NCAA Football News

B/R CFB Recruiting 200: Top 40 Wide Receivers

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analysts Damon Sayles, Sanjay Kirpalani and Tyler Donohue have graded the top 200 players in the 247Sports composite rankings and provided in-depth analysis on each young athlete. Bleacher Report will run a position-by-position breakdown series of the best college football recruits in the class of 2016. Here we present the Top Wide Receivers.

 

Wide receiver recruits account for approximately 20 percent of the 2016 recruiting cycle's top 200 prospects in composite rankings. It's a position packed with playmakers from across America and beyond when you factor in Notre Dame-bound Canadian pass-catcher Chase Claypool.

Years of film study, game-action assessment and in-person camp evaluation have provided us with a clear picture of the overall wide receiver landscape, which features several standouts ready to make an immediate impact on the 2016 college football season.

Here's a breakdown of those who land in the Top 200 composite rankings, including our own B/R scores based on route running, release off the ball, agility, explosiveness, willingness to block and, of course, hands.

 

All prospects scouted by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue. Players ordered by appearance in 247Sports' composite rankings.

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Why Cardale Jones Shouldn't Be the Forgotten Quarterback of the 2016 Class

Three starts, three wins, a national championship and a flirtation with the NFL draft; from Dec. 6 2014 through Jan. 12 2015, Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones became the most enigmatic NFL draft prospect in the country.

Between his dominating victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game and his eventual announcement that he’d be returning to school, NFL evaluators and media members wrestled with Jones’ NFL draft value.

After an erratic seven-game start to the 2015 season and a midseason benching, the 6’5, 250-pound passer slipped from Cam Newton comparisons to off-the-radar of those covering the draft. While Jared Goff, Paxton Lynch and Carson Wentz have risen, Jones has faded into “Day 3 consideration” talk.

But quarterbacks like Cardale Jones don’t come around often. His positive attitude, arm talent, athleticism and remarkable upside don’t lend themselves to being pushed aside. And despite recent project passers like Jones slipping to Day 3 (Logan Thomas and Brett Hundley), he is a different, misunderstood NFL draft prospect.

 

Arm Talent vs. Overconfidence

Jones offers elite arm strength, and he knows it. He’s willing to take chances downfield, finish throws with defenders on him and make 20-plus-yard throws. His arm strength allows him to be late on throws and attempt vertical passes despite not being set, a skill set that excites NFL teams because he can get away with mistakes and turn checkdowns into downfield opportunities.

For example, his off-balance rollout throw against Virginia Tech is a pass that few, if any quarterbacks in college (or the NFL) can make. It’s the type of highlight that has the head coach holding his breath until the referee’s arms signal touchdown.

But that “arm talent overconfidence” is also what gets him into trouble.

Some quarterbacks take chances downfield or on the perimeter not only because they have confidence in their arm strength, but also because they trust in their anticipation and reads on defensive alignments. Jones doesn’t fit the “educated gunslinger” mold that Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck and Joe Flacco use their arm strength for.

Jones is simply overconfident in his arm, especially in his velocity control. One of his biggest areas of concern is that he doesn’t yet have a feel for the throws he can make and the ones that he should play with more control and safeness.

Jones can make every throw, but that doesn’t mean he should try. Jones tries to complete passes across the field with poor footwork and limited anticipation of defensive alignments, leading to obvious mistakes.

In many ways, Cardale Jones is similar to a young, erratic NBA player working to determine when to take a shot, and when to run his team’s offense and play under control. In Jones’ case, his big plays and big-time throws weren’t enough to overcome his bouts of poor placement and indecisiveness, and he began to stifle the Ohio State offense enough that they opted for the far more efficient J.T. Barrett. 

The main concern of Jones’s interception totals (five in his first five games of 2015 before Barrett began earning more snaps in relief) is that they stem from not anticipating coverages. Thanks to the Ohio State offense and the weapons at his disposal, Jones has the luxury of routinely having one-on-one matchups and wide-open throwing lanes to show off his arm strength.

When he’s forced to adjust in the pocket and keep his eyes downfield, Jones doesn’t have the refinement needed for NFL evaluators to be confident in a successful NFL transition. As is the case with many Urban Meyer-coached quarterbacks (and ones in similar offenses), Jones seems slow to adjust off his first read and is asked to use his running ability rather than keep his eyes downfield.

 

Lack of Starting Experience Spurs Optimism

Despite those concerns, one key part of Jones’ scouting report can’t be underappreciated: he’s made just 10 starts in his college career. While a lack of starting experience is a detriment for many quarterback passers, I believe it actually supports Jones’ top-100 draft potential.

Jones’ anticipation and overconfidence concerns don’t appear to be uncorrectable. He merely needs time to work through growing pains with multiple, consistent and confidence-instilling starts. Jones never got that at Ohio State. He entered 2015 not as the unquestioned starter, but with an obvious leash on his job; Meyer even said as much five games into Jones' college starting career. 

As we’ve seen repeatedly at the NFL level, confidence and patience are miracle drugs when trying to get the best version of a team’s starting quarterback. Inflated expectations and a short leash do the exact opposite.

Without making excuses for Jones, it’s apparent that his growth was stunted as the Ohio State quarterback. Between Meyer’s knack for poorly developing NFL quarterbacks to the handling of his collection of top passers, Jones has suffered through one of the most unique quarterback situations in recent college football history.

 

Underdeveloped vs. Raw

There’s a difference between being underdeveloped as a prospect and being raw. For some NFL draft prospects, a lack of growth despite coaching and starting experience lends itself to a fear that a prospect might never reach the ceiling his athleticism indicates. That’s especially concerning for a prospect like Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman, who’s seen ample snaps throughout his college career and has seemingly regressed as a prospect.

But Jones is the epitome of raw. His quarterbacking issues are indecisiveness and overconfidence in his arm talent, two things that most quarterbacks work through early in their careers. But Jones hasn’t had the opportunity to do so. His three starts in the team’s national championship run didn’t allow him to let loose as a growing passer, and his 2015 experience didn’t allow him to work through his issues without fear of losing his starting job.

For Jones, his development is the NFL’s job now. While teams should generally lean away from drafting “project passers” early, Jones is still worth selecting highly. His rare arm talent, body type, athleticism and mental makeup could still allow him to spot start in case of a dire need due to injury. 

But more importantly, it's his promise of potential growth that is worth going head over heels for. Few quarterbacks enter the NFL ranks with Jones’ talent level, and he’s truly an untapped resource oozing with potential. Had he landed in a situation like Cam Newton’s Auburn team, Jones might have emerged as the shoo-in for the top overall pick. 

