Thursday, January 30, 2014
Ultimate 300: ACC's top classes
By Jared Shanker
Clemson has the most top-20 players in the Ultimate ESPN 300, which ranks all top recruits since 2006. Florida State has the most overall. So which ACC school has recruited the best since 2006?
Here is a look at the five ACC schools that consistently put together strong recruiting classes and have developed that high school talent.
1. Florida State
The top of the recruiting rankings often reflect the top of the BCS rankings (see: Alabama), so to those who follow recruiting, it should not have been too much of a surprise to see Florida State finally return to the ranks of college football’s elite. Jimbo Fisher has strung together back-to-back top-two recruiting classes and could claim the recruiting title in 2014. Known for developing quarterbacks, Fisher turned E.J. Manuel into a first-round pick and coached Jameis Winston to a Heisman Trophy. The defensive-line recruiting has been outstanding, too. Bjoern Werner was a first-round pick in 2013, and Timmy Jernigan has the looks of a first-round selection. The same could be said for former No. 1 recruit Mario Edwards, an FSU sophomore who was among the best defensive players in the national championship game. In total, the Seminoles have 18 players in the Ultimate 300, by far the most of any ACC school. One of the best indicators of how well a team recruits is to look four years down the road at the NFL draft. And in 2013, the 11 Seminoles drafted were the most of any school.
The Tigers have been immensely talented in recent years, but rarely was that promise turned into production before Dabo Swinney took over for Tommy Bowden. Recent highly rated recruits have turned into special players for Clemson, and the Tigers' three players in the top 20 of the Ultimate 300 support that claim; only Alabama has more players among the top 20 (four). In 2008, Clemson signed former No. 1 recruit Da’Quan Bowers, who led the nation in sacks in 2010, his final season with the Tigers. C.J. Spiller had his number retired by Clemson, and receiver Sammy Watkins could receive the same honor. Like Spiller and Ultimate 300 member DeAndre Thompkins, Watkins will be a first-round NFL draft pick. Tajh Boyd also is ranked in the Ultimate 300, and his potential successor, Deshaun Watson, is the top-rated quarterback in the 2014 ESPN 300.
Although the Hurricanes have undergone three coaching changes since 2006, they have emerged with some top recruiting classes in that time frame, including the No. 1 overall group in 2008 under Randy Shannon. The fertile South Florida recruiting ground will always be fruitful for Miami, no matter who operates out of the coach’s office in Coral Gables. Unfortunately for Miami, the top two players in the Ultimate 300 who signed with the Hurricanes did not finish their college careers in Miami. LeSean McCoy never played a down for Miami, and Arthur Brown transferred to Kansas State. While Shannon was a strong recruiter, several of those players never lived up to their billing at Miami. Current coach Al Golden looks to have Miami headed in the right direction with Ultimate 300 players Stacy Coley, Tracy Howard and Duke Johnson each playing pivotal roles as the Hurricanes look to compete for their first ACC title in 2014.
4. North Carolina
Former UNC coach Butch Davis was one of the best recruiters in the ACC, and he always did a solid job of developing his recruits into NFL players. Running back Giovani Bernard turned a successful career at North Carolina into a second-round selection and could be named the offensive rookie of the year in the NFL. Marvin Austin is the top UNC player in the Ultimate 300 and was part of the 2007 class, which was considered one of the best classes in school history at the time. Davis’ class was ranked No. 11 nationally and also included Quantavius Sturdivant and Greg Little. The 2007 signing of Little represents the last time the Tar Heels have signed the top-rated recruit from North Carolina.
A host of teams could make a strong case for the final spot in the rankings since the rest of the ACC, for the most part, was in the range of two to four Ultimate 300 recruits. The Panthers get this spot because of the dominance of two of their four Ultimate 300 players. Initially a Miami signee, LeSean McCoy went to Pitt after a year at a prep school and instantly became one of the country’s top backs. In two seasons, he ran for more than 2,800 yards and tallied 35 rushing touchdowns. His Twitter handle is aptly named @CutonDime25 as his change-of-direction skill was on display in both of his seasons at Pitt. Aaron Donald is also on the list following an All-American senior season; he won the conference’s award for defensive player of the year. Donald, a western Pennsylvania recruit, is one of several local recruits who have starred for the Panthers. Former Aliquippa (Pa.) High School receiver Jonathan Baldwin is another former Panther in the Ultimate 300.