NCAA Football News

Auburn Football: How Former 5-Star Darius James Would Impact Tigers' Offense

Auburn might have missed out on a prized 5-star offensive lineman in the 2015 recruiting class, but the Tigers made up for it this weekend with a pledge from one of 2013's best.

According to multiple reports on Sunday, Texas sophomore Darius James is transferring to Auburn. The news was first reported by 247Sports and later confirmed to the Austin American-Statesman's Brian Davis.

James is just the latest offensive lineman to transfer to Auburn from another major program. Former 4-star Austin Golson sat out last season after transferring from Ole Miss, and he is projected to start at center for the Tigers in 2015.

According to James' high school coach, Auburn's success with Golson was part of the reason he decided to become a Tiger.

"To have some guys who have been there and done that come in like Austin Golson did last year and to have another one with Darius, those are two big-time recruits that came in," Harker Heights (Texas) head coach Rob Hagey told the Opelika-Auburn News' Tom Green. "Austin is going to contribute, and I think Darius will do the same."

The 6'6", 320-pound James is a major pickup for the Tigers' offensive line. Although he won't be eligible to play in the 2015 season, he looks to be a key figure for the future.

Though the former 5-star was the nation's No. 1 offensive guard in the 2013 class, don't lock James down into one position. He has the build and the experience to play all across the line—the Killeen, Texas, native played center, guard, tackle and even defensive tackle in high school.

James grabbed the attention of many major programs during his high school career with his size, strength and run-blocking prowess.

After redshirting his freshman season in Austin, James played in six games in 2014, starting against Baylor and Oklahoma at right tackle.

He also filled in for injured Longhorns at both guard and tackle before a knee injury of his own cost him the final four games of the season.

James' familiarity with guard and tackle will definitely boost an Auburn roster that might need help at both in the coming seasons.

The expected starters at tackle, juniors Shon Coleman and Avery Young, will both be able to declare early for the NFL draft after the 2015 season.

After losing the recruiting battle for Martez Ivey to Florida this past recruiting cycle, having a 5-star talent with starting experience in a power conference could work out better for Auburn in the short term. 

If both Coleman and Young stay for their senior seasons on the Plains, James could be the top reserve on the outside and inside of the line.

Auburn has three young projected starters on the interior—Alex Kozan, Golson and Braden Smith—but there isn't a standout backup at any of those spots.

And Kozan, who started at left guard as a redshirt freshman in the Tigers' 2013 championship run, has already missed an entire season due to injury.

James' presence on Auburn's offensive line would benefit the entire offense, especially the quarterback. Veteran line play could make Jeremy Johnson a surefire Heisman contender in 2016—or, if Johnson has a tremendous 2015 and declares for the NFL draft, it could be critical to helping Auburn's newest signal-caller.

A lot can change for a football program over a season, and uncertainty abounds on the future of an Auburn offensive line now stocked with top talent.

If James stays healthy, he can provide Auburn with elite talent, much-needed experience and an extra layer of security in 2016 and beyond.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Justin Ferguson is an on-call college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Who Will Be Tennessee's Secret Weapon in Quest for SEC East Title?

The Volunteers are on the cusp of something great down in Rocky Top. Tennessee is poised for a breakout season under head coach Butch Jones. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee gives his pick for the secret weapon for Tennessee next season. 

Who will be the focal point for the Volunteers offense next year? Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Top-Performing Quarterback Recruits from 2015 Oakland Elite 11 Regional

SAN LEANDRO, California — Sometimes, the joy of being a quarterback who not only is uncommitted but also without a formal offer is to outshine competition who either are committed to top programs or have multiple offers.

Such was the case for 3-star Kevin Davidson, who took home quarterback MVP honors at Sunday's Elite 11 Oakland regional at the Pacific Athletic Complex-Burrell Field. Davidson won top honors over several committed quarterbacks—including the nation's No. 1 quarterback, Jacob Eason—and he did so with a solid performance in the "Pressure Chamber," the Elite 11's final event to determine the MVP.

Roughly 80 quarterbacks from 10 states as far as Texas and Montana participated in Sunday's event. Here are some of the quarterbacks who put on a show, with additional comments from Brian Stumpf, vice president of football events for Student Sports and one of the leaders of both the Elite 11 and The Opening.

Begin Slideshow

LSU Stat Projections: Leonard Fournette Will Put Up Heisman Numbers in 2015

Leonard Fournette was one extremely impressive freshman running back in 2014, and LSU is looking for another huge season from Fournette in 2015. 

Watch as Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee gives his stat projections for the LSU ball-carrier in the upcoming season.

How big of a year will Leonard Fournette have in 2015? Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Underclassmen with Best Shot to Win Heisman Before Graduation

College football has become a younger man’s game, at least at its most elite levels. And there’s no better way to illustrate this trend than looking at a list of Heisman Trophy winners. The best of the best routinely beat an early path to the NFL draft, meaning underclassmen regularly dominate award lists.

Although the Heisman has sometimes been called a “career achievement” award, that hasn’t been the case recently. No senior has won the award since Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith took the stiff-arm trophy home in 2006, and in that span, two freshmen and three sophomores have lifted the Heisman.

So suggesting an underclassman will win the trophy this fall is going with the flow instead of a contrarian opinion. The only question is: Which one? Here’s a look at 11 underclassmen who could win the Heisman by the end of their college careers.

Begin Slideshow

Odds, Prediction Where No. 1 WR and Former Auburn Commit Nate Craig-Myers Lands

Nate Craig-Myers—a 5-star wide receiver, per 247Sports—recently decommitted from Auburn, which reopened his recruitment. With several offers on the table, Craig-Myers has a tough decision ahead of him.

Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson was joined by College Football Analyst Adam Kramer to discuss the odds on where Craig-Myers could land. 

Where will Craig-Myers play at the next level? Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: Predicting the Volunteers' 2015 Win-Loss Record

It's been a long time since hype made the hike up Rocky Top, but the Tennessee Volunteers football team is a trendy pick to make noise in 2015's SEC East race.

To his credit, after two rebuilding seasons began to produce with a bowl run and victory last year, head coach Butch Jones isn't shying away from the expectations, telling The Daily Times' Grant Ramey, "That's where we want to be."

The Volunteers are not a finished product, however, and Jones also has spent several hundred breaths telling the media that, too.

This upcoming season features a schedule that again is riddled with roadblocks. Though things appear to loosen up on the schedule beginning next year (at least on paper), UT has plenty of tough battles in what is expected to be the beginning of a potentially special run in Knoxville.

Even so, the 2015 slate is navigable. The only true road games that look difficult are in Gainesville against the rebuilding Gators, at perennial powerhouse Alabama and against beast of the East Missouri.

