Commentary

Uncommitted prospects hit the road

Originally Published: January 11, 2008
By Billy Tucker | ESPN.com

Jamie HarperTom Hauck for ESPN.comNo. 3 RB Jamie Harper is one of several high-profile prospects taking official visits this weekend.
Coming off the NCAA dead period, commitments have been relatively quiet aside from a handful of elite prospects announcing during the two premier all-star games Saturday. That should change today as airports around the country bustle with some of the nation's top players heading for official visits. The prospects will get a final overview of their top schools of interest before national signing day (Feb. 6).

Clemson, a program starting to make some noise for its emerging class currently in the top 10, could continue its ascent toward the top five as a group of talented prospects depart for South Carolina this weekend. Jamie Harper (Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian), ESPN's No. 3-rated running back, and fellow top-100 prospects linebacker Jerrell Harris (Gadsden, Ala.) and tackle Antoine McClain (Anniston, Ala.) are the headliners. At this stage of the game, what do these undecided prospects look to attain from their visits?

"Well, with all the coaching changes one of my main points is to make sure these coaches at the final schools I am visiting are going to be here during my career. Stabilization is important," Harper explained Friday morning on his way to Clemson.

"I also want to meet the players who I could potentially be teammates with and see how they communicate with each other and the coaches. Chemistry is important to me."

ACC foe Florida State is anticipating the visits of some talented prospects as well. Julio Jones (Foley, Ala.), the nation's No. 1 wide receiver, and top-10 outside linebackers Lerentee McCray (Dunnellon, Fla.) and Marcus Robinson (Homestead, Fla.) are expected this weekend. Also heading to the FSU campus, despite his commitment to Georgia, is Dwayne Allen (Fayetteville, N.C.), ESPN's No. 3-rated tight end.

It has become prevalent today for committed prospects to continuing taking visits, and we had a chance to talk with Allen on Thursday night before his trip.

[+] EnlargeDwayne Allen
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comGeorgia commit Dwayne Allen is taking an official visit to Florida State this weekend.
"I just want to know that I made the right choice in February and see everything out there," said Allen.

And how do the Georgia coaches feel?

"It's the fourth quarter and the final stretch with just three weeks to go until signing day. They really don't want you looking around at this point."

FSU is not the only Sunshine State program entertaining elite prospects this weekend; the Florida Gators are looking to put the finishing touches on a smaller yet outstanding 2008 class. ESPN's No. 2-rated running back Darrell Scott (Moorpark, Calif./Saint Bonaventure) heads an expected list of top-tier prospects heading to Gainesville, including No. 2-rated defensive tackle Omar Hunter (Buford, Ga.), a Notre Dame de-commit and now a Florida lean, running back Cyrus Gray (Dallas/DeSoto) and athlete T.J. Lawrence (Lakeland Fla./Kathleen) -- all are ESPN 150 members.

Enrolling early

As the Clemson coaches prepare for an important recruiting weekend, it must feel satisfying knowing they have a handful of top 2008 prospects already attending classes on campus. As early committing has become more common, so has early enrollment. A large number of prospects with a firm decision made prior to signing day have opted to accelerate their high school credits and jumpstart their college careers.

[+] EnlargeKyle Parker
Gary Bogdon for ESPN.comKyle Parker is one of five early enrolees at Clemson.
For prospects intending to play as true freshmen, spending close to six months in a college weight training program for physical development and participating in spring practice, which puts and emphasis on fundamentals and basic schemes, is invaluable. Aside from adding academic credits and receiving an early acclimation to the college lifestyle, the real benefit is getting a quick acclimation to Football 101 in the college off-season rather than August when the pace is accelerated and their heads will be spinning.

ESPN's newly appointed No. 1 overall prospect DaQuan Bowers (Bamberg, S.C./Ehrhardt), fellow Under Amour All-American quarterback Kyle Parker (Jacksonville, Fla./Bartram Trail) and ESPN 150 outside linebacker Tarik Rollins (Hollywood, Fla./Chaminade-Madonna) will be sitting in Clemson lecture halls this spring while the rest of their high school classmates are getting ready for the prom and graduation.

Andrew Sweat (Washington, Pa./Trinity), ESPN's No. 2 ranked inside linebacker, will be heading to Ohio State a bit later in the spring due to its trimesters though before spring ball, which is instrumental in his mind.

"To get there before spring practice and learn the system will give me an advantage when competing for playing time in the fall," said Sweat.

Florida State cornerback Terrance Parks (Fairburn, Ga./Creekside) showed us the physicality and skills needed to play early at the next level as an Under Armour All-American and is currently in Tallahassee to get ready for the major competition and lifestyle change.

"The main reason I decided to enroll early is to get myself used to the schedule as a college student-athlete before next fall. I want to be prepared mentally as a football player too, learn the playbook and also get my body ready for the college level," said Parks from his FSU dorm room last night with roommate and fellow early enroller ESPN 150 linebacker Nigel Bradham (Crawfordville, Fla./Wakulla) in the background.

