CFB Recruiting: 10 Under-the-Radar Recruits Who Could Star in the ACC

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistDecember 9, 2020

CFB Recruiting: 10 Under-the-Radar Recruits Who Could Star in the ACC

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    Miami athlete commit Chase Smith is a legit playmaker
    Miami athlete commit Chase Smith is a legit playmakerCredit: 247Sports

    Watching Isaiah Simmons roam around the Clemson defense, play sideline-to-sideline, flip positions and then get picked No. 8 overall in the 2020 NFL draft made something clear: You don't have to be a highly ranked recruit to wind up a star.

    That's the case in every recruiting cycle, and it often doesn't take the player long to show out on the college level.

    There are several candidates to do that in 2021 in the ACC. Identifying them may not be easy, but there are a number of factors to look at. Those intangibles and talent level turn so-so prospects into stars.

    As mentioned in similar lists of underrated recruits in the SEC and the Big Ten, 23 of the most impactful players from a season ago—selected in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft or named first-team All-Americans—were 3-star prospects or lower.

    Who are the candidates to do the same in 2021?

    To be considered under the radar, a recruit needed to be outside the top 247 prospects in the 247Sports composite rankings. You can still be a 4-star recruit and fit that distinction, but many of these are not. Still, each player's upside is obvious from film evaluation or his offer sheets.

    Here are some players in the '21 haul who could torch the ACC in the near future.

Victoine Brown, Louisville Defensive End

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    Credit: 247Sports

    If you've watched coach Scott Satterfield's Louisville team this year, you know the Cardinals need some defensive playmakers. It's not that they're bad, but they are in the middle of a rebuild and need to keep identifying guys Satterfield and his staff can turn into great players.

    A perfect candidate is Loganville, Georgia, prospect Victoine Brown, who plays for one of the nation's best programs at Grayson High School and has faced top-notch competition throughout his prep career.

    The 6'4", 227-pound strong-side defensive end is a quick-twitch, versatile athlete who can stand up and play on defense's second level as well. He moved from New York to the Atlanta area and caught the attention of several quality programs.

    He chose the Cardinals from nearly 40 offers, including South Carolina, Florida, Georgia Tech, Colorado, LSU and East Carolina. Though the home-state Bulldogs didn't extend an offer, plenty of other good teams did.

    There are a lot of reasons to like the type of player Brown could become with a projectable frame. The Cardinals desperately need pass-rushing help, and he is a big part of the future puzzle despite being the nation's No. 492-ranked overall prospect.

    He perhaps best fits as a 3-4 defensive end, and if Satterfield wants to put him there, Brown likely will need to add another 30 or so pounds. When he does, he still should be able to use his speed and athleticism.

    It's going to help that he came from a college-ready prep program, and he may play right away. At the very least, he's going to be a great player down the road and has an all-conference ceiling.

    Brown is going to be one of the best players in Louisville's class.

Bubba Chandler, Clemson Quarterback

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Few schools in the nation recruit quarterbacks like Dabo Swinney's Clemson Tigers.

    From Tajh Boyd to Deshaun Watson to Trevor Lawrence, the Tigers have been loaded at the position for the past decade-plus, especially since Swinney came on board with terrific offensive coordinators such as Chad Morris, Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott.

    With D.J. Uiagalelei and perhaps Taisun Phommachanh (if he doesn't transfer) waiting in the wings, Clemson looks very strong under center for the future. You can add Georgia signal-caller Bubba Chandler to the list.

    The 6'4", 195-pound prospect from Bogart, Georgia, may be just the nation's 380th-rated player according to the 247Sports composite, but 247Sports has him in its top 200 prospects and loves his upside.

    Ole Miss, Louisville and Miami are among the programs that recruited the North Oconee High School player, but Chandler didn't have a lot of love from other major programs. That doesn't matter. In a year where Swinney didn't need a standout quarterback in the class, he went for upside.

    Chandler definitely has that. According to 247Sports' Anna Hickey, the recruiting service bumped up his rating and said: "A competitor that spins a nice ball. We felt like he should move up based on senior tape."

    Though Chandler's team finished a COVID-19-shortened season at 5-7, it played excellent competition, and the quarterback had a big year. Nobody will expect him to start next year at Clemson because that's going to be Uiagalelei's job for the foreseeable future.

    But Chandler can come in, learn the system, pack on some strength and good weight on his slender frame, and be an upperclassman difference-maker for the Tigers. He's just going to have to beat out big-time talent recruited every year to do it.