All the other tough games—against Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia and South Carolina—are in the friendly confines of Neyland Stadium. So, since everybody has offered opinions on the Vols' records, Bleacher Report decided to do ours.

Let's take a fun future look at UT's schedule with some game-by-game predictions down to how it'll shake out on the field. 

Begin Slideshow

Ohio State Football Recruiting Offers of the Week

With 15 prospects already in the fold for 2016, Ohio State's second-ranked recruiting class is filling up and nearing capacity.

Head coach Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes still have a number of highly ranked players on their radar, but with fewer than 10 scholarships remaining—a number largely dependent on how many junior Buckeyes declare for the NFL draft next winter—the targeting efforts for 2016 are almost all wrapped up.

But recruiting is a machine that never stops, and Ohio State is very aware of that. Two weeks ago, the coaching staff offered six 2017 recruits, highlighted by 5-star safety Jeffrey Okudah.

Last week, the Buckeyes slowed things down and offered just one new prospect.

 

Teradja Mitchell, Unranked Outside Linebacker (2018) 

The only reason Teradja Mitchell is unranked is because he's too young to garner such an evaluation.

The prospects for the 2018 recruiting class won't receive their first ranking until next spring, but when that time rolls around, look for Mitchell's name to be near the top of the list.

That's why the Buckeyes offered the talented defender last Wednesday:

Ohio State joined an offers list that looks like it belongs to an elite senior recruit—not a player coming off his freshman season. Mitchell already boasts offers from schools such as Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Virginia Tech.

With Mitchell already standing 6'2" and weighing 205 pounds, these major colleges know there's incredible potential for him to develop into a monster athlete.

He's playing middle linebacker for Bayside High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, but he's projected as an outside linebacker at the collegiate level.

That position change is due to Mitchell's incredible athleticism. He has the speed to close the gap on ball-carriers already on the move and the agility to hold his own in pass coverage. Most impressive, though, are his football instincts and ability to finish a tackle completely and aggressively.

Ohio State's main objective this summer, and moving forward, will be to get Mitchell to make the trip north for a visit to the campus.

Fortunately for the Buckeyes, the young playmaker has no intention of delaying his recruitment, as he'll be making his way around the country this summer:

Mitchell was just the seventh 2018 prospect to receive an offer from the Buckeyes, so it's safe to assume he'll be garnering a lot of attention from Meyer and the reigning national champions in the coming months.

 

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Mark Richt's Biggest Challenges for the Georgia Bulldogs in 2015

With Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporting that Everett Golson visited the Georgia Bulldogs last week, the former Notre Dame quarterback knows that head coach Mark Richt’s team has a chance to do some big things in 2015.

With a strong running game, stable offensive line and improving defense, there’s a good chance the Bulldogs can win more than 10 games, which could mean a chance to win the SEC title and a shot at the College Football Playoff.

However, just like in any season, there will be some obstacles to navigate. But if the Bulldogs want to be a championship team, they will have to fight through challenges and be mentally tough.

Here are the biggest challenges for Richt’s Bulldogs in 2015.

Begin Slideshow

College Football Coaches Who Don't Get Enough Credit

When looking at the effectiveness of any head coach, many elements do come into play. The win-loss record is the most obvious barometer of success. However, each case is different from the next.

What shape was the program in when the new head man took over? How difficult is it to recruit at the school? What are the general expectations of the program? 

All of these aspects determine both the development and improvement of said program. Using this as criteria, this piece will delve into some of the most underrated coaches in the country. 

 

Honorable mentions: Steve Addazio, Craig Bohl, Mike Gundy, Jim Mora, Mark Richt, Mike Riley, Kyle Whittingham.  

Begin Slideshow

Alabama RB Derrick Henry Trains by Pushing Ford F-150 Truck, Flipping Tires

After seeing this video, it's easy to see that Alabama Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry takes his training very seriously.

The 6'3", 242-pound Henry posted Instagram videos of himself training. One of the clips he posted shows off his incredible strength.

In it, he pushes a Ford F-150 down a track and then proceeds to flip a giant tire. Simply put, he is very strong.

Good luck to any defender who tries to tackle him. 

[Derrick Henry, h/t College Spun]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: Predicting the Bruins' 2015 Win-Loss Record

Prognostications are part of the game when it comes to any sport. Although a myriad of things could impact any team's potential season, it's always fun to speculate beforehand. 

In regards to the UCLA football team, a lot can happen until the season opener versus Virginia on Sep. 5. 

As it currently stands, the Bruins have yet to name a starting quarterback. UCLA will also have to replace arguably its most productive linebacker in program history. Injuries very well could take place between now and September. 

With that said...let's make some predictions anyway! This piece will delve into UCLA's upcoming 2015 season. It will analyze the entire schedule—while making educated guesses on how these games will play out. 

 

A full game schedule can be found here, courtesy of UCLABruins.com.

Begin Slideshow

Ohio State's 2016 NFL Draft Class Could Be Historically Great

Ohio State set a record in the 2004 NFL draft, in which it had 14 total players selected, the most picks ever from one school in a single selection meeting.

The University of Miami, whose team the Buckeyes had beaten 15 months earlier in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl/BCS National Championship Game, also set a record in the 2004 NFL draft: The Hurricanes became the first team to have six first-round picks in a single draft.

Twelve years later, in the 2016 NFL draft, Ohio State will have a shot to challenge both of those records.

Coming off a victory in the inaugural College Football Playoff, Ohio State is in a similar position to where it was a dozen years ago.

The Buckeyes had no first-round picks in the 2015 NFL draft—just as they did not after winning the championship in 2003—and only five total selections. That's because the vast majority of Ohio State's top talents were underclassmen who returned to school.

As a result, Ohio State has the most talent-laden roster in college football by a wide margin.

Even after the upcoming season, there will still be many players who face NFL decisions. Only a few of Ohio State's star players are seniors; most of them are either juniors with two years of eligibility remaining or redshirt sophomores with three years of eligibility remaining.

For the purposes of this article, we'll assume all of Ohio State's draft-eligible players will at least consider making the jump to the NFL in 2016. And if a large number of them end up declaring, Ohio State's 2016 draft class could be one of the most impressive ever seen from a college team.

As mentioned, the Buckeyes previously had one of the greatest draft classes ever in 2004, when they had three first-round picks and eight top-100 choices among 14 total selections.

In that year's draft, however, Ohio State's first selection did not come until the No. 18 overall pick. OSU's 2016 draft class, on the other hand, already has three players expected to garner top-10 consideration, along with a host of others who could potentially end up being first-round selections.

