North Carolina is annually one of the stronger states for producing upper-tier prospects, and this year is no different. North Carolina has six members of the ESPNU 150 and is deep with three- and four-star prospects. Two of those six ESPNU 150 prospects, T.J. Thorpe (Durham, N.C./Charles E. Jordan) and Vad Lee (Durham, N.C./Hillside), highlight the state of North Carolina's strong group of athletes.
The state features two talented front-seven prospects in Florida commit Jeoffrey Pagan (Asheville, N.C./Asheville), the state's No. 1-ranked player, and OLB Stephone Anthony (Wadesboro, N.C./Anson), who is the best outside linebacker in the country. It looks like Anthony will follow Pagan's lead and sign with an out-of-state program, but emerging NC State could be the dark horse.
DE Jeoffrey Pagan
Pagan is one of the better defensive ends in this class from a physicality standpoint. The future Florida Gators player should go on to be a productive college end if he can continue to polish his skill set at the position because the raw physical tools are all there to mold in Gainesville. He is disruptive on the edge, and most of that stems from his striking strength and power off the ball. The 260-pounder consistently jolts blockers back at the point of attack and can effectively anchor the run as good as any in this class. He collapses the pocket versus the pass, basically by out-manning tackles with brute force in the form of a bull-rush. Not a finesse guy, Pagan's lack of hand technique is something that will be coached up in college. We see a productive edge-defender once that area is refined, combined with his great short-area power and toughness.
Remember this name
ATH Vad Lee
Lee is one of the more underrated players in the country but will quickly become a household name in college, thanks to the system he is joining. This highly productive and athletic dual-threat quarterback may have slid on some recruiting boards because he posed some positional questions, but he's a great fit for what Georgia Tech does behind center in Paul Johnson's option offense. Lee has great measurables and the tools to hurt defenses in the air or on the ground. He combines good size, strength and acceleration as a runner and makes quick, decisive reads getting up field when he decides to keep it. He has a live arm as a passer and should be able to make all the required throws in the Yellow Jackets' offense. Lee has a lot of natural ability to develop at receiver if the transition to quarterback is not a smooth one, making him a can't-miss prospect for Georgia Tech in our opinion.
Taking up residence
Here are the colleges that are doing the best with prospects from North Carolina.
The Tar Heels' tumultuous fall has not hurt in-state recruiting, thus far. UNC still holds the No. 12 overall class that features 10 homegrown commitments with at least a three-star rating. Thorpe leads this group, and the silky-smooth skill prospect will likely play receiver for UNC and return kicks. Keep an eye on running back Travis Riley (Kannapolis, N.C/A.L. Brown), who's a sleeper with a good combination of size and speed to wear down ACC defenses.
The Terps have gone into North Carolina to bolster their receiver corps with two near-four-star prospects. Nigel King (Raleigh, N.C./Wakefield) has great size, hands and athleticism, while Marcus Leak (Monroe, N.C./Parkwood) may be a bit more promising. This sleeper is strikingly-quick, fast and dangerous in space.
The Wolfpack have been active in their home state with five of their eight committed prospects residing in North Carolina. Their top-rated prospect, athlete Juston Burris (Raleigh, N.C./Needham Broughton), is getting recruited at safety with the size, athleticism and ball skills that may garner a look at wide receiver, too.
The last time the Gators went into North Carolina for a significant defensive prospect it was for Brandon Spikes, and the All-American middle linebacker turned out to be a great pickup. Pagan has the potential to become highly decorated, too, with the tools he brings to the table as a defensive end.
The Bulldogs have not frequented North Carolina much in recent years, making QB Christian LeMay (Mint Hill, N.C./Butler) even more of a significant pickup. His fluid and sound delivery led to 3,296 yards, 44 touchdowns and two interceptions last fall, but he will need to take off some rust after not playing the entire 2010 season.
While the quality may not be overly impressive, the Blue Devils currently hold 10 in-state commitments. They boast four three-star prospects, including Jamison Crowder (Monroe, N.C./Monroe), an undersized playmaker at corner and receiver.
The Tigers went next door for 260-pound TE Eric MacLain (Fayetteville, N.C./Fayetteville), who we project will grow into an offensive tackle. Fellow three-star lineman Joe Gore (Lake Waccamaw, N.C./East Columbus) could play a few positions, too. He shows promise at defensive end and offensive tackle.
Aside from Lee, the Yellow Jackets have a pledge from another promising athlete out of North Carolina who could run the option offense or develop at another skill position. Three-star prospect Airyn Willis (High Point, N.C./Southwest Guilford) is tall and lanky but fluid and athletic with good speed and change-of-direction skill.
Billy Tucker is a recruiting coordinator for ESPN Recruiting and has close to a decade of coaching experience at the college and high school levels.