2011 Prep Recruiting Class: Power-Ranking the Most Stacked Positions
There must be something about Fridays that make me think positionally rather than individually.
Whatever the cause, I've assembled what I believe to be the most stacked positions in the 2011 recruiting class from least to greatest.
Since more names have hit the circuit and the Rivals/ESPN rankings have come out, the opinion has shifted on a few of these positions. What looked like a so-so linebacking class two months ago now has three recruits in the top 12 of the Rivals 100.
But that's why we recruitniks get paid the big bucks—to change our minds without informing you.
No. 9: Interior Linemen
It's no surprise interior linemen get as little respect in the top rankings as they do on the football field.
So don't take the lack of decorated recruits as bias against this class. It's more against interior linemen in general.
The top players at the moment are Ohio State-commit Brian Bobek, Nebraska commit Ryne Reeves, touted four-star center Ryan Kelly, and guard/Texas-commit Sedrick Flowers.
No. 8: Cornerbacks/Safeties
Most of 2011's cornerbacks seem fated for a move to safety or a redshirt. There are few true cover corners in the group.
Ohio's Doran Grant, Florida's Nick Waisome, and Texas-commit Josh Turner round out a short list of cover corners. Most others have poor backpedals, stiff hips, or lack elite size. Even Grant, a combine freak, struggles with mirroring receivers.
Meanwhile, most of 2011's safeties are of the raw, redshirt-and-a-year-of- fundamentals variety. Players like Alabama's Hasean Clinton-Dix and Texas's Sheroid Evans will need work on their backpedal and a year of strength training before they see the field.
For its numbers, this is the weakest, most low-impact position in the class, but there is always the possibility for a few sleeper stars. Georgia's Damian Swann could have a monster year if he stuck to the free safety position, as could Florida's Sammy Watkins. I like soon-to-be Ohio State safety Ron Tanner's size and hitting ability.
No. 7: Wide Receivers
Rivals dealt a dirty blow to my favorite wide receiver of the class, Kasen Williams, barely including him in the Rivals 250 and ranking him 22nd overall at the position.
Even with Williams (whom I still believe could be a top performer) at full capacity, I've felt this is a poor wide receiver class for some time. Most of the athletes deciding between wide receiver and cornerback are favoring defense, guys like Sammy Watkins and California athlete Devon Blackmon.
George Farmer has the speed, but not the catches in traffic. DeAnthony Arnett has the moves at the line, but lacks the size. I like LSU-commit Jarvis Landry in the slot, but as B/R writer Michael Pinto pointed out, how much damage can he do outside of that?
USC-commit Victor Blackwell is massively overrated in the Rivals top 100. He's a mid-four-star receiver at best.
I could go on, but suffice to say of the skill positions, this group is the hardest to get excited about—and it's wide receivers, for crying out loud. How hard can it be to get excited about wide receivers? That last year's group was so strong—Robert Woods, Kyle Prater, Darius White, and Christian Green among a total of 10 five-stars—doesn't help.
No. 6: Tight Ends
Most of the spread systems have found some use for the tight end. Oklahoma's catch passes, Florida's are threats to run and catch, and Michigan's execute a lot of blocks on the outside.
This is actually a pretty strong group, but it just lacks the depth of the more elite positions.
Georgia native Jay Rome, Washington native Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Pennsylvania native Ben Koyack (Notre Dame) and Florida's Nick O'Leary are all high-four- or five-star talents, and other sleepers like Ray Hamilton (Iowa) and Nick Vannett (Ohio State) provide some depth.
Most will need a year of strength training to be true tight ends, and others are just big wide receivers.
No. 5: Offensive Tackles
There's a great mix of immediate-impact and long-term project players among the list of offensive tackles in this class.
The immediate impacters: Texas' Christian Westerman, LSU's La'El Collins, Nebraska's Tyler Moore, Arkansas/Oklahoma target Brey Cook, and undecided Cyrus Kouandjio.
