National Signing Day can be exciting but it can also be overblown. Five star recruits get people excited but they don’t always pan out. More often than not, guys can improve dramatically with hard work and coaching. Just look at the skill players on the 2010 All-Pac 10 team. Andrew Luck was one of the top prospects in the nation, but LaMichael James, Jacquizz Rodgers, Jeff Maehl, Juron Criner, and Jermaine Kearse were afterthoughts nationally on signing day. Dynasty league owners can find gems if they dig deep. Here are some players that could provide a nice return on investment for fantasy owners over the next four years.
1. USC (22 commitments) – The NCAA sanctions didn’t affect the Trojans this year on the recruiting trail. Wide receiver George Farmer is one of the top players in the country and headlines this class. He is a big physical playmaker in the mold of Dez Bryant. He should challenge immediately for playing time and could even start opposite his old high school teammate Robert Woods. The bulk of this class was used to shore up the defensive front seven and the offensive line. The Trojans stole offensive lineman Aundrey Walker from the Ohio State Buckeyes backyard and he could be the road grader that gets the running game back on track. They also added eight mid-year enrollees who counted towards last year’s class. The best of those players are quarterbacks Max Wittek and Cody Kessler. Both players will challenge for the backup spot this year which could give them the leg up whenever Matt Barkley decides to turn pro.
2. Oregon (23 commitments) – The Ducks rode the coattails of a trip to the BCS National Title game to haul in the best recruiting class in their history. The top players are athlete De’Anthony Thomas and Colt Lyerla. Thomas (5-foot-9, 160 pounds) was a late switch from USC and could be a great running back if he can put on a little weight. He plays much bigger than his size but he might be switched to cornerback with all the talent the Ducks have in the backfield. Lyerla is a versatile linebacker that has been compared to Brian Urlacher and Brian Cushing. Not bad company. Also headed to Eugene are wide receivers Devon Blackmon and Tacoi Sumler. Blackmon is a smooth athlete that should be a perfect fit on the Ducks offense out wide. Sumler is small (5-foot-8, 157 pounds) but he might be the fastest player in the 2011 class after he ran a 4.24 40 according to ESPN’s Scouts Inc. The fast just got faster.
3. Cal (22 commitments) – The Golden Bears cleaned up with one of the best defensive classes in the nation. Their biggest catches, literally, were defensive lineman Todd Barr (265 pounds) and Viliami Moala (325 pounds). Both players will challenge for immediate playing time. On offense the two players to watch out for are wide receiver Maurice Harris and running back Brendon Bigelow. Harris is a big physical receiver who has terrific speed. He hauled in 54 passes for 1,104 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior. He is the cousin of last year’s star recruit Keenan Allen. Bigelow missed his entire senior season with a torn ACL but he could be an elite option if he returns to form. He is an explosive and dynamic player with the ball in his hands.
4. Stanford (19 commitments) – This class would have been even better had Jim Harbaugh not left for the riches of the NFL. USC was able to get running back Amir Carlisle and linebacker Anthony Sarao to change at the last minute. The guys that decided to stay with the school could be difference makers. Lineback James Vaughters could have gone to just about any SEC school but decided that the education provided by Stanford was worth taking a chance on. The defensive backfield should be in good hands with safety Wayne Lyons who was one of the top players at his position in the nation. On offense, the Cardinal are hoping lightning strikes twice from Norco High School in CA. Running back Kelsey Young (5-foot-10, 190 pounds) doesn’t have the build Toby Gerhart did but he was just as effective. He ran for 2,008 yards and 30 touchdowns last year. Wide receiver Ty Montgomery profiles as a good possession receiver that isn’t afraid to go over the middle. He has good hands and is a smooth athlete that could emerge as a real keeper.
5. Washington (23 commitments) – The Huskies cleaned up in state of Washington signing the top five players in the state. The biggest get was tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins who was heavily recruited by Texas. Although listed as the top tight end in the county, a lot of schools wanted him as an offensive tackle but he seems determined to catch passes. Another huge signing was wide receiver Kasen Williams, who became the first player from the state of Washington to be named the Parade All-American National Player of the Year. He won three state titles at Skyline High School and finished his career with 235 catches for 4,121 yards and 56 touchdowns. He could be a big time player as a freshman if the quarterback situation gets solved this fall. The Huskies swiped running back Bishop Sankey from rival Washington State on signing day. He is a one-cut north-south runner who ran for 2,518 yards as a senior. Derrick Brown is an intriguing dual-threat quarterback.