Now, he’ll be available for a mere second- or third-round pick. It’s just a matter of which team is willing to give him the confidence and patience that Urban Meyer never did. And that team won’t be sorry they did.

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Tennessee Football Recruiting: Predicting All the Recruits Who Will Sign on NSD

Tennessee football coach Butch Jones is trying to stick the landing.

As the final few frames wind down before Wednesday's annual recruiting extravaganza of twists and turns comes to a culmination with 17-year-old future football stars making their ultimate college decisions in the insanity that is national signing day, the Volunteers have some serious momentum.

Major targets Nigel Warrior, Derrick Brown, Landon Dickerson, Tyler Byrd and a few commits were on campus visiting Knoxville this past weekend, so the Vols had the opportunity to make a final, lasting impression on them.

With all those players and the nation's top-ranked JUCO prospect, Jonathan Kongbo, all yet to announce their final destinations, the Vols could have a phenomenal finish.

Throw three or four of those guys into UT's class, and a haul that currently ranks 21st nationally but just eighth in the SEC, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, will shoot up the list noticeably. Considering the small numbers of this year's cycle, the Vols could wind up with a strong smaller class.

They also could crash and burn and have to settle for a class that isn't as strong as the past two years. In the wacky world of recruiting, anything can happen.

One thing's for certain, though: The Vols have set themselves up for a strong finish, and finishing with a bang could definitely be in the cards.

So, just who will Jones wind up signing on Wednesday? These things rarely wind up the way you'd expect, even this close to pen meeting paper and a fax machine making signing papers official. But where's the fun in abstaining from guessing?

Let's predict Tennessee's finish in what could be a week to remember.

 

Nigel Warrior: 6'0", 186-pound 4-Star Defensive Back, Suwanee, Georgia

For nearly two years, Tennessee has recruited Warrior as arguably the top overall target in this year's haul.

On Wednesday morning, all that hard work should pay off with a pledge from the versatile future star.

Warrior—the son of UT legend and All-American safety Dale Carter—will choose between Tennessee, Auburn, LSU and Alabama. The Vols got the final visit, and they've trended with the Peachtree Ridge High School standout recently; they have 67 percent of the 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions.

Jones loaded up on legacies the past three years, and many of those kids are playing prominent roles in Tennessee's return to the national picture. Warrior will fit right in.

He can play anywhere on the back level, and while Tennessee is loaded in the secondary, a player with Warrior's size, athleticism, coverage skills and versatility can certainly carve a niche right away. He'll likely be a special teams weapon and a situational DB from the start.

Warrior isn't one of these prospects who tips his hand easily, so it's certainly possible he decides to go in his own direction on national signing day. But the lure of the legacy is strong.

"I'll say it’s just wherever my heart takes me," Warrior told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan. "It'd be amazing to follow him, but then it'd also be good to be able to open up my own journey at a different school. It is what it is at the end of the day."

In the end, Warrior is just a natural fit for a Vols team that needs safeties.

 

Tyler Byrd: 5'11", 194-pound 4-Star Defensive Back, Naples, Florida

As much as Tennessee tried to convince longtime Miami commitment Byrd to visit Knoxville over the past few months, he seemed strong to the Hurricanes.

That's even with having a Vols commitment living in the same house as him, too.

But Byrd—who has lived with running back pledge Carlin Fils-aime since they were in the eighth grade—became more receptive to UT when the Vols hired former Miami coach Larry Scott. He visited this weekend along with Fils-aime.

Afterward, he may have a difficult decision to make.

"Of course, I would love to (attend the same school as Fils-aime)," Byrd told Callahan. "Being around him, we've grown to really love each other, and playing next to him and knowing he's on my team is reassuring. It gives you a sense of security because…I know, at the end of the day, I can depend on him, and I know I can trust him."

That doesn't sound like a guy who's firm to the Hurricanes, and with them having a new head coach in Mark Richt, the prior relationship can't be as strong with that group of coaches as with Al Golden's staff. So, the Vols likely smell blood in the water here.

For what it's worth, Fils-aime is trying to convince his buddy, tweeting out that he tried to lure Byrd to Knoxville with a sign:

Again, Tennessee is loaded in the secondary, but a player like Byrd is too good to pass up. He's a dynamic playmaker, and his athleticism and versatility could even lead to him playing on the offensive side of the ball, if needed.

The U.S. Army All-American would be an excellent addition to Tennessee's class, and it will be too good of an opportunity for him to pass up playing with Fils-aime.

 

Jonathan Kongbo: 6'5", 264-pound 4-Star Defensive End, Surrey, British Columbia

The one-time UT commitment never really stopped considering the Vols, and while it doesn't normally happen that a player decommits and then recommits to a school, Kongbo could definitely do just that.

He's never really given up on Tennessee.

Though he's gone on visits to USC last weekend and Florida State this weekend and also has Ole Miss as a viable candidate to win his services, Kongbo is an extremely real possibility for UT.

The longstanding relationship could wind up securing his commitment. Several Vols coaches visited him this past week to try to close the deal:

Like a lot of players in this year's target list, Kongbo isn't a chatty type who lets people know what he's thinking. The native of the Republic of Congo whose family lives in British Columbia has gone about the recruiting process professionally.

When he decided to visit other schools, he backed off his commitment. UT continued to recruit other linemen, but it kept the pressure on Kongbo, too. The strong-side defensive end from Arizona Western College continued to reciprocate the interest.

If he winds up in Knoxville, Kongbo is the kind of player who can solidify a defensive line with plenty of star power. With UT in more traditional sets under defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, Kongbo can slide right in and replace Curt Maggitt opposite Derek Barnett. He also could add 15-20 pounds and play inside.

The best part about Kongbo's raw ability is that he has three years to play there, and even though he'll likely stay on the outside, that's where Tennessee probably needs him most, anyway, with 2016 likely being Barnett's final year on Rocky Top.

Kongbo is going to be getting after quarterbacks somewhere. It may as well be at Tennessee.

 

Derrick Brown: 6'4", 317-pound 5-Star Defensive Tackle, Buford, Georgia

While most of the experts on the Crystal Ball think Brown will go to either Georgia or Auburn, an out-of-the-box prediction here is that Brown will choose Tennessee on national signing day.

This is a gamble pick that very well could wind up being a swing and miss.

But every time he goes to Knoxville, Brown comes back gushing. While his relationship with Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Garner could win out in the end, the Vols are a dark horse not getting enough love.

Brown would step right in to the rotation at Tennessee. His family loves Jones, and Shoop had plenty of opportunities to get to know the Lanier High School star this weekend.

Still, he was mum coming off his visit to Knoxville this past weekend. If the Vols knocked the official visit out of the park, it wouldn't be a stretch to see him wind up signing with Tennessee.

