By Corey Long - @CoreyLong
Updated April 30, 2020.
Updated April 30
2020 NFL Draft shows power of good recruiting
The 2020 NFL Draft is behind us, and it was a nice 3-day break for those of us craving the light at the end of this pandemic tunnel called sports. I could gripe about this or that, but I really appreciated the 15 hours of draft time.
The big takeaway from the 2020 NFL Draft was that the top-three picks - quarterback Joe Burow, pass rusher Chase Young and defensive back Jeff Okudah - were all recruited to Ohio State under former head coach Urban Meyer. Although Burrow transferred out of Ohio State after a couple of years to go to LSU, this is another example of Meyer's amazing ability to recruit top-level talent. There are always a lot of red flags surrounding Meyer, but no one should ever question his ability to evaluate talent and hire coaches who can evaluate talent.
Lay off of Scott Frost
After Burrow was drafted, ESPN NFL pundit Trey Wingo made it a point to throw some shade at Scott Frost, who didn't accept Burrow's attempt to transfer to Nebraska. He believed that Burrow wasn't better than his young quarterback prospect Adrian Martinez. Everyone seemed to get a laugh at Frost's expense, but hindsight is 20/20 because if you look back at Heisman predictions going into the 2019 season, you'll see that Martinez was top-five Heisman favorite according to Las Vegas odds. He was tied with Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts at +600. They were behind Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (+300) and Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (+250).
You know who wasn't in the Top-20 Heisman favorites? Joe Burrow. He opened at +20000. He went into the 2019 season as an afterthought and a potential low-round NFL draft pick who was likely to be an undrafted free agent. Then LSU revamped its offense and brought in wunderkind Joe Brady to call the plays. It worked and Burrow had one of the great seasons in college football history. Scott Frost couldn't have seen it coming, and to be honest, it probably wouldn't have happened at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers didn't have the skilled personnel or the offensive line that LSU had in 2019. Sometimes things happen that no one can predict. That's the beauty of life.
The Power was in the Power 5
Power 5 conferences (SEC, Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12, Big XII) made up 191 of the 255 choices in the 2020 NFL Draft. That's 74.9 percent. At first, I thought the coronavirus pandemic hurt the non-Power 5 conferences a bit. Many programs were not able to hold their respective pro days, and the scheduled HBCU combine in Miami was canceled. For those reasons, I believed the non-Power 5 conferences and the FCS programs were at a bigger disadvantage than normal. Then I looked at last year's numbers and the Power 5 conferences made up 191 of 254 draft choices. Going back to 2018, the Power 5s made up 181 out of 255 draft picks.
If there was a conference among the Power 5 group that needs to pick up the slack, it's the ACC. That conference had 45 draft picks in 2018 and dropped to 28 in 2019 and 27 in 2020. The Clemson Tigers continue to pump out NFL prospects on their rosters, but other programs like Florida State and Miami have been slacking recently. The good news is a program like North Carolina is in a position to pick up that slack over the next couple of years if Mack Brown's highly-rated classes produce on the field.
COVID-19 Changes Everything
As things currently stand, the NCAA has a dead period on high school or junior college student-athletes visiting member schools until April 15. The likelihood of that moratorium being extended is high, and I wouldn't be surprised if it goes through May or June.
It's definitely changed the way this recruiting cycle is going to end up, and some will benefit from this change in the calendar. So here's a quick breakdown of where the recruiting cycle is and where it might be headed.
Which programs have benefitted from the change in schedule:
Programs with new, but established head coaches who have already done a lot of legwork on the 2021 class. North Carolina
is heading toward a top-10-15 class because Mack Brown was pointing toward the 2021 crop of in-state prospects when he took the job. Many of the Tar Heels' 11 commitments have been recruited by the staff for over a year and visited campus several times last season. That familiarity has worked in North Carolina's favor with its targets who wanted to commit before the summer.
Another program that's making the best of this situation is Rutgers
. Greg Schiano has deep relationships with the high school coaches in New Jersey. He has worked hard to get the top prospects in the state to consider the Scarlet Knights. When he took the job for a second time in December, he had already spoken to plenty of coaches in the state and compiled a list of major targets in 2021. Where the NCAA moratorium has really worked in Rutgers' favor is that a lot of the prospects in New Jersey hadn't made the rounds to other programs to be evaluated by those staffs.
Which programs have suffered from the change in schedule:
Blue blood programs with new coaches. Florida State
is the first that comes to mind because it's not considered a great recruiting staff to begin with and so much of Mike Norvell's recruiting sales pitch was going to be bringing in targets to watch the Seminoles' spring practices and spring game to experience the new direction of the program. Without the ability to have those practices and have recruiting targets attending those practices, Florida State is a bit of a question mark, especially considering the programs that the school is trying to recruit against.
The same situation goes for Michigan State
and Mel Tucker. The Spartans' recruiting has taken a hit over the past couple of seasons, and part of the reason Tucker has the job is because the Michigan State decision-makers believe he can get the school back on the minds of the top prospects around Ohio and Michigan. It's tough to do that without having the campus open for spring. Add in that Tucker has solid ties in Georgia as well and now can't get those prospects from the southeast to Michigan until the summer, and it's an uphill battle.
Can the NCAA make adjustments? If so, what would you suggest?
