Penn State Nittany Lions: Dareian Watkins

Big Ten roundtable: Impact freshmen

June, 6, 2014
Jun 6
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With incoming freshmen set to report to their respective B1G teams later this month, we thought now would be a perfect time to take a closer look at the 2014 class.

Who'll end up as the most memorable player? And who'll see time right away? Adam Rittenberg, Brian Bennett and Josh Moyer joined Big Ten recruiting writer Tom VanHaaren in discussing the big questions surrounding the freshmen.

So let's get started ...

Based on talent, which freshman is too good to leave off the field?

[+] EnlargeJabrill Peppers
Miller Safrit/ESPNJabrill Peppers is the type of physical defensive back that Michigan's defense needs.
Bennett: First, let's start off with the caveat that college is a lot different from high school, and more goes into being successful at this level than pure physical gifts. That said, I have never heard anyone dispute the natural talent and football instincts of Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers. He was ESPN's No. 2 recruit in the Class of 2014 for a reason. The comparisons to Charles Woodson are already being made, and the corner spot is open with Blake Countess playing nickelback. Michigan needs to get more physical in its pass coverage and have more defensive playmakers in general. If Peppers fulfills even 80 percent of his hype, he'll be on the field early and often for Brady Hoke.

VanHaaren: Peppers is the first name that comes to mind. Michigan doesn't really have anyone like him on the roster. His combination of size and speed, which he displayed at a recent track meet by running a 10.52-second 100-meter dash, is something that Michigan needs in the defensive backfield. I just don't see a scenario where a healthy Peppers doesn't see the field in some capacity.

Moyer: Everyone should be familiar with Peppers, so let's forget about him for a minute. Someone whom Buckeyes fans already know -- and whom other B1G fans should familiarize themselves with -- is linebacker Raekwon McMillan, who was rated as the top inside linebacker recruit in the nation. He's already enrolled, he's already impressed Urban Meyer, and he's already a physically imposing athlete. At 240 pounds, he's bigger than all but one of OSU's 10 other linebackers. Almost every scouting report you read on the guy describes him as a "thumper," and Meyer said three months ago that there'll be no redshirt for McMillan. He should make an impact early on.

Based on need, which freshman is a lock to start from Day 1?

Bennett: I'll go with Purdue's Gelen Robinson. He's following in the footsteps, sort of, of his dad -- Boilers basketball legend Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson. The younger Robinson was Purdue's most celebrated recruit in this class, but not just because of that name. He's also an outstanding athlete who should force his way onto the field from Day 1. He'll likely play outside linebacker, which is a position of need for Darrell Hazell's team. Heck, they need players everywhere, but particularly difference-makers on defense. Robinson will get every opportunity.

Rittenberg: It's hard for true freshman offensive linemen to step in immediately, but keep an eye on Maryland's Damian Prince, the nation's No. 26 prospect in the 2014 class. The recent suspension of potential starter Moise Larose creates a need at tackle, and both Prince and Derwin Gray both have a chance to win starting jobs this summer. Wisconsin will play several of its freshman wide receivers, and I could easily see a guy like Dareian Watkins entering the starting lineup. And let's not forget about Michigan State defensive tackle Malik McDowell. The Spartans lost a few pieces on the interior defensive line.

Moyer: Penn State wideout De'Andre Thompkins. In a normal year, he might be a redshirt candidate. He's incredibly athletic -- Bill O'Brien recruited him thinking he could be a two-way player and compete at nickelback -- but he's also a bit raw since he played mostly at running back in high school. He still needs to sharpen his routes but, between the scholarship reduction and the lack of experience at receiver this season, Thompkins will have to step up sooner rather than later. The early enrollee has already proven he's the fastest player on the roster, and he's taken reps as a return man. So he should play on Day 1, in some capacity.

When this freshman class graduates, who will be remembered as the best player?

Bennett: Peppers is the easy and safe choice here. Another possibility is Maryland's Prince. He's a mountain, and given the value of offensive tackles in the NFL, we could be hearing his name early in the 2017 or 2018 draft.

VanHaaren: It could very well be either Peppers or McMillan. It's tough to argue against those two just based off of talent and ability, and I would probably go with Peppers here. I saw him at the Under Armour All-America Game and coach Herm Edwards told me Peppers was the best high school prospect he had coached in the few years he had been coaching at the event. That's high praise for a former defensive back.

[+] EnlargeDamian Prince
Tom Hauck for Student SportsThe massive Damian Prince might be too good to keep out of Maryland's starting lineup.
Rittenberg: McDowell's recruiting melodrama gained a lot of attention, overshadowing how good a player he could be for MSU. Mark Dantonio isn't one to heap praise on freshmen but held a news conference specifically to discuss McDowell, saying, "Malik will be on the field for us, he's too big and fast [not to be], he can play inside or outside." I've been told McDowell's parents are on board with MSU now, and with the distractions behind him, he should become a star for an already elite defense.