Last year, defensive line coach Steve Stripling proved his recruiting chops by bringing in Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle, two players who immediately found the field as freshmen. Given the fortune UT had with defensive tackles and its need for more bodies at the position, that's a strong pitch to give Brown.

The Vols desperately need Brown, who'd be the only high school defensive tackle taken by them in this year's cycle. At a position so vital to success in an SEC program, that's a virtual guarantee that Brown will be a big piece of the future puzzle, as well as a rotation guy right away.

Many may think this pick is a reach, but when you put everything together, it makes a ton of sense for Brown to play collegiately in Knoxville. The guess here is he signs with the Vols.

 

All quotes and information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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Ohio State Football Recruiting: Predicting All the Recruits Who Will Sign on NSD

Urban Meyer has Ohio State primed to sign one of the nation's top recruiting classes, and with 22 pledges already in the fold, the Buckeyes coaching staff is working hard to close out strong.

Seven members from Ohio State's 2016 recruiting class—all of whom are rated 4-star prospects—have already enrolled and will take part in spring practice. Factoring in the 15 other committed players, Ohio State likely has three scholarships left before reaching full capacity.

Which three recruits will the Buckeyes add before closing the books on the 2016 recruiting cycle?

The Final 3

Ohio State still has a need in the secondary and at defensive tackle, and it'll fill those holes before signing day on Wednesday. 

In the defensive backfield, Ohio State will close out with Jordan Fuller—a 4-star athlete and the No. 130 prospect overall. Fuller has been a longtime Buckeyes lean, and he'll pull the trigger and announce his commitment on Monday. 

Columbus athlete Malik Harrison will follow suit. 

The Buckeyes only offered the two-way prospect a couple of weeks ago, but that's all the time they needed to surge in front of Michigan State in his recruitment. He can either play wide receiver or linebacker at the collegiate level, but it's unclear which side of the ball he'll end up on in Columbus. What is clear, though, is that he'll be suiting up with the Buckeyes for years to come.

The final commitment of the class will come from Jamar King, a coveted JUCO 3-star defensive lineman from Ukiah, California. 

Alabama and Ohio State have an interest in the 6'5", 285-pound standout, and while both schools are running low on space, it appears that Meyer is the one making King a priority, according to Jeremy Birmingham of Eleven Warriors.

That may be because Ohio State has a huge need for a defensive tackle. And while King is currently listed as a strong-side defensive end, he has the size to slide inside in the Buckeyes' 4-3 scheme—similarly to departed senior Adolphus Washington.

King, at 26 years old, will offer the Buckeyes an immediate, experienced presence in the middle of their defense. The Buckeyes will need that boost, too, after the loss of tackles Washington and Tommy Schutt.

 

All recruiting rankings and information via 247Sports.

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

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Clemson Gives Customized Cake to Mom of Nation's Top Prospect

Clemson really wants Rashan Gary.

The 6’5”, 293-pound defensive lineman made an official visit to the school over the weekend, and while there, his mother posted a shot of this customized Tigers cake.

Being that the Paramus Catholic (N.J.) star is ranked No. 1 in the nation by 247sports, Clemson is wise to pull out all the stops in trying to land him.

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

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25 Best Heisman Trophy Winners of All Time

The Heisman Trophy has had a good offseason.

Cam Newton and Carson Palmer's battle in the NFC Championship Game drew headlines for featuring two former Heisman winners. Newton won't face another Heisman winner in the Super Bowl, but his opponent, Peyton Manning, is notable for not winning the controversial 1997 Heisman, and the person who beat him, defensive back Charles Woodson, enjoyed a fond farewell tour before retiring from the NFL.

How special was Woodson's season to prevent Manning from winning? Where does Cam's undefeated 2010 campaign rank among Heisman-winning quarterbacks?

Let's rank the best Heisman Trophy winners and find out.

But before you read on...a disclaimer. This is a really hard article to write. I've used quantitative data such as stats and records, but there's an obvious element of subjectivity. I also had to account for how "important" a player or season became. That's something you can't stick in a spreadsheet.

So on that note, my apologies for not including your favorite player. Especially with the older guys, whose numbers don't compare because of how the game has changed, I had to make a few tough snubs.

Sound off below and let me know where you disagree!

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Tom Brady, Derek Jeter Reportedly to Attend Michigan National Signing Day Party

Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh will be calling on some heavy hitters to celebrate this year's national signing day.

According to Sports Illustrated's Michael Rosenberg, Tom Brady and Derek Jeter will be in attendance in Ann Arbor for the school's signing day party on Feb. 3. The Players' Tribune confirmed the report.

Alejandro Zuniga of SB Nation's Maize N Brew highlighted how star-studded the party is becoming:

Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel thought this stunt fit right in with Michigan's recent approach to appeal to recruits:

Brady is one of Michigan football's most famous alumni. He was a member of the Wolverines' national championship-winning team in 1997 and helped lead the team to an Orange Bowl win over Alabama in the 1999 season.

Since graduating from the school, Brady has become one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, winning four Super Bowls and two MVP awards.

Jeter doesn't have the same kind of deep ties to the university, but he graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School and was offered a scholarship to Michigan before he ultimately entered the MLB draft out of high school.

The former New York Yankees shortstop also has a stake in the event, since the Players' Tribune, which he founded, is hosting a live stream of Michigan's NSD party.

Ever since Harbaugh became Michigan's head coach, he has thought outside the box on the recruiting trail.

He and his coaching staff traveled to seven states in eight days as part of his Summer Swarm tour during the summer of 2015. More recently, he planned a slumber party with one recruit, baked another a cake and even attended a high school class with another of Michigan's targets.

According to 247Sports' composite ranking, the Wolverines have the No. 5 recruiting class in 2016—a significant improvement from last year's 37th-ranked class. Harbaugh's recruiting methods may be unorthodox, but they're delivering big results for Michigan.

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Jake Lawler to UNC: Tar Heels Land 4-Star DE Prospect

Jake Lawler didn't wait until national signing day to make his decision. He's headed to North Carolina. The 4-star defensive end made his announcement Sunday in a Twitter post:

Lawler, who stars at South Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, is the No. 185 player in the Class of 2017, per 247Sports.  

He ranks ninth among weak-side defensive ends and is the third-best player in the state of North Carolina overall. The Tar Heels were considered the leader in the pack throughout the process, with 60 percent of 247Sports experts predicting he'd land in Chapel Hill. His commitment came a day after attending North Carolina's Junior Day. Duke and South Carolina also received consideration.

Lawler made 72 tackles and 13 sacks during his junior campaign. 