6. Utah (19 commitments) – The Utes had a big hole at running back and have a couple of players coming in that could immediately be difference makers. Harvey Langi is the big name that has all the locals buzzing. He turned down USC and Stanford to stay in state. He is a big back (6-foot-1, 220 pounds) who rushed for 4,289 yards and 55 touchdowns in his high school career. He will be challenged by junior college transfer John White IV. He is a smaller elusive back that should complement Langi perfectly. The Utes also got help out wide with Quinton Pedroza and Anthony Denham. Pedroza has a nice blend of size, speed, and productivity. He averaged 20 yards a catch and scored 16 touchdowns as a high school senior. Denham, a junior college transfer from East L.A. College, is a specimen. He is 6-foot-6, 230 pounds and could be a nightmare in the red zone for the next two years. Quarterback Tyler Shreve was grayshirted last year and he has the talent to be a starter in the Pac 12 in a couple of years.
7. Oregon State (24 commitments) – No one stands out but they always find a way to turn hidden gems into All-League players. Running backs Storm Woods and Malcolm Agnew will challenge to take over where Jacquizz Rodgers left off. Woods is a strong downhill runner with great vision. Agnew was among the fastest in the state of Missouri in the 100 and 200 meters who could excel in the Beavers offense. Wide receiver Brandin Cooks is fast and elusive and could be the eventual replacement for James Rodgers. He posted 66 catches for 1,125 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. The Beavers may have a potential gem in 6-foot-3 wide receiver Richard Mullaney from Thousand Oaks, CA (the same high school as yours truly). Putting my bias aside, his numbers are incredible. He set a state record with 122 catches as a senior to go with 1,703 yards and 20 touchdowns. He isn’t a blazer but he is a savvy route runner with good hands. He is the type of player most schools overlook that the Beavers turn into stars. Another typical Beavers class.
8. Arizona (17 commitments) – The Wildcats went into the signing period looking for offensive lineman and linebackers. They signed seven of them which didn’t leave much room for skill position players. The one player that should immediately garner Pac 12 dynasty owners attention is running back Ka’Deem Carey. He ran for 4,492 yards and 71 touchdowns during his last two years in high school. He should have a chance to earn early playing time with Nic Grigsby moving on and could be the starter in 2012. Quarterback Daxx Garman enrolled early and will participate in spring practices. He was ineligible during his senior season and looks to be a couple of years away from competing for a job.
9. Arizona State (14 commitments) – The Sun Devils only had 13 seniors on the roster last year so they didn’t have much room to add to the team. The pipeline from Centennial High School in Corona, CA has brought them another potential star in quarterback Michael Eubank. He is 6-foot-5 and 232 pounds has been labeled a poor man’s Cameron Newton. He is still raw but has all the tools to become a dual-threat monster in the spread offense. As a senior he threw for 2,831 yards, rushed for 1,687 yards, and accounted for 46 touchdowns. The other skill player that has Dennis Erickson excited is wide receiver Gary Chambers. The 6-foot-3, 210 pounder is exactly what the Sun Devils look for in an outside receiver. He is an excellent basketball player that can fly but it will be hard for him to get onto the field early with the depth ahead of him.
10. UCLA (16 commitments) – The Bruins were one of the most disappointing teams on signing day but this class may ultimately be judged by one player. Quarterback Brett Hundley was the best prospect at the position out West and may be asked to play right away. He is a dual-threat player that should fit the Pistol offense perfectly. He is already enrolled and spring practice should give him an opportunity to see the field early in his career. Hundley has to be excited with the addition of wide receiver Devin Lucien. He scored 18 touchdowns as a senior and could inject some much needed play-making skills into the Bruins receiving core. The Bruins breathed a sigh of relief when offensive lineman Torian White decided to sign with UCLA after choosing USC in a shocker on live TV. Kevin McReynolds could be the next great defensive tackle for the school.
11. Colorado (19 commitments) – The Buffaloes had the unenviable task of trying to secure a class amid a coaching change. They did well on the defensive line adding defensive ends Stephane Nembot and Juda Parker. While they didn’t grab any headliners on offense they do have some guys that could be sleepers. Quarterback Stevie Joe Dorman threw for 9,253 yards and 94 touchdowns during his high school career. Wide receiver Nelson Spruce has nice size (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) to go with great production (73 catches for 1,292 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior). The Buffaloes may have gotten a steal when they got running back Malcolm Creer to choose them over Washington.
12. Washington State (24 commitments) – There are no headliners in this class but a couple of players could turn out to be effective starters down the line. Cody Clements could be the heir apparent to Jeff Tuel at quarterback. He lacks the arm strength to drive the ball down the field but threw 32 touchdowns and only one interception in his senior season. Last season the Cougars hit gold with WR Marquess Wilson and they might have another sleeper in the same mold. Dominique Williams is a tall, lanky receiver that has the speed to get behind defenses. Rahmel Dockery will need to put on some weight but he is a multi-dimensional type that could wreak havoc in the slot.