NCAA Football News
Head coach Urban Meyer and Ohio State found themselves in a familiar spot on national signing day, pacing the Big Ten with the conference's top recruiting class for the fifth consecutive year.
The Buckeyes' 25-member class ranked fourth nationally behind Alabama, Florida State and LSU and filled a number of big needs on the roster—primarily at wide receiver and in the secondary.
With the number of holes to fill in Ohio State's two-deep roster, Meyer envisions plenty of first-year players making an immediate impact.
"I hope 18 of them play," Meyer said of his 2016 recruiting class, according to Ari Wasserman of the Plain Dealer.
Here's a look at the newest Buckeyes.
Cherry-Picking the State of Ohio
Ohio State didn't dominate the in-state recruiting scene like it usually does, but it did a good job of cherry-picking some of the top players from its own backyard.
Since Meyer took over the Buckeyes in 2012, he's managed to sign 21 of the state's top 40 players, highlighted by nabbing the No. 1 overall Ohio prospect each year since 2012. This year, Ohio State only signed four of the state's top 10 players—4-stars Jonathon Cooper (defensive end), Demario McCall (all-purpose back), Jake Hausmann (tight end) and Luke Farrell (tight end)—and failed to nab No. 1-ranked Tommy Kraemer (offensive tackle).
In total, nine of the Buckeyes' 25 new players hail from the state of Ohio, so Meyer and his coaching staff did a good job of pulling from the local talent pool.
Loading Up on Playmakers
Ohio State lost a lot of firepower to the NFL with the departures of running back Ezekiel Elliott and wide receivers Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller. One of Meyer's top recruiting priorities was to load up on offensive playmakers ahead of 2016, and that's exactly what he did with this class.
It starts at wide receiver, where the Buckeyes signed two of the country's most dangerous red-zone threats in Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor. Mack, the nation's 10th-ranked wide receiver, is a 6'2" blazer who can go up and make tough catches. Victor, rated the 12th-best receiver, is nearly 6'4" and a polished route-runner who uses his size to his advantage.
McCall, who played running back in high school, is projecting to H-back at the collegiate level, and he's the biggest home run hitter in the class. He'll have a running mate in 4-star Antonio Williams, the seventh-best running back in the country.
Behind center, though, Ohio State is excited about 4-star quarterback Dwayne Haskins. The Buckeyes were able to wrangle Haskins away from the home-state Maryland Terrapins, and Meyer thinks he has a special talent in the fold, as he told Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman on The Audible podcast:
Originally, I thought Dwayne would be a redshirt candidate. When I first started recruiting him two years ago, he was very skinny. Then about three weeks ago, I saw him work out. I’ve been blessed to be around some incredible quarterbacks. But he’s the best that I’ve seen at his age since I’ve been coaching.
Another Bosa Headlines the Defensive Haul
Superstar defensive end Joey Bosa anchored Ohio State's defense over the last two seasons, and while his departure will leave a big void in the defensive line, his younger brother Nick is on his way to Columbus and headlines a huge influx of defensive talent.
Nick Bosa, Ohio State's lone 5-star prospect, is the top-ranked strong-side defensive end and the No. 8 overall recruit nationally. He tore his ACL during his senior season, but he's ahead of schedule in his recovery and has a good chance of being healthy before fall camp starts.
He's the headliner for a special group of defenders.
The Buckeyes also got a big boost to their pass rush with the addition of Cooper, the nation's third-best weak-side defensive end. The linebacker corps was bolstered by 4-stars Tuf Borland, who enrolled early to take part in spring camp, and Keandre Jones, who Meyer singled out on signing day, per the Ozone's Patrick Murphy:
When Meyer came to Ohio State, he talked about a philosophy that he and his staff didn't redshirt their freshmen. That wasn't the case last year, however, when only a handful of Ohio State's 25 freshmen saw the field during the 2015 campaign.
But with the mass departure of talent—the Buckeyes are replacing 16 starters and a number of key reserves—there will be a lot of opportunities for young players to crack the two-deep rotation.
Meyer talked about that potential at his signing day press conference, saying he has aspirations that 18 of his new players will see the field this fall. So which Buckeyes are primed for early playing time?
Both Bosa and Cooper are talented enough to factor into Ohio State's defensive line rotation. Meyer is very high on Jones at linebacker, and he and Fuller could get their feet wet on special teams.
Offensively, there's a huge opportunity for wideouts Mack, Victor and McCall, thanks to the attrition on the perimeter. And Haskins, the quarterback Meyer has fallen in love with, will compete for the No. 2 spot with Stephen Collier and Joe Burrow this fall.