Given that there are still entire NFL and college football campaigns to go before the 2016 NFL draft season, it's too early to start specifically projecting where each prospect could end up. It's not too early, however, for NFL scouts to start sizing up all the talent Ohio State could have to offer next spring.

 

Top Prospects

Joey Bosa, DE, Jr.

Of all the talent Ohio State has from top to bottom, Joey Bosa is its crown jewel. A disruptive defensive lineman who made an immediate impression as a freshman and then emerged as one of college football's best defensive players as a sophomore, Bosa will enter his junior season as a favorite to be the first non-quarterback selected in the 2016 NFL draft.

Listed at 6'6" and 275 pounds by Ohio State's official athletics website, Bosa has a combination of size, length, athleticism and power that enables him to wreak havoc both outside and inside. He has an explosive first step off the line of scrimmage, uses his hands effectively to fight through blocks and has good point-of-attack strength.

Through just two seasons for the Buckeyes, Bosa already has 99 total tackles, including 34.5 tackles for loss and 21 sacks. A player who shows relentless effort throughout a game, he is able to make plays all over the field and all throughout a game.

He has already drawn lofty comparisons; ESPN's Todd McShay, among others, has compared him to two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year award winner J.J. Watt.

Those comparisons are probably setting the bar a little too high for Bosa; Watt, if he continues to perform as he has for the Houston Texans the past three years, could go down as one of the greatest defensive linemen in NFL history. But for the 31 NFL teams who can only dream of having Watt on their defense, Bosa could be viewed as the next best thing.

Bosa still has some areas where he can improve his game. In particular, he needs to become a more disciplined run defender, as he has a tendency to get caught out of position when he attacks the backfield and gives up contain on the edge.

It's also likely that no matter how impressive Bosa is on the field in 2015, there will be detractors who arise when smaller, less versatile edge defenders run faster 40-yard dash times at the NFL Scouting Combine.

All in all, however, Bosa looks well on his way to being a top-five pick in 2016, assuming he declares for the draft. As Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski noted, Bosa has consistently stood out, even on a team that has NFL-caliber talent at every position.

 

Cardale Jones, QB, Jr.

J.T. Barrett, QB, RS So.

It's only a matter of time before the story of Cardale Jones becomes a Hollywood film script. A third-string quarterback at this time last year, he ended up leading Ohio State to victories in the Big Ten Championship Game, Sugar Bowl and College Football Playoff National Championship after J.T. Barrett suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the Buckeyes' regular-season finale.

In the process of Jones' unbelievable run, he captivated a nation of college football fans—and NFL scouts. Despite having started just three games, Jones likely would have been the third quarterback chosen in the 2015 draft, which he was eligible to declare for as a third-year sophomore.

"I had an NFL offensive coordinator tell me that he would've been a second-round pick in this year's draft based off those performances," quarterback trainer George Whitfield told ESPN.com's Jeffri Chadiha. Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, the top two overall picks, were the only quarterbacks selected in the first two rounds of this year's draft.

Jones' expeditious emergence as an NFL prospect is not simply because of the teams he defeated but because of the physical tools he displayed. At 6'5" and 250 pounds, he is a huge quarterback with a rocket arm that is not only one of the strongest in college football but would already be among the most powerful in the NFL.

A good mover for his size, Jones also showed an impressive ability to extend plays from the pocket by bouncing off pass-rushers and stepping up to buy himself time. That gave Jones more opportunities to take advantage of his ability to launch the ball deep, like he did on the following play in the Buckeyes' win against Wisconsin.

Even with his impressive showings in big games, coming back to school for at least one more year was the right decision for Jones. If he is going to succeed at the next level—or even consistently going forward at the collegiate level—he needs to significantly improve his accuracy and touch.

Because of that, he is not a lock to win Ohio State's starting job this season, and it's questionable whether he is even the best draft-eligible quarterback prospect on the Buckeyes roster.

Before suffering a season-ending injury last year, Barrett—who beat out Jones for the starting job after Braxton Miller suffered a season-ending shoulder injury—was well on his way to being a Heisman Trophy finalist. As a redshirt freshman, Barrett showed poise and the ability to make plays as both a passer and runner.

Barrett lacks the eye-popping size and arm strength Jones has, but he has much better accuracy and the athleticism to be a true dual threat. Barrett is not a great deep-ball thrower—which makes scouts less likely to fall in love with him—but because of his intermediate passing ability, he would likely be more capable of running an NFL offense right now than Jones is.

It would be a surprise if Barrett declares for the draft in 2016, given that he will still have two more years of eligibility and that Jones currently has all the momentum in the starting quarterback competition. But if Barrett ends up seeing significant playing time again this season, he also has the potential to emerge as one of the draft's top quarterback prospects.

 

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Jr.

Modern-age wisdom suggests running backs are not worth top draft picks, but there are always exceptions to the rule. The 2015 NFL draft proved that, as Todd Gurley was the No. 10 overall pick and Melvin Gordon went 15th overall.

Ezekiel Elliott might prove to be a better prospect than both of them.

While Jones got the glory that comes with being a quarterback, Elliott was the true star of Ohio State's offense during its championship run. In the Buckeyes' final three games alone, he ran for 696 yards and eight touchdowns.

A 6'0", 225-pound running back who was a high school state track champion (Missouri) in four events, Elliott has a prototypical combination of size and speed for the position. His speed was never more apparent than in January's Sugar Bowl, as he left Alabama's defense in the dust on a fourth-quarter, 85-yard touchdown run.

 

Elliott is a tough runner who finishes through contact and consistently falls forward, while he also has the quick feet to make defenders miss downfield. His vision is not spectacular, and he can show more as a pass-catcher and pass-protector, but he is not deficient in any of those areas.

If Elliott can continue to perform the way he did in the final stretch of this past season, he should establish himself as a top-10 pick. He has all the traits to be a star NFL running back.

 

Taylor Decker, LT, Sr.

As spectacular as Bosa and Elliott are, the most indispensable player for Ohio State in 2015 might well be Taylor Decker. The only returning offensive tackle on the Buckeyes roster with starting experience, he is another strong candidate to be a first-round pick in 2016.

At 6'8" and 315 pounds, Decker has an optimal frame for an NFL offensive tackle. He also has good, though not great, quickness for a man of his size.

In his first year playing left tackle after moving over from right tackle, Decker showed steady improvement over the course of last season. Down the stretch, he did a great job of using his length, lateral agility and strength to isolate edge defenders outside the pocket in pass protection.

To emerge as a top offensive line prospect in his senior season, Decker must continue to refine his consistency in pass protection, but he also must make a bigger impact as a run-blocker. He does not exhibit great power on the field, and he is also not particularly active in picking up blocks down the field or outside.

