National Signing Day 2017 is less than 24 hours away and the excitement is already reaching its customary feverish pitch. Although we might not be in the middle of the fireworks as in recent years past, we have some eye-openers, some head-scratchers, some fits that are tailor-made plus some mysteries yet to be solved. Our NSD 2017 primer takes a look at five different categories with examples of each from our–plus a special exemption. We may not have all the pieces in place as of yet to make a final assessment of how our in-state teams faired, which means once the dust settles from all of the commitments, we will be all over the breakdown of the entire day. For now however, it’s time to get the juices flowing with our thoughts based on what we have seen thus far leading up to the final hours of this process.
I. Best Fit:
This category kicks off our lead-in to NSD ’17 with six prospects we feel made a commitment that exemplifies the term “best fit” when you factor all of the components of the player, the program, the coaching staff and so on. While we could list about 15-20 players already committed that would fit, for time (and editing) purposes, we have singled out the following players that came to our minds.
Jefferson’s Jean Marcellus (OG) to USF is a great fit for both parties involved. The Dragon committed to the Bulls all the way back in July of last year and has stayed true to his word. The Bulls need size, skill and strength up front and Marcellus can provide that for Charlie Strong and his staff right away if necessary. Pinellas Park’s Zamari Maxwell to UCF is a potential match-made-in-heaven, especially when you factor Maxwell’s size (6-1/190) and his ability to play CB, S, or be an instant field-changer in the special teams with his UCFast speed. Maxwell finished with 84 tackles, nine interceptions–3 of those for TD’s–plus 22 passes defensed in his career for the Patriots.
Kathleen’s Ventrell Miller and the OLB’s commitment to UF is next on the list in this category. Miller committed to the Gators all the way back in June of last summer after being offered in May. At that time, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Colorado were all after Miller hot-and-heavy, but the 6-0/227 young man shut it down to concentrate on his senior season for the Red Devils. With plenty of space on the roster at the position, Miller made a pretty smart choice and could be a factor sooner, rather than later in Gainesville.
Defensive end Sam Skinner (6-3/240) from Bloomingdale is headed to Southern Illinois in what we feel is a great get for the Salukies. Skinner will be joined by his teammate, OT Dalton Carde (6-9/314) in this class along with 17 players from the Sunshine State overall on SIU’s Roster as well. Skinner finished his career for the Bulls with 199 tackles, 28 sacks, and while he was at it, managed to compile 458 all-purpose yards and seven touchdowns at the tight end position. Skinner will find himself in arguably FCS’ deepest conference, the Missouri Valley Conference. North Dakota State, Illinois State and Youngstown State have all played for the national championship the last three years and with programs like Northern Iowa, South Dakota State consistently ranked and a surging South Dakota program, things are anything-but promised in the gauntlet that is MoValley football.
Miami is getting a potential star in Jefferson QB Cade Weldon. The 6-foot-3, 200- pounder led finished third in the state with 3,135 yards passing and with 5,244 yards for his career. All of that in three years, too. Weldon came back better-than-ever following his knee injury at the beginning of 2015. Cade is an early enrollee and is already on campus and working out with the squad. This is going to help him immensely in the battle for the top spot at quarterback, a spot which we feel he may actually earn before the fall even rolls around.
Durant TE Steven Witchoskey and his commitment to the Hilltopppers of Western Kentucky is a great one in our eyes. WKU has already proven they love to use the tight end and can turn them into a potential star in the league. Just ask East Lake’s Tyler Higbee and the Los Angeles Rams if they’re happy thus far. Not getting ahead of ourselves too far though, Witchoskey proved his athleticism time-and-time again at camps and on the field whether it was football or baseball. An injury slowed his momentum down this past season, but watch what happens in the years to come once he gets settled in.
II. Biggest “Steals” or Flips:
Although it’s nearly impossible to accurately judge if a prospect is a steal or if a flip is monumental in the short-term, this category contains some examples of players and programs getting (potentially) a great value in terms of past contribution compared with potential at the next level in the long-term. Here now are some examples of teams that we feel are going to be VERY happy they eventually got their guys.
Lake GIbson’s AJ Deshazor (OLB/SS) to South Alabama is definitely a “steal” on the surface in our estimation. Deshazor helped his Braves reach the 6A state finals and finished his career with 392 tackles and 29 tackles for loss at the SS/OLB position. The SunBelt Conference is trying to establish themselves as deeper conference, and with teams like the Jaguars, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Troy in the fold, things are looking bright for the conference and for USA (University of South Alabama) in particular.
Bartow’s Tim Jordan (RB) to Tennessee certainly piques our interest. Jordan is a flip from Western Kentucky. It’s safe to say that the norm hasn’t included going after WKU’s recruits if you’re a team in the SEC, but the Vols only have two RB’s in this class of 28 players (including Jordan) which means there’s plenty of opportunity to flourish for the young man. Jordan fits the size that the staff wants at 5-11/190, and with Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara gone from the team, this could be the ultimate “diamond in the rough” find for Butch Jones and his staff.
Armwood’s Darrian McNeal (ATH) to Oregon is a flip from the University of Arizona. McNeal committed to Rich Rodriguez and his staff on July 11th of last year, but then de- committed on December 11th, just nine days following his official visit to Tempe. The rub? He was offered by newly-appointed Oregon Ducks HC Willie Taggart on the 9th of December, and the appeal was just simply too much. McNeal has the potential to head straight to Eugene and straight to the field on day one of the fall, but more on that shortly.
