NCAA Football News

A Round-by-Round Look at Alabama's Best NFL Draft Picks of All Time

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Did you know that the first draft pick to ever play in the National Football League was from the University of Alabama?

Riley Smith was a fullback on the 1933 team but switched to quarterback the following season when head coach Frank Thomas’ team went 10-0 and handily defeated Stanford in the Rose Bowl, 29-13, to claim the national championship.

He was listed as being 6’1”, 195 pounds, and to give an idea of his versatility not only did Smith handle the Crimson Tide’s kicking duties, he won the Jacobs Award as the Southeastern Conference’s best blocker.

When the NFL held its first draft at the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia on February 8, 1936, Jay Berwanger, the first Heisman Trophy winner, was the first-overall pick by the hometown Eagles. But Berwanger demanded to be paid $1,000 a game, an unheard of sum then, and didn’t sign with either the Eagles, who selected him, or the Chicago Bears after they traded for his rights. He never played in the NFL.

Riley was selected second by the Boston Redskins.

Because most players could make more money doing other jobs, only 24 of the 81 players selected in that initial draft were on NFL rosters that season. Four more signed the following year and three opted for the American Football League.

Because the substitution rules were different, and players had to play both offense and defense, rosters were limited to a 25-player maximum. Consequently, almost a third of the players were rookies, most of whom signed as free agents.

Smith himself had a short career in the NFL before being sidelined by an injury, and in his first year helped turn the Redskins from the second-to-last team in the league to Eastern Division champions in 1936. With the sixth overall selection in the 1937 draft, the Redskins selected TCU quarterback Sammy Baugh.

Incidentally, Alabama had another high pick in that initial draft, Paul “Bear” Bryant by the Brooklyn Dodgers in the fourth round.

With a little help from the databases at and, here's a round-by-round look at Alabama’s best draft picks of all time.

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Early Predictions for Final Top 10 College Football Recruiting Classes of 2017

Each college football recruiting cycle is a long and winding journey that supplies plenty of surprises along the way. While coaching staffs are now just weeks away from welcoming entire 2016 classes to campuses across America, major strides have already been made toward next national signing day.

An expansive collection of impressive high school juniors declared collegiate intentions early, helping solidify strong 2017 foundations for several marquee programs well in advance of that decisive day in February. Meanwhile, many elite athletes remain undecided and may stretch their respective recruitments deep into winter.

Based on what we've witnessed so far in this latest recruiting cycle and how things appear to be developing as spring seeps into summer, here's how we anticipate top teams faring on signing day in 2017. This early outlook features several familiar head coaches excelling yet again in talent acquisition.

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5 Takeaways from ESPN's Updated 2017 Recruiting Rankings

ESPN on Wednesday released its revised ESPN 300 rankings, and two offensive linemen have taken over the top two spots for the 2017 class.

Less than 10 months away from national signing day, ESPN has 123 of its top 300 players verbally committed. And for the first time this year, fans are seeing a new name as the top-ranked player in the nation.

Here are five takeaways from the updated rankings:


OTs shine in rankings, including at No. 1 spot

Running back Najee Harris. Linebacker Dylan Moses. Defensive tackle Marvin Wilson. These are three names—and composite 5-star athletes—whom the majority of the recruiting world has grown used to holding top spots in various national recruiting services. ESPN made noise by declaring Jackson, Tennessee, offensive tackle Trey Smith as its top-ranked player in the 2017 class.

Smith, per 247Sports' composite rankings, is a 4-star player who is ranked among the top 65 players. ESPN said Smith is in the mold of former Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil, who is expected to be a top-10 first-round draft pick on in the 2016 NFL draft. At 6'5" and 302 pounds, Smith has great size, plays with a lot of tenacity and is light on his feet in both running and passing situations.

Offensive tackles dominated the top-20 rankings. Smith is No. 1, and Isaiah Wilson is No. 2. Alabama commit Alex Leatherwood is No. 9. Also cracking the top 20 were Austin Deculus (No. 14), Josh Myers (No. 16) and Auburn commit Calvin Ashley (No. 20).


Ohio State, Oklahoma, Alabama rolling with commits

Of the top 300 athletes, 25 have already given verbal commitments to one of three schools—Ohio State, Oklahoma and Alabama. Ohio State leads the charge with 10 commits, including top-50 players in Myers, cornerback Shaun Wade and safety Isaiah Pryor.

Alabama has seven commits, and the reigning national champion is expecting to land several more star-caliber athletes between now and national signing day. Harris and Leatherwood spearhead the Crimson Tide's class, but safety Xavier McKinney also is a top-100 player.

For Ohio State and Alabama, the recruiting race appears to be more of the same. Both teams have a solid job in landing targets early. The story, however, may be the rapid start for Oklahoma, a team that has, in recent years, started slow but ended strong with recruiting.

The Sooners have eight commitments in the ESPN 300. Wide receiver Jalen Reagor is the top-ranked Sooner at No. 75, but guard Tyrese Robinson (No. 90) and cornerback Justin Broiles (No. 119) also are expected to be impact players early.


McCaffrey, Narcisse ranked as nation's top QBs

Holding down the top overall quarterback spot is Dylan McCaffrey, a Michigan commit and the younger brother of Stanford's Heisman hopeful Christian McCaffrey. Dylan is ranked No. 19 in the ESPN 300.

