How do you guys fare with the Rivals100 and those guys making it to the NFL?
-- Wayne from Bloomington, Ind.
Rivals.com has been in existence since the Class of 2002. That group of prospects was led by the nation's top prospect that year. You may have heard of him - quarterback Vince Young, who had a storybook career for Texas and brought home a national championship trophy to Austin.
Other big-time members of the 2002 Rivals100 were defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, running back Leon Washington, quarterback Trent Edwards, safety Pat Watkins, athlete Devin Hester, tight end Marcedes Lewis, defensive end Kamerion Wimbley and offensive linemen Tony Ugoh and Davin Joseph. Thirty-six of the Rivals100 in the class of 2002 made it to the NFL.
The number was better in 2003, as 42 Rivals100 members made it to the NFL. This group included the nation's top prospect that year - linebacker Ernie Sims. Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush, defensive ends LaMarr Woodley and Jarvis Moss, safeties Donte Whitner and Laron Landry, quarterback JaMarcus Russell, tight end Vernon Davis, running back Maurice Jones-Drew and wide receiver Steve Smith were all part of the 2003 class. They were all first-round draft picks with the exception of Smith.
Thirty-four members of the Class of 2004 are now in the NFL. Who leads the way from this class? It's running back Adrian Peterson, who was also the top prospect that season. Also in this group are defensive end Derrick Harvey, wide receivers Ted Ginn Jr., Early Doucet and Calvin Johnson, linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Keith Rivers, quarterback Chad Henne, running back Marshawn Lynch and defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey.
Some members of the 2005 Rivals100 are still playing college football. But there are many who are already playing on Sundays such as linebacker Rey Maualuga, running backs Jonathan Stewart, Darren McFadden and Rashard Mendenhall, quarterback Mark Sanchez, offensive tackle Eugene Monroe and wide receiver DeSean Jackson. In all, 33 prospects from the '05 Rivals100 are already playing in the NFL.
Like most fans of recruiting, my eyes always are directed to the five- and four-star recruits. Most knowledgeable folks know that one or two games a year are won with the three-stars and down. What coaches do the best in getting the undervalued players and why?
-- Kevin from Columbus, Ohio
That's a good question from this standpoint; I think you can make a strong case the teams that recruit the top-end prospects, the four- and five-star guys, are the teams that win national titles.
Go back over the past 10 years or so. Teams such as Miami, Ohio State, USC, Texas, LSU, Florida and Oklahoma all won the national championship. Aren't those the teams that always finish among the nation's top 10 recruiting classes?
But on the flip side, there are a handful of teams that seem to do a good job of recruiting mid-range prospects to their systems and schemes. It's these teams that recruit the student-athletes who can get in school and stay in school. It's these teams that do a nice job of developing players and coaching them up.
Who are these teams?
I am not looking for programs that may have been "one-hit wonders." Rather, teams that have been pretty consistent this decade compared to the past.
One of the considered "big boys" of college football that is not necessarily a recruiting power is Virginia Tech. Frank Beamer and his staff do a wonderful job of recruiting prospects to their schemes and coaching them up. They don't always sign a top class, yet they are consistently one of the top teams in the ACC and in college football overall.
Speaking of the ACC, the same can be said for Boston College under former coach Tom O'Brien and current coach Frank Spaziani, as well as Jim Grobe at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons have recently won the ACC and have been one of the better programs in that league.
Another team that comes to mind is West Virginia. It seems as though former coach Rich Rodriguez recruited some big-time (three-star) athletes to Morgantown who really fit his system well. Sure, they flew under the radar, but it's players like Pat White and Steve Slaton that helped resurrect the Mountaineers' program to become one of the top teams since 2000 and arguably the best team this decade in the Big East.
Others that have been very good programs this decade are TCU, Boise State and Utah. The Frogs and Broncos both have a chance to be BCS busters once again. Look at the success rate these programs have had over the past 10 years or so, yet you never see these teams in the top 20 recruiting rankings.
Florida's top junior?
Have you had a chance yet to see junior James Wilder? What about Teddy Bridgewater and Timmy Jernigan? Who's the top prospect from that group, and is that prospect the top one in Florida next season?
-- Eric from Pensacola, Fla.
Now that's a loaded question because you could make a strong case for each one.
I saw Bridgewater play twice last season as a sophomore. I saw the opening-game loss to Long Beach Poly and the state championship loss to Sanford Seminole. I must say that I thought he made great strides last year. Based on what I have seen (film) this season, I certainly think Bridgewater is a quarterback first. He could play receiver and is a terrific athlete, but I think he has all the intangibles to play quarterback at the next level. Bridgewater, from Miami Northwestern, is just a dynamic athlete.
I have seen Wilder play both as a sophomore at Tampa Chamberlain and a junior at Tampa Plant. Last year he played defensive end. This year for Plant he's doing it all on both sides of the ball. While he's a very good running back, I think his future is on the defensive side of the ball. Will he be an outside linebacker or grow into a defensive end? It's hard to say at this point, but I would hedge toward Wilder putting his hand down. He has exceptional athleticism and is strong, quick and fast.
Now I haven't seen Jernigan play other than on film. He looks outstanding. Jernigan, from Lake City Columbia, has good size, speed and quickness for a big man. He can move down the line, penetrate and disrupt. Jernigan is strong at the point of attack and will be one of the most sought-after defensive tackles in the nation in the Class of 2011.
So how do you grade this trio and who comes out on top? That's hard to say right now. I would lean more toward Wilder or Jernigan, although Bridgewater could be the prospect with the highest risk and highest reward.
I would suspect that one of these three will be the top prospect in the Sunshine State for the Class of 2011. Then again, it's still early and you never know who will emerge.