“Jake is a special kid—not just in the way he plays, but in the way he does everything," head coach Rocky White said, per Don Callahan of Scout. “He comes to the early morning workouts. He comes to 2:30 workouts. If we had midnight workouts, Jake would be there. He’s a true road warrior in the weight room… If you had 100 Jake Lawlers, you’d go undefeated. He has good size. He has a fast get-off and uses his hands well.”

He'll return as a senior looking to make more improvements to his size than anything. Listed at 6'3" and 225 pounds, Lawler doesn't have the strength to play defensive end at a major program yet. His speed off the snap is exceptional, but he'd get overpowered by ACC offensive linemen at this point. It's possible Lawler could move to outside linebacker if the additional bulk slows him down; we'll just have to wait to see how he develops over the next 12 months.

As it stands, North Carolina is off to a stellar start with its 2017 class. Lawler is the fourth recruit to give his verbal, with all four ranked as 4-star players. Offensive tackle Jonah Melton and wide receivers Tyler Smith and J.T. Cauthen are already signed up to play for Larry Fedora. Lawler's commitment should see North Carolina push its way close to top-10 status among 2017 classes, as it was already 19th

Comparatively, the Tar Heels arguably have a better class in place for 2017 than they do for 2016. Heading into signing day, they've landed only one 4-star recruit among 25 players and sit 34th in 247Sports' rankings. 

Fresh off an 11-win season and with the ink still drying on a fat new contract, Fedora seems to have his program on an upward swing. Lawler's commitment is just the latest piece of evidence. 

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter

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Baylor Investigating Handling of Past Sexual Assault Cases Amid Accusations

Baylor University may be under fire again after a report by Paula Lavigne for ESPN's Outside the Lines criticized the school's handling of alleged sexual assaults.

Patty Crawford, Baylor's Title IX coordinator, told Lavigne the school has hired an independent consultant to examine how it dealt with past sexual assault investigations.

Lavigne tells the story of a female student, Tanya, who was sexually assaulted by former Bears football player Tevin Elliott. Elliott was eventually sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Baylor's campus police declined to help Tanya since the assault happened off school grounds, while the university's health center suggested she seek counseling from an off-campus facility because the center was so busy.

According to Lavigne, Tanya's story isn't an isolated incident:

Yet an investigation by Outside the Lines found several examples in Tanya's case, and others at Baylor, in which school officials either failed to investigate, or adequately investigate, allegations of sexual violence. In many cases, officials did not provide support to those who reported assaults. Moreover, it took Baylor more than three years to comply with a federal directive: In April 2011, the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to all colleges and universities outlining their responsibilities under Title IX, including the need for each school to have a Title IX coordinator. Baylor didn't hire a full-time coordinator until fall 2014.

Serious questions arose after the school's handling of a case involving former football player Sam Ukwuachu. Jessica Luther and Dan Solomon wrote an in-depth report in August 2015 for Texas Monthly detailing the allegations against Ukwuachu and many of the school's missteps as it investigated the claims against him.

Baylor launched an internal probe following the report, with school President Ken Starr concluding last August that an outside source would need to conduct further analysis to properly account for the school's potential failings during the investigatory process.

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The Pizza Delivery Guy Who Made It Big: The College Recruitment of J.J. Watt

Try to imagine J.J. Watt as "the guy from Pizza Hut." It almost happened.

It's amazing to think Watt was a shattered dream away from possibly being remembered as one of the best pass-rushing pizza delivery guys in the state of Wisconsin, rather than as one of the NFL's most dominating defensive linemen.

Before Watt was the award-winning, pass-deflecting, quarterback-eating, touchdown-scoring sackmaster NFL fans have grown to respect and admire, he was a guy who nearly had his football dreams turn to dust. He worked at a local Pizza Hut in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, after leaving a scholarship at Central Michigan.

Watt took the job before enrolling at Wisconsin, where he chose to play football as a walk-on. Either he was going to make it as an FBS-scholarship defensive end after leaving Central Michigan as an unsatisfied tight end, or he was going to be a statistic, someone who had a shot elsewhere but threw the opportunity away.

It was definitely a gamble. Needless to say, Watt gambled and won. In fact, he won big.

"It's been a long journey," Watt told USA Today in 2012, "but it's been a lot of fun."

 

The recruiting woes

Most of the football world now knows Watt as the 6'5", 289-pound dynamo who makes his living as a defensive end but also moonlights as a tight end, H-back or whatever other position he's called to play. John and Connie Watt, however, know him as the relatively shy Justin James Watt.

A member of the 2007 recruiting class, Watt was a fan of all sports growing up but especially loved playing hockey. He competed on youth travel teams before putting the stick down to focus on football, despite the fact that he was a tall, lanky athlete who weighed 220 pounds his junior year.  

"He had an athletic body, but the muscle maturity wasn't quite there yet," said John Watt, J.J.'s father and a retired firefighter for 30 years who also served two years as a lieutenant paramedic. "After his junior year, you could see his body starting to catch up and get to a point where there certainly was some potential there."

But Watt didn't have the monster list of offers that some may assume. As it was, there wasn't a high demand for undersized defensive ends.

Clay Iverson knows. He coached at Pewaukee High School for seven years, including Watt's junior and senior years, and he saw Watt earn offers from schools such as Minnesota, Colorado, Wyoming and Northern Illinois before ultimately signing a letter of intent to Central Michigan.

"I think if anyone said they saw this coming, they should do some pre-NFL scouting—or, they're lying," Iverson said of Watt's pro career. "No one could have predicted he'd be one of the best football players in the world, but everything he told me, I never doubted. Everything he said came with a lot of hard work."

After finishing his junior year earning all-conference honors, mononucleosis robbed Watt of the chance to showcase his skills during the offseason entering his senior year. The recovery forced him to miss all of the multiple school camps and combines that would have given him the opportunities that some of his peers received.

"The end of his junior year, that was supposed to be his big opportunity," John Watt said. "He was told to take it easy or risk doing damage. [He] was kind of a dark horse, because coaches didn't get to see him. It was hard for J.J. to see some of the guys he knew get interest that he knew he should have gotten."

Connie Watt, J.J.'s mother, said that span between his junior and senior year "drove him crazy," but it also motivated him. For her, she was grateful that mononucleosis wasn't something more serious, but she noticed her son growing more and more impatient with every passing day.

"We originally thought it was leukemia. It was scary," said Connie, who runs Watt's charity, the J.J. Watt Foundation, which reaches out to schools with insufficient funding for after-school athletic programs.

"Recruiting was incredibly stressful and challenging for all of us. There were times I'd get up in the middle of the night, and he wasn't sleeping because he was worried about it. We kept telling him to stay positive and that things were out of his control. That was something he had to learn to accept." 