Decker likely would have been a Day 2 pick in 2015 because of his physical upside, but coming back for another year to fine-tune his game was a decision that should benefit him. He's not quite where he needs to be to succeed in the NFL yet, but another year of improvement could potentially make him a top-15 draft choice.

 

Darron Lee, OLB, RS So.

Darron Lee made plays all over the field in his first playing season for the Buckeyes. A relative unknown entering the 2014 season, he quickly made a name for himself with a campaign in which he recorded 81 total tackles, including 16.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, along with two interceptions and one forced fumble.

A great athlete for the linebacker position, Lee is at his best when playing downhill. He displays natural instincts, has a terrific burst, shows power to run through blockers and is a solid tackler who hits with authority.

He is adept at finding ways to the line of scrimmage and making impact plays, but he is also good at dropping back into coverage. His athleticism gives him the range to cover a wide area of ground regardless of where he lines up, and it should enable him to continue being an every-down player in the NFL.

At 6'2" and 235 pounds, Lee will not be considered a big linebacker, but he has adequate size for playing as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense or as an inside linebacker in a 3-4.

Redshirt sophomores are not typically advised to enter the NFL draft, but it could be tough for Lee to pass up the opportunity. If he continues to show the playmaking ability this season that he did as a redshirt freshman, he will have a great shot at being a first-round pick.

 

Potential Breakout Stars

Adolphus Washington, DT/DE, Sr.

Playing alongside Joey Bosa and 2015 NFL draft pick Michael Bennett, Adolphus Washington was perhaps Ohio State's most overlooked player last season. With Bennett now out of the rotation, Washington could emerge as a star this year.

With Bennett employed as the lead penetrator on the Buckeyes defensive line, Washington spent most of his time playing as a 1-technique nose tackle last season. In 2015, he is expected to play most frequently as a 3-technique penetrator, where he will have more opportunities to rush the passer and make impact plays.

Like Bennett, Washington is a bit undersized for the defensive tackle position at 6'4" and 290 pounds. That said, he is likely to be valued more highly than Bennett, who had a surprising fall to the draft's sixth round, because Washington has better length and is stronger at the point of attack.

While Bennett was viewed as a player who lacked scheme versatility, Washington might actually be best suited for playing as a 3-4 defensive end at the next level. He has experience playing both outside and inside and shows the ability to utilize his length to take on blockers and play as a two-gapping lineman if needed.

Washington has not yet shown the pass-rushing skill set Bennett and Bosa have, but that could emerge in 2015. He has a good burst and is violent with his hands, but he should be working on adding more finesse to his arsenal of moves.

 

Vonn Bell, S, Jr.

In his first season as a starting safety for the Buckeyes last year, Vonn Bell proved himself to be a ball hawk by leading the team with six interceptions. A 5-star recruit out of high school, according to Rivals.com, he has a combination of athleticism and playmaking ability that could enable him to emerge as a top NFL safety prospect.

Bell needs to become more consistent, both in coverage and as a tackler, but he proved to be a significant upgrade for the Ohio State secondary in 2014. With good speed and ability to change directions, he has the range to make plays all over the field.

He has less than ideal height for the safety position at 5'11" and 205 pounds, but that shouldn't keep NFL teams from being intrigued by his movement and ball skills.

Two more years of development would likely help Bell, but if he continues to progress in his junior year, it's not out of the question that he could be a first-round pick. There is often a scarcity of top draft talent at the safety position, and that could convince a team to take a chance on Bell with an early selection.

 

Michael Thomas, WR, Jr.

Although Devin Smith's big-play ability made him a second-round pick in the 2015 draft, the most consistent wide receiver on Ohio State's offense in 2014 was Michael Thomas, who bounced back from a redshirt year to lead the Buckeyes with 54 receptions for 799 yards.

Thomas won't be a No. 1 overall pick like his uncle, Keyshawn Johnson, but he nonetheless has the tools to follow in Johnson's footsteps to NFL success. At 6'3" and 210 pounds, Thomas has the speed to make plays down the field but also shows impressive agility to extend short receptions into bigger gains by making defenders miss.

After he played as a freshman without making much of an impact, a developmental year in 2013 seemed to pay off for Thomas last season, as he showed improved route-running ability along with an aptitude to make plays on the ball in challenged situations and secure passes cleanly in his hands.

With Smith gone to the New York Jets, the Buckeyes will be counting on Thomas to be both a big-play weapon and their go-to pass-catching target. If he can take advantage and play up to his full potential, he’ll have a good shot at being a Day 2 draft pick if he declares for the 2016 draft.

 

Jalin Marshall, WR/RB, RS So.

Playing the H-back role in the Ohio State offense as a redshirt freshman, Marshall proved he could be a triple threat as a runner, receiver and returner in 2014. A big-play threat no matter how he gets the ball, he has the potential to emerge as an intriguing NFL prospect over the next three years, but he needs to be more consistent.

A high school quarterback who can even run the Wildcat, Marshall's versatility as an offensive weapon could make him a valuable addition to any team. Combining top-end speed with the cutting ability to make defenders miss and the strength to bounce off contact, Marshall is a dangerous player who can rapidly take advantage of open space.

The problem, however, is that he can also be dangerous to his own team. Ball security has been a problem for Marshall—especially when it comes to catching punts—and he must rectify his woes in that area to become a player an NFL team can trust.

There's also a question of whether he would have a true position at the next level. He spent this past spring working as an outside receiver, according to Tim Shoemaker of ElevenWarriors.com, but Marshall has less than ideal height for that position at 5'11" and 205 pounds.

Because of the question marks that come with his playmaking ability, Marshall would be smart to plan on playing for two or three more years at OSU rather than leaving after his redshirt sophomore year. But if he continues to develop into a more well-rounded player with a bigger role this upcoming season, he'll have a chance to emerge as a possible early-round pick for the 2016 draft.

 

Eli Apple, CB, RS So.

Like Marshall, Apple is included on this list because of his potential to improve and build upon the playmaking ability he showed as a redshirt freshman. He probably should have his sights set on playing out at least two of his three remaining years of eligibility at Ohio State, but a strong 2015 season could make him one of the 2016 draft's top prospects at his position.

In his first playing season for the Buckeyes last year, Apple showed skill for making plays on the ball—he had 13 total passes defensed, including three interceptions—and both the speed and fluidity to stay stride-for-stride with opposing wide receivers in deep coverage.

Set to be Ohio State's No. 1 cornerback in 2015, with Doran Grant now in the NFL, Apple will be put to the test as he will be expected to take on the top opposing receivers.