What redshirt freshman should fans keep an eye on?

Bennett: I trust the player development program at Michigan State. Guys there just seem to get better and better throughout their careers, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive end Demetrius Cooper turned a lot of heads this spring and forced himself into the rotation, even with standout returning starters Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush ahead of him. Cooper was just a three-star recruit, according to ESPN, but the Spartans have made a living turning moderately-rated recruits into true college stars.

VanHaaren: I don't know if this is cheating or not because he's a sophomore, but I'm really interested to see what quarterback Wes Lunt does for Illinois. I put him here because he transferred and had to sit out the last season. I think he could be a big boost to that program if he can get things rolling offensively for the Illini.

Rittenberg: Iowa wide receiver Derrick Willies. Not only did he have a breakout spring for the Hawkeyes, but he's the type of receiver Iowa has lacked for a while: tall, fast and explosive. Iowa wants to ramp up the offensive tempo even more this season, which likely means the ball will be spread around more. Expect some big plays from Willies in his first game action.

Moyer: Minnesota running back Berkley Edwards. If it wasn't for an ankle injury early last season, he probably would've played. As it is, he'll definitely see the field this fall -- and he might see it quite a bit. Jerry Kill was asked earlier this spring if Edwards might get five to seven carries a game. "We'll see," Kill said, chuckling, to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "He might need more touches." Edwards is an exciting player who has a chance to break it anytime he touches the ball, and he could end up being an important change-of-pace back for the offense. Definitely worth watching.

Big Ten signing day storylines 

December, 17, 2013
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Signing day is only 50 days away and there are plenty of questions surrounding the big day. Big Ten programs still have a ton of top prospects on the board, which means there could be some impactful decisions coming in the near future.

Here is a look at some of the top storylines in the conference leading up to signing day.

Big Ten class ranking analysis 

December, 4, 2013
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The end of the regular season means coaches will have more time to focus on recruiting and closing out their recruiting class. The Big Ten has seen plenty of movement within the last week, so here is a look at where the conference stacks up in the recruiting class rankings.


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Big Ten recruiting storylines: Nov. 21 

November, 21, 2013
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The Big Ten has seen plenty of action recently with commits, decommitments and offers being sent out. Here is a look at the latest story lines within the conference.

MOVING ON FROM HAND

Michigan missed out on five-star defensive end Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) on Thursday. Hand told the coaches Wednesday night, which gave them time to consider an offer to fill his spot.

The staff then promptly offered in-state prospect Jhonny Williams (Berrien Springs, Mich./Berrien Springs), who is currently committed to Missouri. Williams has now said he will visit Notre Dame, who also recently offered, and will most likely take a trip to Ann Arbor as well.

This could be interesting, as Williams only lives 30 minutes from South Bend and his father is a Michigan fan.

The Wolverines also offered three-star Cal running back commit Vic Enwere (Sugar Land, Texas/Fort Bend Austin), who has said he will likely take a visit as well.

[+] EnlargeTyler Wiegers
Tom Hauck for ESPNFour-star QB Tyler Wiegers decommitted to Rutgers and might take a trip to Iowa this weekend.
HAWKEYES UP

Quarterback Tyler Wiegers (Beverly Hills, Mich./Country Day) decommitted from Rutgers this week, something that’s starting to be a trend with its class.

The four-star quarterback is now considering Iowa, and could take a visit to see the Hawkeyes this weekend. If Wiegers does make the trip, a decision could come shortly after.

If he picks Iowa, Wiegers would be the second four-star commit for the Hawkeyes.

TRANQUILL FLIPS FOR IRISH

Linebacker Drue Tranquill (Ft. Wayne, Ind./Carroll) had been mulling a Notre Dame offer for quite some time, despite being committed to Purdue.

In a text message sent on Monday night, Tranquill made the decision to flip his commitment to Notre Dame.

“I’ve decided to play my next four years at the University of Notre Dame,” the text message said. “I have so much respect for Coach (Darrell) Hazell. I’ve never met someone with such high character. However, I’m ecstatic to go play for Coach (Brian) Kelly at the University of Notre Dame.”

RECRUITING OUT FRONT FOR WESTPHAL

Now that his season is over, ESPN 300 defensive back Parrker Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook) is once again focused on his recruitment.

After much deliberation, the No. 96-ranked prospect is down to Michigan State, Northwestern and Vanderbilt.

He will be taking an unofficial visit to Northwestern on Saturday for its game against Michigan State and will then return again for an official visit in the first week of December.