Oregon landing its own top prospects

Much of the Ducks' success on the gridiron this fall stemmed from creating offensive mismatches with players who schematically fit their wide-open spread system. Oregon might not consistently produce top-20 classes in terms of our objective evaluations, but much like Rich Rodriguez did at West Virginia, the Ducks are finding their own top-20 players allowing them to remain highly competitive on a national scale.

For example, pledge Kelly Page (Sunnyvale, Texas/Mesquite) may be rated as the No. 12 quarterback in the country when evaluating his physical attributes on an even playing field with the 200-plus quarterbacks we have rated in this class. However, when subjectively projecting him and No. 17-rated athlete Darron Thomas (Aldine, Texas) in offensive coordinator Chip Kelly's offense, each could jump into the top-10 in terms of projected college production. Thomas' positional label would change to quarterback as well with his dual-threat, tailor-made skills for that offense.

This week the Ducks landed a pledge from a similar prospect in tight end Dion Jordan (Chandler, Ariz.) who chose Oregon over Michigan, California, Nebraska and Colorado. He lacks some of the bulk of current Oregon tight end Ed Dickson, but his frame and physical tools are strikingly similar to the current sophomore standout.

Last season, Dickson was able to create receiving mismatches in the spread system. The wide open offense with perimeter running and passing threats opened up the vertical seam for the 6-foot-5 tight end whose blend of size and athleticism led to 43 catches and more than 450 yards.

Jordan's physical attributes and big-play receiving skills should also transition well in Oregon's passing scheme. He does not possesses the bulk and strength to be a 260-pound, dominant in-line blocker at the next level and garner a higher rating than his current No. 24 spot, but his ability to stretch the field vertically, create one-on-one mismatches and become a big target with his smooth route running skills should make him very productive in Eugene.

Hokies land another defensive sleeper

We have repeatedly stated how much we like underrated Virginia Tech commit Allen Stephens (South Boston, Va./Halifax) at inside linebacker and now the Hokies landed another physically-impressive, under-the-radar prospect this week in projected defensive end Dwight Tucker (Oviedo, Fla.). Employed at almost every front seven defensive position in his high school career, the Florida native shows good athleticism and deceptively fluid coverage skills at outside linebacker and superior strength and raw explosiveness along the defensive line.

Tucker's straight-line speed at 280 pounds is outstanding, and we project he could develop into a very disruptive defensive end at Virginia Tech when he concentrates on one position and polishes up his raw fundamentals. His ability to drop and move laterally should provide long-time defensive coordinator Bud Foster great scheme versatility out of his attacking 4-3 scheme in Blacksburg.

ESPN's No. 22-rated defensive end prospect chose Virginia Tech over offers from Tennessee, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, Duke and a host of Division I-AA programs.

National title equaling national recruits for LSU?

While down in Orlando for the Under Armour All-America Game and observing committed and uncommitted prospects view all of the bowl games and festivities surrounding them, we have come to the conclusion that winning has become far less significant to today's prospects. Playing time, rapport built with coaches (often assistants) and location appear more vital to prospects than on-field winning and national success.

I am sure playing for a national champion influenced ESPN's No. 1-rated corner Patrick Johnson and ESPN 150 tight end Tyler Edwards towards Baton Rouge, but know from talking with Edwards that it was far more about a comfort level with the Tigers and a feel for fitting into their offensive system. Monday's win could help the Tigers close down the stretch, but we do not feel the title will necessarily have every top uncommitted prospect now leaning towards Baton Rouge.

LSU currently has four ESPN 150 prospects thus far -- Pittsburgh has the same number and went 5-7.

Remaining unbiased

Scouts Inc. posted some significant content this week to better project the winners on national signing day. Our updated class rankings and final rendition of the 2008 ESPN 150 were both released with some noteworthy changes and interesting rebuttals from recruiting fans.

The latest releases raised fair questions pertaining to our evaluation and grading system. The prevailing issue -- whether we were biased when adjusting grades of Under Armour All-American prospects and showing favoritism toward programs containing significant players in our game.

In all actuality, we objectively evaluated all of the top postseason all-star games and practices when applicable and lowered the grades of Under Armour All-American participants more than prospects in any other contest. To stay true as evaluators and avoid getting caught up in the hype, we objectively look at prospects from a strict football standpoint and college projection, avoiding subjectivity and other variables aside from what we see between the white lines.

For every DaQuan Bowers, who rose to No. 1 in the ESPN 150, there was an E.J. Manuel, who fell from No. 11 to No. 51.

Billy Tucker is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. and has close to a decade of coaching experience at the college and high school level. Tucker has served as a recruiting coordinator for two nationally ranked Division II colleges. Most recently, he was the associate head coach and defensive coordinator for Merrimack College, which advanced to the Sweet 16 in the 2006 NCAA Division II playoffs.

Billy Tucker

Scouts, Football Recruiting
• Recruiting coordinator for ESPN RecruitingNation.
• Nearly a decade of college coaching experience.
• Was recruiting coordinator at nationally-ranked Division II colleges.