At 6'1" and 200 pounds, he has prototypical size for a defensive back and plenty of athleticism. From a standpoint of raw talent, Apple has the tools to be an outside starting cornerback in the NFL. To get there, however, he needs to continue refining his coverage technique, play with more physicality and improve upon his tackling.

 

Middle-/Late-Round Picks

Joshua Perry, OLB, Sr.

Joshua Perry emerged as a leader of the Ohio State defense in 2014, finishing with a team-leading 124 tackles.

Another player who has been overshadowed by the talent around him, he is an instinctive, well-rounded linebacker with the tools to play at the next level. He has terrific size for the position at 6'4" and 254 pounds and is a reliable tackler who consistently gets himself in proper positions to make plays.

Perry does not stand out as a spectacular athlete, and he is not a player who regularly gets on the highlight reel. He executes his job effectively, though, by using his intelligence to maximize his physical capabilities.

In addition to his quality play on the field, Perry is also a standout off the field. As noted by Patrick Maks of ElevenWarriors.com last summer, Perry has become as well known for helping people in need as he has for how he plays the game of football.

He might not have much value as a pass defender in the NFL, and he will likely never be an impact player at the next level. At the least, however, Perry should be a solid backup linebacker and special teams regular who brings a positive personality to a team and its community.

 

Pat Elflein, RG, Jr.

Pat Elflein first made a name for himself in Ohio State's final two games of the 2013 season, in which he started and provided solid play after then-starting right guard Marcus Hall was suspended for his infamous double-bird salute.

Elflein continued to play well as a redshirt sophomore this past season, as he demonstrated the power to move defenders off the line of scrimmage and the quick feet to be an effective pull blocker.

A key component of an offensive line that improved over the course of the year to a point of being dominant late in the season, he has emerged as an NFL prospect.

He has less than ideal size for a guard at 6'3" and 300 pounds, but he has the versatility to play all three interior line spots as needed. Combining his technical improvement with his strength and athleticism, Elflein has at least emerged as a player who is good enough to be a backup at the next level.

It would be a surprise if Elflein declared for early entry in 2016, but he is entering his fourth year at Ohio State as a redshirt junior. Should he emerge as a solid middle-round draft candidate, he could be compelled to take the next step in his career.

 

Tyvis Powell, S/CB, Jr.

Much like Jones, his roommate in Columbus, Tyvis Powell will enter the 2015 season with momentum on his side. The defensive MVP of the College Football Playoff National Championship, Powell will look to build upon the best game of his career and prove himself to be an NFL talent in his redshirt junior campaign.

Hybrid defensive backs who specialize in playing in nickel and dime situations have become increasingly popular on NFL defenses, and Powell could fit that mold. A full-time safety for the Buckeyes in 2014 after playing nickel cornerback in 2013, he has great size for the position (6'3", 210 lbs) and is experienced in slot coverage.

Powell does not appear to have the long speed desired in an NFL defensive back, but he could thrive in a situational role. He has good ball skills to make plays on the back end, while he is also an active player against the run, though his tackling has been inconsistent at times.

At a minimum, Powell should provide adequate depth at the safety position while playing on special teams, a combination that could make him worth a third-day draft selection if he declares for the 2016 draft.

 

Cameron Johnston, P, Jr.

"Really, an underclassman punter?!" is probably what you're thinking right now, but Johnston should garner consideration to be an NFL draft pick if he declares in 2016.

Ohio State's coaches place an emphasis on pinning punts deep into opposing territory without sending them into the end zone for touchbacks. Johnston, a 23-year-old from Australia, might be the best in college football at putting the proper backspin on his punts to do that.

Because of the proficiency of Ohio State's offense, Johnston has only had 97 punts through his first two seasons, and he probably won't be called upon often in 2015. But when the Buckeyes have needed him to flip the field, he has typically delivered.

Johnston does not have a superb leg by NFL standards, but his ability to execute moving, rugby-style punts and to down the ball inside the 10-yard line should earn him one of the league's 32 jobs in either 2016 or 2017.

 

Braxton Miller, ATH, Sr.

If the tagline for Cardale Jones' movie is "from third-string quarterback to national champion," Braxton Miller’s could be "from two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year to an afterthought."

After Jones capped off the championship run that Barrett made possible, it seems highly unlikely that Miller—who is entering his final year of college football eligibility—will move ahead of either quarterback on Ohio State's depth chart. Although Miller had an outstanding three-year run as the star of the Buckeyes offense, Jones and Barrett are both already better passers than Miller ever was.

However, he may still make an impact for the Buckeyes in 2015. A terrific athlete, he should have a shot to get on the field if he is willing to make a position switch, which could also improve his chances of being selected in the 2016 draft.

Miller's lack of size (6'2", 215 lbs) and passing accuracy, coupled with a now-questionable shoulder, make him unlikely to have a future as an NFL quarterback. His speed and agility as a runner, however, could potentially make him an intriguing project as a running back, wide receiver or defensive back.

Some analysts have suggested Miller should transfer to play quarterback elsewhere, but all indications have been that he plans to remain at Ohio State. Assuming that does not change, it would seemingly be in the best interests of both the Buckeyes and Miller's NFL prospects to find another position at which he can contribute.

 

Other Potential Prospects

Dontre Wilson, RB/WR, Jr.

Dontre Wilson's career at Ohio State has been a disappointment through his first two seasons, but he will still draw NFL consideration in either 2016 or 2017 because he has outstanding speed.

A small back at 5'10" and 195 pounds, Wilson has not shown the vision or lateral agility to be regularly effective as a runner. He has been underwhelming as a kickoff returner, and his lack of pass-blocking ability limits his value as a pass-catcher. With that being said, he still has high upside because of his versatility as a triple threat and his ability to go from zero to 100 in a flash.

 

Nick Vannett, TE, Sr.

The Ohio State offense does not frequently use its tight ends as pass-catchers, but Nick Vannett was actually the Buckeyes' leading receiver at the position, at which they also had another player, Jeff Heuerman, who went on to be a third-round pick in this year's draft.

That certainly makes it likely that Vannett, who has great size for a tight end at 6'6" and 260 pounds, will also have a shot at being drafted. He is not an explosive athlete, but he is a solid short-yardage and red-zone pass-catcher who uses his size effectively as an in-line blocker.

 

Corey Smith, WR, Sr.

A wide receiver who struggled to separate from coverage and even to catch the ball for most of his junior season, Corey Smith is not a player who stands out as an NFL talent on Ohio State's team. He started to legitimize himself as a potential prospect late last year, however, when he came up with some big moments as both a receiver and on special teams.

Smith, who joined the Buckeyes as a junior college transfer last year, lacks the physical gifts to become a star playmaker on offense. But if he can establish himself as a reliable possession receiver while continuing to stand out on special teams, he could end up on a similar trajectory as former Ohio State wideout Evan Spencer, who ended up being a sixth-round pick in this year's draft.

