Recruitniks are abuzz with the Tuesday release of the ESPNU 150 recruiting rankings, and so were SB Nation's recruiting analysts.
It is important to remember that it is still quite early in the process, and things will definitely change as more film is made available and recruits impress or disappoint at camps and combines. There are some prospects about which all experts agree.
Loganville (Ga.) Grayson High's defensive end Robert Nkemdiche is the top player in the country. At 6'5" and 265 pounds, he moves like a player 40 pounds lighter, plays with the power of a 300 pound man, and displays good technique as well. ESPN rated Nkemdiche as the top player in the country, which is right where the overwhelming majority of recruiting analysts have him.
The consensus is similar for Reuben Foster, the top linebacker in the country, who recently transferred to Auburn (Al.) High School, who checks in at No. 2 nationally. ESPN's No. 3 choice is also right in line with most analysts, as offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil of Lake City (Fla.) Columbis High School possesses freakish athleticism for a recruit with a 6'6" and 275 pound body.
Evaluating the top 10 of 20 recruits in the country is a fairly easy exercise. Those kids are so far and away better on film than everyone else. It's further down the list that the arguments and strong agreements arise.
In Florida, there is no debate that Tunsil, Tampa (Fla.) Wharton cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and Immokalee (Fla.) cornerback Mackensie Alexander are top-five recruits.
I believe ESPN did a fairly good job with most positions in the Sunshine State. I am in strong agreement with ESPN's evaluations and rankings of the running back position in the state. Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Day High School runner Kelvin Taylor, son of former NFL great Fred Taylor and a Gator commitment, looked excellent at the Miami NFTC carrying 210 pounds without losing his quickness. With an insane high school workload, some question how many miles are left on his legs, but Taylor plays against poor competition and doesn't exactly take big hits on a regular basis. I do not, however, agree with Taylor being the top back nationally. ESPN follows with (in order) Delray Beach (Fla.) American Heritage's Greg Bryant, an Oklahoma commitment, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Catholic's Ryan Green, Plantation (Fla.) South's Alex Collins, a Miami commitment, and Orlando Boone's A.J. Turman. That is the exact order in which I would rank the running backs in Florida.
For my money, Crescent City (Fla.) High's Caleb Brantley, a Florida commitment, is the top defensive tackle in the state. ESPN felt similarly, and rated him as such. But I don't understand the move to list Ft. Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas' Joey Bosa at defensive tackle when the top programs are recruiting him at defensive end. And Florida State commitment Maquedius Bain is rated the No. 5 defensive tackle nationally. He may have the most potential of any of them at 6'3" and 308 pounds with excellent athleticism, but that is much too high. Bain has only played a year of football and does not have the highlight tape to justify such a lofty perch at this early juncture.
And while I felt ESPN did an excellent job with the running back position, the same cannot be said for the receiver position.
I have no issue with slotting Oakland Park Northeast's Stacy Coley at No. 1. But I don't see the explosiveness from Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) University School's Jordan Cunningham, who is closer to 6'1" than the 6'3" some sites erroneously list, to warrant the No. 2 position. If Cunningham was actually 6'3" the decision might make more sense. I have similar thoughts about Ahmad Fulwood of Jacksonville (Fla.) Bishop Kenny, a Gator commitment, in the No. 3. slot. Fulwood is a good player, but his best attributes are likely his consistency and his high floor. ESPN lists Travis Johnson of Tampa (Fla.) Jesuit as the No. 4 receiver in the state, but many believe he is not deserving of that lofty ranking. And the No. 5 receiver, Richard Benjamin of Tampa Bay Tech was promising as a sophomore, but he did not improve like one would expect from a supposed four-star receiver. Tony Stevens, a Florida State commitment of Orlando (Fla.) Evans High School has some of the most impressive film in Florida. The decision to rate him as the sixth-best receiver in the state is baffling.
How would I group the receivers in Florida?
Tier 1 (no order): Coley, Stevens
Tier 2 (no order): Fulwood, Alvin Bailey, Cunningham, Isaiah Jones, Rodney Adams, Johnson, Benjamin
Tier 3 (no order): Levonte Whitfield, Taj Williams, Reggie Davis, Jesus Wilson
How did the list get this messed up? I believe name recognition and early evaluations are to blame. ESPN makes a preliminary list in-house based on sophomore tape and player reputation. Then they re-evaluate the players based on their junior film, if available, before ranking them for public release. I believe some confirmation bias is at work here, causing the analysts to not stray too far from their initial notions.
The contrast between Stevens, Cunningham and Benjamin is a perfect example. Cunningham was quite impressive as a sophomore in 2010, as was Benjamin, while Stevens was an unknown. Come 2011, however, and Stevens' film is unquestionably superior to the performance of Cunningham or Benjamin, or any other receiver in the state for that matter (note: Stacy Coley's 2011 highlights are still yet to be released).
For the most part, I thought ESPN did a nice job with the safety position. Bushnell South Sumter's Keanu Neal has seen his stock skyrocket as he has matured physically. I would actually place him over fellow Gator commitment Nick Washington, of Jacksonville Trinity Christian. I applaud ESPN for not buying the crazy hype on safety Marcell Harris of Orlando Dr. Phillips or Jamal Carter of Miami Southridge.
