Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Best available: California prospects
By Craig Haubert
One of the premier states for consistently producing excellent talent, California is a key recruiting ground for programs throughout the nation and vital to teams in the Pac-12. For 2014, the state is home to 28 ESPN 300 prospects, including a five-star and two other players ranked No. 1 at their respective positions. Of those ESPN 300 prospects, 18 have already made verbal commitments, with four different BCS conferences represented. Great talent is still available in the state, though, and with the Pac-12 coming off a strong weekend when nine member teams won their games, it’s a perfect time to look at the top prospects still available in California.
One of nine uncommitted five-star prospects nationally, Jackson is the top player in California. A fast and fluid athlete, the No. 2-rated and top available cornerback has the tools to be an outstanding cover corner at the college level, as he can quickly flip his hips to turn and run with receivers and changes directions smoothly. His ball skills and athleticism certainly could be utilized on offense as well, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him land or be used on that side of the ball. Regardless of how listed on a college roster, Jackson is one of those players who can make an impact in multiple ways, and that makes him not only the top uncommitted prospect out west, but also one of the best remaining in the nation.
Better known as “JuJu”, Smith is not only a good athlete. Simply put, he's just a good football player. He is listed as an athlete in the ESPN 300 because he could play either receiver or safety. And while he doesn’t possess outstanding speed, he is a quick and instinctive player. Looking at programs in several conferences, Smith has soft hands and while he might not run by you, his ability to suddenly stop and start and adjust well to the ball can make him a dangerous receiving target. While offense is certainly an option, the No. 3-rated athlete might have a little greater upside on defense, where his toughness, smarts and athleticism could allow him to be an excellent safety.
Quick is his last name, and it’s also pretty descriptive of this talented receiver prospect. He needs to continue to fill out his frame, but the No. 4-rated receiver could play inside or out and has quick, soft hands and a nice catch radius. He possesses good speed, but is also quick and shifty and can be dangerous after the catch. A prospect with big-play ability, this four-star athlete can be an offensive weapon and potentially make a ‘Quick’ impact for whichever teams lands him.
This is a lean year for offensive tackle prospects in California, but it’s stronger at the guard position, with three from the state among the top 150 players in the nation. The only one not committed is Mama, the highest-rated of that group. While he plays tackle and could transition to that position, we believe his better fit is at guard. A massive presence at 6-foot-4 and more than 350 pounds, he can be a road-grader in the run game. But the No. 3 offensive guard can do more than just dominate defenders in a phone booth. The big man is also surprisingly nimble on his feet for his size and can be very effective as a pass blocker as well as blocking on his feet in space. Mama needs to watch his weight as well as his pad level, but the four-star lineman's combination of size, strength and agility could allow him to be an excellent guard at the next level.
One of the most quiet and unassuming players off the field, Luatua can certainly command attention when he’s between the white lines. With good size and athleticism, he can be a versatile and well-rounded college tight end with further development and polish. He can work from an in-line position or flex-out, and with good ball skills and body control, he can be a productive receiving target. The size and strength is there to also be a good blocker.
The impact: With four of the top remaining five prospects hailing from Southern California, they are key targets for both USC and UCLA. The Bruins and Trojans signed the top two classes in the Pac-12 a year ago, but things have come together slowly for 2014. Each program has less than 10 commitments at this stage and neither is ranked among the top 40 classes. Of the top 10 committed prospects from California, only three are to either USC or UCLA. There is still plenty of time until national signing day and all five players above have shown interest in both or one of the crosstown rivals. The challenge, though, will be fending off not only other Pac-12 teams but top programs from around the nation. Florida is in the hunt for Jackson; Smith’s planned visits include Alabama and Notre Dame; and both of those programs are also in the mix for Quick and Luatua, who has a brother at Alabama. Keeping top talent close to home is vital to success, and both USC and UCLA have shown they can do that, but it will not be easy.