like one to boot. Luc was college-ready before arriving on campus for spring practice.
The Noles also welcome LaMarcus Joyner, Rivals' top cornerback and a more prototypical specimen for the position than Alabama's DeMarcus Milliner.
Linebacker Christian Jones is another five-star player who will bring speed and hard hitting to a defense that didn't have enough of either last year. Jones could end up at a OLB/DE role, where his blitzing and ball skills will destabilize ACC offenses for years.
DT Darious Cummings and DE Holmes Onwukaife will be great players down the road, though they may need a year or two to grow.
In all, the stabilizing presence of a solid corner/LB/DE combination will help the Seminoles recover from an uncharacteristically lifeless showing on defense in Mark Stoops' first year as defensive coordinator.
No. 2: Texas
Order is essentially restored to the recruitiverse at the top of the list.
The Longhorns take second behind the Gators mainly because of numbers (13 defensive commits to the Gators' 16). Both teams bring in immediate and long-term playmakers at each level of the defense.
Texas signed the next-next-next-(ad infinitum)-great defensive end in Jackson Jeffcoat, ESPN's no. 2 overall prospect and an intimidating hybrid of Sergio Kindle's speed and Brian Orakpo's bull-rush.
Outside linebacker Jordan Hicks was Rivals' top positional prospect, though he might need a redshirt year as he's only 220 pounds. Rivals liked his pass-rushing ability from the linebacker position, but I think he'll play off of the line of scrimmage in Texas' 3-4.
DT Taylor Bible and DT Ashton Dorsey are both ideal prospects at the nose and defensive tackle position, respectively.
LB Tevin Jackson and DE Reggie Wilson were Rivals' no. 5 and no. 3 recruits at their positions, giving the Longhorns numbers at a position of need in a year when replacement and rotation will be crucial.
And in the secondary, safeties Demarco Cobbs and Bryant Jackson will try to help Longhorns fans forget interception leader Earl Thomas, while Adrian White is a lockdown prospect who may only need a year of technique work before starting.
Probably the most balanced defensive recruiting class in the country, which is to be expected from the professionals running UT.
No. 1: Florida
Without question, the Gators have the best defensive line recruits of the class across the board.
Five-stars DT Sharrif Floyd, DE Ronald Powell, DT/DE Dominique Easley and four-stars DE Neiron Ball, DT Leon Orr and DE Lyndon Trail give the Gators a legitimate chance of actually improving on defense with better rotation on the line. Provided they all stay healthy and follow Meyer's new set of rules, this is the Fab Six of college football defensive lines.
Inside linebacker Michael Taylor is the strongest of a relatively weak LB class. He was Rivals' no. 5 ILB and a Tennessee commit whom Michigan grasped for after he decommitted following Lane Kiffin's great escape.
In the secondary, defensive backs Cody Riggs, Jaylen Watkins, Josh Shaw, Johnathan Dowling, Jordan Haden and star recruit Matt Elam are all in the top 10 in the country at their position. Elam in particular is already hawking interceptions off John Brantley in spring practice.
If the SEC wants to get their shots in on Florida, they have one season to do it, and even that looks like a stretch.
With a year in Florida's strength and conditioning program and another of coaching, these new Gators have every right to expect the national championship they were likely promised before committing.