McCaffrey also is the nation's top-ranked pocket-passing quarterback. Lowell Narcisse has the top spot among dual-threat quarterbacks. Narcisse, at No. 38, is ranked higher than both Baylor pledge Kellen Mond (No. 48) and Texas A&M pledge Tate Martell (No. 73), the top-ranked dual-threat quarterback in 247Sports' composite rankings.

Clemson commit Hunter Johnson is another top-50 quarterback in the ESPN 300. At No. 50, Johnson is ranked as the No. 2 pocket-passing quarterback.


Wide receivers set the tone for new rankings

It's common to see an abundance of defensive linemen on a list of the nation's top-ranked players, no matter which recruiting service puts out the list. On Wednesday, the spotlight belonged to the wide receivers.

Of the 300 players, 44 are ranked as wide receivers by ESPN. Donovan Peoples-Jones is the top-ranked receiver and the No. 12 player overall. Joseph Lewis is right behind him at No. 15. Three more receivers in the top 50 include James Robinson at No. 21, Jerry Jeudy at No. 26 and Tee Higgins at No. 31. Trevon Grimes is right outside the top 50 at No. 51.

While there were 44 receivers in the ESPN 300, 31 offensive tackles made the list. There were also 27 running backs, 26 cornerbacks, 23 athletes, 22 defensive ends and 21 safeties. There were 20 defensive tackles for this class.


ESPN high on California QB Lytle 

California's Tyler Lytle is a 3-star quarterback in 247Sports' composite rankings. He's ranked No. 290 in the ESPN 300.

There are high expectations for the Servite High School gunslinger. He has 20 reported offers and has schools like Arizona State, Colorado and Vanderbilt high on his list.

At a shade under 6'5" and 200 pounds, Lytle has prototypical quarterback size and a rocket arm to match. Per ESPN, Lytle plans to announce his verbal commitment before the first week of June.


Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

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College Football Teams Best Represented at 2016 NFL Draft

So much goes into college football recruiting, when in reality the process could be so much simpler. Just open the school's media guide, turn to the page that lists all of the NFL draft picks that have played there, say "you could be next" and then wait for the commitment.

It shouldn't be a surprise that the college teams who recruit the best also happen to be the ones that have their names mentioned most often during the NFL draft. While it's not a given that a top high school or junior college prospect will end up getting to the pros, the schools that land those top recruits also tend to be the best at developing players of any talent level into NFL prospects.

This year is no different. When the 2016 NFL draft begins on Thursday, a handful of schools will be far more well-represented than any other. They have the most players listed on Bleacher Report NFL draft expert Matt Miller's big board and figure to make up a large chunk of those selected during the seven rounds.

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Every Power 5 College Football Team's Most Talented NFL Star of All Time

Major-conference college football teams have produced some of the biggest stars in NFL history, and the upcoming draft may include players who are set to join that group.

But we're looking at—and appreciating—the past, as well as several current luminaries. While this year's prospects are full of potential, legends from Power Five schools (plus Notre Dame) boast immense production from their time in the NFL.

Since the list is based on conference affiliation in 2016, a program's previous membership is not considered. For example, Miami was an independent in the mid-1980s—the era of its greatest star—but today is a part of the ACC.

Among other factors, we used statistics, Pro Bowl appearances, Super Bowl rings and inductions into the Pro Football Hall of Fame to create the list.

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Devonta Smith Tweets Top 10: Which Schools Have Best Chance to Land 4-Star WR?

Former Georgia Bulldogs commit Devonta Smith still has substantial SEC flare in his recruitment, further reinforced by a list of favorites the 4-star wide receiver released Wednesday morning.

The lauded Louisiana prospect posted a lengthy collection of favored universities on Twitter, presenting positive news for 10 college programs:

Smith's group of primary suitors features five SEC schools, representing half the list. His top options include Alabama, Baylor, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Miami, Mississippi State, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Tennessee.

He initially pledged to Georgia last August but backed off that verbal commitment approximately a month after former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart replaced longtime Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt. Given the presence of several SEC squads here, there's a chance he'll ultimately end up in Athens as a member of the visitors' sideline.

Rated No. 13 nationally among receivers and No. 77 overall in 247Sports' composite rankings, Smith is considered one of the Southeast region's most prized offensive playmakers. Earlier this month, the Amite High School junior earned positional MVP honors at The Opening's New Orleans regional and received an invitation to national finals in July at Nike's world headquarters. 

Shortly before competing at the regional showcase, Smith spent time taking a closer look at LSU in Baton Rouge. The Tigers clearly covet this in-state standout, leaning on first-year receivers coach Dameyune Craig to spearhead those efforts.

Smith's trips to watch LSU compete during spring camp helped him forge a stronger bond with the former Auburn assistant.

“It’s been going good, and that means a lot because it’s your position coach," he told Sam Spiegelman of SEC Country. "I like the way he pushes the receivers.”

The Tigers passing attack has sputtered in recent years, with no player reaching 50 receptions in a season since current NFL stars Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry both accomplished the feat in 2013. Despite this lack of production, LSU managed to sign three 4-star receivers in its 2016 recruiting class and could eventually lure Smith to campus with signs of aerial improvement this fall.

Rival Alabama aims to reach into neighboring territory for another lauded Louisiana product. The Crimson Tide signed 4-star cornerback Shyheim Carter, a close friend of Smith, according to Drew Champlin, last winter.