 

Jacoby Boren, C, Sr.

Much like his brothers, former Ohio State football players Justin Boren and Zach Boren, Jacoby Boren is a gritty competitor who has emerged as a leader and key player for the Buckeyes in a position of dirty work. Faced with a tough task at center of replacing Corey Linsley, who had an outstanding rookie season this past year for the Green Bay Packers, Boren stepped in to provide stability as the anchor of the offensive line.

Unfortunately for Boren, his NFL career is likely to be more similar to those of his brothers—meaning it won't last long—than that of Linsley, who appears well on his way to NFL stardom. While Boren is a solid collegiate center with decent foot skills, he is undersized for the position at just 6'2" and 285 pounds, and he lacks power.

 

Chase Farris, RT, Sr.

Set to be the third senior starter on the Ohio State offensive line, Chase Farris goes into the 2015 season as an unknown, having only played sparingly last season after making the move back to offense after a previous switch to defensive line.

Even so, he has a shot to make it to the NFL—much like Darryl Baldwin, signed by the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent despite just one season of his own as a starting right tackle—if he can provide solid play for the Buckeyes this year. A solid athlete at 6'5" and 310 pounds, Farris joins an offensive line that has been churning out NFL prospects since Ed Warinner began coaching the unit.

 

Tommy Schutt, DT, Sr.

As Adolphus Washington moves to take over Michael Bennett's role, Tommy Schutt will have a chance to establish himself as Ohio State's new nose tackle.

A rotational defensive tackle for his first three seasons in Columbus, Schutt has been hampered by injuries so far in his career, but he has demonstrated solid point-of-attack strength and quickness when he has played. Small for a defensive tackle at 6'3" and 290 pounds, he will have to show some pass-rushing ability in 2015 to draw serious NFL consideration, but he should have a shot to finally play up to his potential if he can stay healthy.

 

All measurables courtesy of Ohio State's official athletics website unless otherwise noted. All GIFs made via Gfycat using videos from Draft Breakdown and YouTube.

Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

1st-Team All-Big Ten Defensive Lineman Tackles Tree to the Ground

First-team All-Big Ten defensive tackle Anthony Zettel trains like this during the offseason.

The Penn State Nittany Lion showed off the strength in his 6'4'', 278-pound frame by tackling a tree to the ground. The most impressive part might be the fact he didn't hurt himself trying to do so.

With 17 tackles for loss, eight sacks and three interceptions last season for Penn State, it seems like there's not a lot that Zettel can't do.

[Instagram, h/t College Spun]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Football: Current Players with Best Shot to Make CFB Hall of Fame

There are plenty of quality SEC football players, as each year's NFL draft proves. But how many of the stars of now and the future of the league have a shot to become legendary?

Only a few players currently on league rosters have the chance to become the elite of the elite, eventually being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Of the upperclassmen, Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott has shown the potential to be considered among the league's all-time greats, and even he needs an epic final season to reach that peak.

It's impossible to gauge any players who haven't logged significant snaps yet, but the freshman class of 2014 certainly provided some potential candidates who are off to quality starts.

None of the players on this list are guaranteed locks. They just have a chance to someday be mentioned among the game's greats if they can take their game to a completely new level in 2015.

So, let's take a look at the scant few who have a chance to reach the hallowed hall when it's all said and done.

Begin Slideshow

Tennessee Commit Chidi Okonya a 'Warrior' on the Field Who Puts Academics First

The Atlanta area continued to prove fruitful for Tennessee on Friday night when impact defensive end Chidi Okonya pledged to the Vols following his spring game.

The 6'5.5", 230-pound lineman from Riverdale, Georgia, committed to UT over other finalists Clemson, Ole Miss, Stanford and Duke. A host of other schools such as Georgia, Florida, LSU, Notre Dame, Oregon, Penn State and others also offered the prospect.

"Tennessee has the right balance of things I was looking for in a school," Okonya told Bleacher Report. "Right off the bat, I had a good relationship with the coaches. I looked at the academics to see if everything was in order for me to be successful, because that’s the first thing I'm looking for."

In what is expected to be a small class where the Vols are extremely selective, Okonya is somebody UT really wanted.

On top of being an athlete who drew attention from some of the nation's top programs, he is an exceptional student.

According to Riverdale coach Terry Herrod, the versatile athlete has a 4.0 grade-point average, scored a 24 on his ACT and is a member of the Beta Club and National Honor Society.

When B/R contacted his school for an interview earlier this week, Okonya was unavailable because he had volunteered to show fifth- and sixth-graders around the school. That's just a typical day for arguably one of the most impressive all-around prospects in this cycle.

"He's an Ivy League-type of student with SEC ability," Herrod said. "He's just a great kid, too.

"Through this process, the one thing I was most impressed with was just how smart he is and how he went about it," Herrod continued. "It's almost been a scientific process going through it in terms of what he's looking for in a school. He built a matrix and considered football, academics, life after football. That played a big, big role."

Don't let the model schoolboy fool you, though. When Okonya gets on the field, he is a force to be reckoned with.

Herrod credited the way Okonya and his brother—Furman redshirt freshman Chinedu Okonya—played for him in high school to a demeanor change once they stepped between the lines.

"They play the game like warriors," Herrod said. "They have a warrior-like mentality. They are very focused and determined in everything that they do."

Okonya chuckled when told of his coach's comments, replying, "Me and my brother, we have a pretty good mean streak at times, so I'm sure that's what my coach is talking about.

"In my home, we're disciplined in what we do every day."

That determination, Okonya said, was passed down honestly from his parents. Though he was born in the United States, parents Romanus and Patricia came over from Nigeria at 17 years old seeking the prosperity the United States can offer.

Things weren't always easy for them at the beginning, but they've built a very successful life with five impressive children, Chidi, Chinedu, Chika, Ikechi and Chigozie. Okonya's father works in customer service for Delta Airlines, and his mother is a nurse.

They've hammered home the importance of academics throughout Okonya's life.

"It's about academics first," Okonya said. "My parents have instilled that in us since the beginning. They came over here looking for an opportunity, and they realized pretty early on that academics was the most important thing in all of this.

"I couldn't be more proud of my parents, and I couldn't be more thankful. Literally nothing could be possible without them in all of this."

Now, if Okonya follows through with his verbal commitment, he'll move to the next chapter of his football career in Knoxville. Though he is too undersized right now to be a factor on the line at the next level, adding weight shouldn't be an issue.

