Ahhhh National Signing Day. Those in keeper leagues were likely hitting refresh on Rivals, Scout, ESPN or their favorite recruiting service at a fever pitch on Wednesday.
Of course picking recruits who will perform at the next level is an inexact science. For every Mark Ingram (our #2 rated freshman back in 2008) there is a Jarvis Giles (our #1 rated freshman back in 2009). There is significant risk in drafting freshmen, especially when many have yet to set foot on campus. But the risk shouldn't prevent you from dabbling in the freshman market on draft day.
There are rewards to be had, especially for those in keeper leagues. However, be smart about it. Don't count on true freshmen to anchor your championship run. They should be drafted only after your core is set and should be considered fliers or projects for down the road.
We begin our peek at the potential future collegiate stars by looking at the running backs, the group that we feel has the best chance of making an impact as true freshmen. A note about our rankings as they differ from the major recruiting website who rank strictly on talent. We base our rankings on who we feel will make an impact in 2010 (and beyond). Our evaluation is based on expert rankings, our own evaluations and team needs.
Of course we'll be updating these rankings as practice reports come in, so this is a dynamic list. Last year, for example, Dion Lewis was just a blip on our radar at this juncture, but by August he was our #3 rated freshman back. Things do and will change.
The Early Top Ten
Rivals.com: 2 Scout.com: 2 ESPN: 1 - Highlight Video
First off my sincerest apologies to Mr. Dyer. Our last three preseason #1 running back recruits (Joe McKnight, Darrell Scott and Jarvis Giles) failed to meet our lofty expectations. To make matters worse, Dyer is cut from the same mold as Giles. Growing up in Detroit, I was fortunate enough to watch just about every game Barry Sanders played. From that I know it would be foolish to ever compare someone to Sanders. However, Dyer's running style did remind me of the greatest running back of all-time (personal opinion of course). Small and compact...check. Can stop on a dime...check. Can make defenders look silly...check. Good, but not blazing speed...check. Can do a pirouette at midfield and keep running...check. Dyer will have to fight past Onterio McCaleeb, but he is a talented kid that will get a shot.
Rivals.com: 1 Scout.com: 1 ESPN: 2 - Highlight Video
Seems like we've been desperately trying trying to find fantasy performers at South Carolina ever since the Ole Ball Coach arrived in Columbia. Could Lattimore be the guy? He's rated as the top running back by both Rivals.com and Scout.com. And he's ranked second by ESPN. He looks like a locomotive when he gets his big, long-striding legs churning. He has decent cut-back ability, but his preference is to run straight ahead. Not a huge back at 5-foot-11 and 210-pounds, but he's strong and tough to bring down.
Austin White, Michigan
Rivals.com: 10 (AP) Scout.com: 15 ESPN: 77 - Highlight Video
Michigan is in dire need of a go-to back. White could be Michigan's Steve Slaton. He's a straight-ahead runner with track speed , and this can be very dangerous in a spread option offense. He has quick feet and follows his blockers well. He's not going to bull you over, but he'll hit the hole fast and hard.
Rivals.com: unranked Scout.com: 24 ESPN: 94 - Highlight Video
Obviously there is a reason Mr. Football from the State of Ohio received few offers from Big Ten schools; he has some work to do in the classroom. If he can boost his grades in his final semester and get qualified, you're are looking at the classic big fish in a small pond scenario. He's strong between the tackles with a running style that keeps his pad level low, which is rare to see from high school backs. We won't know until the summer if Howard has made the grade.
Rivals.com: 11 Scout.com: 14 ESPN: 14 - Highlight Video
With Javarris James graduating and Graig Cooper likely out for the season, the Canes could use immediate help at running back. Clements and Storm Johnson will get a chance to compete right away. We give the edge to Clements. He gets up to speed quickly and attacks the hole with good pad level. He also shows nice lateral quickness.
Rivals.com: 21 Scout.com: 16 ESPN: 11 - Highlights Video
A between-the-tackles runner, the exact type of back the Cardinal is looking to replace. It would be a mistake, however, to suggest the Wilkerson has the same running style as Toby Gerhart. Gerhart was an absolute bulldozer. Wilkerson is not going to bring the same level of power, but brings more lateral running ability. He'll get a shot to replace Touchdown Toby once he arrives on campus this August.
Rivals.com: 9 (ATH) Scout.com: 3 ESPN: 8 - Highlight Video
It is tough not to get infatuated with the recruiting video of the cut-back runners and the speed merchants. Sometimes you just have to ask...can this kid run the football and is he going to a team with a need for a running back? And the answer is yes on both accounts when you look at future UCLA Bruin Malcolm Jones. He's not flashy, but he can run, catch and has good size. And there is only so long they can wait for Christian Ramirez to be the guy.
Rivals.com: 12 Scout.com: 29 ESPN: 13 - Highlight Video
Fellow recruit Lache Seastrunk is going to garner more attention, but he is a very similar back to LaMichael James. Williams is a bruiser and arguably the most physical back in this recruiting class. His contrasting style gives him a better chance to see the field early in my opinion. He also ran in a similar offense in high school so the learning curve will be small.
Rivals.com: 3 Scout.com: 4 ESPN: 6 - Highlight Video
With the possible suspension of LaMichael James, Seastrunk's role with the Duck's in 2010 needs to be revisited. In short Seastrunk is a spitting image of James. And if James is unable to return he could easily slide into his role and could turn into the top freshman back in the country. One of the Duck's most effective running is the outside stretch play and Seastrunk is a better fit to run this play than fellow recruit Dontae Williams. Obviously a lot hinges on the LaMichael James at this point.
Rivals.com: 3 (AP) Scout.com: 9 ESPN: 7 - Highlight Video
Morgan is a cut-back runner that gets up to speed quickly. He's surprisingly strong for his size as well. He'll still have to battle Allen Bradford, C.J. Gable and Marc Tyler for playing time, but the logjam at running back is starting to subside at USC. Opening the door for one of the talented true freshman backs to come in and compete.
Rivals.com: 1 (AP) Scout.com: 5 ESPN: 12 - Highlight Video
Some have billed him as the next Reggie Bush, which seems like an unfair comparison. He played mostly quarterback in high school, but is expected to play running back in college. There is no questioning he is an athletic kid with tremendous speed. However, it is tough to get a read on how his upright running style will translate into a full-time running back at the next level. Can he be a guy that can carry the load? Or is he a specialty player that will bust big plays? I'm leaning toward the latter, but I have been wrong in the past.
Other Names to Know...
Lache Seastrunk, Oregon
Jordon James, UCLA
Spencer Ware, LSU
Mack Brown, Florida
Storm Johnson, Miami (FL)
Mustafa Greene, NC State
Brennan Clay, Oklahoma
Roderick Smith, Ohio State
Silas Redd, Penn State
Roy Finch, Oklahoma
Giovanni Bernard, North Carolina
Deontae Cooper, Washington
Corey Grant, Alabama
Ken Malcome, Georgia
Cameron Roberson, Notre Dame
Rajion Neal, Tennessee
Braylon Heard, Nebraska
Traylon Shead, Texas
Jakhari Gore, LSU
Donnell Kirkwood, Minnesota
Brandon Gainer, Kentucky
D.J. Jones, Texas A&M
Ben Malena, Texas A&M
Joseph Randle, Oklahoma St
Ethan Grant, TCU
Deantre Lewis, Arizona St
Adaris Bellamy, NA
Darryl Fields, SMU
Tony Drake, Colorado St
Jamal Woodyard, Southern Miss