: I would consider two things right up front. I would eliminate the early signing period for one year
. I think the early signing period is a great thing, but for one year, I would just have the traditional National Signing Day in February. Prospects who qualify for early enrollment will still be able to enroll in January, but eliminating the early signing period will add two extra months for classes to come together, two extra months for prospects to take official visits and two extra months for coaching changes to take place.
The other change I would look into is allowing an earlier start to training camp. Maybe move it up to July 15. The NCAA allows 29 practices before the start of the first game. The elimination of two-a-days means that most programs won't get more than 20 before that first game, so there's no need to add more practices to the schedule. But moving the date up a couple of weeks will make up for some of the lost time in the spring and allow schools to work in some recruiting events around official practices before the high school season begins.
Quick Update on the 2020 Class
The big name who is still undecided is blue-chip running back Zachary Evans
. In case you need a refresher, the Houston-area prospect originally signed a letter of intent with Georgia but had second thoughts and asked to be released from his letter. The Bulldogs obliged about a week later, leaving Evans a free agent once again. As the February signing day approached, Evans' options began to run out as LSU and Georgia signed other running backs and Texas A&M appeared to pull away from his recruitment. Florida, Ole Miss and Tennessee, however, are still active in his recruitment.
Evans took official visits to Ole Miss and Tennessee in January and had planned on taking one to Florida in mid-March. However, the spread of COVID-19 put his visit plans on hold. The NCAA's suspended recruiting calendar is until April 15th, but it could be extended. If the ban on campus visitors is extended through the remainder of the spring semester, like expected, it will likely just come down to Evans enrolling in the program of his choice during the summer.
The other prospect who we're still following is wide receiver Leonard Manuel
. The recruit out of Ocala, Florida, has been verbally committed to the Florida Gators but did not want to sign his letter of intent until April 1. He was expected to take an official visit to Florida last weekend, but campus visits are suspended until April 15. The moratorium extended to a letter of intent, meaning Manuel couldn't sign on April 1 if he wanted to. When the suspension is lifted, the 2020 calendar is expected to be extended 30 days. Manuel is expected to choose between Florida and Ole Miss.
Updated Feburary 19
Fast Starts in 2021
Recruiting for the 2021 class is in full effect despite the fact we are 10 months away from the 2021 early signing period. That sounds like a long time, but believe me when I say it will be here before you know it. Here are five programs that are off to a great start. Some teams won't be a surprise, but others might.
Shocked aren't you? Watching the graduation of Clemson from being a program that recruited top-10 classes to one that recruits top-three classes has been impressive. The Tigers staff is relentless on the recruiting trail these days and is usually in play at some level for every top player in the country.
Clemson's national reach is evident right at the top of the class, where the Tigers have verbal commitments from two blue-chip prospects out of California - defensive lineman Korey Foreman and wide receiver Beaux Collins. Foreman might be the best player in the country, and Collins is a clear-cut top-100 player in the nation. Can the Tigers keep two west coast prospects in the class? They were able to land quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei from California last year, so it's possible.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Speaking of graduating in the recruiting world, what Ryan Day and the Buckeyes staff have to do is advance from identifying the players who can win the Big Teb and find the players who can win in the playoffs. At the top of the class is blue-chip quarterback Jack Sawyer, who Buckeyes fans hope will be the next great pass-rusher to come through Columbus. The Buckeyes won't recruit at the expense of in-state prospects though. Ohio still produces a great number of prospects, and six of the 10 verbal commitments in the class are in-state players.
Once again, Ohio State is focusing a lot of resources on staying strong in the trenches. Offensive tackle Ben Christman is a blue-chip in-state prospect who could play either tackle position, while Texas prospect Donovan Jackson projects to be one of the best interior offensive linemen in the 2021 class.
North Carolina Tar Heels
One of the reasons the Tar Heels have gotten off to a good start in the 2021 recruiting class is because Mack Brown has implemented his plan of focusing on the top-end in-state recruits. North Carolina still doesn't have the numbers of the other second-tier recruiting states like Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, but North Carolina does have a lot of quality, especially with blue-chip and red-chip players.
All five of the Tar Heels commitments are in-state targets. Wide receiver Gavin Blackwell is a legitimate blue-chip player and a top-100 nationally player. Linebackers Power Echols and Gabe Stephens and safety Dontavius Nash are all top-20 in-state players and top-300 nationally players.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The Notre Dame recruiting cycle tends to be a little earlier than some other schools, so the program has already received eight verbal commitments, with most of them coming in the spring, summer and fall of 2019. Where the Fighting Irish have really made their mark in this class is with three blue-chip targets in house already with quarterback Tyler Buchner, wide receiver Deion Colzie and offensive tackle Blake Fisher. And once again, Notre Dame is flexing its national brand with Colzie and red-chip tight end commitment Cane Berrong coming from Georgia and Buchner hailing from California.
With the Longhorns, it is still about getting in more top-end players. Tom Herman's ability to flip this roster has been sort of a hit and miss. The 2020 class, which I have ranked in the top 10, will go a long way to see where Texas ends up. If that class hits and Herman can follow with a strong recruiting group in 2021, we could see Texas competing for a playoff spot by the middle of the decade.
Not surprisingly all six commits in this class are in-state and committed to the program over the summer, so they should be very solid. Quarterback Jalen Milroe is the sort of dynamic dual-threat player at the position who could be a difference-maker, and Ja'Tavion Sanders projects to be the type of big-time defensive lineman who has evaded the program in recent years.
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