That’s a huge opportunity for the Wildcats to seal the deal on one of the top remaining targets in this class.

SYKES SET TO RELEASE TOP LIST

Four-star linebacker Nile Sykes (Lombard, Ill./Montini Catholic) has been receiving major interest as of late. His most recent offer comes from Notre Dame, which has sparked interest.

Sykes has been focusing on his season, but tweeted this week that he will release a top-five list next week. He is a major target for Illinois and he also holds a Purdue offer.

With the loss of Tranquill, the Boilermakers could really use some help at linebacker.

MINNESOTA ROLLING

The Minnesota coaching staff has seen a spark in interest from prospects they have been in contact with in recent weeks. Winning typically cures all, and that’s the case with the Golden Gophers right now.

In-state target Frank Ragnow (Victoria, Minn./Chanhassen) says that Minnesota’s play on the field has definitely been something he’s taken into consideration.

“It’s huge, because I came into this fall, the one thing that Minnesota was lacking was winning,” Ragnow said. “I would’ve ruled them out if they weren’t winning. They always talked about winning and actually seeing it happen is huge.”

The Gophers are facing off against Wisconsin this weekend and will have running back target J'Vonte Herrod (Kennesaw, Ga./North Cobb) on campus for the game.

Herrod isn’t quite sure when he will make a decision just yet, but the Gophers are likely his current leader.


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Big Ten class rankings analysis 

November, 20, 2013
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Commitments and decommitments within the Big Ten mean there has been movement in the updated class rankings. Here is a look at some trends and what might happen in the future from Big Ten teams.


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B1G high school performances 

November, 4, 2013
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Here is a look at some of the top performances from Big Ten targets and commits for the week.

Illinois:
Mike Dudek: Dudek helped Neuqua Valley (Naperville, Ill.) beat O’Fallon 38-7 with three touchdown catches on the night.

Julian Hylton: The three-star running back had 159 yards on 30 carries with four touchdowns in his game. He helped lead Lincoln-Way North (Frankfort, Ill.) to a 41-6 win over Thornton Fractional South.

Indiana
Coray Keel: The Indiana commit and Snellville (Ga.) South Gwinnett wide receiver registered five catches for 108 yards and scored a 70-yard touchdown in a 30-28 win over Snellville Brookwood.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

November, 4, 2013
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An exciting weekend on the field for Big Ten schools translated over to the recruiting trail. There wasn't much action in terms of commitments, but it set the tone for the future for many teams.

Here is a look at what happened around the conference.

Biggest commitment:


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Here are this week's top high school performances from Big Ten commits and targets.


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Here are the top performances by Big Ten commits and targets from the weekend.


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Big Ten recruiting mailbag

October, 18, 2013
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It’s time to dip into the Big Ten recruiting mailbag and answer some of your questions. We’ll try to give everyone a chance to get their questions answered. We encourage you to send your questions by Twitter to @bbournival or @TomVH.

[+] EnlargeDamian Prince
Tom Hauck for Student SportsOT Damian Prince, who is No. 22 in the ESPN 300, no longer seems like a sure thing for Ohio State.
@darkknight1093: Does the late offer to Frank Ragnow indicate that the Ohio State staff believes Damian Prince is trending away from the Buckeyes?

Brad Bournival: I won’t speak for the Ohio State staff, but I’m almost firmly convinced the Prince-to-the-Buckeyes ship has sailed. In fact, I would put it at 95 percent right now that he signs with Maryland in February.

That’s how confident I am that Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara) he stays in-state at the end. When a program tells you it wants you to be the face of the program like the Terrapins have, it’s hard to argue against it.

@dannograef: Who is the biggest sleeper commit in the Big Ten?

Tom VanHaaren: It’s no secret that I think highly of Minnesota running back commit Jeff Jones (Washburn, Minn./Washburn), who completed his regular season with 39 touchdowns. I think he’s a candidate, I also like Illinois commit Mike Dudek (Naperville, Ill./Neuqua Valley), Michigan commit Noah Furbush (Kenton, Ohio/Kenton) and Northwestern commit Dareian Watkins (Galion, Ohio/Galion). Penn State commit De'Andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro) is in the ESPN 300, but doesn’t get talked about enough. He’s going to do big things for the Nittany Lions.

@HoosierHolmes: How much would making a bowl help Indiana’s recruiting efforts?

Bournival: To answer that question, I send you over to Penn State where recruits have gone on record to say they won’t choose the Nittany Lions because of the inability to go to a bowl for the next two seasons.