Oh, and one final Florida note. I am not sure Georgia commitment Derrick Henry, of Yulee, can play running back at 6'4" and 240 pounds. ESPN apparently is not sure, either, listing him as an athlete (as opposed to a back) and rating him 45th nationally.
For analysis of the Texas players in and out of the ESPNU 150, I turned to SB Nation's Texas recruiting analyst, Wescott Eberts.
Eberts likes the ranking of Ricky Seals-Jones of Sealy High as the top receiver, both in the state and nationally. I also believe Seals-Jones would be the top flex tight end if ESPN elected to classify him at that position. Eberts also agrees with quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, the 6'4" 220 pound force, as the No. 2 player in the state. Swoopes is a controversial recruit out of Whiteright High. Everyone agrees that he is a special athlete, but not everyone thinks he can play quarterback. Eberts and ESPN believe strongly that he can remain at the position.
ESPN went out on a limb with the ranking of Darius James, a center prospect of Kileen Harker Heights. Centers are rarely ranked high, but the 6'4", 320 pound James looks like a top guard prospect who can also snap and move, making him a very valuable commodity indeed. ESPN was the only service to rate James as a top-20 prospect nationally.
Eberts and ESPN are not in lockstep on everything, however.
Eberts does not believe Baylor commitment Chris Johnson, a quarterback out of Bryan High, belongs "anywhere near the 150." Johnson is rated 106th nationally by ESPN and 15th in the state.
He also takes issue with Joas Aguilar, a Texas A&M commitment at guard from North Richland Hills Birdville coming in at No. 13 in state and 101st nationally. After looking at Aguilar, I have to agree. And apparently so do colleges, as his offer list (Texas A&M, Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech) is not that of a top-100 type recruit.
Similarly, Eberts does not believe LaQuivonte Gonzalez, a Texas A&M receiver recruit out of Cedar Hill, should be ranked ahead of Desoto's Dontre Wilson, who is currently uncommitted. Eberts believes ESPN fell in love with Gonzalez' speed while not placing enough weight on some of his deficiencies. Gonzalez is definitely a good player, but this ranking does seem extreme. One has to wonder if ESPN is projecting a bit based on Gonzalez' choice to take his speed to the new spread offense of Texas A&M.
For a snub, Eberts believes ESPN placed too much emphasis on speed in assigning a three-star rating to Jake Oliver, a college-ready receiver from Dallas Jesuit Prep who lacks game breaking ability but should become an excellent No. 2 receiver and a multi-year starter. I agree with Eberts here. Oliver is absolutely a top 150 player nationally and it is absurd to rate him No 48 in Texas.
Turning to California, we spoke with SB Nation's Southern California recruiting analyst, Derrell Warren, to get his take on the rankings in the Golden State.
Warren's major gripe is with the snub of Stockton Lincoln running back Justin Davis:
There's no way Justin Davis is the 24th best back in the nation. He has the frame to hit 215-218 pounds and retain his game breaking speed. And he has really good lateral agility for a more angular running back.
Even though ESPN rates Placer High defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes lower than any of the major services, he is still high for Warren's taste. And Warren also dislikes the lofty perch upon which ESPN placed USC commitment Chris Hawkins, a cornerback out of Rancho Cucamonga High. No. 6 in state and 69th nationally does seem a bit much for the 5'10", 159 pound Hawkins.
Warren also believes that Mission Hills Bishop Alemany receiver Steven Mitchell should be a top-100 player. ESPN rates Mitchell No 136 nationally.
Finally, while Warren is leery of Westlake Village Oaks Christian players, he does believe Oaks Christian receiver Francis Owusu is a better player then Demorea Stringfellow. ESPN felt differently, ranking Stringfellow as the 74th player nationally, while leaving Owusu just outside of the 150.
Warren also had a few thoughts about national recruits, including praise for ESPN not buying into the hype for Oregon running back commitment Thomas Tyner, who Warren says has the best size and speed combination of any back nationally, but fails to translate it to the football field. He also liked the high ranking given to Oklahoma running back commitment Keith Ford, of Cypress (Tx.) Ranch.
Elsewhere nationally, a few other snubs stand out. The omission of Washington (D.C.) Dunbar High offensive lineman Derwin Gray is puzzling. Gray doesn't necessarily have the film to warrant a top-50 ranking, but this developmental prospect's athleticism easily justifies inclusion in the ESPNU 150. Elsewhere, Rosedale (MS) West Bolivar running back Kailo Moore is absolutely one of the best 100 recruits nationally, yet ESPN left him off their 150.
Aside from the previously mentioned Benjamin, Aguilar and Johnson, there were some more odd inclusions in the ESPNU 150, including Lindale (Ga.) Pepperell High guard Andy Dodd, Zachary (La.) High guard Chris Taylor, Orlando (Fla.) Jones receiver Levonte Whitfield and Anderson (SC) T.L. Hannah High linebacker Ben Boulware.
The next release of the ESPNU 150 rankings will be over the summer, at which time I expect they will improve considerably.
While we're here, let's watch some college football videos from SB Nation's new YouTube channel together: