NCAA Football News

Jared Mayden to Alabama: Crimson Tide Land 4-Star CB Prospect

Alabama swooped in and signed the nation's No. 13 cornerback, Jared Mayden, on Wednesday, nearly one month after he decommitted from Oregon, according to Adam Friedman of 

Mayden affirmed his commitment midway through his senior season but backed off on Jan. 6 via Twitter, citing his need to find the "right fit." He followed up on Jan. 24, announcing he would make his commitment on national signing day and listing Alabama and Oklahoma as finalists:

A day later, Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban made an in-house visit to Mayden and showed off his dance moves to woo the top recruit, as Mayden showed in a Snapchat he tweeted:

The 6'1", 190-pound Texas native developed into one of the top prospects in the country with a knack for physicality against opposing receivers at the line of scrimmage. He has great closing speed and thrives in open space with finesse.

Alabama’s 30th-ranked pass defense lost Cyrus Jones and Bradley Sylve to graduation and returns four cornerbacks—Maurice Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Tony Brown and Minkah Fitzpatrick—but all have limited experience. 

Mayden maintained a relationship with new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt while Pruitt held the same position at Georgia.

If he improves his catching ability during fall camp, Mayden could move up the depth chart early in the season. 

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Tyrie Cleveland to Florida: 4-Star WR Decommits from Houston, Joins Gators

Wide receiver and potential special teams ace Tyrie Cleveland flipped his commitment from Houston to Florida during national signing day on Wednesday.

Derek Tyson of ESPN passed along the news, which gives the Gators an even more outstanding group of incoming wideouts.  

Mark Berman of Fox 26 provided comments from Cleveland about the choice:

Berman also highlighted some further insight into the decision from one of the receiver's family members:

Cleveland is a 4-star recruit who rates as the No. 33 overall prospect in the 2016 class and also checks in as the No. 2 receiver in the group, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. Losing a player of that caliber is a major setback for Houston.

Zach Abolverdi of SEC Country passed along comments from the coveted playmaker over the weekend about his visit to Florida. He said he felt comfortable with how the coaching staff treated him and came away confident he can make a quick impact.

"It's just the mental part of the game coming from high school to college that I have to get used to," Cleveland said. "They need to get me to know the plays and understand everything with the offense. Then I’ll be good to go."

Cleveland is a dynamic threat capable of making a multifaceted impact for the Gators.

His first involvement may come on special teams as a returner. He possesses tremendous acceleration and breakaway speed that makes him a threat every time he catches a kickoff or punt. The transition is a bit easier in that role, too.

That said, it probably won't be long before he starts seeing some snaps on offense. And once he becomes completely comfort with the Gators' system, he should develop into one of the team's most important players.

With the addition of Cleveland, it's shaping up to become a terrific day for Florida, which 247Sports currently ranks as the No. 6 class for 2016.


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Lavert Hill to Michigan: Wolverines Land 4-Star CB Prospect

Lavert Hill, the No. 12 cornerback in the 2016 class, per 247Sports, committed to the Michigan Wolverines on Wednesday, according to Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press.

The Detroit native is the fifth-best player in Michigan and the No. 135 overall prospect in the country, according to 247Sports, which has him rated as a 4-star prospect.

Hill, who is 5'10" and 172 pounds, showed some versatility in high school, catching two touchdowns in the final game of his career—a state championship victory. He was highly sought after by teams on both coasts, but he canceled a Jan. 13 visit to USC and another, presumably to Clemson, in late January, whittling his list down to three, per his Twitter account:

Michigan eventually won the battle for his services. Head coach Jim Harbaugh has quickly established himself as one of the game's most successful recruiters, landing the Wolverines the fifth-ranked recruiting class after just one season in Ann Arbor. He won the battle with Michigan State and Penn State for Hill, who ran a 4.41, 40-yard dash, per

The cornerback recently talked about different coaches he met along the recruiting trail, including Harbaugh, per Jared Purcell of "Harbaugh, he's pretty good too. He was a pro coach so he knows what you need to get to the NFL. They can teach you that. He's very outgoing and energetic and stuff like that."

The Wolverines may have had the upper hand because Hill's older brother just finished his senior season with Michigan, but about a week before signing, Hill said his brother, Delano Hill, tried not to influence him too much, per Purcell: "He's just been telling me that it's my decision, really. He would like me to go to Michigan though because it's his school."

That's exactly what happened, and now Hill will join a Wolverines defense that finished third in the Big Ten last year, allowing just 16.4 points per game. shared a highlight video of the recently named Lockheed Martin Air Defender of the Year: 

It won't be easy for Hill to jump right into the starting lineup, but his versatility and athleticism should allow for him to at least compete for a spot on the Wolverines defense.


All recruiting rankings per 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Brandon Jones to Texas: Longhorns Land 4-Star Safety Prospect

Brandon Jones, one of the nation's best defensive players, has boosted the 2016 recruiting class for Texas after reportedly committing to play football there.  

According to William Wilkerson of, Jones made his decision official on Wednesday, even though it has been expected for a long time. 

Jones, the nation's top-ranked safety and 40th-ranked player overall by 247Sports, has been connected to Texas A&M throughout the recruiting process. He tweeted out the top 10 schools on his list with one of the best graphics for a high school player you will see:

On the 247Sports site, the Aggies were the only program to receive votes in the Crystal Ball predictions. Jones has drawn rave reviews for his ability in pass coverage, which you can see in this Vine video from the Rivals Camp Series:

When you combine that anticipation with elite athleticism and plenty of room to fill out his frame, Jones has all the makings of an impact talent at the college level.'s Recruiting Nation noted in a scouting report that his only weakness is a lack of experience in man-to-man coverage. 

Fortunately, Jones will have plenty of time to work on that early in his college career. High school safeties aren't often tasked with playing in single coverage, so it's not a substantial problem right now. Safeties continue to take on an increased role because of how the position can be used in run and pass defense. 

Stealing Jones away from rival Texas A&M is a huge coup for Texas and head coach Charlie Strong. The Longhorns are continuing to struggle in recruiting, owning the 19th-ranked class by 247Sports.

It's understandable why Texas is going through a down period. The program hasn't been in the national title conversation since 2009 and has lost seven games in three of the last seven seasons. 

Getting a stud prospect like Jones allows Strong to build his recruiting class around him, both this year and for the future. Texas needs to show progress this season after going 11-14 under Strong the past two seasons. 

Jones is the kind of rare talent Texas needs to establish its defensive identity again. 

Jones is an elite player who has the ability to remake a defense on his own. He's going to be an integral part of the future for his new school. Every coach dreams of having a ball hawk who isn't afraid to attack the offense. 


Recruit star ratings and rankings via 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

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Shyheim Carter to Alabama: 4-Star CB Prospect Recommits to Crimson Tide

Shyheim Carter recommitted to playing college football at Alabama on Wednesday. His pledge provided a nice boost to the Crimson Tide's 2016 recruiting class. 

Ben Garrett of confirmed the defensive back's decision on Wednesday, noting it was a "blow" for Ole Miss.

Carter is a 4-star prospect who ranks as the No. 71 overall player in the 2016 class, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. The Kentwood High School (Louisiana) star also ranks as the No. 9 cornerback in the incoming group.

The speedster originally committed to Alabama before his junior season, but he decided to reopen his recruitment in August, stating he wanted another opportunity to see what was available but never ruling out the Crimson Tide, as USA Today noted.

"I just wanted to open my options up," Carter said. "It gives more teams a chance to see me and for me to get out in the world and see if I like other schools."

It's common for recruits to take a second look at what's available, especially those who rank inside the top 100. Getting the choice right is crucial, so it doesn't hurt to reconsider all avenues.

Now that Carter has settled on a school, he can focus on developing his skill set to make a quick impact at the collegiate level.

He possesses the quickness and playmaking ability to shine at the next level. There are concerns about his size (6'0'', 190 pounds), particularly when it comes to locking down bigger wideouts, and his technique needs a lot of polish, though that's the case for most freshmen.

In the end, Carter decided Alabama was still the best fit for him. Of course, that doesn't come as a surprise, given the amount of talent that's gone through Tuscaloosa in recent years and the consistent opportunities to battle for a national title.

It's a marquee addition for the reigning champions, and he could make a quick impact depending on how well he handles the transition. The Tide are losing two cornerbacks in Cyrus Jones and Bradley Sylve, which leaves a void in the secondary.

While Carter probably won't play an extensive role out of the gate, he could join the rotation and steadily see his involvement increase over time. 

All told, Carter has an intriguing skill set. Now it comes down to turning that potential into production. It's not going to happen overnight, but his long-term outlook is promising.


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The Commitment: Watch 4-Star Deontay Anderson's Insane Skydiving Announcement

Deontay Anderson, a 4-star safety from Manvel, Texas, has finally made his announcement on where he'll play college football next year. Watch him reveal that decision in his incredible skydiving video above.


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Deontay went to Skydive Spaceland Houston just 25 minutes south of downtown Houston. Its proprietary Skydiver Training Program helps jumpers achieve their basic skydiving licenses in as little as a week, helping make this center the busiest civilian skydiving training facility in the country. Spaceland also operates similar skydiving operations near Atlanta and Miami.

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Trayvon Mullen to Clemson: Tigers Land 4-Star CB Prospect

Trayvon Mullen is one of the top cornerbacks in the 2016 recruiting class and will be taking his immense talents to the Clemson Tigers.

According to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports, Mullen chose Clemson from a slew of top programs that had been pursuing the Florida native. 

In an era with more high-powered offenses, a top-flight cornerback has more value than ever. Mullen is one of the most valuable assets in this year's recruiting class, with 247 Sports listing him as a 4-star prospect and the No. 6 cornerback overall. 

The thing that immediately stands out about Mullen is his size. He's listed at 6'1", which is not typical for a defensive back unless you play for the Seattle Seahawks. He's long and rangy, and capable of recovering quickly because his arms and legs can eat up a lot of space. 

As so many young athletes do, Mullen took to Twitter in April to list his top 10 schools and others that were still in the mix:

When discussing that list with Gerry Hamilton of ESPN, Mullen said he put Florida State at the top because he felt it provided him the best opportunity to make an immediate impact.

"FSU is my leader. It’s just the opportunity at FSU," Mullen said. "The opportunity to play right away, maybe start and be a standout in the secondary early."

With a list of contenders that included the likes of Florida State, LSU and Ohio State, Mullen wasn't going to waste this chance to hear the best pitch from everyone. These programs are the most powerful in all of college football, brimming with talent on both sides of the ball, and the 17-year-old wants to be part of the mix.  

Things continue to look up for Clemson after the program's most successful season since winning the 1981 national championship. Head coach Dabo Swinney continues to stockpile elite talent every year, with the Tigers ranking sixth in 247Sports' national recruiting rankings for 2016. 

The Tigers' 2015 season ended in heartbreak against Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship, but that was just the beginning of what appears to be a long, sustained run of success for this program. 

Mullen doesn't have to come into Clemson as the program's savior, but he can be a key piece to a puzzle that the Tigers believe will result in a national championship very soon. 

Now the real test for Mullen begins. He's gotten a lot of hype coming out of high school, and deservedly so. Taking the leap to one of the best programs in the country brings with it a lot of pressure, but the physical attributes are all in place for this young man to emerge as a superstar before his college career is done.

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Michail Carter to Georgia: Bulldogs Land 4-Star DT Prospect

Class of 2016 defensive tackle prospect Michail Carter committed to the Georgia Bulldogs on Wednesday.

Kim Smith of 11 Alive's shared a picture of Carter with a bulldog at his announcement:

Carter is ranked as the No. 14 prospect in his home state of Georgia and the No. 15 defensive tackle in the nation, according to 247Sports

He was getting pressure from friends and family to stay close to home, per's Radi Nabulsi:

The high school senior is already a full-grown man at 6'4", 302 pounds. Usually a player that size is looked upon to plug holes along the trenches and stop the run. 

However, Carter is so athletic for a young man of his size that he is a legitimate threat to disrupt plays in the backfield time and time again. 

He's also strong enough to simply overpower offensive linemen. In the video above, Carter is taking on some of the best offensive line prospects in the nation at the 2016 Nike Camp. He simply breezes by them at times using just his arms. 

Just wait until he uses all 302 pounds of his frame to get after a quarterback or running back. He'll be a tough man to stop in a few seasons.

Per 247Sports, Carter is the third defensive tackle of the 2016 class to commit to Georgia. 

Having lost Sterling Bailey, Josh Dawson, James DeLoach and Chris Mayes, there will be spots open on the defensive line for Carter, who will have some competition with the newest commits along with returnees John Atkins, Jonathan Ledbetter, DaQuan Hawkins and Michael Barnett. 

Georgia's defense allowed 149.5 rushing yards per game in 2015, so Carter has an opportunity to provide an interior run-stopping presence that could give Georgia a boost. 

He could also help the Bulldogs' pressure game, as they were ranked 97th in the nation in sacks. If he's able to show early that he can excel defending both the run and pass, then Carter is going to have a place on Goergia's defensive line for the next few years. 


Stats courtesy of

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Boston College Coaches Celebrate Landing Recruit by Running Off on the Plug

When a college team lands a recruit, the coaching staff can't help but celebrate.

That celebrating gets taken to another level on national signing day.

After landing a recruit Wednesday, the Boston College Eagles coaching staff took a minute to do a little dancing. Because a moment like that is the perfect time to run off on the plug.

Perhaps it's that type of charisma that helped land the recruit in the first place.

[BC Football Video]

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Prince Sammons to Auburn: Tigers Land 4-Star DE Prospect

The Auburn Tigers football team just got a little more regal, as defensive end Prince Sammons has committed to the school.  

Sammons is a 6'8" and 280-pound strong-side defensive end from Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy in Cincinnati. He's considered a 4-star prospect by 247Sports' composite rankings as well as the No. 210 player in the country, the No. 11 strong-side defensive end in the country and the No. 10 player from the state of Ohio. 

He was named the Division V state co-defensive player of the year, per Mike Dyer of the Cincinnati Enquirer, after accumulating 69 tackles and five sacks as a junior. 

Sammons' story is a fascinating one. He grew up in Nigeria and dreamed of being a basketball player, per Gerry Hamilton of, who noted that in 2011, a program in Maryland expressed interest. But he had to delay his trip after the death of his mother, and the school couldn't hold his spot. 

So Sammons moved in with the scout in Wisconsin who had first connected him with the Maryland program, only to find out after he traveled abroad that his father had died as well, leaving his nine siblings in Nigeria without a parent. Eventually, the freshman basketball coach at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, Brandon Sammons, and his wife legally adopted Sammons and gave him a home. 

Not surprisingly, the football coaches at the school took one look at him and decided to recruit him to their sport. Despite knowing little about football, Sammons eventually found a home at defensive end, and the rest is history. 

Still, he was unaffected by the famous coaches recruiting him, as Brandon Sammons told Hamilton: 

He's about as naive as it comes for a kid that everyone calls a high-profile recruit; he has no clue. We had a chance to go down South and meet Coach Saban, [Gus] Malzahn and [Mark] Richt, and Prince couldn't have picked any of the three out of a lineup. You say to him, hey, Coach Saban wants to talk to you and he's like, "I have no clue who Coach Saban is." That's part of what I like about it, though; he doesn't have any preconceived notions about it.

He has great size for the position, and his versatility is impressive, as he also played right tackle this past season. Sammons may not have been familiar with Malzahn before his recruiting process began, but you can bet Malzahn and the Tigers are glad he ultimately chose them.

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Chris Daniels to Texas: Longhorns Land 4-Star DT Prospect

Chris Daniels will hope the second time is the charm after he committed to the Texas Longhorns on Wednesday, per Jason Howell of

"All I've got to say is that if you don't want to go to Texas, don't let him get on your couch," Daniels said of Texas head coach Charlie Strong, per Corbett Smith of the Dallas Morning News.

According to 247Sports' composite ranking, Daniels is the No. 20 defensive tackle and No. 183 overall in the 2016 recruiting class. The Euless, Texas, native is also the 27th-best player in his state.

Daniels originally committed to Oklahoma but had a change of heart on Jan. 20:

The Longhorns quickly emerged as the favorites to land Daniels once he opened back up his recruitment. Strong wasted little time visiting the 4-star recruit, per Twitter user SuperK_TFB:

Prior to Daniels' commitment, Gerald Wilbon was the best defensive tackle in Texas' incoming 2016 class. A 3-star recruit, he sits 47th among fellow defensive tackles in 247Sports' composite ranking. Adding Daniels undoubtedly strengthens the interior of the Longhorns defensive line for the next few years.

While Daniels is unlikely to play a starring role in his freshman season, his arrival will help address one of the team's biggest issues in 2015. Texas ranked 111th in rushing defense, allowing an average of 219.2 yards a game on the ground. Football Outsiders also placed the Longhorns 116th in stuff rate, which measures a percentage of carries that end at or before the line of scrimmage.

Bleacher Report's Zach Shelton explained how the defensive tackle position has been a problem spot for Texas going back a few years:

We're cheating here, but Texas isn't about to get picky about which of its six remaining defensive tackle targets decide to join the program. The way the depth chart looks, the Longhorns will take as many as they can get.

Over the last three recruiting cycles, Poona Ford, Chris Nelson and Jake McMillon, all from the 2014 class, are the only tackles the Horns have been able to add to the roster. Even with Paul Boyette and Alex Norman holding over from 2012, that's created a major depth problem now that Hassan Ridgeway has declared for the draft.

Over the last two years, Daniels has recorded 106 tackles, nine tackles for loss and seven sacks, per 247Sports.

The beauty of Daniels is he could fill a variety of needs on the line for Texas. He's listed at 6'3 ½", 299 pounds, which allows him some wiggle room whether he lines up on the outside or the inside. Once the coaching staff identifies his position, he'll be able to start tailoring his conditioning in order to best fit his role in the defense.

Last October, Daniels told Bleacher Report's Damon Sayles he's more than happy to play wherever his coaches tell him.

"I feel like I can play any position on the line," Daniels said. "I'm trying to get a little more leaned out just so I can get some more of that speed back. If I can go 100 miles an hour, I'm good."

Given both his frame and his position specialty, Daniels will provide more value immediately as a defensive tackle. He's extremely strong, and he can use that along with his quickness off the snap to gain the upper hand on his blocker.

Over time, though, he could undoubtedly grow into being a productive defensive end. That same quickness off the snap can get him around the edge on offensive tackles. Technique will be an immediate issue—one only helped by getting steady repetitions in practice.

In terms of potential, Daniels' ceiling doesn't look to be as high as that of Rashan Gary or Dexter Lawrence, two of the best defensive tackles in the country.

As long as he puts in the time on the practice field, he should still become one of the more consistent defensive linemen from this year's recruiting class.

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Mecole Hardman Jr. Commits to Georgia: No. 1 ATH Can Make Instant Impact

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart and his staff scored a huge victory when 5-star athlete Mecole Hardman Jr. announced his commitment to the Bulldogs.

The 5'10", 169-pounder rates as the nation’s top athlete and the No. 2 prospect from the Peach State in the 2016 cycle. 

The Bulldogs were able to fend off powers such as Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State and Tennessee for his pledge.

Now that Hardman is headed to Athens, what can Bulldogs fans expect from the dynamic playmaker? 

That depends partly on where Smart and his staff decide to play the U.S. Army All-American—who could play either receiver or corner at the next level.

As Kipp Adams of Dawgs247 noted, Hardman admitted he’s leaning toward playing defense in college, but he didn’t completely rule out playing both ways.

"Probably corner," Hardman told Adams when discussing his position preference. "I think long-term DB, but I would also like to try offense and get the ball in my hands."

At corner, Hardman is a sticky cover man who is athletic enough to cover smaller, speedy targets and physical enough to match up with bigger pass-catchers.

He proved his effectiveness in the secondary with a strong showing at The Opening in helping lead Team Lunar Beast to the seven-on-seven tournament championship.

"[Position] doesn't matter," Hardman said to Bleacher Report in Oregon. "I can do whatever you want me to do. If it's defense, I'm going to lock you down. If it's receiver, I will produce and make big plays. Different schools like me at different positions."

As illustrated by Ourlads, Georgia will lose leading receiver Malcolm Mitchell. But, the Bulldogs return several contributors from last year’s squad at receiver and corner.

Still, Hardman’s versatility is something that can help him find the field sooner than later in Athens. 

Hardman is a threat to score anytime he touches the ball on offense, which he showed last fall during his senior year at Elbert County High School in Elberton, Georgia. 

He’s even a candidate to return kicks or punts on special teams.

Given Hardman’s current preference toward defense and Smart’s background with coaching defensive backs and as someone who lined up in the secondary during his playing career, the new Bulldogs head coach is the perfect coach to help develop a player with Hardman’s immense talents.

Regardless of where he lines up, Hardman’s arrival in Athens is one that could prove to pay immediate dividends in the upcoming season.


Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Mecole Hardman to Georgia: Bulldogs Land 5-Star Prospect

Mecole Hardman, one of the most dynamic athletes in the 2016 college football recruiting class, is heading to Georgia. It's a major pickup that creates a lot of exciting possibilities for the Bulldogs.

"It is time to get a national title back to Georgia," Hardman said, per Chad Simmons of

Rusty Mansell of 247Sports shared Hardman's unique way of supposedly showing how he intended to decide on a new school:

However, Logan Booker of Cox Media Group Athens showed how Hardman really made his decision to attend Georgia:

Hardman is a 5-star recruit who rates among the top 15 nationally and is considered the No. 1 athlete for the 2016 class, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. The outlet also notes he received over 30 offers, mostly from high-profile programs, before making his decision.

It's possible he could have been ranked even higher if he had a defined position. While he's gained experience on both sides of the ball, he's a raw talent who will need to work quite a bit on technique early in his collegiate career, regardless of position.

Hardman possesses blazing speed, which is probably his biggest asset at this point. So it wouldn't be a surprise if he made an impact on special teams as well—at least until he's ready to take on a full workload on one side of the ball.

Radi Nabulsi of highlighted some of the recruit's lightning-quick 40 times:

Speed is always a nice advantage to have because it translates well across various roles. It provides valuable built-in versatility for a young player who's still very much in the development process.

The concern when it comes to Hardman is his size (5'10", 169 pounds). While he's built well for a player with his frame, he's still on the small side, and that would probably limit his impact on offense. That's why defense seems like his best fit for the long haul.

Picking Georgia over the other contenders, including the reigning champions from Alabama, should give Hardman a quicker path to playing time.

The Bulldogs don't have nearly as much depth or experience in the secondary as the Crimson Tide do. In turn, Hardman should have reasonable opportunity to find himself playing meaningful snaps before the end of his freshman campaign.

Exactly how much that played into his decision is unclear, but at the very least, it's an added bonus that also allows him to stay closer to home.

All told, it's easy to get excited about Hardman because the raw talent is highly intriguing. Fans will need to have some patience, however. His involvement should grow steadily over time, though he'll probably make a few flashy plays as a freshman to showcase his upside.

Chalk it up as another promising addition to Georgia's 2016 recruiting class.

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Brian Burns to FSU: Seminoles Land 4-Star DE Prospect

The Florida State Seminoles secured their future off the edge by landing a commitment from 4-star defensive end prospect Brian Burns on Wednesday, according to 247 Sports' Josh Newberg.

The Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native is ranked 51st among all 2016 prospects and eighth in the state, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

At 6'4 ½" and 209 pounds, Burns isn't the largest defensive end in terms of weight, but what he doesn't have in size he makes up for in athleticism. He has an explosive first step and speed that will constantly see him disrupting plays from the edge. 

Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports captured video of Burns before the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, and it provides a good look at his build:

His pairing of size and athletic ability will make him tough to stop in the ACC.

While participating in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Burns impressed Rivals' Mike Farrell, who marveled at the young pass-rusher:

If Burns can manage to bulk up a little, he'll be a force along the defensive line in the future, given his athleticism. That's only going to help Florida State moving forward.

Burns will join a defense that was ranked 19th last season—one that's returning sack leader and fellow defensive end DeMarcus Walker. 

He'll also be joining fellow 4-star defensive end recruit Janarius Robinson, the seventh-ranked weak-side defensive end, per 247Sports

Walker, who will be a senior, added 56 total tackles, 14 tackles for loss and nine sacks in 2015. Having that kind of presence available and at the disposal of a developing defensive lineman like Burns could prove invaluable in the long run. 

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2016 NFL Draft: Illinois' Jihad Ward Poised to Continue His Rise Up Draft Boards

Throughout the draft season, there is much discussion over “winners” and “losers” throughout the process. While that’s generally overblown and not indicative of how NFL scouting departments function, there can at times be prospects who surprisingly rise in the minds of evaluators after a portion of the draft process.

Illinois' defensive lineman Jihad Ward certainly maximized his 2016 Senior Bowl opportunity, impressing physically at his weigh-in and throughout the week of practice. Entering the week with zero buzz, Ward left Mobile, Alabama, forcing scouts to re-evaluate his game film and see if his flashes at the Senior Bowl could be more than just flashes at the NFL level.

Upon reassessing Ward after his Senior Bowl impression, the position-versatile defensive lineman showcased plus-interior strength coupled with explosiveness on the perimeter to quietly emerge as one of the best top-100 upside talents in the 2016 NFL draft. And his rise may not be done yet.

A starting receiver and defensive end in high school, Ward went the junior college route before working his way to the FBS. He left the JUCO level as the sixth-best college prospect in the country, opting to sign with Illinois. Over his two-year career at Illinois, Ward never made an All-Big Ten team and finished with just 4.5 career sacks.

But Ward was destined to be a better professional than college player, offering Illinois' defensive line versatility it couldn’t maximize, core strength it didn’t entirely exploit and explosiveness off the edge it couldn’t develop. 

Despite a less-than-stellar college career, Ward’s Senior Bowl proved his flashes could be more than just that, and his potential was still remarkably untapped. 


Position Versatility: Tackle and End

Measuring in at the Senior Bowl at 6’5", 296 pounds with an 81 3/8" wingspan, Ward’s body type fits exactly what NFL teams covet for a developing defensive lineman. Looking the part of an NFL 5-technique, Ward’s experience in college at both defensive tackle and end aids in his transition to the pro level.

As a pass-rusher, Ward is both able to extend and drive on the interior against guards and inside-leveraged tackles, as well as bend around the perimeter when playing outside. That versatility both encourages teams about his NFL transition as well as highlights his still-untapped potential to do either on a consistent basis. 

On the interior, Ward (No. 17) extends in isolation with great initial and consistent push, transitioning his hand positioning at the start into a persistent pushback thanks to a powerful lower half and flexibility to bend at the knees and keep his power. Notice in the play below how Ward maintains leverage throughout his rush, yet his decision to stay linear forces the quarterback to remain in the pocket since Ward can adjust to either side of himself to finish the sack.

And when playing end, where Ward saw most of his college sacks, he displays the ability to sink, extend and bend around to attack the quarterback. While the Penn State left tackle was among the worst in the Big Ten last year, notice how quickly Ward attacks off the edge, adjusts his lower half as he bends and maintains speed in his quarterback pursuit.

The flip-side concern for Ward’s versatility, however, is his relative inexperience and technique refinement at either position. On the inside, Ward is erased by double-teams or trap blocks too easily to be reliable on run downs early in his career. And on the perimeter, outside of “running the arc” on the edge, Ward doesn’t offer much in terms of developed initial or counter-rushes.

Run Defense: Interior Strength

Despite possessing a “leggy” body type, Ward offers a sudden ability to sink low, generate force and maintain balance through his upper-half explosiveness on the interior. With his NFL future likely requiring at least part-time work inside the tackle box, Ward’s initial leverage win coupled with his wingspan will need to continue to win him battles on the inside.

Ward struggled with double-teams at times in college, exposing too much of his midsection and allowing combo blocks to force him off the initial holding point. But when he had the opportunity to work one-on-one on the inside, especially against zone-blocking schemes, Ward highlighted his leverage strengths. 

As in the play below, Ward repeatedly was able to hold his ground and keep his blocker at bay with his inside shoulder. He splits a subtle double-block and maintains vision on the ball-carrier, using his plus-wingspan to finish the tackle despite the run working away from his initial position. It’s flashes like this that, once he’s able to correct his combo-block woes, can allow him to emerge as a high-quality interior run defender. 


Pass Rush: Explosiveness on the Perimeter

As highlighted earlier, Ward is able to run the arc on left tackles with remarkable bend and quickness for a 6’5", nearly 300-pound defensive lineman. But for Ward’s future as a pass-rusher, his explosiveness will be more indicative of his production than his ability around the edge.

While he didn’t get the sack, his pursuit on the play below highlights his explosive potential when his motor is in full gear on the edge. His first two steps get him immediate and balanced penetration in pursuit of Christian Hackenberg. It requires three blockers to slow down his pursuit, and even then his length nearly allows him to reach through blockers to finish the sack.

One of the concerns that began to show through Ward’s film evaluation was a bit of an inconsistent motor throughout the game. As a pass-rusher, Ward seemed to labor a bit and take non-third-down passing downs off. And in the run game, Ward’s tendency to be erased by double-teams was partially due to a lack of effort in keeping his pad level low and working through blocks.

Underappreciated at Illinois, Ward’s Senior Bowl opened plenty of eyes for evaluators. His college film flashes first-round upside but highlights his concerns and staunch need for development.

But Ward’s rise from forgotten at Illinois to showing flashes in Mobile isn’t a finished story yet. The ideally-built, highly-athletic defensive lineman should certainly impress at the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine. And more importantly, as NFL teams bring him in for private workouts in March and April, his natural position across multiple schemes can finally be realized by individual teams. 

His sudden rise in the draft process has his value and intrigue at an all-time high, but NFL teams aren’t quite sure how they’ll use him yet. As the 2016 draft process continues and they begin to peg Ward’s position in their specific scheme, don’t be surprised if Ward begins to receive top-50 overall talk among evaluators.

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Nigel Warrior to Tennessee: Volunteers Land 4-Star Safety Prospect

Nigel Warrior has kept schools guessing for months now, but he squashed the speculation Wednesday and officially committed to the Tennessee Volunteers.

Matt Slovin of the Tennessean relayed Warrior's decision after the safety made his announcement at a press conference.

According to 247Sports’ composite rankings, the 4-star recruit out of Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee, Georgia, is the fourth-ranked safety in his class, the seventh-best prospect in Georgia and the 58th-ranked player overall.

Tennessee has been the most viable destination for the coveted defensive back all along, despite heavy interest from SEC competitors like Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and LSU.

Warrior is a Vols legacy, and his father, Dale Carter, broke out as an All-American during his time in Knoxville.

"I'm going to continue my father's legacy at the University of Tennessee," Warrior said, per Josh Ward of Sports Radio WNML.

Now, Warrior will be tasked with stepping out of his father’s shadow and forming his own identity as a stalwart in the Vols defensive backfield.

“He’s a grinder,” Carter told’s Danny Parker, “I tell him about the things and what he to expect before even when he gets to school—when he gets to Tennessee. I just tell him the things that you’ve got to expect. He’s not going to live in my shoes. He’s got his own path.”

In three seasons with the varsity team at Peachtree Ridge High School, Warrior amassed 119 solo tackles, nine interceptions and four fumble recoveries, according to MaxPreps. Warrior also blocked two punts during his breakout junior campaign.

The prominent prospect should also be presented with a golden opportunity to break out right away. As Bleacher Report’s Sanjay Kirpalani noted, both of Tennessee’s starting safeties were seniors who are now out of eligibility.

As a result, the door is wide open for Warrior to make an impact upon arrival.

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Brendan Ferns to West Virginia: Mountaineers Land 4-Star LB Prospect

Brendan Ferns is a difference-making linebacker in the 2016 recruiting class who will be heading to West Virginia.

Ferns announced his decision via Twitter:

It's not surprising that schools in that region would be all over Ferns, who attends St. Clairsville High School in Ohio. He's considered to be the nation's No. 7 inside linebacker and No. 136 overall prospect by 247Sports, which explains why schools like Ohio State, Michigan and Oklahoma had their hooks in him. 

Per 247Sports, Ohio State was a strong favorite in the crystal ball projections with 70 percent of support. Urban Meyer is a star recruiter, as has been proven numerous times throughout his career, and a 4-star stud linebacker is like catnip for the Buckeyes head coach. 

According to ESPN's scouting report, the 6'3" Ferns is lacking in muscle right now at 223 pounds, but he possesses the kind of speed and tackling ability to line up at linebacker or defensive end. The report also notes there is some stiffness in his actions and movements that will need to be cleaned up, but the raw ingredients make him a potential star. 

There was a developing sibling rivalry, with Ferns' brother opting to attend Michigan as part of the 2014 recruiting class before opting to transfer to West Virginia in January of 2015. But the younger Ferns told Ari Wasserman of the Northeast Ohio Media Group that a college decision would be his alone: "We don't really talk about football much. He understands that it's my decision and that's really all we talk about it. ... It's my choice. I have to do what I want." 

Whatever Ferns' future as a football player holds, it's obvious he exhausted his decision-making ability before this momentous decision. Now, the linebacker can put all of his focus and energy toward making an impact either right away or as a redshirt freshman in two years.  

West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen got a much-needed boost to his 2016 recruiting class with the addition of Ferns. The Mountaineers, whose 2016 class is ranked 36th by 247Sports, have not been recruiting giants so far, so an impact linebacker will provide plenty of help. 

Defense is also an area of need for West Virginia. The team finished 44th in points allowed per game, so finding a player on the second level who can use his speed to create problems for opposing offenses anywhere on the field is a massive upgrade. 

The Mountaineers have fallen behind teams like Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU in the Big 12. They need a cornerstone player to build their recruiting class around, a role which Ferns will play very well. 

Regardless of the path Ferns takes to getting on the field, there's little doubt that his passion, ability and instincts for finding the football will make him a star as soon as it happens. 


Recruit star ratings and information via 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

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College Football Recruiting Rankings 2016: Projecting Top Classes and Programs

National titles might be won in January, but the road to those championships begins with national signing day in February. 

There won't be any football games played on Feb. 3, but the decisions made by the best athletes in the class of 2016 will drastically impact the college football landscape for years to come. 

This year's recruiting cycle has brought plenty of intrigue. Alabama—which has won every recruiting title since 2010, per the 247Sports composite rankings—might finally see its reign come to an end. The Tide enter the big day ranked No. 4 in the latest composite rankings from the site. 

Here's a look at the projected composite top 10 when it's all said and done, including each team's current ranking and a look at the team's hoping to be the biggest winners of signing day. 


LSU Tigers

A lot can change on national signing day, but the LSU Tigers are hoping their status as the No. 1 class can remain the same. 

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, the Tigers already have pledges from one 5-star, 17 4-stars and four 3-stars, but they're likely to win big on signing day as well. At least one 5-star is expected to head to Baton Rouge. Ninety-six percent of 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions for cornerback Kristian Fulton out of Metairie, Louisiana, point to LSU being his destination. 

That would give the Tigers one more blue-chipper to go along with an already-stacked class. In fact, it's the astonishing depth of the class that has the Tigers as the prime suspect to dethrone conference rival Alabama as the recruiting champions. 

Jeremy Crabtree of commented on the overall quality of the class if signing day goes well for the Tigers:

Les Miles may have had to finish the season strong to keep his job, but it certainly hasn't affected recruiting. At the very least, the Tigers are looking at a top-three class and should be sitting atop the rankings by the end of the day. 


Alabama Crimson Tide

It might not be time to start dancing on the grave of the Alabama recruiting dynasty quite yet. Yes, the Crimson Tide would have to jump three spots on national signing day for the No. 1 class, but it isn't totally out of the realm of possibility. 

Alabama has just 17 commits coming into the day and has a reputation for being one of the strongest closers in college football. That means there is plenty of time for that ranking to change. 

The fact is the Tide are in the hunt for plenty of big names, including 5-star linebackers Ben Davis and Lyndell Wilson. There's enough remaining talent out there that Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee made a case for Bama still finishing with the No. 1 class in the video below:

Wilson is a particularly interesting case because he seems to have developed a strong relationship with now-Georgia head coach Kirby Smart.

“Me and coach Smart, we have a great relationship,” Wilson told Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald. “That really kind of gave them a huge boost in my recruiting. ... [He is] like a father figure to me. I feel like I can talk to him about anything.”

Smart's abilities as a recruiter were once a big factor in Alabama reeling in No. 1 class after No. 1 class. Now, he's taken those skills to Georgia, which is in play for both Davis and Wilson, along with other big-time recruits such as 5-star Mecole Hardman

If Smart is able to convince a few blue-chippers to go to Athens on national signing day, he will ultimately be the one who ensured Alabama doesn't repeat as recruiting champions. 


Michigan Wolverines

When Jim Harbaugh became the head coach at Michigan, it wasn't as though the program struggled with recruiting. In 2014, the university finished with the No. 20 class in the country. 

However, in Harbaugh's first full recruiting cycle as the head coach, it's clear that the Maize and Blue are going to be a nationally prominent program under his watch. The Wolverines are already in the top 10 and have the capability to wind up in the top five when everyone has signed on the dotted line. 

The fiery head coach has taken a non-traditional path to turning signing day into a big deal. Michigan will live stream its signing day festivities on the Players' Tribunewhich will include appearances from Derek Jeter, Tom Brady and Ric Flair.

However, the grand prize of the entire day will be the decision of the overall No. 1 player, Rashan Gary. The New Jersey defensive tackle is down to Clemson and Michigan, with the Wolverines being the pick of 80 percent of 247Sports experts. 

Should the No. 1 player in the nation choose to go to Michigan, it wouldn't only be a huge statement for the program, but it would also represent a bit of a shift in the landscape for the Big Ten. According to Crabtree, it will mark the first time the top player has gone to a Big Ten school since 2006:

It might not be a big enough deal to take Michigan to the top of the recruiting list, but it would go a long way toward the Wolverines continuing their upward trajectory under Harbaugh. With rival Ohio State sitting just ahead of them, snagging an immediate-impact freshman like Gary on signing day will only make the rivalry that much more interesting moving forward.

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National Signing Day 2016: Final Recruit Announcement Schedule and Predictions

Wednesday's national signing day is a big production. Every blue-chip recruit has an elaborate, unique individual story leading to the shining moment he enjoys in front of TV cameras and troves of witnesses as he announces his decision on where to play college football.

These prospects who save national signing day for their final decision are among the heads of their 2016 class. They're popular in the student body and among coaches and recruiters at big-time football programs.

Hence the fanfare and attention this day garners, as ardent fans also await with eager anticipation to find out which high school studs will play for their team.

Below is a schedule of the players from the class of 2016 who will make their announcements Wednesday. Also featured is analysis on a couple of the best prospects headlining the slate.


Predictions for Marquee Recruits

Rashan Gary, DT, Paramus Catholic HS: Michigan

After Michigan fared far better than it had any business doing in its maiden year under head coach Jim Harbaugh, the masterful leader has his first real shot at luring talent to Ann Arbor.

And what an addition Gary—the No. 1 overall prospect in the country, according to 247Sports—would be to a Wolverines defense that was already one of the best in college football this past season.

But in Rivals expert Mike Farrell's opinion, Clemson has a real shot to land Gary as well:

Dabo Swinney brings his own unique brand of player-friendly leadership at Clemson and has a strong case to make.

The Tigers' official Twitter account also mentioned its track record of successful defensive linemen on Tuesday. That group includes 2015 NFL draft first-round pick Vic Beasley and another former top recruit in Da'Quan Bowers, among others.

Gary is the type of gifted player who seldom comes along and has been eyed since middle school as someone who could go on to play in the NFL. To go with a 6'5", 293-pound frame, a 4.74-second time in the 40-yard dash and freakish athleticism, Gary has the fundamentals to be dominant at the NCAA level right away.

"He is two years ahead of almost any high school lineman in the country when it comes to college-level technique," said Gary's trainer, Peter Kafaf, per Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue. "That technique builds off itself, so I expect him to be perfecting it during these next few seasons while other kids are just attempting to learn it."

Donohue mentions Gary received his first scholarship offer in eighth grade.

It's not often one hears of a football prodigy so honed in on the nuances of the game; rather than obliterating the competition with his natural ability, Gary seems to have the work ethic and desire to be truly great.