The long-term projects: Notre Dame-commit Matt Hegarty, UNC verbal-commit Kiaro Holts, Florida OT Tony Posada, and South Carolina prospect Brandon Shell.
Scout and Rivals may play stingy with their star rankings—they usually settle on four five-stars—but I think this group blows 2010's group out of the water for depth, athleticism, and immediate-impact ability.
No. 4: Quarterbacks
As one commenter has pointed out, 2011's top quarterbacks are great athletes. But are they true QBs?
I'll grant that the lack of top-level, pro-style quarterbacks—or even quarterbacks with a good grasp of the fundamentals—is disconcerting.
But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Some eye-poppingly athletic quarterbacks are set to hit the stage in fall of 2011 (or 2012), and when they do, we've got a race to the Heisman on our hands.
While the spread is slowly (but surely) infiltrating the highest levels of the BCS conferences, high schools around the country are producing more freakishly gifted athletes than ever before: Tall, graceful, and speedy, with rockets for arms and true grit on the football field.
Braxton Miller, Christian Lemay, Kiehl Frazier, Teddy Bridgewater (whom Rivals totally underranked), Cody Kessler, Jeff Driskel, Cardale Jones, and Max Wittek have given the teams in need of QBs plenty to buzz about. And this is a position that could see a lot of rising stars late. Watch for names like Marquise Williams, Jake Rudock, Kevin Sousa, and Evan Crower to make a run for four-stars.
No. 3: Linebackers
Just when you thought it was safe to run up the middle...
This group fields a great mix of fluid athletes (LSU's Trevon Randle, Arizona's Rob Hankins), big-hitting run-stuffers (Texas-commit Steve Edmond, Curtis Grant, and Tony Steward), and everyone in between (Michigan State's Lawrence Thomas, Texas recruit Anthony Wallace, Stephone Anthony, Trey Depriest, Stanford verbal-commit James Vaughters, and Auburn/Michigan target Kris Frost).
The blue-chippers at the top took a minor hit when James Wilder decided to play running back instead of outside linebacker (he was Scout's No. 1 OLB for a while there).
But there's still plenty of talent—some raw, some refined—for future defensive coordinators to work with.
No. 2: Defensive Linemen
For the second straight year, a defensive lineman has taken the top spot in Rivals' assessment of the class.
Weakside end Jadeveon Clowney is a once-in-a-lifetime grab at end. He's tall, lanky, super-fast, and agile, with a workmanlike attitude and great vision on the field. He looks like the tall men that chase you in your nightmares.
Other defensive ends deserving of a five-star look: Georgia DE Ray Drew, Cali DE Greg Townsend, Louisiana DE Jermauria Rasco, ATH Colt Lyerla, Ohio State-commit Steve Miller, and New York DE Ishaq Williams.
To me, defensive tackle is really where this class succeeds. Five-star DT Tim Jernigan is a monster at three-tech tackle, posting 136 tackles as a junior. Most linebackers don't sniff that.
Other great DTs: Viliami Moala, USC-commit Antwaun Woods, Kevin McReynolds, Ohio State-commits Michael Bennett and Joel Hale, Nebraska-commit Kevin Williams.
No. 1: Running Backs
The 2011 running back corps has it all—speed backs, power backs, change-of-direction backs, all-purpose backs: You name it.
Malcolm Jones and Isaiah Crowell are two of the most complete running backs you'll see out of high school in a long time. Take Marcus Lattimore and double him.
Aaron Green has speed to burn—he and Clemson-commit Mike Bellamy will do battle to become this year's Lache Seastrunk.
Savon Huggins, Demetrius Hart, and Andrew Buie are elite all-purpose backs who will be the top targets of every spread-run scheme in the country.
Jameel Poteat and Stanford-commit Amir Carlisle are two absolute busters between the tackles, destined to remold a power running game in their image.
I haven't been following recruiting long enough to say this is the strongest entering class of the decade (or longer).
But relative to the rest of their class, these kids are the most refined and most mature, and destined for greatness, guaranteed.