November 18, 2009

Ask Jamie: What will Elam do?

Jamie Newberg is a football recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. He tackles your questions in his weekly mailbag feature.
Previous mailbags:
Nov 11: Who is the top junior in Florida?
Nov 4: Irish chasing top talent
Oct 29: Race for top class heats up

What's the latest with Matt Elam? Will he sign with Florida or bolt for Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio State, West Virginia or Florida State?

If someone were to overtake Seantrel Henderson as the nation's top prospect, who would that be?

Louisiana is loaded in 2011. Who's the likely top prospect from the Bayou State?

Find out in this week's mailbag.

Jamie's Mailbag
Sticking with the Gators?

Should the Gators be worried about five-star safety Matt Elam?

-- Rob from Ocala, Fla.
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At this point I would say yes, be worried Gators fan. I think chances are 50-50 that Elam signs with Florida. Elam, from West Palm Beach, is the state's top recruit and arguably the best football player from the Sunshine State since Reggie Nelson.

Here's the issue, at least according to Elam. While he did commit to the Gators in the spring to play safety, he recently became reluctant about that decision because of their depth at the position and the safety prospects that Florida will be bringing in with the Class of 2010.

But if you look at the Gators' class, there's only one safety on board in Jonathan Dowling (there's a chance Demar Dorsey could end up playing free safety rather than cornerback). Dowling, who also plays receiver, has recently told Florida that he wants to play offense in Gainesville.

Here's the thing. Even if Dowling were to stick to defense, he only projects as a free safety. Elam is a strong safety all the way.

So what gives?

Elam has officially visited West Virginia, Tennessee, FSU and Georgia this fall, and he came away impressed from all those trips. His last visit is slated for Florida, and he could possibly visit Ohio State. All of these schools have brought in big-time safety prospects in last year's class, this season's class or both.

Something is amiss here.

Maybe we need to look at the history of Elam and Gators coach Urban Meyer. Meyer recruited Elam's older brother Abram to Notre Dame while he was an assistant coach with the Fighting Irish back in 2000. It was then he first met Matt. The Elam's and Meyer all became close. It was easy earlier this year for Matt to commit to Meyer and Florida because of just how comfortable he felt with the Gators coach.

But from the outside looking in, it just sounds like Elam is looking for excuses not to go to Florida. He's the state's top player, one of the nation's finest and a five-star prospect. Those types of guys typically don't worry about who's on campus and the competition coming in. Some do, but most don't - especially safeties where three or four can play at any given time. Elam would have to earn his playing time whether he played in Gainesville, Athens, Knoxville or anywhere else.

The other thing is that Elam just committed too soon. One teammate of his recently told me that Elam has really been struggling with the (recruiting) decision. Then you add in the high caliber of programs he's looking at and you can see why things have become so confusing for Elam.

There's always the theory that Elam is just taking trips and has planned to go to Florida all along. Sure, that could be true. But his mom has accompanied him on a few trips. If he were solid to the Gators, why would she go along with him to Athens and Tallahassee?

The fourth little nugget here is his Dwyer High School teammate and good friend Robert Clark. Clark, a receiver/cornerback, has committed to West Virginia. Now, Elam is hoping Florida, Ohio State, FSU and Georgia offer Clark as well. Tennessee has. So that means if those two do want to play together, only the Mountaineers and Volunteers have offered both. That makes things a bit more interesting, doesn't it?

So, can Elam walk away from Meyer, a coach he has known for close to a decade? Will he pick Ohio State so he's close to his big brother Abram, who plays for the Cleveland Browns? Does he follow Clark to West Virginia or do they both end up at Tennessee? Georgia beat Florida on Aaron Murray and Brent Benedict. Can they pull Elam? Where do the Seminoles stand in the mix?

There are so many questions out there for Elam. What will he do? I wish I knew the answer, and I honestly feel it's a coin flip, but my gut tells me it's going to be very hard for him to walk away from Meyer and Florida.

One thing is certain, a decision must come soon. He is scheduled to graduate early and enroll in January.

A new No. 1?

Is there really anyone who can overtake Seantrel Henderson's spot as the No. 1 prospect in 2010? I've always thought of offensive tackle as the second-most important position on the field, and I find it extremely hard to see anyone claiming that top position at the end of the year besides him.

-- Jordan from Columbus, Ohio
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There is absolutely no question that Henderson is a big-time talent. And I agree with you, he plays the extremely important position of offensive tackle. Henderson, from Saint Paul, Minn., has the physical tools and frame to be a three-and-out guy at the next level and play on Sundays. Having said all that, I think he's the safest pick at the top end of the recruiting spectrum.

Just think back a few years ago to the Class of 2005. That year I thought quarterback Ryan Perrilloux was the nation's top prospect, but I went with quarterback Mark Sanchez because I thought he was the safest pick.

There's always the threat of the "bust" factor. And I think of all the prospects at the top, Henderson's the least likely to fall into that category.

Who could overtake Henderson if someone were to grab that top spot? I like two guys from California in athlete Robert Woods and defensive end Ronald Powell. I love the athleticism/upside of both players.

Louisiana's top junior?

Who will be the top recruit in the state of Louisiana in 2011 or possibly name the top five?

-- Ross from New Orleans
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The Class of 2011 in the Bayou State looks really good at this time. As I said in this column a few months back, Louisiana is loaded at the top next season. I think the safe No. 1 prospect for '11 is offensive lineman La'El Collins from Baton Rouge Redemptorist. Collins has already committed to LSU.

Here's where it gets tricky. Who's the guy after him? Is it wide receiver Jarvis Landry (Lutcher), running back Kenny Hilliard (Patterson) or defensive tackle Anthony Johnson (New Orleans)? It will come down to film evaluations as well as in-person evaluations from camps and combines this spring and summer.

At the same time I think it's fair to say that these four will be among the nation's top 50. I see Collins pushing for five-star status for sure.

Who's No. 5? It may be defensive end Jermauria Rasco from Shreveport or wide receiver Bradley Sylve from Port Sulphur.

Finding them first

When does a prospect start to be noticed by not only the schools, but also the recruiting services? Is there any sort of unwritten rule about giving a kid too much too soon? How telling are freshman numbers? Are you hesitant to evaluate someone so young? Who are the best freshmen you have ever seen?

-- Harry from Orlando, Fla.
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A few years back, actually, it was maybe 10 years or so, I remember going to the spring game in Tucker, Ga., to see Jabari Davis. At the time he was one of the nation's top prospects. There was another stud at Tucker in that spring game. I asked around who this kid was and it was running back Thomas Brown, who eventually signed with Georgia and played for the Bulldogs. At the time, he was in the eighth grade.

Nowadays, when a kid stands out, regardless of class or age, they are on notice. It doesn't matter the grade, position, etc. Everything has become so accelerated. It's actually getting a little ridiculous. College programs actually like finding out about a kid first or very early.

Again, it doesn't matter how old they are or the year of school they are in. Remember when Wake Forest offered a quarterback named Chris Leak when they had his older brother C.J? They offered him in the eighth or ninth grade. Then you have Eric Berry's little brother, who committed to the Vols over the spring. He was still in middle school at the time.

Teams want to be first on a kid because kids do remember who was on them first or who sent them their first letter or offer, etc. It does mean something in the recruiting game.

I am not hesitant to evaluate so young as long as you continue to evaluate them each year through their senior season. You have to be careful. You hear about kids all the time who are "late bloomers." Well, there are also kids who top out too quickly.

Stats do mean something, but just because a player has big stats doesn't make him a college football prospect.

Jamie Newberg is a recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his mailbag.




 

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