Head coach Nick Saban has welcomed Smith to campus multiple times, most recently placing him in the bleachers for Alabama's spring game. In terms of rapport between staff members and the recruit, Alabama appears to be a stride ahead of LSU because of relationship longevity with receivers coach Billy Napier.

"We have a good relationship with me going to their camps since the eighth grade," Smith told Champlin. "I've been talking to him ever since. He's a good man, good teacher and someone I can relate to."

The Crimson Tide have concentrated on receiver as a priority position throughout early stages of the 2017 cycle, pushing the program into the mix for several standout pass-catchers. At this stage, Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin can feel confident about their place among Smith's hierarchy of choices.

Alabama currently dominates his 247Sports "crystal ball," claiming commitment projections from all 11 experts' predictions. 

SB Nation Recruiting pointed out the Seminoles as a significant contender here:

Smith clearly isn't ready to trim his list down to three universities at this stage and left his top 10 unordered, but he places Florida State at or near the top of an offer sheet that features more than 20 schools.

The Seminoles have done an excellent job stockpiling quarterback talent under Jimbo Fisher, who also shows a willingness to immediately implement impressive young players. Running back Dalvin Cook and wide receiver Travis Rudolph became instant offensive mainstays upon arrival in Tallahassee as members of Florida State's 2014 recruiting class, and both could potentially bolt for the NFL after their junior campaigns.

The Seminoles extended an offer in February, joining this pursuit slightly later than other programs in the picture. Though rivals Florida and Miami join Florida State in Smith's top 10, odds are in favor of his landing in Tallahassee if he ends up continuing his career in the Sunshine State.

At this point, there is no established timetable for a commitment decision, and this recruitment could stretch deep into the season and perhaps beyond it. Expect official visits to play a key role as things progress.

Smith, who stands 6'1", 160 pounds, was a Louisiana all-state selection last fall, according to Kelly McElroy of the Advertiser. He surpassed 900 receiving yards and scored 13 touchdowns.


Tyler Donohue is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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Best Viral Moments from College Football 2016 Spring Practice

College football spring practices can be largely uneventful. In fact, a lot of coaches would like to keep them that way as their teams continue their behind-the-scenes preparation for the upcoming season.

But this is college football, a unique sport that doesn't always stay inside the lines—especially during the long offseason.

Over the last few weeks, several spring practices and spring games offered up plenty of eyebrow-raising events that spread like wildfire on social media. 

A rapper earned more than $4,000 a minute to open a spring game. An NBA legend from the D.C. area randomly showed up in SEC country. Easter bunnies went to war. Unreal athletic feats were captured. Former players nearing a century in age scored touchdowns again.

With spring ball wrapping up across the country this weekend with a few more scrimmages, let's take a look at a dozen of the best viral moments from 2016 spring practices, including an Arizona fan bull-rushing a lineman to the sport's best coach inadvertently landing on a stat sheet.

Know of any other viral spring practice moments in college football that weren't included here? Share them in the comments below.

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Daniel Wright Tweets Top Schools: Odds on Where 4-Star Lands

With 33 offers to his credit, 4-star safety Daniel Wright has begun the process of shrinking his number of suitors.

On Wednesday morning, Wright announced the 11 schools that are left in the race to land his signature on national signing day.

Among the schools that made his cut are Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Maryland, Miami, Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC.

Last month, the 6’1”, 182-pounder from Cardinal Gibbons High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, singled out in-state power Florida State as the program that stood out to him.

Are the Seminoles still in the driver’s seat to land the nation’s No. 8 safety and the No. 103 overall player in the 2017 cycle? 

Let’s take a look at the odds for the main players in Wright’s recruitment.


Back of the Pack: Auburn, Maryland, Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC

Wright has a number of out-of-state powerhouses trying to lure him out of the Sunshine State.

Auburn, Maryland, Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC have all enjoyed success recruiting in the state of Florida in recent years.

The next step for these programs to move up in Wright’s list would be to get him on campus in the coming months or secure one of his official visits in the fall.

Last month, Wright told Bleacher Report that Auburn is on his short list to receive a visit from him before the season, while Notre Dame is on track to receive an official visit.


12-1: Alabama, Clemson, Florida and LSU

Wright is the younger brother of current Bucs safety and former Florida Gators star Major Wright.

That connection should help Gators head coach Jim McElwain and his staff remain in the thick of the chase for Wright until he makes a decision.

Earlier this month, Wright told Ryan Bartow of 247Sports that LSU was his No. 2 and that Alabama, Clemson and Florida were tied for third on his list.

While they currently aren’t at the top of Wright’s list, it’s clear that each of these programs is in a position to make a move for him as his decision date approaches.


10-1: Miami

One school that has hosted Wright on campus multiple times in recent months is local power Miami. 

New Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt and his staff are placing an emphasis on getting the top talent in South Florida to stay home and play for the ‘Canes.

As detailed by Nate Adelson of InsideTheU, Wright came away impressed with the Hurricanes’ new defensive scheme and has developed a tight bond with safeties coach Ephraim Banda.

"The relationship I built with Coach Banda at one of their spring practices, that visit had a big impact on me," Wright told Adelson. "I love the atmosphere out there now, and how they run the defense is kind of my way. I wanted to take that shot by going out there, seeing how they roll, and I can tell you Miami is very high on my list."