Omarion Cooper, Florida State Linebacker

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Recruiting has not been easy for first-year Florida State coach Mike Norvell, who also has gotten off to a sputtering start on the field. But one of the most talented players he does have coming in is 4-star defensive back Omarion Cooper out of Lehigh Acres, Florida.

    Cooper is the nation's No. 280 overall prospect and just a 3-star recruit for 247Sports, but he has NFL potential and is a tall, long defensive back who possesses the type of athleticism you want at the position.

    He may not be able to enter the rotation in 2021, but Cooper is eventually going to be a star in Tallahassee.

    He has the man coverage skills to stay at cornerback, but he also has the body that could project to safety or nickelback. Still, if a kid his size (6'0", 170 pounds) can play on the boundary, that's where you want him. His lack of top-end speed may lead him to safety, but he has pro ability.

    Several programs that recruit well wanted him, including Michigan, Florida, Miami, Louisville and others. Since Deion Sanders became the head coach at Jackson State, he has come hard after Cooper too.

    It's obvious why he is such a wanted commodity. As 247Sports recruiting analyst Andrew Ivins said, Cooper "has his best football ahead of him."

    The Seminoles are struggling on the field and in recruiting. It's going to be a battle to keep Cooper until he can sign on the dotted line, but Norvell has the inside track to do that.

    Cooper could be the next in a long line of impressive defensive backs to come through Tallahassee, and he is the kind of prospect who could play a lot of football and help the 'Noles get back to competing at a high level.

Caleb Hood, North Carolina Athlete

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Caleb Hood is the kind of player who will win you a football game.

    The 6'1", 231-pound prospect from Rockingham, North Carolina, has one of the most college-ready bodies in the recruiting class and was a star quarterback who started all four years in high school. Still, recruiting services undervalue his ability and how it translates into the college game.

    The Tar Heels commit is ranked just No. 692 in the 247Sports composite, though 247Sports recently elevated him all the way to a 4-star prospect as the No. 21 athlete in the country.

    247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong explained the change, per Inside North Carolina's Don Callahan:

    "Caleb Hood is one of the highest upside guys in the class where maybe you can't pinpoint exactly the difference he's going to make on the football team but, athletically, and then just the intangibles, you just know he's going to make an impact. ...

    "And this is a guy that, when we had time to talk more about each and every one of these guys and when we got to Caleb Hood, you're just like, 'How do you not have him as a four-star?' And, I think he could continue to go up. I think the arrow is up on him."

    The son of former UNC cornerback Errol Hood is going to play his college days where his father did in Chapel Hill, but his position isn't yet known. Hood runs around a 4.4 40-yard dash and is an explosive athlete.

    He has spent his high school career with the ball in his hands, though North Carolina coach Mack Brown may start him out at defensive back. It'll be a matter of time before Hood shows he needs to play some on the offensive side of the ball, if not full-time.

    With the way quarterback Sam Howell and Co. put up points on that side of the ball, inserting playmakers will help build the dynasty. But the Heels need difference-makers on defense, and pairing Hood with a guy like Tony Grimes on the back end could help a lot.

    No matter where he winds up playing, he's going to be a star on the next level.

Malik Newton, Pittsburgh Running Back

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Coach Pat Narduzzi and Pittsburgh have relied too heavily on the pass this year. Kenny Pickett is having a big year, but the 5-5 Panthers are struggling to trot out any running threats.

    Vincent Davis leads the team with fewer than 400 rushing yards. That is not the type of offense Narduzzi wants to run.

    The tough, hard-nosed coach has built his reputation on defense and running the football. Having an NFL centerpiece like Steelers running back James Conner as proof of what playing at Pitt can do is a huge bonus. It won't be long until the Panthers get back to those running ways.

    They have commitments from Malik Newton and Rodney Hammond, childhood friends from the Hampton Roads, Virginia, area who could star together at Pitt.

    Those two grew up with fellow Pitt pledge Myles Alston, North Carolina commit Trevion Stevenson, current UNC starting cornerback Tony Grimes and Tennessee defensive tackle pledge KaTron Evans in an area loaded with talent. They were recruited by Panthers assistant Chris Beatty, and running backs coach Andre Powell is ready to utilize them.

    "He always tells me: 'You all are going to be thunder and lightning. We're going to use Rodney in open space and on like 3rd-and-1 or 3rd-and-3 plays, and then Rodney can go in the slot and we'll bring you in the backfield,'" Newton told Daily Press reporter Norm Wood. "There's a lot of different options for using us."

