Everyone wants to know where the nation’s top player, defensive end Da’Shawn Hand, will play in the fall of 2014. Well, if you’re expecting me to announce who he’s picked, sorry to disappoint. But I can tell you who he should pick.
Hand, from Woodbridge Senior High School (Woodbridge, Va.) has graciously narrowed his list of potential suitors down from every school in the country to just three: Alabama, Florida and Michigan. You’re right, not a shock whatsoever to see those three schools in the running for the best player in the country.
Now all of those schools would make an excellent choice for the elite pass rusher, but Florida would be the best all-around fit, at least in my humble opinion. Let me explain.
Hand is talented enough to play immediately at any one of those three schools, especially Michigan, who’s constantly seeking to upgrade it’s lackluster pass rush. But just how much would he play? Like I said, he’s good enough to start at Michigan tomorrow. At Alabama, Hand will more than likely come off the bench for passing downs and play special teams. Nothing wrong with that, and it’s still impressive. Any true freshman that plays for the best team in the country is going to be a legit prospect.
At Florida, though, he’s got a chance to start at Buck linebacker, a perfect position for him. The Buck ‘backer in Florida’s defense is a hybrid end/linebacker, that both rushes the passer and very occasionally drops back into coverage. The coverages for the Buck is more about keeping the offense honest than anything else. The job is really just about getting to the quarterback, something Hand does at an elite level.
The guy currently manning the spot, junior Ronald Powell, has a lot in common with Hand. Same size (6-foot 4, 245-pounds), similar pass rushing capabilities and similar recruiting prestige (Powell was also the No. 1 player in the country coming out of high school in 2010). Though, Powell is coming off a devastating ACL tear that sidelined him all of last season.
If Powell’s fully healthy next year, he should absolutely dominate, and would very likely opt out of his senior year for the NFL Draft, thus leaving a hole for Hand to fill. If he’s not healthy next year, and just can’t quite get back to the level he was at pre-injury, there’ll still be a hole for Hand to fill. And if he is healthy, and productive and decided to come back for his senior year, he’ll be the absolutely perfect mentor for Hand. It’s a win-win-win situation for everyone.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not like he couldn’t be an outstanding fit as an end in Greg Mattison’s Big Blue defense in Ann Arbor. Mattison has a ton of professional coaching experience and could develop him nicely. And down at ‘Bama, we all know what Nick Saban does with elite talent on defense. He’s practically got a proprietary patent on the first round of the NFL Draft.
But Florida, in my opinion, is the best school, and best fit, at this current time. Gator coach Will Muschamp has a lot of good things going on in Gainesville, and has almost completely cleaned up the thug nation roster that current Ohio State Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer jumped ship on. He’ll be at a powerhouse school, in a powerhouse program, playing in a powerhouse stadium, on a powerhouse defense.
His route to the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft will be all mapped out.