SEC’s Most Underrated Verbal Commitments
By Matthew Osborne
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The SEC offers up some ultra talented recruits that are flying under the national radar.
This Saturday will mark the end of the season for nearly half of the nation’s 120 FBS football programs. As bowl invitations are being extended to the top-half of FBS schools, dozens of other programs must try to regroup and prepare for what they hope will be a successful 2012 campaign.
It is no secret that the quickest way for a coach to improve a struggling program is to bring in a successful recruiting class. Every year, coaches sign numerous high school prospects, hoping that they will go on to become stars at the collegiate level.
In part two of our series on sleeper prospects in the class of 2012, we will take a look at one committed prospect from each SEC team who, despite not being ranked as highly as other recruits in the class, have a chance to go on to become dynamic players in college.
Alabama - DT Darren Lake (Sumter County HS) York, AL
If you want to successfully execute a three-four defensive scheme, you are going to need a mammoth defensive tackle that can eat up space and occupy blockers. Darren Lake fits that description perfectly. Tipping the scales at nearly 330 pounds, Lake requires a great deal of attention from opposing offenses. He moves surprisingly well for a guy of his size, although his explosiveness off the snap could be better. The reason that Lake is not ranked higher by recruiting services is that he is a little behind in the technique department because he has grown accustom to simply overpowering high school competition. Given a couple of years to drop some of the bad weight and work on using his hands better, Lake will become a player that has an extremely high-ceiling. You can teach technique, but you can’t teach someone to move as well as Lake does at 330 pounds.
Arkansas - DE JaMichael Winston (Vigor HS) Prichard, AL
One look at Winston’s highlight film and you will instantly know that you are looking at a player that has a tremendous amount of potential. Winston often has flashes of brilliance, but must become more consistent if he wants to be an early contributor for Bobby Petrino at Arkansas. Winston has a tremendous frame (6-6, 225) and has shown that he has great quickness. He will certainly need to add some more strength to deal with a brutal SEC schedule, but there is plenty of room for additional weight on his frame. As I mentioned before, Winston’s problem is that he has not been consistent at the high school level. Some plays he explodes off the ball and beats lineman with his athleticism, while other times he gives lackluster effort and easily handled by his opponent. Effort doesn’t typically become a problem at the college level however, because a lack of effort will often result in a player injuring himself.
Auburn - CB Jonathan Jones (Carrollton HS) Carrollton, GA
Jonathan Jones is only five-foot-nine, but what he lacks in size, he more than makes up for in speed and toughness. Jones is high school track star who actually may end up as a dual-sport athlete in college. His greatest asset is obviously his 4.3 speed, but he will surprise you with how physical he plays. Jones’ highlight film is filled with big hits, where Jones takes on bigger players heads up, and almost always comes out on top. Although he still needs to work on his back pedal technique and route recognition, Jones plays the ball very well, and is threat to take it back to the house anytime he gets an interception. The Tigers have been searching for playmakers in the secondary, and there is a good chance that Jones will get an opportunity to show what he is capable of doing early in his Auburn career.
Florida - RB Mike Davis (Stephenson HS) Stone Mountain, GA
I’m not sure that Davis exactly qualifies as a sleeper prospect, but I think that he could end up having a much better career at Florida than a lot of people are projecting. Davis is the brother of former Clemson running back James Davis, so we know that he comes from an excellent gene pool. Having seen the younger Davis play in person on multiple occasions, I know that he has a lot of the same qualities that made his brother so great. While he does not have elite speed, he is a tremendous downhill runner with great power and agility. He is great at getting defenders off balance with a quick juke and then powering through their arm tackles with his outstanding strength. James looks to be a perfect fit for Charlie Weis’ offense, and I think that he will go on to become a star in Gainesville.
Georgia - DE James Deloach (Jenkins County HS) Millen, GA
Deloach missed two-thirds of his junior season with a broken arm, but still did enough in his four games of action to impress many of the top coaches in the southeast. While college coaches clearly took notice of his talent and potential, many recruiting experts dropped his ranking because of his injury. Taking advantage of the free time created by the unfortunate injury, Deloach put on nearly 30 pounds before the start of his senior season. He is now up to around 265 pounds and is already physically ready to play defensive end in the SEC. Deloach is not an elite athlete, but he is a relentless player who uses strength and determination to get to the quarterback. Though not a phenomenal athlete, Deloach does have good explosiveness off the snap and uses his very hands well. Many players have their ranking drop after an injury and go on to have great college careers. I think that will be the case with Deloach.