Unlike last year, it won't take long for Buckeyes fans to see the new freshmen in action.
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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National signing day 2016 was the typical frenzy of activity, with eager college football fans, programs and commentators across the nation awaiting the commitment decisions of the top high school football players.
The best of the best, the blue-chip prospects, receive the most attention from various programs and have incredibly tough decisions to make. Only so many prep players earn the coveted 5-star rating, and only so many programs have the opportunity to land one of these talents.
Putting together a complete recruiting class is important, but landing that one potentially transcendent player can boost a program's profile for years to come.
Here's the full list of 5-star recruits and where they will play college ball. Rankings are based on 247Sports' composite ratings.
Michigan Lands Consensus No. 1 Rashan Gary
In his first year as Michigan coach, Jim Harbaugh transformed the Wolverines defense into one of the most feared groups in the nation. A string of three straight shutouts early in the 2015 season drew the program plenty of buzz.
The famously intense coach is no slouch when it comes to molding young players in a hurry, and he now has the opportunity to develop the top overall recruit in the nation in Rashan Gary.
Gary donned the maize and blue cap live on ESPN2 on Wednesday, confirming what many recruiting analysts had long expected. Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue provided some insight as to why the New Jersey kid chose to play football in Ann Arbor:
"Former Paramus Catholic head coach Chris Partridge is now a member of the Wolverines staff and played a pivotal role in this recruitment. Gary becomes the sixth New Jersey product to join Michigan's class, which includes multiple close friends."
Michigan Football passed along highlights of its latest and greatest recruit:
Based on 247Sports' composite rankings, Gary is the first No. 1 overall prospect to choose a non-SEC school since Matt Barkley signed with USC in 2009. It's not easy to beat out the allure of the SEC schools; SB Nation's map of 5-star recruits and their commitments shows the best talent is concentrated the Southeastern United States.
No less than Alabama, Auburn and Ole Miss were targeting Gary, but he eventually chose the northern program looking to return to former levels of glory.
Gary has the size, power and speed to be a punishing every-down defensive tackle at the next level. The future is bright for both Gary and Michigan football as a whole.
Alabama Adds Linebackers Ben Davis, Mack Wilson to Already-Terrifying Recruiting Class
A number of players made commitments to the Crimson Tide on Wednesday, most notable among them linebackers Ben Davis and Lyndell "Mack" Wilson. They joined offensive tackle Jonah Williams in their pledge to play ball in Tuscaloosa, giving Alabama three 5-star recruits for 2016.
Georgia and Ole Miss also managed to get their own trio of 5-star studs, but neither school's class can match the depth of Alabama's. Head coach Nick Saban is a master recruiter, with former South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier going so far as to call him the best ever, per Bleacher Report's Christopher Walsh:
I think they've had five No. 1 recruiting classes out of the last six years, which has got to make him the greatest recruiter in the history of college football. Arguably, they've got the greatest collection of football players ever assembled for a college team. If the recruiting services are correct, and they're pretty much correct.
Davis is the No. 10 overall recruit and top inside linebacker. He's a legacy recruit for Alabama. His father, Wayne Davis, is the program's all-time leading tackler. Wilson is an outside linebacker and is the program's best prospect at his position in the last decade, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Both players will have to fight tooth and nail to get any playing time as true freshmen, as Alabama's defense is chock full of talented players.
Like some sort of Deep South Death Star, Saban's football juggernaut is primed to terrorize the world of college football for the foreseeable future.
Where Will Demetris Robertson Land?
After Wednesday's commitment frenzy, wide receiver Demetris Robertson is now the only 5-star recruit yet to reveal where he will play college football.
According to 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions, 45 percent of analysts believe Robertson will choose Notre Dame, while 40 percent think he will join fellow 5-star prospects Jacob Eason (QB), Isaac Nauta (TE) and Mecole Hardman Jr. (ATH) in Georgia.
247Sports' Jake Rowe notes Robertson's commitment would bump the Bulldogs up to fifth in recruiting class rankings. It would also give them four 5-star recruits, more than any other team in the nation.
While the Fighting Irish are the favorite to land the nation's top wide receiver prospect—they sent their equipment truck to his house for goodness' sake—both Alabama (10 percent) and Stanford (five percent) are in the mix. Walsh noted that Alabama still has room for one more recruit, and Saban "would like to add another offensive playmaker or defensive end."
The prospect of playing for Stanford is reportedly why Robertson is waiting to make a final decision.
“We just want to take more time,” said Carlos Robertson, Demetris' brother and legal guardian, per Rivals.com's Andrew Ivins. “He also wants to get [his SAT score], so we can take an official visit out to Stanford and see how that is before sitting down and making an informed decision.”