Brooksville Central’s De’Vonta Smith (ATH) to Appalachian State must have the Mountaineers and their staff giddy. Smith led the state of Florida in rushing last season for the Bears with 2,913 yards. He finishes his career in Brooksville with 6,257 yards and 61 touchdowns. His athleticism doesn’t stop there. On the defensive side at LB, he finished with 195 tackles for his time at Central with 21 tackles for loss. We mentioned that App State was one of those programs in the Sun Belt trying to make noise, and this is a good, no, GREAT way to keep making said noise.
III. The best of the “late” developments:
Trust us, when we say “late” we simply mean this is a matter of fact in terms of where the commitment falls on the timeline. Sometimes it takes forever to find out where a player is going, and sometimes it takes forever for a school to FINALLY offer a kid.
Plant’s Juwan Burgess and Whop Philyor to Indiana get us started in this category. Burgess is a flip from Southern California and is a huge pull for Tom Allen and his new staff. Both are impact players on the offensive or defensive side or special teams. Take your pick. These two join seven other players in this class from Florida including Mr. Football Nick Tronti. There’s already 14 players from the peninsula currently, and only one of them graduates this season. Get used to the Hoosiers coming to the Tampa Bay area, and get used to them being successful at getting players to go to Bloomington and flourish.
Jesuit’s Malik Davis to Florida is the ultimate “what-took-you-so-long?!?” since he was already a stud at the running back position well before the Gators offered him in October of last season. It took Davis all of two seconds (relatively speaking of course) to commit just five days later to Coach Jim McElwain and his staff. Of course the best example of a “late” development would be Dr. Phillips’ Nick Smith to Florida. The OLB was committed to NC State all the way back in July of 2016, but then de-committed one week shy of six months later, and with good reason. After his OV to Raleigh on 12/2, Smith got offered by LSU, Oregon, Michigan State, Louisville and Florida. Smith took his OV to Gainesville on the 20th of this month and committed on the 28th.
IV. Any Surprises Left?:
We’ve got some ballers left out there that have yet to sign their names on the dotted line. Here our four guys we feel could steal some headlines with their commitments this Wednesday.
Lakeland running back AJ Davis and his recruitment have seemingly been all over the map. While he holds offers from a who’s-who of programs, it looks like Davis has got his choices down to Pittsburgh or USF. Davis and his running style will be welcomed with open arms either by Pat Narduzzi and his staff at Pitt or Charlie Strong and RB’s coach Shaun King at USF. His teammate, WR James Robinson, has found himself in a bit of a mess to say the least. With reports surfacing yesterday that UF, one of the finalists for his services, had pulled his offer, things are in complete disarray at the moment. While Oklahoma and Ole Miss might still be in the mix, Ohio State is probably out of the picture. The same report by scout.com’s Corey Bender that broke the news on Robinson, also cited that USF, FAU, FIU and Western Kentucky were all in the mix for the potential game-changer at the wideout position.
Jesuit’s Travell Harris brings quite a bit of intrigue to NSD for us. Theoretically, the spot that was vacated by the McNeal de-commit at Arizona opened up a spot for Harris potentially in Tucson. He also has Washington State and FAU in the mix as well. Harris was insanely productive in two seasons on varsity for the Tigers with 2,222 all-purpose yards.
Rounding out this category is Largo’s Bobby Roundtree. No matter where this 6- 5/220 defensive end lands, he’s going to make a potential splash. Could Indiana continue their dream class of ’17? Or could Illinois, Louisville or Michigan State land this young man that ended with 137 tackles, 14 sacks, 16 tackles for loss and 11 QB hurries for his career.
V. Freshmen Impact:
We already know their crazy talent on the high school level, but we also feel like these young men could in-theory go straight from the halls of their high schools to the hash marks in front of 70,000+ opening week of the season–and not miss a beat for their new programs.
Clearwater Central Catholic’s CJ Cotman at North Carolina could see the field early-and- often for the Tar Heels. Although Cotman was a production specialist on the offensive side of the ball for the Marauders, he’s being recruited to Chapel Hill as defensive back. Could he end up seeing time alongside another Bay Area baller from East Bay, KJ Sails? The former Tennessee commit could initially make his biggest impact on special teams to start.
Tampa Bay Tech’s Daquon Green at Florida could slide right into the mix and be a contributor right away for the offensively challenged Gators. Green finished his career with 2,255 yards for the Titans, but his frame at 6-1/190 with his speed and ability to separate from defenders makes him a potentially desirable target from day one on campus. UF was just sixth in passing offense in the SEC last season and had just seven plays of 40+ yards in the passing game, which, by their standards, is unacceptable. Green may give that WR corps the shot in the arm it needs.
Clearwater’s Jacquez Jones at Tennessee looks like an instant-offense situation given the fact the Volunteers only have three WR’s and two ATH’s in this huge class of 28 prospects. Jones had hefty numbers for the Tornadoes with 3,192 total yards and 31 touchdowns and was also lightning-in-a-bottle in the return game. With no Josh Malone and only sophomores Tyler Bird and Latrell Williams as the only “verified” playmakers in that corps, Jones could become a leader in the clubhouse for early action from this group of incoming freshmen.
Armwood’s Darrian McNeal at Oregon is an obvious choice for seeing the field early. McNeal is instantaneous offense and with the style of ball the Ducks will run with Coach Taggart, he is the perfect offensive prospect (QB notwithstanding) to compliment whoever is under center in Eugene. McNeal’s size (5-9/160) and skill set make him a match-up nightmare for defensive coordinators and a dream piece on the chess board for his offensive staff.