 

Shining late in the process

Despite Watt's then-unremarkable dimensions, Iverson was struck by how his young lineman played bigger than his size.

"He was always very aggressive and always a very hard worker," Iverson said of Watt. "He had to fight through his growth spurt, but he was always aggressive. He had a knack for making the biggest plays in the biggest games. I don't know if you can coach that."

Watt, rated only a 2-star prospect in the 2007 class by both Rivals.com and Scout.com, was able to build his reputation by way of game film—and, in some cases, other teammates' game films. John Watt remembers a time when Iverson sent film out on another Pewaukee athlete, but the coaches "asked about that No. 9 kid." That kid was Watt.

Watt also shined in big games. He had a chance to line up against St. Frances High School and offensive tackle Josh Oglesby, the top-ranked player out of Wisconsin in the 2007 class and a 5-star prospect by Rivals.com. It ended up being one of Watt's best games—one that made a solid highlight tape.

Wyoming took notice and was the first school to make an offer. Though it came late in Watt's senior year, the offer helped to get a slow recruiting process going. Central Michigan was next to make an offer, followed by Minnesota, Northern Illinois and Colorado.

Watt committed to Central Michigan following an early December 2006 visit, as he was a fan of then-head coach Brian Kelly, who now is at Notre Dame. But days after Watt's pledge, Kelly took the head coaching job at Cincinnati.

Watt switched his commitment to Minnesota later in the month, as he had become a fan of head coach Glen Mason. On Dec. 31, however, Minnesota fired Mason, leaving Watt once again without the head coach he was expecting to see as a freshman. Watt ultimately recommitted to Central Michigan on Jan. 30, 2007, and played for then-new head coach Butch Jones, who is now at Tennessee.

Central Michigan, however, wasn't what Watt expected. For starters, he was playing out of position.

"They wanted to use him as a tight end, but they used a spread offense," John Watt recalled. "His freshman year only [saw him catch] eight passes. He said, 'This isn't what I signed up for.'"

Watt decided to leave Central Michigan, give up his scholarship and give things a shot at Wisconsin, a school he admired and cheered for as a young boy. It was a huge gamble, but it turned out to be one of the best moves he's ever made.

 

Perseverance trumps all

Watt decided to walk on at Wisconsin, but to do so, he had to ask his parents to pay for a year of tuition, and he also picked up a part-time job. 

Presenting J.J. Watt, pizza delivery guy.

"It definitely gave him a look at what would happen if he didn't go to college," Connie Watt said. "It gave him the idea of working hard and show[ed] that it wasn't something he wanted to do his whole life."

"Seeing how much faith my parents put in me, knowing what it took for me to leave a scholarship, leave a MAC championship team [Central Michigan] and take a gamble, I would look like a fool if I was wrong," Watt told the Houston Chronicle back in 2012. "And I don't like looking like a fool."

Watt, who changed positions with the change in schools, knew if he didn't make it at Wisconsin, his football career was done. But he went from being a walk-on to being named the Badgers' defensive scout team player of the year as a defensive end in 2008.

He became a scholarship player who earned all-conference and All-American honors. He then decided to forgo his senior season and enter the 2011 NFL draft, where the Texans selected him with the 11th overall pick.

The rest is history.

"I don't know if anyone could've predicted that this is how it could go," Watt told JerryBarca.com before the draft. "It's been an unbelievable ride. I feel like I should ask myself, 'When am I going to wake up?'"

Watt's story, indeed, is one of perseverance.

"[He] always had lofty goals, but you never doubted him," Iverson said. "I've never seen a young man so committed and so quick to put all the foolishness around him on the back burner at such a young age.

"Whatever he has inside, it's what makes the special 'special.'"

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles.

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Erik Swenson to Oklahoma: Sooners Land 4-Star OT Prospect

On Saturday, Erik Swenson, the No. 29 offensive tackle in the 2016 class, announced he will play football next season for the Oklahoma Sooners.

The 6'7", 285-pound Downers Grove, Illinois, native is the fifth-best prospect in his state, per 247Sports. He originally committed to the Michigan Wolverines in 2013 but claimed the school pulled his scholarship offer in January without giving a reason, per Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com.

Based on a quote provided by Brandon Justice of MaizeNBrew.com, Swenson seems to be at ease with his decision to attend Oklahoma:

The Sooners moved into the top 25 of 247Sports' team rankings and now have eight 3- and 4-star commitments. Here are some highlights from Swenson's junior season, when he averaged 17.5 pancake blocks per game and yielded zero sacks, per Hudl.com:

Oklahoma offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh is looking forward to having Swenson on the roster:

Swenson should have an opportunity to fight for playing time early. The Sooners offensive line was a mess at the start of last year, using a different starting five in each of the first four games of the season, per Guerin Emig of the Tulsa World. After a loss to the Texas Longhorns, head coach Bob Stoops found a lineup that worked, which included two freshmen: Orlando Brown and Dru Samia.

The Sooners lost center Ty Darlington and guard Nila Kasitati to graduation, though, so there will be another shake-up next year.

Based on recent performance and high recruiting rankings this year, the Sooners and Wolverines should both be successful in the near future. If they happen to meet in a bowl game or the College Football Playoff over the next three or four years, Swenson will have a great opportunity to show Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh what he missed.

 

All rankings per 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Dak Prescott Named 2016 Senior Bowl MVP: Latest Comments and Reaction

Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott was named the MVP of the Senior Bowl after completing 7 of 10 passes for 61 yards and a touchdown in Saturday's game.

The official Senior Bowl account tweeted this after the game ended:

CBS Sports has the senior quarterback as the sixth best signal-caller in the upcoming draft class and has him projected to be taken between the third and fourth round. 

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Senior Bowl 2016: Score and Twitter Reaction for College All-Star Game

The South All-Stars came out on top, 27-16, over the North All-Stars on Saturday at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, and several players seemingly boosted their draft stock in the process.

Chief among them was Mississippi State and South quarterback Dak Prescott, who completed seven of 10 passes for 61 yards and one touchdown to go along with 13 rushing yards on three carries en route to being named Most Outstanding Player, according to the Senior Bowl on Twitter:

North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz was among the most talked-about prospects in Mobile throughout the week, and he was the main focus of the first quarter as the North's starting signal-caller.

While Wentz didn't orchestrate any scoring drives, he completed six of his 10 attempts for 50 yards and rushed three times for two yards.

It wasn't a transcendent performance by any means, but according to NFL Network's Charles Davis, the fast-rising quarterback made quite a positive impression during his time at the Senior Bowl:

The South got on the board first with four minutes remaining in the opening quarter by virtue of a 25-yard touchdown run from TCU running back Aaron Green.