Herrod said when Chinedu Okonya left Riverdale for the Furman Paladins, he weighed 185 pounds. After a redshirt season at Furman, he is at 240 and primed to battle for a starting defensive end spot. Though Chidi is currently around 230 (or less), he can get much bigger.

"The biggest thing for him is, physically, he's just so much better than the kids he's playing against now," Herrod said. "He's got to add weight to his frame. He's got the frame where he could be 260-270 after one year."

He's got time to develop. The Vols are loaded at defensive end, and they'll still have Derek Barnett, Kyle Phillips, LaTroy Lewis, Corey Vereen, Dimarya Mixon, Darrell Taylor and Andrew Butcher on the roster when Okonya arrives.

Once he gets into a college weight program, Okonya has the size, athleticism and wingspan to be a premiere edge-rusher. Though he's only a 3-star prospect on the 247Sports composite rankings, 247 has him rated as a 4-star player and the 15th-ranked strong-side defensive end in the country.

He'll join players from his area in which he's played with or against growing up such as Cameron Sutton, Cortez McDowell, the Berry twins and Preston Williams in Knoxville.

Okonya credited the familiarity with some players as a factor, but he was most impressed by the academics, the coaching staff and the upward direction of the Vols.

"Coach Jones creates an electric atmosphere at Tennessee," Okonya said. "He has the coaching staff fired up. It's a serious but fun mood up there. They're getting better recruits up there every year, and I really believe the program is on the upswing."

 

Quotes and observations obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information obtained from 247Sports.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn Football: Where Do Tigers Turn After Secondary Loses More Transfers?

In Gus Malzahn's two seasons as Auburn's head coach, the secondary has definitely been the Tigers' Achilles' heel.

This week, that heel appeared to be getting weaker and weaker.

Sophomore cornerback Kamryn Melton announced on Twitter on Thursday night that he decided to transfer from Auburn:

The next morning, senior safety Derrick Moncrief—who practiced at linebacker this spring—announced he was also leaving after just one season with the team.

"I came in as the No. 1 safety in the country and things are just not going well there," Moncrief told Ethan Bernal and James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser. "But Auburn was a good place, I just want to thank them for everything, for them recruiting me, and I wish them the best of luck."

A few hours later, Auburn confirmed the news for Melton and Moncrief while also announcing junior cornerback Joe Turner's transfer intentions.

This recent surge of transfers is just part of a bigger exodus in the Tigers' secondary. In December, sophomore safety Mackenro Alexander transferred from Auburn to South Florida and freshman cornerback Kalvaraz Bessent decided to leave the program in February.

New defensive coordinator Will Muschamp brought defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson back home to his alma mater to rebuild a struggling secondary that has been porous for the last two seasons.

Injuries and depth issues led to walk-ons starting at defensive back in last month's A-Day Game.

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee said he believes Auburn's transfer outbreak is about Muschamp and Robinson already having their depth chart in mind:

But how much depth is there left in the Tigers' secondary? Who can they now turn to at the position? Here are three key groups to watch.

 

The Experienced Players

Aside from Moncrief, who played in all 13 games for Auburn last season and made one start, the other four transfers from the secondary did not play a single snap in 2014.

According to Crepea, Auburn still has nine defensive backs on scholarship:

The biggest name still remaining is Johnathan "Rudy" Ford, the former running back who started all 13 games at safety and had a team-high 93 tackles in 2014. The junior is expected to be the team's leader in the secondary and might just play a part in helping Auburn's cornerback depth this fall.

Jonathan Jones will also return as a starter for Auburn at cornerback. While he was tied for the team lead with six interceptions last season—good enough for ninth in the country—the senior was limited in spring practice due to a lingering foot injury.

"We need some other guys to step up, but Jonathan is an experienced player, a very explosive player," Muschamp told AL.com's Joel A. Erickson earlier this year. "He covers well on the top end, he's got really good ball skills, he can finish on balls down the field."

Josh Holsey, the wild card of Auburn's secondary, is also back for his senior season. He was stuck in limbo between safety and cornerback for most of 2014, but he has seemed to settle in at cornerback this year.

Those three veterans, combined with returning role players Nick Ruffin, T.J. Davis and Stephen Roberts, give Muschamp and Robinson something to build around for 2015. That might not be a lot of experience, but it could be solid enough to serve as a foundation.

 

The Not-So-New Guys

Two defensive backs who didn't play for Auburn last season are set to make an impact on the depth chart this season after participating in spring practice: Tray Matthews and Tim Irvin.

Matthews, the former Georgia safety who was involved in the tipped pass to new Auburn teammate Ricardo Louis in 2013, is eligible to play for the Tigers after sitting out a season. He arrived at Auburn after his dismissal from Georgia and has already made an impression on the rest of the Tigers.

"Tray is one of them relentless guys," Holsey told the Opelika-Auburn News’ Tom Green. "He was out for a year and I feel like he just couldn’t wait to hit somebody, so now I realize he really wants to hit everything moving. I really like that."

Matthews will most likely grab the starting safety spot alongside Ford, while the true freshman Irvin is projected to be a factor at the nickel position.

The early enrollee and nephew of Hall of Fame player Michael Irvin also had an injury worry this spring, but he still found a way to turn heads.

"Obviously, I think his hand being in a cast for the entire spring and not really having contact until the spring game certainly set him back a little bit, but he has the skill set to be successful," Muschamp said, according to AL.com's Julie Bennett. "Just not quite where we need to be."

More practice time this fall will be much needed for Matthews and Irvin, as their arrivals possibly prompted the slew of transfers away from Auburn.

 

The Incoming Talent

On top of these returning and newly eligible players, Auburn has a few new faces in the secondary set to arrive this summer.

The group of incoming freshmen is highlighted by Jordan Colbert, a 4-star from Georgia who was ranked as the No. 9 safety in his class.

Colbert was even projected by some to be a linebacker in college due to his heavy-hitting nature and playmaking ability.

Another name Auburn fans should watch for this fall is Carlton Davis, a 4-star cornerback from Miami who flipped from Ohio State and chose the Tigers on national signing day.

Davis has the size (6'2", 184 lbs) and speed (4.67-second 40-yard dash) to be a fearsome matchup for SEC wide receivers in the future.

If these new Tigers can fill in important depth roles this fall or even challenge for spots on the two-deep depth chart, Auburn's secondary should be in decent shape in its first season under Muschamp and Robinson—even after all the offseason departures.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Justin Ferguson is an On-Call College Football Writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Dwayne Haskins to Maryland: Terrapins Land 4-Star QB Prospect

Quarterback Dwayne Haskins has been one of the most highly sought-after recruits at his position, but he is no longer available after committing to Maryland on Friday, according to Andrew Spivey of GatorCountry.com.