    There's definitely a storm coming when the 5'11½", 223-pounder runs downhill at defenders, which is why some of the nation's top programs wanted him to be an every-down runner for them. He's criminally underrated as the nation's No. 642-ranked player.

    Players with his bulk, speed and potential don't stand on the sideline very long, and he has a golden opportunity to star as a true freshman. Getting to do that with his flashier buddy Hammond is a big deal too.

    The Panthers have shown potential to be a blossoming program, but getting the running game healthy is a huge part of it. Newton is the answer to that question mark.

Travali Price, North Carolina State Defensive End

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Travali Price is not just one of the most underrated players in the ACC. He's arguably one of the most underappreciated prospects in the nation.

    Price is the nation's No. 397-ranked player and just a 3-star prospect. However, the 6'4", 265-pound athletic defensive lineman has huge upside that led to many strong offers such as Penn State, Arizona State, Oklahoma, Tennessee, South Carolina, Wisconsin and others.

    Perhaps one of the main reasons he's landed in Raleigh is the Wolfpack also offered and accepted a commitment from Price's brother, 2-star Jayden Tate. Tate is a fullback/long snapper, two positions that are not normally coveted and rewarded with a scholarship in college football.

    Programs such as South Carolina and Tennessee have swooped in late and offered Tate to try to get back in the game for Price.

    Price is a very good prospect, and NCSU defensive line coach Charley Wiles recruited him and convinced him to come to Raleigh.

    "I've had a relationship with him for a while," Price told 247Sports' Michael Clark when he committed. "He recruited me when he was at Virginia Tech. We just talk about my fit at NC State. Also, how I can make an immediate impact, and I can play any position on the line. They like my size, speed and and pursuit of the ball. We've been studying his defensive schemes, too."

    Few defensive linemen have Price's versatility and athleticism, and there's a reason why plenty of teams want him to play for them. The Wolfpack need defensive line help, and he could wind up being the best player in their class.

    They have taken a gamble with a package deal, but getting a player like Price and a player with a chip on his shoulder like Tate could pay major dividends.

Jacob Rodriguez, Virginia Quarterback

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The Virginia Cavaliers remember what life was like when Bryce Perkins was using his elite athleticism to do big things and lead coach Bronco Mendenhall's team to the ACC title game.

    By the looks of their 2021 recruiting class, they're trying to get back to having a quality dual-threat option under center.

    Between two-sport athlete Jay Woolfolk and Texas standout Jacob Rodriguez, Mendenhall must have his quarterback of the future, a guy who may be able to shine right away.

    While Woolfolk is an exciting talent, he is an exceptional baseball player who could skip college football altogether. The safer option is Rodriguez, who has a muscular build and easy athleticism and is used to playing quality competition.

    Some of the top programs in the Southwest wanted him, and he chose UVA over offers from teams such as Texas Tech, Baylor, Kansas State, Houston and Iowa State.

    In Mendenhall's system, there's reason to believe he will outplay his No. 372 ranking and 3-star status.

    Rodriguez could become the next Taysom Hill-type player in a Mendenhall-led offense.

    The New Orleans Saints signal-caller played for Mendenhall at BYU, and Virginia's coaches mentioned to Rodriguez during the recruiting process that he has the build to be the next "Thorterback," according to CavsCorner's Brad Franklin.

    When asked to define that term, Rodriguez told Franklin: "Superhero. Being able to throw the ball with consistency and accuracy and also being able to run the ball dominantly while also being a leader on and off the field."

    Rodriguez has that ability and could be a major coup for the Cavs.

Chase Smith, Miami Athlete

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The Miami Hurricanes have a rich history. Head coach Manny Diaz has enough former stars around the program that there is no shortage of information about the glory days of "The U" as the new group of Hurricanes gets educated on a daily basis.

    One prospect in the 2021 class who will be able to add some secondhand knowledge of the program's heyday is 4-star athlete Chase Smith, who is a much better prospect than his No. 293 placement in the 247Sports composite rankings would indicate.

    The prospect from Melbourne, Florida, was coveted by several top programs, including Georgia, Auburn, Florida State and others. But the 6'3", 190-pound defender chose Coral Gables, where his father, Willie Smith, was a consensus All-American tight end under coach Jimmy Johnson in 1985.

    Smith is expected to play the safety/linebacker hybrid position of "striker" for Diaz, according to South Florida Sun Sentinel reporter David Furones. That is a spot where he can shine as The U tries to build its way back to the top of the college football world.