With the new energy inside the ‘Canes program, Miami could be a dangerous sleeper emerging in Wright’s recruitment moving forward.


5-1: Florida State

Despite the recent movement with Wright, the Seminoles have consistently been at the forefront of his leaderboard.

The feeling is mutual, as head coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff have done a good job of making Wright feel like a priority recruit.

“I’d say FSU is really going after me,” Wright told Bleacher Report last month. “[Florida State is] a top-notch program. They are showing me what I should do if I come there and what it takes to be successful up there. I have [linebackers coach] Bill Miller and [defensive graduate assistant] Jeremiah Wilson, and [head] coach Jimbo Fisher has been talking to me a lot.”

Additionally, Wright admits he’s been studying former ‘Noles All-American defensive back Jalen Ramsey heavily in the offseason.

As long as FSU continues to recruit Wright aggressively, it will be hard for other suitors to overcome its status atop his list.


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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Is Braxton Miller Worthy of an NFL Draft 1st-Round Pick?

COLUMBUS, Ohio — With the rumor-filled circus that is the NFL draft approaching on Thursday, the only certainty in the NFL right now seems to be this: Ohio State will have a heavy presence in Chicago at this weekend's selection show.

With more than 70 percent of Ohio State's starting lineup and nine underclassmen having departed from last year's team, as many as 14 ex-Buckeyes could wind up hearing their names called by the end of this weekend. And while it still has yet to be determined how many former Ohio State stars are drafted and where each will land, there may not be a bigger enigma in the bunch than Braxton Miller.

"The two wild cards are Cardale [Jones] and Braxton," Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer said last month. "They're the ones that don't have enough tape."

In the case of Jones, the question marks are obvious. Is a player with just 11 starts as a quarterback in his college career worthy of not only a draft pick but also one day becoming the face of a franchise? And if so, how soon is too soon to take him?

Miller's situation, however, is a little more complicated—and perhaps more likely to bring a much higher upside.

Truth be told, if Miller had it his way, he might be preparing not for the draft but rather his second season in the NFL right now. That was the plan two years ago as the 2013 season drew to a close, before a vicious hit in the Orange Bowl brought the then-Buckeyes quarterback's junior season to an unceremonious end.

The result was offseason shoulder surgery that took entering the 2014 draft as an underclassman off the table for Miller in favor of a return to Columbus for his senior season. But a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder later that offseason ultimately ended his career as a quarterback, very much leaving his football future in doubt.

By now, you know the rest—or at least enough to get you to this point. After sitting out the 2014 season recovering from his second shoulder surgery, Miller made the move to wide receiver, returning to the field at a new position for Ohio State in eye-popping fashion.

The 6'1", 201-pounder's numbers throughout his first—and only—season as a wideout with the Buckeyes weren't jarring (26 catches, 341 yards and three touchdowns, with 260 yards and another score on 42 rushing attempts), but they were enough to prove that while he could no longer throw at full strength, the speedster who rushed for 3,054 yards and 32 touchdowns in three seasons as a quarterback hadn't lost a step.

They were also enough to bring Miller back to the attention of the NFL—perhaps even more than if he had remained a quarterback.

"He wasn't going to be drafted as a quarterback—the accuracy just isn't there," Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Analyst Matt Miller said upon Miller's conversion to wideout last summer. "But as an offensive weapon—receiver, returner, sometimes runner—he has upside."

This offseason, that upside has been on display, and Miller's draft stock has only risen, thanks in large part to a dominant performance at the Senior Bowl, where the Huber Heights, Ohio, native was named the week's best practice performer by NFL scouts. And although his NFL Scouting Combine workout was more solid than spectacular, he bounced back with an Ohio State pro day performance that saw him run an unofficial 4.33-second 40-yard dash.

"All the stress is gone now. Senior Bowl, combine, pro day. I checked off all those," Miller said following his pro day. "I answered all the questions. I didn't leave any doubt out on the field. So I did what I had to do."

Now it's time to see where Miller's offseason as a workout warrior lands him—and when.

Ranked by Matt Miller as the draft's eighth-best wide receiver and No. 54 overall player, the two-time Big Ten MVP seems like a near-lock to be selected Friday night in either the draft's second or third round.

That's not too shabby for a player who may not have even been picked at all had he remained at his former position. But with so much uncertainty and smokescreens aplenty entering this year's draft, is it possible Miller could sneak into Thursday's first round of 31 picks?

Possible? Sure. After all, as recently as last month, Matt Miller had Braxton pegged as a first-round pick.

However, it will depend on a number of variables on Thursday.

For example, if there's a run on receivers—a position at which top prospects seem to be bunched together as mid-teens-to-20s picks—Miller's chances of hearing his name called on Thursday night would increase. Last year, six wideouts were taken in the draft's first round—the most since 2009.

Even if Miller is the eighth-best wideout in this class, his perceived potential could ultimately slide him up at least a few teams' draft boards. It's not unrealistic to think Miller could be the fifth wide receiver taken this weekend after Ole Miss' Laquon Treadwell, Baylor's Corey Coleman, TCU's Josh Doctson and college teammate Michael Thomas.

And when it comes to upside, there may not be a receiver with a higher ceiling than Miller in this year's draft.