According to 247Sports, Haskins is a 4-star prospect, the No. 5 pro-style quarterback and the No. 61 overall player in the 2016 class.

He has been a standout player at The Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland, and it comes as little surprise that so many elite programs threw their hats into the ring in terms of pursuing him.

Haskins received offers from a litany of teams, including LSU, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Alabama, Auburn, Florida and so many others, per 247Sports.

His impressive physical ability is a big reason for that, and it can be seen in this video, courtesy of ESPN.com's Gerry Hamilton, even on simple, short throws:

Being so coveted can be difficult on young players due to the expectations that come along with it, but Haskins may very well be equipped to handle it.

At least, that is what Bullis head coach Pat Cilento seems to believe, per Mark Giannotto of the Washington Post: "He deserves every bit of it. I can't say there's a better guy to handle it all because he's just so mature in the way he handles it all. It's great for our school. It's great for him. It's well deserved."

Haskins himself is an elite prospect due to his strong skill set, but his friendship with another top recruit makes his situation even more intriguing.

Wide receiver Trevon Diggs is a 4-star prospect from Rockville, Maryland, and Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue reported in March that the plan was for Diggs and Haskins to attend the same school:

Regardless of whom Haskins is throwing to at the collegiate level, though, he is an exciting player with the potential to be one of the top quarterbacks in the nation in due time.

There is so much pressure on young quarterbacks to contribute right away, with the likes of Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel succeeding as freshmen in recent years, but that isn't a realistic expectation for everyone.

Haskins may have to sit and learn for a while before he is ready to start, but that certainly isn't a bad thing.

Whether he starts as a freshman, a sophomore or even a junior, he is a supremely talented signal-caller with the goods to be a star.  

 

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

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Dwayne Haskins Commits to Maryland, Targets Recruits to Join 'The Movement'

Quarterback Dwayne Haskins delighted Maryland football fans Friday afternoon by declaring his intentions to stay in the state as a Terrapin:

The 4-star prospect delivered the news during an announcement ceremony at The Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland. His decision prompted a spirited reaction from those in attendance and sets the stage for a major recruiting push in College Park.

Haskins, a 6'3", 198-pound passer, emerged as the top uncommitted player at his position this spring after a series of pledges changed the 2016 recruiting landscape. He is rated fifth nationally among pro-style quarterbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings and 61st overall. 

“This decision was based on my relationships with the coaching staffs of all 41 college programs that offered me a scholarship," Haskins told Bleacher Report. "It came down to who I was most comfortable with. It was about joining a group of great people.”

He revealed plans to expand that group during his announcement, singling out elite Mid-Atlantic talents like Philadelphia tight end Naseir Upshur, New Jersey defensive tackle Rashan Gary and fellow Maryland standout Trevon Diggs as top targets.

Upshur previously mentioned a possible pairing after a camp in late April.

"Dwayne is a guy I'd really like to play with at the next level," he told Bleacher Report.

Haskins has long maintained he and Diggs are a "package deal." The two developed a bond while competing together USA Football youth programs. 

"He's just a playmaker," he said. "Tre and I go way back since freshman year. We definitely learned how to play with each other. I feel like I know when he's open and when he's looking for me to throw him the ball. The relationship I've built with him at receiver, I want to continue that in college."

Maryland certainly hopes that's the case.

Diggs, a 4-star athlete who named Alabama his leader last month, has family ties to the Terrapins. He is the younger brother of former Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings this year.

"I'll be recruiting him hard to join me," Haskins said. "It's his choice, but I hope we make it happen."

Maryland coaches have been pushing hard to gain recruiting momentum through a campaign they've dubbed "The Movement." The Terrapins just found a new ambassador to promote that message.

“It’s definitely a big deal because 'The Movement' can be huge if it’s something other players are willing to believe in," Haskins said. "It could really change the way people view the program."

Haskins worked his way through dozens of offers and cut things down to seven schools before his decision. The process came down to Alabama, Florida, Maryland, Notre Dame, Penn State, Rutgers and Virginia Tech.

He told Bleacher Report his three finalists were Florida, Maryland and Rutgers. 

Gators offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier began recruiting Haskins while he was at Michigan and the two developed a tight bond. Florida also didn't sign a quarterback in the 2015 class, leaving extra room on the depth chart under a new coaching regime. 

Ultimately, the choice seemed to center on two Big Ten newcomers.

Though Haskins now lives in Maryland, he grew up in New Jersey, just minutes away from Rutgers. Former Scarlet Knights star wide receiver Mohamed Sanu was among his early mentors.

“It was really hard to choose between those two schools because I feel a strong connection with both places," he said. "I got to spend a lot of time getting to know everything about both universities and football programs.”

Ultimately, he felt a stronger pull toward the Terrapins.

“I’ll always be Jersey-born, but I’m DMV-made," Haskins said, alluding to the acronym for an area that encompasses Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

Though he won't be able to enroll early, his mission is to create as strong a bond as possible with the program before his official arrival. Haskins is the kind of quarterback and leader who could ultimately elevate a collegiate culture.

"I'm a game-changer whenever I have the ball in my hands, whether it's first down or third down," he said. "I'm going to get the job done. I don't make too many mistakes, and if I do make a mistake, there won't be one the next play. It's about making sure I capitalize on everything around me."

 

All quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Dark-Horse College Football Playoff Contenders for 2015 Season

We have a pretty good idea who the favorites and top contenders are for this season's College Football Playoff. The long offseason has provided plenty of opportunity to discuss the likes of the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Auburn Tigers, the Baylor Bears, the Florida State Seminoles, the Georgia Bulldogs, the Michigan State Spartans, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Ohio State Buckeyes, the Oregon Ducks, the TCU Horned Frogs and the USC Trojans.

But if last year is any indication, we have to expand our horizons and think outside the box—er, top 10—in order to find other programs that could have a shot to fight for a playoff spot.

That's where we'll find the dark horses.

Think about it: When the 2014 season began, the preseason Associated Press poll had the four eventual semifinalists in the top five. But nowhere could be found many of the teams that were in the running for a playoff bid down the stretch—teams like the Arizona Wildcats, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, the Mississippi State Bulldogs or TCU. None of those schools were ranked at the outset, yet each ended up earning invites to CFP-affiliated bowl games and all had a shot to make the playoffs.

How did this happen? And how come we didn't see it coming? Who knows if we'll have a similar scenario this season, but it's worth exploring.

That's why we've identified a handful of schools that, while they may be ranked to begin the year, aren't currently thought of in the top tier of teams vying for the playoffs. All are capable of getting there, though, assuming they are able to put everything together, and things go their way.

Begin Slideshow

Pages