Should he join Georgia, Robertson could make for a special crop of offensive recruits in Athens. Eason is a pro-style quarterback, Nauta a well-rounded tight end and Hardman could play wide receiver at the next level. Add Robertson, and the Bulldogs offense could be a force in the passing game in a couple years' time.
Robertson can hardly go wrong in his decision, however, as the likes of Notre Dame, Stanford and Alabama should afford him plenty of opportunity to capitalize on his prodigious talents.
All player rankings, stats and recruiting info courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.
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Before national signing day, Florida State had a strong class.
After national signing day, it had an amazing class.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher landed four of his eight Top 100 recruits on the last day of the cycle, including one he flipped from rival Florida. Behind that, he also added a pair of Top 170 recruits.
Even the losses of 4-star athlete Jamel Cook and 3-star athlete Clifford Chattman, to USC and Texas A&M, respectively, couldn't offset a banner Wednesday for the Noles.
Let's meet the class that has Tallahassee buzzing.
Full List of Players
Signing Day Breakdown
Key Offensive Playmaker
He's not the highest-rated offensive signing (more on that to come), but California quarterback Malik Henry, by virtue of his position and his talent, is the key offensive playmaker in this class.
Before him, FSU's future staked a lot on Deondre Francois' development. Francois, a redshirt freshman, is supposed to be the future at quarterback—either this year or once Sean Maguire graduates—but if any sort of injury, suspension or developmental failure happened, the Noles would have been screwed under center.
Now they have this to fall back on:
Henry and Francois were both Top 70 prospects, which makes them potential cornerstones. They're also linked by IMG Academy, where Francois played two years ago and Henry transferred to from California to replace him. But then, four weeks after arriving at IMG this summer, Henry left under debated circumstances and returned to play his senior year in the Golden State.
Henry is enrolled for spring ball, so he and Francois will spend the next seven months pushing Maguire to start. If Maguire wins and keeps the job all year, Henry and Francois would wage a fun QB battle next offseason. Or one could unseat Maguire this summer.
Either way, the Noles appear set.
Key Defensive Playmaker
Looking for someone to step in and play as a freshman?
Levonta Taylor is the safest bet.
Even with roadblocks at cornerback, Taylor's too good to waste on the sideline. He's the No. 7 overall prospect and No. 1 cornerback in the 2016 class. Florida State has signed similar players under Fisher, and those players—with the exception of Tarvarus McFadden, whose story is stilling being written—have all turned into megastars:
Karlos Williams now plays at running back, so maybe it's cheating to include him. But perhaps that's actually fitting, since Taylor also has the skills to play offense. That's one of many things that has endeared him to Noles great Deion Sanders.
"I expect him to walk in there Day 1 and learn the game and to be able to play and contribute," Sanders said of Taylor at the Under Armour All-America Game, per 247Sports' Kevin Flaherty. "He has the attitude. He has the swagger. He has the work ethic."
It takes one great Nole to know one.
Best Offensive Line Class in the Country
Thanks in large part to national signing day, Florida State closed with the nation's best offensive line class.
The alpha is offensive tackle Landon Dickerson, a 5-star on 247Sports' site rankings who barely missed that distinction in the composite. But despite that, even the composite scale—the one that ranks him lower—rates him higher than any lineman Fisher has signed at FSU.
Behind that there's Baveon Johnson, the No. 1 center in the class. He's the highest-rated center in the country since 2008 (Michael Brewster, Ohio State).
Then, for depth, there are two 6'7" tackle prospects, Jauan Williams and Josh Ball, who rank inside the national Top 200; a third tackle prospect, Mike Arnold, who ranks No. 1 among prep schoolers; and a guard prospect, Andrew Boselli, whose father is an NFL Hall of Fame candidate.
And that's to say nothing of their other talents, per Safid Deen of Noles Sport:
"It's a tremendous haul," Fisher said of his offensive linemen, per Tomahawk Nation's Bud Elliott. "We've been putting a lot of guys in the NFL, and we run a pro system."
By Elliott's count, the Noles will enter fall camp with 19 scholarship linemen. That would be a record under Fisher.
Depth is the key to this signing class.
Twelve Top 250 recruits join the six already mentioned above. In total, that makes 18. Seven percent of the Top 250 is coming to Tallahassee.
