Breaking Down Top Contenders for 2017 U.S. Army Player of the Year

Tyler Donohue@@TDsTakeNational Recruiting AnalystNovember 17, 2016

QB Myles Brennan broke multiple Mississippi passing records this fall.
QB Myles Brennan broke multiple Mississippi passing records this fall.Credit: Student Sports

Just weeks remain in the high school football season as squads throughout America continue to chase championships. While state titles are still up for grabs, the past couple of months provided a proving ground for top prospects to validate lengthy scholarship lists and preseason accolades.

The U.S. Army All-American Bowl released a list of 16 nominees for its 2017 Player of the Year award this week, casting a national spotlight on athletes who've dominated during their senior campaigns. The list features representatives of 10 states vying for top honors when a winner is announced Jan. 6 in San Antonio, Texas.

The collection of contenders will be cut to six finalists Nov. 28.

2016 U.S. Army Player of the Year Semifinalists
NamePositionHigh SchoolRecruitment Status
Cam AkersRBClinton (MS)Offers include FSU, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State, Ole Miss and Tennessee.
Eno BenjaminRBWylie East (TX)Offers include Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri and Oklahoma State.
Myles BrennanQBSt. Stanislaus (MS)Committed to LSU.
Ty ChandlerRBMontgomery Bell Academy (TN)Committed to Tennessee.
Jake FrommQBHouston County (GA)Committed to Georgia.
Najee HarrisRBAntioch (CA)Committed to Alabama.
Tee HigginsWROak Ridge (TN)Committed to Clemson.
Anthony HinesLBPlano East (TX)Offers include Florida, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Texas A&M and UCLA.
Ty JonesWRProvo (UT)Committed to Washington.
Richard LeCounte IIIDBLiberty County (GA)Committed to Georgia.
Tate MartellQBBishop Gorman (NV)Committed to Ohio State.
Tadarian MoultryLBJackson-Olin (AL)Committed to Auburn.
Jaelan PhillipsDERedlands East Valley (CA)Committed to UCLA.
Foster SarellOTGraham-Kapowsin (WA)Offers include Alabama, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Stanford and Washington.
Aubrey SolomonDTLee County (GA)Offers include Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia and Michigan.
Shaun WadeDBTrinity Christian Academy (FL)Committed to Ohio State.
U.S. Army All-American Bowl

Initial reaction from semifinalists was filled with excitement and appreciation. 

"Being mentioned in the company of all of these great players is awesome," Texas linebacker Anthony Hines told Bleacher Report.

Now that we know which athletes are in the running for this illustrious award, let's examine the race for top honors.

    

QBs and RBs Make a Major Splash

Hines, who tallied 245 total tackles as a senior, per MaxPreps, is one of two nominees at linebacker, along with Auburn Tigers commit Tadarian Moultry. Safety Richard LeCounte III (Georgia Bulldogs pledge) and cornerback Shaun Wade (Ohio State Buckeyes commit) also open the door for a defensive skill player to prevail.

However, running backs (four) and quarterbacks (three) lead the way among semifinalists.

Those two offensive skill positions have produced 14 of 16 U.S. Army National Player of the Year winners since 2001. The exceptions are Florida Gators offensive lineman Martez Ivey (2015) and Philadelphia Eagles receiver Dorial Green-Beckham (2012).

Najee Harris and Cam Akers, rated No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in Scout.com's running back rankings, are 5-star headliners among rushers. They spent months as fellow members of the Alabama Crimson Tide recruiting class before Akers backed off his verbal commitment in March.

Harris is considered the No. 1 overall recruit in this cycle, surrounded by a level of immense expectations that has drawn comparisons to Leonard Fournette and Adrian Peterson.

They're joined by 4-star prospects Ty Chandler—a Tennessee Volunteers pledge—and Eno Benjamin, who decommitted from the Iowa Hawkeyes in October.

Each member of this running back quartet has produced prolific statistics on the ground in 2016.

Season Stats for RB Semifinalists
NameGamesRushing YardsYards Per CarryTotal TDs
Cam Akers121,5199.753
Eno Benjamin112,1427.530
Ty Chandler111,9469.435
Najee Harris112,3319.732
MaxPreps

It's important to note that Akers actually lines up at quarterback at Clinton High School in Mississippi, completing 62 percent of his pass attempts for 2,507 yards and 28 touchdowns. He will transition full time to running back in college, while a trio of passers on this list has created excitement about future aerial efforts for their programs of choice.

Tate Martell (Ohio State), Jake Fromm (Georgia Bulldogs) and Myles Brennan (LSU Tigers) are all committed to FBS heavyweights. Each earned Elite 11 inclusion this summer and proceeded to punish defenses throughout the fall. 

Martell, who began receiving scholarship offers before eighth grade, again puts Las Vegas powerhouse Bishop Gorman High School in position to claim a national championship. He hasn't lost a game since taking over as the team's starter in 2014.

Impressive prep careers recently ended for both Brennan and Fromm. 

Fromm became just the second Georgia quarterback to throw for more than 12,000 yards in high school, trailing only Heisman Trophy contender Deshaun Watson on the state leaderboard. Brennan departs St. Stanislaus as Mississippi's all-time king for passing yards (15,027) and passing touchdowns (165).