Green enjoyed a fantastic, under-the-radar season with 1,272 rushing yards and 12 total touchdowns for the Horned Frogs, and Davis is among those who have taken notice:

The South All-Stars tacked three more points onto their score near the end of the first quarter when Duke's Ross Martin drilled a 48-yard field goal.

The North finally got on the board with under three minutes remaining in the half by virtue of a seven-minute drive orchestrated by Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan.

UCLA's Ka'imi Fairbairn converted a 36-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 10-3, but moving the ball down the field wasn't necessarily easy for the North due to Eastern Kentucky pass-rusher Noah Spence's dominance on the drive for the South.

Spence was a disruptive force who managed to sack Hogan on the drive in impressive fashion, per Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

According to Peter Schrager of Fox Sports, his performance didn't come as much of a surprise considering how good he looked throughout the week during practice:

Per Davis, Spence received some high praise as one of the main attractions at the Senior Bowl:

If Spence was the most impressive defensive player, Prescott may have opened up the most eyes on the offensive side of the ball.

He took the reins under center for the South in the second quarter, and he didn't disappoint, as he was the only quarterback in the game to throw a touchdown until the very last play of the day.

The 2014 All-SEC selection conducted a 10-play drive in just two minutes and 34 seconds, culminating in a five-yard touchdown pass to Southeast Missouri State wide receiver Paul McRoberts to put the South on top 17-3 with 22 seconds remaining in the half.

David Helman of DallasCowboys.com praised Prescott for his ability to move the football down the field quickly and efficiently under the pressure of the clock:

As for McRoberts, the small-school wideout came to Mobile amid little fanfare, but he performed well in the Senior Bowl with three grabs for 24 yards and caught the eye of Bleacher Report's Matt Miller:

Unlike McRoberts, Ohio State quarterback-turned-wide receiver Braxton Miller was one pass-catcher who drew a crowd all week along.

His stat line in the Senior Bowl was pedestrian, as he caught two passes for eight yards, rushed once for five yards, returned one kick for 31 yards and returned a punt for two yards, but he was so good in practice that Dane Brugler of CBS Sports could see him cracking the first round in April's draft:

The North entered the third quarter facing a two-touchdown deficit, which prompted it to turn to USC's Cody Kessler at quarterback.

With Wentz receiving much of the attention in terms of quarterbacks, Kessler seized the opportunity to make NFL talent evaluators notice him.

Although he completed just four of his 10 passing attempts for 45 yards, he put on a gutsy display with a one-yard touchdown run with less than two minutes left in the third quarter to pull the North within 10 points of the lead.

During the game, NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock compared Kessler to a Cincinnati Bengals signal-caller who started to establish himself as one of the best in the league in 2015:

Kessler's showing was somewhat of a surprise from the perspective of South Florida Sun-Sentinel writer Omar Kelly since he didn't light it up during the practices leading up to the Senior Bowl:

The South team's third-quarter passer managed to stand out as well despite not putting any points on the board. Arkansas' Brandon Allen moved the ball down the field effectively, connecting on seven of 10 passes for 106 yards.

In fact, Steve Sullivan of KATV felt as though Allen showed more than any other quarterback in the game on the heels of a 30-touchdown season:

One of Allen's favorite targets in the third quarter was Kansas State fullback and tight end Glenn Gronkowski, who is the younger brother of New England Patriots superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski. The aptly nicknamed "Baby Gronk" finished with three receptions for 47 yards and showed the potential to be an effective H-back at the next level.

The South All-Stars managed to put a bow on the game with just over six minutes left in the contest when Alabama's Kenyan Drake rushed for a one-yard touchdown to make the score 27-10.

Drake didn't make many of the explosive plays he became known for with the Crimson Tide, but as Alex Byington of the Decatur Daily pointed out, he contributed in multiple areas:

Although the game was out of reach at that point, the North didn't pack it in with Louisiana Tech quarterback Jeff Driskel under center. The former Florida signal-caller managed to turn in the best statistical day of any quarterback, with eight completions on nine attempts for 108 yards and one touchdown.

The score came on the final play of the game in the form of what was essentially a 29-yard Hail Mary to Michigan State wide receiver Aaron Burbridge.

According to NFL.com's Chase Goodbread, Driskel really showed off his arm on the play and ended the contest on a high note:

As is always the case, the Senior Bowl was an excellent showcase for experienced prospects who don't always receive the same level of hype that many of the underclassmen do.

A number of those who took part in Saturday's game made a strong case to be considered in the first round of the draft, with Wentz and Spence especially standing out in that regard. There is still a long and arduous draft process to come, including the combine, pro days and interviews with interested teams. Game action usually rules the day when it comes to evaluating players, though, and all 32 franchises were given plenty to look at and consider with regard to the Senior Bowl.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.  

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Tanner Lee to Nebraska: Latest Transfer Details, Comments and Reaction

Former Tulane quarterback Tanner Lee announced via his Twitter account Saturday that he has transfered to the University of Nebraska. 

Here is his announcement:

After two years at Tulane, the QB was granted his release by the school on Jan. 7. 

Lee does have some connections to Nebraska. Per Sam McKewon of Omaha.com, he worked with Nebraska's wide receivers coach Keith Williams, who coached at Tulane. 

Per 247Sports.com, Lee was the 75th-rated quarterback in the country coming out of the class of 2013. 

During his time at Tulane, Lee passed for 3,601 yards and had 23 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in 19 career games. In both of those seasons, Tulane went 3-9, struggling in the American Athletic Conference. 

His decision to leave Tulane was likely impacted by the school hiring Willie Fritz as the team's new head coach after the firing of Curtis Johnson. Formerly at Georgia Southern University, Fritz ran an option-style offense that led the nation in rushing last season. 

Lee, who is more of a pro-style passer that likes to stay in the pocket, would have had a difficult time in that offense. 

He has a powerful arm, though, and is capable of throwing the deep ball over plenty of defenses in the NCAA, as Fear the Wave shows:

At Nebraska, Lee will have more of an opportunity to show off his arm under head coach Mike Riley. Last season, Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. attempted 402 passes and threw for over 3,000 yards. 

Returning for his senior season, Armstrong will finish up his collegiate career while Lee sits out 2016 due to transfer rules. 

He is bound to have some competition in order to win the starting job, of course. At the moment, according to Nebraska's roster from last year, A.J. Bush and Zack Darlington will be juniors by the time Lee's ready to play. 

Lee will have an opportunity to acclimate to life in Nebraska during his year off and learn the offense inside and out. If the transfer goes well and he picks things up without a hitch, he could be the main man slinging passes in Lincoln come the fall of 2017. 

 

Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com

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Cal Acknowledges Liability in 2014 Death of Football Player Ted Agu

The University of California has acknowledged its negligence in the 2014 death of defensive end Ted Agu. 