As a result, this class ranks second among Fisher's seven at Florida State. Only the 2011 class graded higher:
That 2011 class was special. It's one of the best of the Internet recruiting era. The big names it produced include:
- QB Jake Coker
- RB Karlos Williams
- RB Devonta Freeman
- WR Kelvin Benjamin
- WR Rashad Greene
- TE Nick O'Leary
- OT Bobby Hart
- OG Josue Matias
- DE Tank Carradine
- DT Timmy Jernigan
- LB Terrance Smith
Many of those players formed the spine of Florida State's national championship team. They helped the Noles win 29 straight games. Even though Jameis Winston, the face of those great Florida State teams, arrived one year later, the Elevens got the ball rolling.
This new class has similar positional depth. The blue chips are spread like butter across the depth chart. This is how the class looks if you only include Top 250 recruits:
- QB Malik Henry
- RB Amir Rasul
- WR Keith Gavin
- TE Naseir Upshur
- OT Landon Dickerson
- OT Jauan Williams
- OT Josh Ball
- OC Baveon Johnson
- DE Brian Burns
- DE Janarius Robinson
- DT Shavar Manual
- DT Cedric Wood
- LB Dontavious Jackson
- LB Josh Brown
- LB Keion Joyner
- CB Levonta Taylor
- CB Carlos Becker
- CB Kyle Meyers
That's almost an entire starting lineup!
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Every year, the NFL draft offers teams the chance to find impact players who can help change the course of the franchise. Loading up on these special individuals creates opportunities for themselves and teammates because of their unique traits.
One of the best prospects in the 2016 NFL draft class is Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner. The 6’7”, 300-pound mammoth was a dominant and versatile playmaker along the Ducks' defensive front the last two seasons. His transition to the NFL will be one of the easier ones from this class.
Recent draft classes have provided several early defensive line contributors: Leonard Williams in 2015, Aaron Donald in 2014, Ezekiel Ansah in 2013 and many more. The film that Buckner has produced over the last two seasons points to him being a bona fide top-10 pick like the aforementioned group.
Before making bold proclamations about Buckner, we need to look at his achievements and background. The enormous Honolulu, Hawaii, native was a 4-star prospect who was recruited by a dozen of the best schools in the nation. He was part of a class that also featured 2015 first-round pick Arik Armstead, 2013 first-round pick Kyle Long and other prospects like Byron Marshall and Bralon Addison.
As good as some of those players were for the Ducks, Buckner has a better resume and film to back it.
The 2015 Pac-12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year had a senior season as big as his frame. Buckner ranked second on the team with 83 tackles and was first with 17 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. It was his fourth consecutive season where his production improved.
Buckner was also first-team All-America and All-Pac-12. He capped off the season with the Morris Trophy award.
This happened despite the team around him struggling to replicate the success it had in previous seasons. Buckner had to do more on his own since the talent around him lessened. His response couldn’t have been better in this situation.
While it’s easy to look at Buckner’s frame and worry about whether that’s the only reason he’s winning, his tape shows a dangerous and versatile player. Playing at Oregon allowed Buckner to be exposed to playing 5-technique in a 3-4 front and 3-technique in a 4-3 front.
Former Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum preferred to rush three on a majority of passing plays. This pigeonholed Buckner because he rarely had help as a pass-rusher. But it did allow him to show off his elite run-defending talent.
Being large and having great length is highly advantageous if it’s used correctly. At 6’7”, Buckner plays high because he really doesn’t have a choice; anatomically, he can’t play much lower. Buckner compensates with his Hulk-like upper body strength.
It is difficult to move Buckner off his spot when he lines up as a 3-4 end. His consistency creating space between him and his blocker is difficult to stop because of his extension and sheer strength. Even when he’s not creating force with his lower body he’s able to shed a block and play the ball.
The play above highlights what is constantly littered throughout Buckner’s film. What makes Buckner different than most 3-4 ends isn’t just the physicality of his play style; that’s to be expected from the position. It’s what Buckner does after he gets free from the block. He finishes the play with a tackle for loss in space.
Humans at his size shouldn’t move as well as he does. Yet Oregon often limited Buckner to stay true to its scheme. If it had unleashed him by getting him more single blocks, he’d have surely been even more productive.
Whether Buckner is asked to be a pass-rusher or run defender in a 3-4 front, he’s a low-risk, high-reward player. As a weak-side defender, he will often be playing a finesse left tackle as opposed to a power right tackle. While some NFL teams are getting away from that archetype, many still subscribe to the “strong side must be the run side” roster-building strategy.
This leaves left tackles being athletic but lacking lead in their pants. That’s excellent for Buckner, who has an upward swooping motion with his attack due to his length. Again, this isn’t a negative, but more of a function of his frame. He has a trump card similar to how Calais Campbell of the Arizona Cardinals has learned to win.
