Recruiting services rank hundreds, perhaps thousands of high school prospects each cycle with quarterbacks, running backs, defensive ends and linebackers tucked neatly into positional groups. The players that always interest me though fall in the “athlete” category, a mysterious crew of unearthed Greek gods tossing javelins around as easily as they run marathons.
What the athlete label really means is the recruiting analyst doesn’t think the player can stick at their current position in college (a la 247 Sports and Tyrone Swoopes) or his future coaching staff has broached the topic of moving somewhere else on the field. That’s far from a stigma considering 18 year-old bodies tend to develop differently with the fall influx of premier weight training, access to nutritionists, alcohol and recreational stimulants and depressants.
A 250 pound tight end might eat himself right into a tackle’s body. A 195 pound corner might drink himself right off the roster. So pigeon-holing high school prospects in the summer before their senior year seems akin to shooting skeet from 150 yards away and complaining later when it didn’t work.
In the 2013 class, many athletes have already committed to traditional powerhouses and while they aren’t yet sure of where they’ll play, the nationally-ranked prospects provide tantalizing looks at the future. They aren’t assured a position so the flip side of the “devil you know versus the devil you don’t” is far more fun to follow in the recruiting chase.
According to rankings by 247 Sports, here’s a peek at a few of the best athletes in 2013.
#1: Ricky Seals-Jones
The former Texas commitment made his position choice crystal clear to coaches recruiting him: he’s a wide receiver. And he’ll dabble in hoops. At 6’5, 230 the 5-star from Sealy is an easy forecast for tight end. His ability and growth potential lend toward a frightening defensive end and he happens to play quarterback at the prep level. Per Hookem.com, Seals-Jones appears likely to choose between in-state choices, Texas, Texas A&M and Baylor with LSU a possibility if he visits Baton Rouge. Alshon Jeffery‘s weight fluxuated at South Carolina but optimally, he’d play at 215 or 220. RSJ weighs more than that now. Is sticking to wideout at 250+ his fastest ticket to the NFL?
#2: Derrick Henry
A Georgia decommit (notice a pattern?), the Florida native announced he’ll make a decision this month on his collegiate choice. Alabama and Tennessee head the top three with the Bulldogs a presumably distant third. In Knoxville, Henry could be the feature running back on Day One but it’s the Crimson Tide who appear a decent bet to land the 6’3, 240 pound bruiser. Will Henry stick in the backfield? Coaches have no issue telling a prospect what he wants to hear because as soon as the Letter of Intent is signed, he’s theirs. What’s to stop Nick Saban from experimenting with Henry on defense? Perhaps one negative to the athlete tag for the player is wading past selling points on your future position because there’s just no way to know how your body will change.
#4: Jalin Marshall
A dual-threat quarterback and future slot/all-purpose/Urban Meyer dream tool is a little easier to peg with his dimensions. 6’0, 190 with 4.4 speed, Marshall fits the mold of a prospect Ohio State simply needs to get the ball. If he’s a Wildcat quarterback, wonderful. If he’s DeAnthony Thomas East, fantastic. His body-type and athleticism means he’s either an elite wideout or defensive back. There are scarier choices for a coaching staff, Marshall’s future isn’t one of them.
Any or all of the above three players could wash out, fail out or never make an impact in their respective programs. As of today, we don’t know exactly where each will line up in his first collegiate game. That’s okay though. They won’t graduate high school until December (if early enrolling like Henry) or May and have an entire season ahead. The perception recruiting services and coaching staffs push make it seem like the apocalypse is nigh if a prospect doesn’t fill his set position. There’s a very real chance he won’t. But that doesn’t equate to a non-contributor, just a detour on the recruiting road.