According to Kimberly Veklerov of the San Francisco Chronicle, Cal made its admission following testimony in a lawsuit filed by Agu's parents:

The admission comes after testimony in a lawsuit brought by Agu’s parents raised questions about the actions of Cal football personnel in the events that preceded his death. The testimony, given in confidential depositions, also detailed allegations that campus officials did not provide the Alameda County coroner’s office with all police and medical records after Agu died, including some that indicated he had sickle cell trait — a blood abnormality that experts believe can lead to death under extreme exertion.

Agu died Feb. 7, 2014, after collapsing during a training run outside California Memorial Stadium where the Golden Bears play their home games. 

Cal team physician Dr. Casey Batten told Josh Dubow of the Associated Press there didn't appear to be anything wrong with Agu after he was placed on a cart into the stadium: "He was on the back of the cart, he was talking, he was hydrating, he did not exhibit any labored breathing or other signs until he got to the north tunnel."  

In April 2014, per Henry K. Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Alameda County coroner's office announced Agu died from the heart condition known as "hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or excessive thickening of the heart muscle."

Veklerov noted Cal's admission "does not necessarily signal a settlement," with one of Agu's parents' attorneys, Steve Yerrid, saying "there needs to be reform and meaningful change" as a result of his passing and the circumstances surrounding it. 

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Doug Nussmeier Reportedly Will Remain Florida's Offensive Coordinator

According to Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman on Saturday, University of Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will be staying with the Gators next season. 

Per Feldman, he was the leading candidate for the head coaching vacancy at Southern Mississippi.   

Nussmeier doesn't have a history of staying in one place for long. Since his coaching career started in 2001, he's had nine stops around football, including stints in the Canadian Football League and the NFL as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. 

The 45-year-old has been an offensive coordinator since 2008, with stints at Fresno State, Washington, Alabama and Michigan before joining Florida in 2014. 

On a team that's built a reputation for its defense the past couple of years, Nussmeier's offense hasn't exactly seen overwhelming success at Florida.

His unit ranked 111th in the nation in total offense last season. Much of that had to do with the suspension of quarterback Will Grier for performance-enhancing drugs. But the year before, the Gators were ranked 96th, so the drop wasn't exactly dramatic. 

Even so, Southern Mississippi was still high on Nussmeier after the departure of head coach Todd Monken, who took a job as offensive coordinator with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. According to Football Scoop, Nussmeier met with Southern Mississippi on Wednesday, and the meeting went "very well." Sources told the website that he was a strong candidate for the job. 

His return to Florida could provide a weight off of head coach Jim McElwain's shoulders, however. The Gators already have to find a replacement for defensive backs coach Kirk Callahan, who McElwain announced would not be returning to the program on Jan. 15. 

Adding another coaching search to an already hectic time of year could have affected Florida's productivity. With national signing day just around the corner on Feb. 3, some offensive recruits might have thought twice about their decision to commit to Florida hadNussmeier left. 

Now, though, the Gators can rest easy knowing that their plans on the offensive side of the ball can continue as planned.

 

Stats courtesy of NCAA.com 

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Devery Hamilton Switches Commitment from Michigan to Stanford

Prized offensive tackle recruit Devery Hamilton shocked the University of Michigan on Saturday by switching his commitment to Stanford despite agreeing to play for the Wolverines in June.

According to Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports, Hamilton made the decision during an in-home visit from Cardinal head coach David Shaw on Friday.

Per 247Sports, Hamilton is a 4-star prospect who rates as the No. 22 offensive tackle recruit in the entire nation.   

According to Wiltfong, Hamilton's assistant coach at Gilman High School in Baltimore, Henry Russell, said schooling played a big role in the offensive lineman's decision to flip.

"I think just the academics that Stanford has to offer and his parents having a family friend out there who can help make the distance more doable," Russell said.

Brandon Justice of Go Blue Radio touched on how significant the loss of Hamilton is from Michigan's perspective:

Also, Nick Baumgardner of MLive pointed out that losing commits has turned into a disturbing trend for the Wolverines:

Hamilton is a big, athletic tackle at 6'6" and 290 pounds, according to 247sports, and stealing him away from Michigan is a major coup for a Stanford team that relies heavily on its running game, spearheaded by Christian McCaffrey.

The switch is a somewhat interesting one considering Hamilton opted to go from head coach Jim Harbaugh's current team to the program he led prior to his stint as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

Shaw convinced Hamilton to make a move completely across the country, which speaks to how respected the Stanford football program has become in recent years.

Harbaugh undoubtedly started that transformation, so in some ways, he played a role in his own demise with regard to Hamilton.

Michigan is still very much a program on the rise, even with Hamilton no longer in the fold, but replacing a player of his caliber this late in the recruiting process will be an extremely tall task for Harbaugh.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Ranking Top New College Football Coordinators for 2016

This winter’s college football coaching carousel is nearly complete, after rolling to a stop and then lurching forward again when Southern Miss coach Todd Monken left to become a wide receivers coach with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Regardless, when the Golden Eagles hire a leader, they'll almost certainly finish hiring for the 2015-16 offseason. Head coaching hires are crucial to a program’s success, but almost as important are the assistants those coaches pick to make their program hum.

Think about it: Where would Clemson be without defensive coordinator Brent Venables or Oklahoma without offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley? Coordinators matter, and becoming one is often the final step before moving on to a head coaching role. Of the 27 FBS jobs filled thus far this offseason, only eight were claimed by coaches with prior head coaching experience. Getting the right hires as your offensive and defensive coordinators is highly important. Here’s a look at the best coordinator hires of this offseason.

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National Signing Day 2016: Top Uncommitted Recruits to Watch

Optimism among college football fans will be at a feverish high on Wednesday, Feb. 3, for national signing day. The top high school players in the nation will put ink to paper confirming the programs they will join as potential stars or saviors.

Several of the best prep prospects will reveal their chosen school on Wednesday, and many of them will be the gems of the lucky university's latest class of talent. 

Here's a look at the top uncommitted prospects to watch on national signing day. Player ratings are based on the 247Sports composite rankings. ESPNMediaZone.com has a list of its signing announcement coverage.

 

Rashan Gary, DT, Paramus Catholic (Paramus, New Jersey)

Rashan Gary isn't just the best uncommitted player heading into Saturday's signing flurry. He's the best prospect in the nation, period. A rare consensus No. 1, Gary is 293 pounds and clocks in at an absurd 4.74 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He's racked up 27.5 sacks over the past two seasons.

Gary will announce his decision at 1 p.m. ET Wednesday on ESPN2, per ESPN.com's Tom VanHaaren. Though most experts see him bolstering an already terrifying Michigan defense—79 percent of 247Sports' Crystal Ball experts see him becoming a Wolverine—there is a chance another school could steal him away.