"As Miller transitioned to wide receiver, he showed natural hands and a toughness at the position," Matt Miller wrote of Braxton in his final evaluation. "Some will want to label Miller as a 'gadget player,' but he's more than that. His athleticism and speed make him a candidate to have a Randall Cobb or Hines Ward-like role in the NFL."

If teams agree that Miller compares favorably to an All-Pro like Cobb and a potential Hall of Famer like Ward, a first-round selection isn't out of the question.

Will that be enough to outweigh the questions teams still have about a player with less than a year of experience at his position under his belt and a history of injuries?


But all it takes is one.


Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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The Underdog QB Who Traveled More Than 4,000 Miles in Search of Elite 11 Invite

Hitting five cities over the span of two months, Stetson Bennett IV wasn't going to let distance stop him from pursuing his dreams.

This spring, the Elite 11 regional tour became a second home of sorts for Bennett, an unrated quarterback from Blackshear, Georgia. Of the tour's first nine stops, Bennett made appearances at five of them: Orlando, Miami, Atlanta, Washington D.C. and Charlotte.

Looking to do the math? Bennett and his family traveled roughly 4,052 miles round trip in attempting to land an Elite 11 finals invitation, paying for flights to Miami (approximately 814 miles to and from) and Washington D.C. (1,378), and contributing gas money for trips to Orlando (524), Atlanta (594) and Charlotte (742).

If nothing else, that's dedication.

"It was something I really wanted," Bennett, the starting quarterback at Pierce County High School in Georgia, said. "It was the competition; I wanted to see where I am with the best of the best. I saw what I needed to do to get better. It's hard to judge yourself when you're in a small town and don't really know what's out there."

Bennett didn't earn an Elite 11 finals invite, but he now has numerous camp stories and memories from each event. He also has a few new nicknames that may stick long after high school.

"They call me 'Mailman,'" Bennett said. "Some of the coaches call me 'Postman.'"

Metaphorically, both nicknames fit a stud quarterback, particularly when that quarterback has traits relating to delivery, being on time, productivity and overall success rate. From a literal stance, however, Bennett explains the nicknames with a tip of his hat, a denim-colored U.S. Postal Service cap he wore at every competition.

"I've been called 'Mailman,' 'Postman,' 'Stetson,' 'Guy with the hat,' everything," he said. "I think it's cool that some of the wide receivers recognized me. They knew I'd been at this camp or that camp. The coaches who travel all recognized me. It's been pretty cool." 

One day Bennett will reminisce about how hectic—yet exciting—the spring of 2016 was for him. 

Chasing the Dream

There are some who may ask the question, "Why?" Why would an athlete make so many trips and pay so much out of pocket to chase an invitation to the Elite 11 finals?

Stetson Bennett III, Bennett's father and the owner of three pharmacies in a 30-mile radius, fully understands chasing a dream. He played high school football and was a walk-on quarterback at Georgia Southern in the late 1980s. He's watched his oldest of five children—who he calls "Stet"—develop into a savvy quarterback. He still remembers his son learning about three-step drops at age three.

"I've got a picture with Stet and Trent Dilfer from four years ago when we first watched how everything was done," Mr. Bennett said. "We're talking about a goal he had four, five years ago. He's been working towards that goal. This journey didn't start in Orlando. My job as a daddy is to put my children in the best position for them to succeed as possible. He wanted Elite 11, and I couldn't have him not get the opportunity to go for it."

Bennett said he isn't planning on attending any more events, even though there are five remaining Elite 11 regionals nationwide in the month of May. Priorities have now shifted to his baseball team, as he's the starting shortstop and leadoff hitter for Pierce County.

His efforts, however, didn't go unnoticed. Brian Stumpf, president of sports for Student Sports, which puts on the Elite 11 camps, praised Bennett for his work ethic and commitment to honing his craft, and he is expecting to see him do well at the college level.

"If 'want to' was a measurable, he'd be at the top of the charts," Stumpf said of Bennett. "There are numerous success stories of kids that don't necessarily check the height/weight/physical stature column but love the game and will eat, sleep and breathe it." 


Origin of the Hat

Bennett never figured his headgear would be one of the best marketing tools of The Opening and Elite 11 regional circuits. All he wanted originally was to be noticed. At 6'0" and 171 pounds, Bennett doesn't have what some scouts would call prototypical size for a quarterback.

He needed something to help him stand out among the multiple quarterbacks.

"My buddy's father is the mayor of a small town around here, and he's always getting cool things," Bennett said. "I saw the hat one day and asked if I could wear it. I first wore it to a camp in Valdosta [Georgia]. I'm not real big or striking physically, but I wanted to have something people would remember me by."

The camp circuit has seen a variety of ways where players are able to garner attention, from bleached hair to pink cleats and anything in between. This year was the first time an athlete wore a U.S. Postal Service hat in competition.

"He came up with the idea himself," Bennett's father said. "We went to the camp in Miami, and he had that hat on. People started talking about 'The Mailman.' I was thinking, 'Boy, that son of a gun has come up with something.' He's worn it everywhere he's gone, in every competition. It's worked well for him."

One person who instantly recognized Bennett's hat was Paul Troth, an Elite 11 alum who flourished at East Carolina. Troth remembered Bennett at the Miami regional in March, and the conversations ultimately shifted from identifying the player in the hat to discussing whether he was good enough to compete in half-skelly showdowns, the final event of the day to help determine camp MVP winners.