    The prospect can play a lot of different spots. He is athletic enough to settle on the back level or can bulk up and play linebacker. He also could be a receiver, where he has excelled at the high school level. However, he is a flashy player on defense and seems to fit the "turnover chain" mentality.

    Whether blitzing off the edge or dropping back in coverage, Smith can do a ton of things to help you win a football game. It's possible he plays his way into being selected in the top two rounds of the NFL draft. He has that kind of ability.

    As a junior in 2019, he grabbed 50 passes for 716 yards and seven touchdowns. He also played sideline-to-sideline and grabbed four sacks, four interceptions, 18 tackles for loss and 72 tackles. Smith has proved he can do it all.

    This is one of the nation's most versatile playmakers.

Trenilyas Tatum, Georgia Tech Linebacker

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Last year, Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins convinced some difference-makers to head to Atlanta to play for the Yellow Jackets, but a tough year on the football field hasn't helped matters off it.

    Still, a 3-6 record is a step forward. As youngsters like Jeff Sims and Jahmyr Gibbs make an impact right away, Collins can continue to sell a youth movement, especially on defense. Tech is ranked just 37th in recruiting, but it does have some quality players coming in.

    Perhaps the biggest pledge is the top defender on its board: linebacker Trenilyas Tatum.

    The 6'2", 208-pound outside 'backer from Jonesboro, Georgia, was coveted by several SEC and ACC programs. He flipped from the South Carolina Gamecocks after they fired coach Will Muschamp.

    Others who pursued him were Ole Miss, Oklahoma, Virginia, Arkansas, Louisville and Tennessee.

    Tatum doesn't have any second thoughts. "Actually, it has been one of relief and a soothing feeling," he told 247Sports' Dale McDuffie. "It is nice when everything just comes together."

    It's hard to rank prospects because everybody has a viable reason for making a move either up or down, but Tatum is a nice-looking prospect who can go sideline-to-sideline, possesses exceptional size for his position and could be a difference-maker right away.

    Collins and his team need dramatic improvements on that side of the ball. Though Tatum is ranked as just the No. 391 overall prospect and a 3-star prospect, he has a ton of upside and could learn quickly.

    He's a sure tackler and can be a force rushing the passer. That's exactly what Georgia Tech needs as it builds depth and searches for guys who can help it return to being a force in the ACC.

Bryce Steele, Boston College Linebacker/Safety

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Boston College lost a star commitment last week when linebacker Trevin Wallace opened things back up, but the Eagles were the beneficiary of another coaching change that helped them replace him with another impact defender in a hurry.

    The second South Carolina decommitment on this list (along with Trenilyas Tatum) is Bryce Steele, who dropped the Gamecocks when they fired Muschamp.

    He was sold on the program turnaround in Chestnut Hill and picked the Eagles over finalists Texas, Michigan State and North Carolina State.

    Steele told 247Sports' Brian Dohn:

    "One of the factors I am looking at is early playing time. That is really what I am looking at right now and I am trying to learn with some of the schools reaching out in the last couple of days. So the first thing for (some) is learning what their program is all about.

    "It's the same thing (as before). I am looking at a school with a good education, and a school that is going to develop me on and off the field as well as playing time."

    Steele is 6'1" and 207 pounds. Most analysts believe he grows into a linebacker on the college level, but it's not out of the question he could play safety for Jeff Hafley, who helped mold some great ones at Ohio State. The Eagles have a terrific class of defensive backs led by Clinton Burton Jr. and Jalen Cheek, so Steele could fit on the second level.

    Quarterback Phil Jurkovec and Co. are doing big things on offense, so the defensive-minded Hafley needs to shore up that side of the ball, and Steele has that ability. He is a prime candidate to step right in and elevate the play of the BC defense.

    With great length and speed, Steele's upside is immense. Any time you are athletic enough to play safety but also big and quick enough to be a blitzing force off the edge, it's a big deal. He is a very good tackler and is just the type of commitment Hafley was missing.

    The way Hafley has shown up on the sideline in his first year in charge is going to make him a hot commodity when bigger programs need a head coach, but there are a lot of pieces in place at Boston College too. He is recruiting the way he needs to in order to rebuild.

    Steele is a big piece, and all Gamecocks fans can do is cringe as they watch the mass exodus of prospects in the post-Muschamp era.

              

    All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com and Sports Reference. Recruiting rankings via 247Sports' composite rankings unless otherwise noted.

    Follow Brad Shepard on Twitter at @Brad_Shepard.

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