Gary is making a weekend visit to Clemson, per TigerNet.com's Tony Crumpton. The Tigers have some enticing selling points, per Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue:

The Tigers coaching staff, specifically defensive coordinator Brent Venables, have an opportunity to showcase a program that has quickly ascended college football's hierarchy. Clemson is 56-12 since 2011 and returns Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson at quarterback for at least one more season. 

Unlike other schools under his consideration, Clemson's coaches boast cohesiveness that's tough to locate elsewhere. Auburn, USC and Michigan each hired a new defensive coordinator this winter, forcing Gary and his mother to re-acclimate with a fresh presence.

The defensive line in particular has been crucial to Clemson's recent success. Though he plays on the interior, Gary might be keen to join a program that has developed studs like Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd, both of whom project as early picks in this year's NFL draft.

Other schools are of course still keeping tabs on him. 247Sports' Keith Niebuhr reported Gary had a chat with a notable Auburn freshman on Thursday:

Alabama, Ole Miss and Southern California are also still in the mix and have predictions from 247Sports' experts. Wherever Gary decides to go, he will certainly be the prize of that school's draft class and will spark a national conversation about its prospects' future prospects.

 

Derrick Brown, DT, Lanier (Buford, Georgia)

While Gary is the prize defensive tackle of the 2016 class, Lanier's Derrick Brown isn't very far behind in terms of talent or potential. He's the No. 4 prospect at the position and No. 9 overall. According to a report from Niebuhr, a source said Brown has winnowed his choices down to Alabama, Tennessee and Auburn However, Brown's mother refuted that claim, saying Mississippi State and Georgia are still potential landing spots, per AL.com's Drew Champlin.

"That's not true," Martha Brown said, per Champlin. "I don't know where that comes from, but that's not true. We will start calling universities that he's not interested in and let them know so they can offer a scholarship to someone else."

According to Niebuhr, Brown is set to reveal his decision at 3 p.m. ET Wednesday on ESPN.

It would be quite the coup if Tennessee could land Brown, beating out the allure of playing for a perennial contender in Alabama or the home-state advantage enjoyed by the Bulldogs. The Volunteers have been a mediocre outfit for the better part of the last decade, though they've steadily improved under current coach Butch Jones and finished 9-4 in 2015, their best record since going 10-4 in 2007.

Fox Sports' Michael Wayne Bratton noted that Brown is one of three talented players making a quick final visit to Tennessee on the weekend.

"Three uncommitted 5-star prospects expected to be in Knoxville this weekend include: U.S Army All-Americans defensive tackle Derrick Brown and defensive back Nigel Warrior as well as Under Armour All-American offensive lineman Landon Dickerson," Bratton wrote.

Having other talented players around during the trip might sway Brown, convincing him the Vols are a team indeed trending in the right direction. However, the other schools mentioned have all enjoyed greater success as of late.

The majority of experts (53 percent) are picking Brown to stay close to home and join Georgia, while Alabama certainly could have openings in the middle of the defensive line, with Jarran Reed and A'Shawn Robinson projecting as top NFL prospects for this year's draft.

 

Ben Davis, ILB, Gordo (Gordo, Alabama)

Alabama is always a hotbed of football talent, and Ben Davis is the best of this year's bunch from the state. He's the No. 1 inside linebacker in the 2016 class and the No. 10 prospect overall.

Naturally, the Crimson Tide are the favorites to land his signature, with 100 percent of 247Sports' Crystal Ball experts expecting him to join coach Nick Saban's dynastic program. Not only are they the home-state powerhouse, but Davis' father, Wayne Davis, played football for Alabama, and it's no secret he's been encouraging his son to play there.

"No matter who it is—Florida, LSU, Georgia—I'm pushing Ben to my alma mater," Wayne said in October, per Champlin. "I've been open with them about that."

Davis is such a special talent that other schools of course haven't given up on winning him over, even late into the process. NBC Sports' Keith Arnold noted Notre Dame made quite the pitch to Davis recently, and a strong recruiting presence was a key part of that:

Credit first-year assistant Autry Denson for making the in-roads with Davis. The blue-chip linebacker told Irish 247's Tom Loy that he views Denson as a brother and that they'll "maintain a friendship for life." That's the type of recruiter Notre Dame needed when they replaced Tony Alford, and Denson did a heckuva job with his young position group, too.

Kelly's sales pitch to Davis is probably more true than even Irish fans want to acknowledge. While Nyles Morgan is the heir apparent to Joe Schmidt in the middle of the Irish defense, to think there isn’t room for a prospect like Davis in a linebacking corps that returns only James Onwualu (10th on the defense in total snaps) to the starting lineup would be under-appreciating Davis' talent.

While Davis is still likely to join Alabama, Crimson Tide fans can't count him among their crop of talent just yet. There is still time for this young man to make a shock decision.

 

All player stats, measurables and rankings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Keith Gavin to Florida State: Seminoles Land 4-Star WR Prospect

Class of 2016 4-star wide receiver prospect Keith Gavin announced he has committed to the Florida State Seminoles on Friday night.

Gavin posted to Twitter a statement along with a photo of himself with members of the Seminoles coaching staff:

Coming out of Wakulla High School in Crawfordville, Florida, Gavin is the 19th-ranked prospect in the state and the 17th-ranked wide receiver in the nation, according to 247Sports' composite ranking

Gavin provides a menacing presence from the wide receiver position. At 6'3", 211 pounds, Gavin is a strong pass-catcher who will impose his will on defenders all around the ACC. 

Even with that kind of size, Gavin exhibits above-average athleticism due to his quick feet. He's able to create space with that kind of agility as well as get by potential tacklers. 

He's received comparisons to professional receivers like the Pittsburgh Steelers' Martavis Bryant, according to Elite Scouting Services.

One drawback that he does have is his speed. He isn't the fastest receiver, and as Scout.com describes it, Gavin "does not have a second gear." 

Still, if he is able to get even stronger and simply outmuscle defenders, speed won't be the most important thing. As long as he continues to provide a strong set of hands and be a big, reliable target, Gavin is going to see plenty of success at the next level with FSU. 

Florida State's passing attack will get a boost in Gavin, who will be looking to help the Seminoles improve on the aerial game's ranking of 38th last season. 

The Seminoles will be returning leading receiver Travis Rudolph, who recorded almost 300 more yards than second-leading receiver Jesus Wilson despite Rudolph having just one more reception.

Adding Gavin could give Florida State a chance to continue to open its passing attack. It will only help its offense, which was anchored by the stellar play of running back Dalvin Cook last season. 

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