"His pace and velocity on the ball is pretty good," Troth said. "I think schools that run the spread will be able to overlook his size, and he's not even that small. He does a good job competing and is a guy I'd definitely be able to build my offense around, especially nowadays with the diverse offenses around."

Bennett advanced to half-skelly showdowns in Miami and Washington D.C.; however, Florida 4-star commit Jake Allen won Miami MVP honors, and Maryland 4-star commit Kasim Hill won D.C. MVP honors.

On Sunday in Charlotte, Bennett wasn't selected for the half-skelly, but instead of focusing on the negative, he chose to look at the situation he's in. Few players have the chance to compete in multiple events, and an even smaller number of athletes saw success at the camps like Bennett did.

"All the cities were different," he said, "but overall, it was awesome seeing all the different talent around the country and where I was with the talent."


Seeing the Big Picture

Bennett has college football bloodlines. His father was at Georgia Southern, and his grandfather is Buddy Bennett, who played quarterback at South Carolina from 1958-60.

At Pierce County, Bennett threw for 2,924 yards and 23 touchdowns as a junior, per MaxPreps. He also rushed for 610 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Bennett has two scholarship offers so far. He has an in-state offer from FCS school Mercer and an Ivy League offer from Columbia—and an ACT score of 29 to go along with it.

Competing in the Elite 11 finals was always a goal for Bennett, but so was playing college football. Although the Elite 11 dream may not come to fruition, Bennett said he plans on using the multiple tips from the event coaching staff to help him become a better player.

"All the footwork drills and mainly having a sense of urgency about yourself...I learned a lot," he said. "I heard someone say, 'Aim small, miss small.' That was something that really stuck out."

Troth added: "He's willing to compete, and he's not afraid to go against anyone in the country. He thinks highly of himself, but I also think he knows he needs to get better at a lot of different things. He's willing to be coached, and he wants to compete. He's put in a good showing for all of our coaches."

This weekend, while the Elite 11 takes its tour to New Jersey, Bennett will do his part to assist his baseball team, which begins its playoff run with a doubleheader Friday. Additionally, Bennett runs track for his school, and despite not having major sprinter's training, qualified for sectional competition Saturday in the 100-meter dash.

If the baseball team sweeps Friday, Bennett said he will run at sectionals the next day.

If Bennett changes his mind and gives the Elite 11 dream one more chance, he'll have an opportunity to sign up for stops in Columbus, Ohio (May 7), Chicago, Illinois (May 14), Oakland, California (May 22) and Seattle, Washington (May 28).

If he's truly chosen to focus his attention elsewhere, he'll always have the stories—as well as his trusty hat that helped him become a household name around Elite 11 followers.

"He'll get direct messages asking 'How's the Mailman.' He's made an impact," Mr. Bennett said. "Anytime you can get the respect of your peers and your coaches, that's pretty special."


Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

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Ohio State Football: Will This Be the Year OSU Finally Unleashes Its Freshmen?

It seems like an annual tradition at Ohio State for the hype train to gain momentum for a breakout freshman in the offseason, only to lose steam just as the real football gets underway.

In 2013, the first-year player destined for stardom was Dontre Wilson, the speedy playmaker from DeSoto, Texas, who some pegged as the second coming of Percy Harvin. Teammates, highlighted by quarterback Braxton Miller, raved about Wilson's speed and playmaking ability and expected him to do big things in his first year with Ohio State.

That never materialized, though, as the Buckeyes utilized Wilson mainly as a decoy, and he accumulated just 460 total yards and three touchdowns in 2013.

A year later, it was Curtis Samuel's turn to make the preseason noise.

The blazing all-purpose back was turning heads in fall camp, and he had head coach Urban Meyer openly wondering if he was the team's best ball-carrier. In that backfield, though, was sophomore Ezekiel Elliott, who went on to have a historic season as he carried the Buckeyes to a national title, and Samuel was relegated to backup duty.

Last year, true freshmen Mike Weber (running back) and Torrance Gibson (wide receiver) made waves in fall camp, but both ultimately took a redshirt and sat out the entire 2015 season.

It's an alarming trend that Ohio State can't afford to continue in 2016 after the departure of superstars Elliott, defensive end Joey Bosa, linebacker Darron Lee and 13 other starters. 

And fortunately for Meyer and the Buckeyes, there's no reason for history to repeat itself.

The Buckeyes already have a pair of freshmen who enrolled early and proved that they're ready to make an instant impact.

Austin Mack, the high 4-star wide receiver from Fort Wayne, Indiana, turned heads early during winter conditioning by showing a strong work ethic in the weight room. 

"He's got a little fight in him," quarterback J.T. Barrett said, according to Tim Moody of Buckeye Sports. "That's the thing, when things are hard in our workouts, those are the times you see you're like all right, he's got a little dog in him."

Mack carried that momentum into spring practice and left quite the impression on the coaching staff. He was one of seven freshmen from Ohio State's 2016 recruiting class to graduate and enroll early, but he was the first one to lose his "black stripe," something the Buckeyes do to signify a player officially joining the team.

"He just plays, he plays fast," running backs coach Tony Alford said of Mack, via Ari Wasserman of "He's hungry, he's not taking plays off. Even if he's wrong, he goes 100 miles an hour. We can fix a mistake. Effort, that is from within. And he goes."

The Buckeyes need help at wide receiver after the departures of starters Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller. If Mack is able to make the leap that Wilson and Gibson weren't able to before him, he should see plenty of time—and passes from Barrett—this fall.

