Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Top position classes: Big Ten
By Gerry Hamilton
With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at the top position classes in each conference. For the full series, click here.
While Penn State has one of the nation’s top young quarterbacks returning in Christian Hackenberg, the Nittany Lions needed to look to the long-term future and build depth at the position in this class. James Franklin certainly did that with his initial class in Happy Valley. No. 6 pocket passer Michael O’Connor (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy) has already enrolled, and will quickly begin his development process. His size, ball placement and upside make him a near ideal fit in Penn State’s pro-style scheme. Three-star athlete Trace McSorley (Ashburn, Va./Briar Woods) is a second possible signal-caller in the class.
When talking about Northwestern football, running backs aren’t often the first position mentioned. In the 2014 class, however, Pat Fitzgerald and staff signed a talented group of future backs in four-stars Justin Jackson (Carol Stream, Ill./Glenbard North) and Solomon Vault (Gaithersburg, Md./Gaithersburg), along with high three-star Auston Anderson (Plano, Texas/West). While none of the three possesses the load-back body type, the trio features a lot of quickness, speed and versatility, which includes the punt- and kickoff-return game.
Michigan signed only one tight end, but it was a good one in ESPN 300 No. 200 Ian Bunting (Hinsdale, Ill./Hinsdale Central). The 6-foot-6, 223-pounder has strength as a pass-catching tight end with very good hands, and he also can extend his arms and snatch the ball away from his body. While Bunting shows willingness as a blocker, space blocking is his strength. With added bulk and power, his confidence as a blocker should improve.
There might not have been a program with a more glaring need at wide receiver than Penn State, and new coach James Franklin helped deliver in a big way. No. 8 athlete De'Andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro) will begin his career at receiver, and will be joined by ESPN 300 No. 118 Saeed Blacknall (Manalapan, N.J./Manalapan) and No. 159 Chris Godwin (Middletown, Del./Middletown) and high three-star Troy Apke (Pittsburgh/Mount Lebanon). Thompkins is already enrolled and will have the opportunity to refine his skill set, and Blacknall brings a physically imposing frame and vertical speed to go with it. Godwin brings more size and top-end speed, although he's not an explosively quick starter.
Ohio State’s top-10 recruiting class restocked its offensive front. Urban Meyer and staff signed five offensive line prospects, including ESPN 300 No. 6 offensive tackle Jamarco Jones (Chicago/De La Salle) and No. 11 guard Demetrius Knox (Fort Worth, Texas/All Saints Episcopal). Three-stars Kyle Trout (Lancaster, Ohio/Lancaster), Marcelys Jones (Cleveland/Glenville) and Brady Taylor (Columbus, Ohio/Bishop Ready) could all play tackle, with the massive Jones the most likely to move inside. This class is made up of four big-bodied prospects.
Michigan State capitalized on its Rose Bowl win with this 2014 class. With needs along the defensive front, Michigan State went out and signed the best class in the conference. No. 60 Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) committed to the Spartans on signing day but has yet to sign and is still looking to take visits. With or without McDowell, Michigan State's class is still strong, led by four-stars Enoch Smith Jr. (Chicago/Mount Carmel) and Craig Evans (Sun Prairie, Wis./Sun Prairie). Another tackle who inked is David Beedle (Clarkston, Mich./Clarkston), who has size with a 6-foot-6, 285-pound frame. While the Spartans would have liked to sign one more end, high three-star Robert Bowers (Columbus, Ohio/Walnut Ridge) brings a long frame, athleticism and toughness. But he needs some time to add bulk and strength.
Ohio State addressed many future needs in the 2014 cycle, and that includes the defensive backfield. The Buckeyes signed three prospects in the class, with all three having the ability to play cornerback. ESPN 300 No. 45 Marshon Lattimore (Cleveland/Glenville) is the nation’s No. 5 athlete but is slated to begin his career at corner. Joining Lattimore are No. 58 overall Damon Webb (Detroit/Cass Technical) and No. 183 Erick Smith (Cleveland/Glenville), who could play safety or get a look at corner. A second ESPN 300 athlete, Curtis Samuel (Brooklyn, N.Y./Erasmus Hall), could play safety as well.
Ohio State quietly put together the conference’s top linebacker class headlined by five-star Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), a downhill thumper with undervalued turn-and-run ability. McMillan, an early enrollee, is joined by three outside LB prospects who will bring a combination of size, range and length to the position. ESPN 300 No. 130 Dante Booker Jr. (Akron, Ohio/St. Vincent-St. Mary) is one of the top third-down prospects at the position in the cycle, while four-star recruit Kyle Berger (Cleveland/Saint Ignatius) has turn-and-run ability. The size (6-foot-6, 225 pounds) and range of three-star Sam Hubbard (Cincinnati/Moeller) make him an intriguing long-term prospect.
Ohio State continues to add speed and versatility, and the 2014 class was more of the same. The Buckeyes signed five athletes, and versatility was the name of the game. The Buckeyes' haul included potential corners to big wide receivers to safeties to speedy playmaking receivers and return men. The uber-impressive list includes future cornerback and ESPN 300 No. 45 Marshon Lattimore (Cleveland/Glenville), No. 153 Curtis Samuel (Brooklyn, N.Y./Erasmus Hall), No. 178 Parris Campbell Jr. (Akron, Ohio/St. Vincent-St. Mary), and four-star prospects Noah Brown (Sparta, N.J./Pope John XXIII) and Malik Hooker (New Castle, Pa./New Castle).