Harbaugh is known for his intensity and competitive nature. He demands the absolute best out of his players, so someone like Gary is right in the coach's wheelhouse.

The fit in Ann Arbor seems too logical for Gary to not don the Maize and Blue beginning this next season.


Lyndell Wilson, OLB, George Washington Carver HS: Georgia

Rated by 247Sports as the second-best outside linebacker in the nation, Wilson's announcement will come with plenty of anticipation.

It could be argued there are superior players on the slate, but the domino effect is definitely in play in Wilson's case. The only player from the state of Alabama ranked ahead of him in 247Sports' composite rankings, Ben Davis, happens to be a close friend.

Asked about playing alongside Davis in college, Wilson hinted a package deal is feasible, per John Garcia Jr. of

It's a possibility. We're like brothers. We really only met two years ago but it's grown and gotten better. I trust him and he's just like a close brother to me. … For real, we talk about it and talked about it more in the beginning. But now we can't stand each other. But we're still boys. We just got that little brotherly bond.

Wilson is listed at 6'2" and 220 pounds. With incredible range and speed, surprising ball skills for a player at his position and the versatility to not only commit and stuff the run but also drop in coverage, there's little Wilson can't do on the gridiron.

With Davis announcing at 10 a.m. ET, per the Athens Banner-Herald's Marc Weiszer, the hand may be tipped on what Wilson might decide later in the afternoon.

After his official visit to Auburn last weekend, Davis indicated there was no leader among his choices (h/t's Wesley Sinor). Davis is deciding between Auburn, Alabama and Georgia primarily; LSU and Notre Dame still have a chance to land him.

But considering Wilson appears to have narrowed down his destinations to Tuscaloosa and Athens, it stands to reason he'll go wherever his pseudo-sibling does.

Davis' father played at Alabama and is the program's all-time leading tackler. What makes a dilemma between Georgia and the Crimson Tide so fascinating is the fact that former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart left his post to become the Bulldogs' head coach.

In a fascinating development, look for Wilson to join Davis and play under Smart at Georgia, as the reigning national champions suffer a rare recruiting loss of sorts.


All recruiting ratings and rankings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise indicated.

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Ohio State Football Recruiting 2016: Top Remaining Recruits, Class Predictions

Ohio State coaches and fans will have a more relaxing national signing day than many other top college football programs, with the Buckeyes knowing they have already brought in one of the top classes in 2016.

From defensive linemen Nick Bosa and Jonathon Cooper to offensive stars Dwayne Haskins, Austin Mack and Demario McCall, there is no question why this group is currently No. 2 overall in 247Sports' composite rankings, trailing only LSU for the best recruiting class in the nation.

Of course, you can never have too much talent at this level, meaning head coach Urban Meyer and Company will keep things going to bring in some missing pieces before the end of the cycle on Wednesday.

Although there aren't many needs for this team, here is a look at the signing day announcements the Buckeyes are most interested in as well as a prediction for the final 2016 class.


Top Uncommitted Players to Watch

Mecole Hardman Jr., ATH

Usually the top players have narrowed their decision by the time they get to signing day, but Mecole Hardman Jr. still has a lot of options available. The speedster (4.42 40-yard dash) officially has seven teams in the running before making his announcement, including Ohio State as well as Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Michigan and Tennessee, according to Chad Simmons of

We don't yet know where he will end up, but Hardman has a lot of appeal as one of the fastest players in the class. He will likely play receiver at the next level, potentially giving Meyer yet another offensive weapon who can make things happen with the ball in his hands.

He also played for the United States' under-19 team, catching passes from future Buckeye Dwayne Haskins:

This is a connection fans would like to see a lot more of in future seasons.

Despite the possibility, it will be difficult to get the Georgia native out of his home state with new head coach Kirby Smart pushing hard for the Bulldogs. Ohio State is certainly in the running, although it seems like more of a long shot at this stage of the process.


Malik Harrison, ATH

Sometimes it isn't necessarily what a recruit does that is telling; sometimes it's what he doesn't do. In the case of Malik Harrison, his decision not to continue the recruiting process could be very telling.

According to Max Givler of, Harrison was set to take official visits to Michigan State and Syracuse but instead canceled those trips shortly after his visit to Columbus. While Indiana and Wisconsin are still in the running, it seems likely the athlete saw something he liked at Ohio State and made his decision right there, whether it was public or not.

As far as where Harrison will play for the Buckeyes if he does commit, that remains a mystery. The 6'4", 215-pound player is considered the No. 49 athlete in the nation, although few in this category have as much versatility as the Ohio native.

In an interview with Steve Helwagen of 247Sports, Harrison's coach, Byron Mattox, explained the player was a three-year starter at quarterback while also spending time at linebacker and punter.

When asked about his player's potential role with Indiana or Wisconsin, Mattox explained, "They are thinking about him more on offense, probably as a wide receiver or as a hybrid wide receiver/tight end type." He clearly has the ability to spend time at multiple positions on either side of the ball, but his coach argued Harrison is "the kind of athlete where you want the ball in his hands."

No matter where Harrison ends up, Ohio State wants someone of his ability in the program.


Carlos Becker, CB

Florida State has been considered the favorite for the Kissimmee, Florida, native. But Ohio State has made a lot of progress with Carlos Becker, and it is now a two-team race.

The cornerback has great size for the position at 6'2", 185 pounds with excellent speed (4.43 40-yard dash) and good instincts, enough to make him worthy of a 4-star ranking. Although he is still a bit raw, he has All-American potential if he develops to his ability.

At this point, though, the question is where will he find that development. Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel is one person who has seen the legitimate shift toward Ohio State:

The problem is there was still a lot of ground to make up, and the Seminoles have a lot going in their favor. It is close to home, there are only two true defensive backs in the team's current class and the program has shown the ability to produce top cornerbacks in recent years. It could go either way, but the best prediction might be Becker ending up in Tallahassee.



Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for year-round sports analysis. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings unless otherwise noted. 

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