But Mack wasn't the only early enrollee to make waves this spring.

Ohio State's offensive line needed to identify three new starters to pair with center Pat Elflein and guard Billy Price. The tackle positions have all but been secured by Jamarco Jones and Isaiah Prince, and the other guard spot was expected to be occupied by Demetrius Knox, but Michael Jordan, the 4-star stud that Ohio State stole from Michigan, made a huge surge in camp.

Jordan's quick ascension surprised offensive line coach Greg Studrawa, according to Doug Lesmerises of

That speaks volumes. I don't know how to put that in words, because I wouldn't have expected that. We knew [Jordan] was a talented young man, but until you get out here and the speed of the game, and how he adjusts to the speed of the game, he's adjusted really quickly.

For a freshman who should still be in high school, who graduated early to be here at this level of football, doing the things he's doing? I'm surprised and impressed at that.

Jordan was taking a good share of first-team reps by the end of camp, and there's a good chance he can lock down a starting spot before the season opener against Bowling Green.

And in just a few short months, the other 18 members of Ohio State's fourth-ranked recruiting class will report to campus. That group will be highlighted by 5-star defensive end Nick Bosa and high 4-stars Demario McCall (all-purpose back) and Binjimen Victor (wide receiver).

When Ohio State received the letters of intent for its 2016 class, Meyer spoke about the need for these freshmen to come in ready to play.

"I say this every year. I don't want to redshirt," Meyer said on national signing day in February, according to Bill Landis of "It's not our plan. We don't recruit you and say let's sit them down for a while. We want to play them immediately."

Meyer does say that every year, but looking at the roster, there are a lot of players who took a redshirt their freshman year. But with the mass exodus of talent that's heading to the NFL, Ohio State can't afford to do that in 2016.


All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports

David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Why Ole Miss Football Won't Be a 1-Hit NFL Draft Wonder

Football fans better get used to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell talking about Ole Miss because he's going to talk about the Rebels quite a bit on Thursday night.

Three former Ole Miss players are projected to be selected in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft by Bleacher Report NFL draft analyst Matt Miller—offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (sixth to Baltimore), defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche (14th to Oakland) and wide receiver Laquon Treadwell (28th to Kansas City). 

The trio of stud underclassmen will make head coach Hugh Freeze's program the talk of the football world on Friday morning.

Get used to it because this program is far from a one-hit draft wonder.

The dirty little secret in Oxford is that, while the 2013 recruiting class that included those three studs set the tone for Freeze's program, the staff has been collecting plenty of talented players who should keep the program in the thick of the draft for years to come.

The most notable name in that respect is nickel Tony Conner.

Also a member of the class of 2013, Conner finished second on the team in tackles in 2014 with 69. But a knee injury and subsequent surgeries hampered his true junior season, which prevented him from joining his classmates in the draft pool in 2016.

Make no mistake, though: He has first-round potential as well.

"Conner doesn't get the spotlight he deserves, but it wouldn't surprise if he's in the conversation with Su'a Cravens (USC) and Jalen Ramsey (Florida State) at season's end," Miller told me last April after scouting 2016 prospects. "He's very physical at 6'0" and 217 pounds, and has the instincts to make plays in the box or bail in coverage."

Think about that for a second. 

Miller tabs Ramsey as the third overall selection, while Cravens is tabbed as a second- or third-rounder by's Lance Zierlein. Of course, that was prior to his knee injury. But even if he doesn't come back at 100 percent, the 90 percent version of Conner is still impressive.

Under center, Chad Kelly will be one of the highest-profile quarterbacks in next year's draft class—and the scrutiny placed on quarterbacks throughout the draft process gets brighter every year.

Kelly's draft grade was below the second round prior to his performance against Oklahoma State (375 total yards) in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, according to Tim Graham of the Buffalo News. He posted the SEC's third-most prolific individual season in history last year with 4,542 total yards, but the 13 interceptions has scouts questioning his decision-making.

As Daniel Paulling of the Clarion-Ledger noted in November, those interceptions haunted Kelly even during the season.

If he solves that issue, it will be hard for scouts to ignore his arm strength and ability to avoid pressure with his legs. Yes, there are off-the-field concerns. But he has stayed out of trouble since arriving at Ole Miss last January, and two years of success in that department should calm what once were legitimate fears.

Marquis Haynes is another prospect who could make waves in NFL circles whenever he decides to move on.

According to his Ole Miss bio, the 6'3", 220-pound pass-rushing specialist was named a freshman All-American by several outlets following a 2014 season in which he tallied a team-high 7.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss. He followed that up in 2015 by leading the team in sacks (10) and tackles for loss (16.5).

A true junior who was named to the All-SEC second team by the coaches in 2015 and could declare after the 2016 season, Haynes is a perfect fit to stand up in a 3-4 scheme at the next level and provide the pressure that teams in the pass-happy NFL need.

DeMarquis Gates led the Rebels in tackles after taking on more of a role at linebacker in 2015, notching 76 stops and forcing two fumbles. At 6'2", 217 pounds, he's a little undersized to be a linebacker at the NFL level but is a perfect fit as a run-stopping "big nickel" who isn't a liability in coverage.

The Rebels are loaded with potential wide receiver draftees not just in 2017 but beyond.