Kentucky - WR DeMarcus Sweat (Stephenson HS) Stone Mountain, GA
Sweat plays wide receiver on the same team as the aforementioned Mike Davis, so he does not get targeted as much as many other high school receiver prospects. Even without those targets, Sweat makes his playmaking ability known whenever he does get his hands on the ball, as is evident by his five return touchdowns on special teams this season. Sweat is a long-strider with great speed and solid size. He is not a very polished route-runner at this point in his career, but he has the athleticism to become a superb route-runner at the next level. He is a very good deep threat at the high school level and those skills should translate well at Kentucky. Look for Sweat to be on the field early at Kentucky, and he should become a more focal point of the offense at time goes along.
LSU – RB Devante Bourque (Crowley HS) Crowley, LA
Bourque was originally committed to Texas A&M, but changed allegiances to the Tigers this past summer. Recruited by many school as a safety or wide receiver, LSU plans to keep Bourque primarily as a running back, although they will likely line him up at wide receiver in certain situations. At 6-2, 200-pounds, Bourque has the size and power that Les Miles is looking for in a running back. However, the thing that stands out about Bourque when you watch his film is his outstanding foot quickness and agility. He has a very nice spin move that he successfully employs on a regular basis, and also has enough speed to pull away from defenders in the open field. Some recruiting experts argue that Bourque shies away from contact, but one look at his film quickly dispels that thought as a fallacy. Bourque will be a terrific fit in the Tiger backfield, and I would be shocked if he didn’t get carries as a true freshman.
Mississippi State – OLB Lelland Ducksworth (North Forrest HS) Hattiesburg, MS
Ducksworth is a two-way player for his high school team, but his future will be at linebacker for Mississippi State. Ducksworth has very good size (6-2, 200) and is a very strong, physical player. He already excels at getting off blocks and finding his way to the ball carrier. Ducksworth also has good speed and is a sure tackler in the open field, which is something that is becoming increasingly important with the increased popularity of spread offenses. He diagnoses plays relatively quickly, but that is an area where he could use some improvement in Starkville. Ducksworth already possesses the physical tools to be a successful linebacker in the SEC, but it is his natural physicality that will set him apart from other defensive players at Mississippi State.
Ole Miss – CB Jordan Batiste (Lutcher HS) Lutcher, LA
Many schools overlooked Jordan Batiste due to his lack of size (5-9), but there is no denying his elite speed and quickness. Batiste has a very quick back pedal and exceptional recovery speed, although he does need to work on the timing of opening his hips in coverage. He has a few kinks in his technique that will need to be fixed at the next level, but he has the speed and quickness to eventually become a great cover corner in college. Also, Batiste is much better in run support than you might think given his diminutive size. He is not afraid to come up and give up his body in order to put a big hit on an opposing running back or wide receiver. At this point, it would be best for Batiste to take a redshirt season as a freshman at Ole Miss in order to hone his skills, which will allow him to take his game to the next level.
South Carolina – WR Kwinton Smith (Dillon HS) Dillon, SC
With the looming departure of star wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, the Gamecocks will actively be looking for young receivers to come in and make an impact next season. While most of the attention is being focused on South Carolina commit Shaq Roland, Kwinton Smith is another prospect who has a good chance to see early playing time in college. Smith is a very tall receiver (6-4) with outstanding ball skills. He is a dangerous threat in the vertical passing game, and is faster than he might initially appear in film. Smith will need to become more consistent in his route-running, but he could make an immediate impact due to his size alone. We have seen that South Carolina likes to use big, physical wide receivers, particularly in the red zone. I’m not going to say that Smith will end up being as good as Jeffery, but his skill set should be very similar.
Tennessee – ATH Justin King (Dunwoody HS) Dunwoody, GA
King is one of the most versatile recruits that I have seen in quite some time. Depending on the system, he could have feasibly play quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, defensive end, linebacker or safety at the collegiate level. In the end, King chose to play his ball at Tennessee, where he will begin his career at outside linebacker. King has a strong, chiseled frame, which serves the purpose of delivering punishing blows to opposing offensive players. He uses his brute strength to dislodge from blockers and then relies on his exceptional speed to close in on the ball carrier. King did not receive much playing time on the defensive side of the ball until his senior year of high school, which is why he is rated lower than where his athleticism should place him. Despite his lack of experience at linebacker, he seems to have very good natural instincts.
Vanderbilt – OLB Jacob Sealand (Tucker HS) Tucker, GA
Like DeMarcus Sweat and Mike Davis, I have seen Jacob Sealand play on multiple occasions this season and there is no doubt in my mind that he will be a very good player for James Franklin at Vanderbilt. While the majority of the press goes to his teammate, and fellow Vandy commit, Jacob Dawson, Sealand has proven himself to be the most important player on Tucker’s talented defense. He is a natural leader and he plays with a tremendous amount of passion and enthusiasm. While his effort is the first thing that stands out, Sealand is also a very intelligent football player who diagnoses plays extremely well for a high school prospect. He is also a very good athlete who has a chance to become dominant once he adds a little more size and strength.