When Buckner was given outside protection that forced offenses to leave their left tackle on an island, he flashed better pass-rushing skills than when it was a three-man rush. He was able to formulate and execute a plan of attack more effectively because he could rely on his athleticism more. Below, he swims past Michigan State left tackle Jack Conklin en route to a quarterback hurry.
It’s important to see flashes like this from Buckner since he was rarely in these situations.
Make no mistake about it, he is an elite run defender already at this point in his development. His strength at the point of attack and ability to shed blocks when the ball-carrier nears is parallel to 2015 star Leonard Williams, who also had an uncanny ability to sniff out where plays were heading.
But it’s Buckner's pass rushing that will separate him from being a Pro Bowl star and not just a gap-eater.
Fortunately for 4-3 defenses that need help, Buckner can step into their base defense and provide plenty of support. Versatility is a major positive for Buckner since he might be a better 4-3 3-technique than he is a 3-4 end.
Being at 3-technique allows Buckner to face a guard, who has less length than a tackle. This creates the opportunity for Buckner to be a speed- or pass-rusher without having to deal with the extra space. In a phone booth, Buckner is an absolute nightmare to guard.
We didn’t see Buckner slide inside too often, but he was vicious when unleashed. His ability to bull rush is one of his biggest positives and projects well to the next level. He consistently shows quick but powerful hands that land inside the chest of the blocker.
Once he gets his hands in place, he can manipulate where the blocker will be tossed with his extension. When combined with his quickness, he can completely disrupt how an offense operates.
Sometimes, the versatility tag is applied to players in an attempt to characterize the player lining up at multiple positions. While that can be accurate, true versatility only applies when an individual can be successful at multiple spots. Simply aligning in different positions is worthless if production isn’t coming at each spot.
Buckner certainly has the versatility to excel in whichever scheme he’s drafted for. He’s a good athlete in short spaces and seems to catch blockers off guard with his quick feet. His rapid weight transfer on plays like the one below just isn’t normal for men his size.
Most of what Buckner does is positive, but he has some areas to improve as he enters the NFL.
His matchup with Ohio State left tackle Taylor Decker was the best opportunity to see two great prospects go head-to-head. Decker was the best blocker Buckner faced, albeit it was in his junior season.
Decker got the best of Buckner on the limited snaps they saw each other. Buckner’s inability to use speed moves to the outside shoulder of the tackle was on display when he tried.
Even on a play where Buckner originally failed with his attack, he did end up forcing Decker to reset his feet several times with his power toward the play’s completion. This adjustment was smart and showed the ability to counter despite losing the snap overall.
A second key matchup between the two came on a modified speed-dart play to Buckner’s side. Decker takes a strong zone step to the right and catches Buckner drifting inside, which puts pressure on the weak-side linebacker behind Buckner to make the right read. He doesn’t, instead floating to the pitch man.
Regardless of what else went wrong for Oregon on the play, Buckner was caught off-balance when he recognized the play developing. His shoulders were no longer aligned with the line of scrimmage since his base had been compromised.
The only major knock on Buckner is his ability to handle double-teams. At times, his legs will get skinny when he tries to anchor. He doesn’t have the functional strength to simply reset with his lower body yet, and that issue is compounded when his shoulders aren’t square when he embraces contact.
NFL offenses may target Buckner with this early in his career, but it’s not like handling double-teams is easy for anyone. If execution is solid around the double-team or if Buckner can even stand his own ground decently, then a defensive unit can certainly survive that weakness.
Projecting Buckner to the NFL, he is a versatile and well-rounded defensive lineman. His size and raw power are tremendous positives and will instantly allow him to start in either a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. He can be impactful as a run-stuffer or pass-rusher.
Although Buckner is not a twitched-up athlete who regularly wins off the snap or shows flexibility, he is an above-average athlete on film. When we put the total package of length, power and quickness together, Buckner has enough upside to be a good long-term starter.
Comparisons for Buckner can be difficult because of his size. Calais Campbell is the most similar physically and is likely the high-end side of his ability. The low-end comparison is San Diego’s Corey Liuget, who is also a solid player.
Not everything Buckner does is elite or especially noteworthy when isolated. He is high-functioning in a team role and showed flashes of excellence when he was given the chance to create on his own. His lack of certain physical traits like suddenness and flexibility somewhat limits his upside, but his floor is high and his ceiling still considerably good.
In the 2016 class, Buckner should be a top-10 pick. He’s a safe prospect with his ability to play at a high level as a rookie. Buckner plays with brutality and a high motor at a premium position. His unique skills and versatility shouldn’t be taken for granted.
All stats used are from Sports-Reference.com.
Ian Wharton is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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