To be more precise, winning breeds winning and attracts more attention from bigger names. The proof is in the fact the same schools in the Big Ten stay on top of the recruiting rankings for that very reason. Kevin Wilson is slowly turning the program around. If he can end the five-year bowl absence this season, don’t be surprised to see a boost in recruiting as well.

@mike_albach10: I really like Malik McDowell's size and intangibles. What do you think his ceiling is?

VanHaaren: He is ranked No. 67 overall and the No. 4 defensive tackle. He is a giant, first of all. He has slimmed down some this season, but he is still head and shoulders bigger than everyone on his team. I think McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) would make an excellent 3-technique defensive tackle for any team in a 4-3 scheme. In Michigan’s defense, he would be able to slide outside to the strongside end spot in running situations and inside to tackle on passing downs. I think he is yet to tap a lot of his potential no matter where he ends up.

@WWEFan20134: Who do you think the final six will be for the class of 2014 for Ohio State football recruiting?

Bournival: With Mike Gesicki (Manahawkin, N.J./Southern Regional) picking Penn State I only see five. The others I feel much stronger about are Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), Chad Mavety (Garden City, N.J./Nassau Community College), Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln) and teammates Marshon Lattimore (Cleveland/Glenville) and Erick Smith.

@Collin_Stauder: Could the play of Michigan State’s defense this year be enough to possibly sway (Parrker) Westphal or McDowell?

VanHaaren: Michigan State always plays good defense, so that’s not something new for those guys. I think that’s part of what attracted them to the Spartans in the first place, so I don’t think that’s a bonus at this point that will tip the scales.

I think the Spartans probably have a better shot with Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook) than McDowell at this point, but at the same time I still think Northwestern has a lot to say in Westphal’s recruitment as well.

The play on the field has definitely helped attract some top prospects lately, but Michigan State needs to build on the Indiana win and show more than defense to some of their targets.

@buckeyefan686: Since the Buckeyes missed out on Gesicki who do you believe they land at tight end, or would they just not take one in this class?

Bournival: I think getting a tight end is an absolute must as I’m not convinced moving Sam Hubbard (Cincinnati/Moeller) over is the solution. Even though Ohio State doesn’t utilize the tight end much, there’s not a plethora of depth at the position. Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett will be back next season, but Blake Thomas’ career is likely done with the Buckeyes and Marcus Baugh is unproven at this point. Expect them to make a harder push for DeAndre Goolsby (Derby, Kan./Derby), who took an official visit for the Wisconsin game.

@hartley_nick: Any negative recruiting vibes with Michigan’s struggles on the field?

VanHaaren: Not yet. It was only one game and Michigan still only has one loss. It was an emotional loss for the fans because of how deeply they dig into things and diagnose the issues in specific games.

Recruits don’t tend to go that far into things like fans do. If you were to ask a recruit what they saw in that game, they would probably tell you two teams who fought hard into four overtimes and one came out on top.

If that type of play continues, though, and Michigan doesn’t show progress, then I think you could start to see some noise. I don’t think would be any issues with the 2014 class or even the 2015 kids that have already committed. If the season goes downhill, I think you’d see the most impact on uncommitted 2015 targets, but still that doesn’t seem too likely at this point.

 

Best Big Ten recruiters 

October, 15, 2013
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Editor's note: For a look at the national recruiter power rankings based only on Class of 2014 success, click here.

Michigan and Ohio State both sit in the top 10 recruiting rankings this year after each landed top 10 classes in 2013 -- the Buckeyes were third, while the Wolverines were sixth.

That's why it should come as no surprise that the two schools have the top four recruiters in the Big Ten Conference for the Class of 2014 so far.

Here's a look at the top 10 recruiters in the Big Ten and why they deserve such high praise:


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B1G high school performers 

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
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Here are this week's top performances from Big Ten commits and targets:

Illinois

Mike Dudek: Seven receptions, 97 yards, one touchdown, 103 kick return yards and a touchdown in a 40-25 win over Waubonise Valley.

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B1G high school performers 

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
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Here are this week's top performances from Big Ten commits and targets:

Illinois:
Julian Hylton: Hylton led Lincoln-Way North (Ill.) with 34 carries, 153 yards and two touchdowns in a 22-21 win over Lincoln-Way Central.


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There are still big holes to fill in recruiting for the 2014 class and top targets still on the board. A lot of position groups are being addressed in recruiting, but not many have been completely filled.

Big Ten recruiting writers Tom VanHaaren and Brad Bournival take a look at the most important position for each Big Ten team in the 2014 class.


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B1G high school performers 

September, 2, 2013
9/02/13
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With the start of high school football this past weekend, there were plenty of big performances on the field. Big Ten recruiting writers Tom VanHaaren and Brad Bournival outline a few top performers from Big Ten commitments over the weekend.

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