Damore'ea Stringfellow has the size (6'2", 220 lbs) and speed to be a weapon deep and as a possession receiver over the middle. Quincy Adeboyejo's 6'3" frame makes him a matchup problem.

Youngsters Van Jefferson and Damarkus Lodge don't have the experience in college yet, but don't be surprised if either or both become household names over the next couple of years and state their cases for the next level.

Throw in pass-catching tight end Evan Engram at 6'3", 227 pounds into the mix, and Ole Miss is absolutely loaded with weapons that will raise the eyebrows of scouts for the next half-decade. 

Oh, and of course, there are the stud class of 2016 signees who could follow in the footsteps of their 2013 counterparts, like early enrollee 5-star pro-style passer Shea Patterson and 5-star offensive tackle Greg Little.

In a league starved for proven, established and elite pro-style passers coming out of college, Patterson's arm strength and accuracy will have scouts salivating over him once he decides to move on. Little, a 6'5", 305-pounder, has the size and technique to step in for Tunsil at left tackle as a true freshman.

Ole Miss has players who can not only keep it in the mix in the SEC West but continue the trend that it's likely to establish on Thursday night when several former Rebels realize their professional football dreams.


Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Alabama Football 2016 NFL Draft Tracker, Analysis and Results

Another year, another loaded NFL draft class for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Head coach Nick Saban led the Tide to his fourth national championship at the school this season, and now he will say goodbye to another crop of NFL talent. 

Let's break down each projected draft choice for the Crimson Tide, as well as discuss the replacements for those players at Alabama next season. 


Note: This NFL draft tracker will be updated as players are selected. 

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Notre Dame Football 2016 NFL Draft Tracker, Analysis and Results

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have always been known for putting talent into the NFL, but this year's class may be even better than usual. Ronnie Stanley, Jaylon Smith and Will Fuller all have first-round potential, while there are also some talented prospects projected to go in the later rounds. 

We will break down each projected player for the 2016 NFL draft and also discuss replacements for these 10 players leaving school. 

Note: This NFL draft tracker will be updated as the players are selected.

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Florida Football 2016 NFL Draft Tracker, Analysis and Results

It was a successful first season at Florida for head coach Jim McElwain, but now he must regroup and endure his first string of losses. He will likely lose nine players to the NFL draft, with six of those being on defense. 

We will break down each projected pick for the 2016 NFL draft and also discuss which players will replace these nine guys who are off to the NFL.

Note: This NFL draft tracker will be updated as the players are selected.

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Auburn Football 2016 NFL Draft Tracker, Analysis and Results

The Auburn Tigers didn't have the kind of season they had hoped for in 2015, but they now have a handful of 2016 NFL draft prospects to show for it. Six Auburn Tigers are projected to get drafted this weekend, and that number could rise to seven if someone selects Cassanova McKinzy, who is projected as an undrafted free agent. 

While we celebrate the accomplishments and futures of these seven prospects, draft season is also a time to look forward to the replacements for this bunch. We will break down each NFL hopeful and also tell you a little bit about the next man up behind each of these players.

Note: This NFL draft tracker will be updated as the players are selected.

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Clemson Football 2016 NFL Draft Tracker, Analysis and Results

The Clemson Tigers are coming off a national championship run that fell just short in January, and head coach Dabo Swinney will have to deal with the loss of many of his key players to the 2016 NFL draft. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables will have to look for replacements for many of his defensive starters from last season, including defensive end Shaq Lawson and cornerback Mackensie Alexander.

We will breakdown each Clemson player who is projected to be drafted and also discuss the players who will replace them this fall. 

Note: This NFL draft tracker will be updated as the players are selected.

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Oregon Football 2016 NFL Draft Tracker, Analysis and Results

Last season was not the kind that the Oregon Ducks had grown accustomed to over the past several seasons. They still finished the season strong at 9-4, and these seven NFL draft prospects are a big reason for that.

DeForest Buckner figures to be one of the first names called on Thursday night, but where will the others fall? We will break down every projected draft choice for the Ducks and also provide some potential replacements for these players.

Note: This NFL draft tracker will be updated as the players are selected. 

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Michigan Football 2016 NFL Draft Tracker, Analysis and Results

With the Jim Harbaugh era still establishing roots in Ann Arbor, the Michigan Wolverines aren't expected to have a boatload of prospects selected in this year's NFL draft. 

Willie Henry has seen his stock rise, but the defensive tackle may still be a Day 3 pickup. 

The days of Michigan producing first-round picks on the regular are sure to return soon under Harbaugh, but just not this spring. 

Stay plugged into this piece for updates and to track Wolverines players who are selected in the 2016 draft, as well as to learn more about their replacements at Michigan. 


Note: All draft projections are based on Matt Miller's NFL Draft 400 series unless otherwise noted. 

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Texas A&M Football 2016 NFL Draft Tracker, Analysis and Results

The Texas A&M Aggies will likely have at least a second-round pick in tackle Germain Ifedi, but the NFL draft pool from College Station dips off from there. 

One interesting candidate to watch will be punter Drew Kaser, who could go undrafted or as high as early in the third day. 

Stay plugged into this piece to track each and every Texas A&M player selected to play on Sundays, as well as who their replacements will be on the 2016 Aggies squad. 


Note: All draft projections are based on Matt Miller's NFL Draft 400 series unless otherwise noted. 

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