“I don’t see a ceiling [for Brennan] to be honest with you," St. Stanislaus coach Bill Conides said. "Where he wants to go is completely up to him. Does he want be a great college quarterback? Does he want to be a first-round draft pick? I know for a fact he wants to play in the NFL. All Myles needs to do is to continue with what he’s worked for on a daily basis. Quarterback is his job and that’s what he wants out of life.”

Season Stats for QB Semifinalists
NameGamesPassing YardsPassing TDsINTsRushing YardsRushing TDs
Myles Brennan123,9824834559
Jake Fromm103,9104193514
Tate Martell121,8583001,08217
MaxPreps

U.S. Army Player of the Year honors went to a quarterback last year. Georgia freshman Jacob Eason edged out newly anointed Ole Miss Rebels starter Shea Patterson and Michigan Wolverines freshman Brandon Peters for the award in a competition that featured three quarterbacks among its six finalists.

Don't be surprised if Brennan, Fromm and Martell all make the cut later this month.

Can Tee Higgins or Ty Jones Become the Second Winner at WR?

Green-Beckham set an extremely high bar when he became Player of the Year in 2012. He collected 119 receptions for 2,233 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior, per MaxPreps, graduating high school ranked No. 1 all time nationally for career receiving yards. 

Tee Higgins, a Clemson Tigers commit from Oak Ridge High School in Tennessee, is the most celebrated representative at the position on this list. While his statistical output (57 receptions for 861 yards and 19 total touchdowns, according to Tom Kreager of the Tennessean) pales in comparison to Green-Beckham, he is undoubtedly one of the most promising pass-catchers headed to a college campus next year.

"Tee is a straight-up playmaker—one of the best I've seen throughout the whole year of Nike regionals," said Damon Griffin, a former star Oregon Ducks receiver who played in the NFL and now serves as positional coach at The Opening and its preceding regional camps.

Tee Higgins committed to Clemson in July.
Tee Higgins committed to Clemson in July.Credit: Student Sports

Standing 6'4", 188 pounds, Higgins presents a matchup nightmare for defensive backs. His leaping ability and expansive catch radius make him one of the most difficult covers in high school football.

"He can go up and get it," fellow Clemson receiver commit Amari Rodgers said. 

Higgins is arguably an underdog to bring home this hardware, but he may ultimately emerge as Clemson's next elite downfield threat, following in the footsteps of playmakers such as Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and Mike Williams.

Ty Jones, a 3-star recruit in Scout.com's rankings, doesn't carry quite as much clout on the national recruiting scene, but he certainly put together a Player of the Year resume. The Washington Huskies commit secured 63 receptions for 1,523 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior, per MaxPreps.

He burst out of the gates with a 10-catch, 253-yard performance in Provo's season opener, setting the tone for a scintillating season. Last year, fellow Utah receiver Simi Fehoko—a Stanford Cardinal signee—was among six finalists for the award. 

    

Spotlight on the Trenches

As we alluded to earlier, consensus No. 1 2015 offensive tackle prospect Ivey is the only lineman to reach the podium at a U.S. Army Player of the Year presentation. A few large young men aim to change that narrative in January.

California Bears defensive end Jaelan Phillips, Georgia defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon and Washington offensive tackle Foster Sarell—each considered 5-star recruits—vie for the award this time around. 

"It would be a pretty big win for big boys everywhere," Solomon said. 

The 6'3", 304-pound talent, previously pledged to Michigan, collected 57 tackles—13 for loss—eight sacks and 12 quarterback hurries through his first seven games this season, according to Todd Holcomb of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Phillips, a UCLA Bruins commit considered the nation's No. 1 edge-rusher, has 128 tackles and 19 sacks through 11 games, per MaxPreps. His nomination for U.S. Army Player of the Year is particularly special due to personal ties to veterans of the military branch.

"Winning the award would be incredible, especially because my aunt, uncle and great-grandpa served in the Army, so to win the award would be in honor of them," he said.

Sarell, a 6'6", 300-pound stalwart on the offensive line, has been a force throughout his high school career and owned opponents during marquee showdowns at The Opening. He's warranted widespread attention in the discussion of this class' premier prospect regardless of position.

    

Taking Their Place Among the 'Elites'

A tremendous amount of past semifinalists and finalists for this honor have since gone on to collegiate and NFL stardom. The list of winners includes national champion Florida Gators quarterback Chris Leak, Ohio State quarterback-turned-Cleveland Browns receiver Terrelle Pryor and eventual NFL Hall of Fame running back Peterson.

"Many of the elites have made it on this list and to be in company with some of the best to suit up means a lot to me," Solomon said. "Winning that award would really mean a lot not only to me but to my community. Even if I don't become the winner, just being recognized as one of the best in the nation is a blessing within itself."

Multiple members of this list are still enjoying the final stretch of their senior season. Playoff developments during the next few weeks will enable some to strengthen their case to make the cut as one of six finalists. 

    

Tyler Donohue is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Quotes and observations obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Prospect ratings and information courtesy of Scout.

Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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