On January 14th, the recruit dead period (no contact with recruits) ended and the final sprint towards National Signing Day began. Teams all across the country are making one last desperate push to convince promising high school seniors to come play for their school for the next four years. Most coaches have in-home visits with prospects, visit their high school, and maybe attend a basketball game that a prospect is playing in. Some coaches go the extra mile, such as Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh who recently camped outside a recruit’s house until the dead period ended, and then proceeded to spend the next 24 hours with him in an attempt to de-commit from Penn State and commit to the Maize and Blue. Teams are still targeting many players, and I’ll go conference by conference to give an overview of each team’s skill position targets entering the final few weeks of the recruiting season.
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Illinois class is all but wrapped up, with some of their top recruits being skill position players. The top recruit in their class is RB Kentrail Moran. Moran is the No. 18 running back in the country, and he could come in and play right away alongside one of last year’s top running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Quarterback Eli Peters has good size and could be developed into a starter down the line once starter Wes Lunt graduates. Zarrian Holcombe has good size for a tight end (6-foot-5), but it’s unlikely that he’ll ever be on the devy radar. I wouldn’t go near anyone on Illinois, as the program is a mess. While they just hired a new coach and this would give many fans hope, this is how their Athletic Director described the hire: “It’s not ideal but for now, I don’t think it’ll put a dagger in the heart of the program.” That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for the program.
Iowa’s class is essentially full, as they already have 24 commitments for this year. They don’t look to have any players who can step in and play this year, as they don’t lose much from last year’s 12-win team. They do lose starting running back Jordan Canzeri and wide receiver Tevaun Smith, so the depth chart does have some openings. With three running backs and wide receivers committed, they look to be restocking for the next few seasons. After next season, any of the three running backs committed: Toks Akinribade, Barrington Wade and Toren Young could start or split carried with each other. The same can be said for the three receivers: Frank Darby, Devonte Young, and Emmanuel Rugamba. I’d expect one player from each position to be a significant contributor to the Hawkeyes at some point in their career. Three-star quarterback Nate Stanley has a long shot at ever getting playing time. CJ Beathard is back this year, but has five redshirt freshman or true sophomores behind him on the roster. It’s hard to see him beating out any of these players, or being anything more than a glorified game manager if he does.
Minnesota’s biggest task down the stretch will be keeping wide receiver Dredrick Snelson. Snelson is a four star and is the highest ranking skill player in Minnesota’s class. He visited UCF on the 15th and is set to visit Maryland on the 22nd and Penn State on the 29th. Penn State also visited him down in Florida a few days ago. If Snelson maintains his commitment, he has a shot to play right away. Number one receiver KJ Maye graduated, leaving a large amount of targets up for grabs. Along with Snelson, the Gophers are looking to add running back Kobe McCray to their class. McCray is a JUCO player who has good size (6-foot, 230 pounds) and could potentially split carries with Shannon Brooks this season. At the very least, McCray will be the backup next season if he does choose Minnesota. Lastly, the Gophers added dual threat quarterback Seth Green as an early enrollee. Green hails from Allen, Texas, which is where former five star and current Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray graduated from last year. Green will compete with Demry Croft to backup Mitch Leidner, and one of these players will start next season.
This is head coach Mike Riley’s first full recruiting class, and he’s done a good job getting skill position talent to come to Lincoln. Nebraska’s most prominent remaining target is four star wide receiver Desmond Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick has good size at 6-foot-2, and has above average hands and route running skills. He could potentially develop into the team’s number one receiver a few years down the road. If he does commit, Fitzpatrick will be catching passes from four star early enrollee quarterback Patrick O’Brien. O’Brien already physically looks the part of an NFL quarterback, as he is 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. He throws a beautiful deep ball, and has a great arm to pair with it. He is a decent athlete who can scramble for a first down if need be. His footwork is good, but can use some work. I like O’Brien enough that I can see him leading the Cornhuskers to a Big Ten West title during his time in Lincoln. Tre Bryant is a three-star back, and while he isn’t the most intriguing prospect on film he is a great athlete. Bryant posted the highest SPARQ score of all running backs with a score 131. His athleticism will allow him to be a solid contributor for Nebraska at some point in his career.
Northwestern already has a class of 20 recruits, and have locked up all their top skill position targets. Their top recruit is running back Jeremy Larkin. Larkin is a three-star back who is extremely tough to tackle. He consistently fights for extra yards and is very shifty. He needs to put on weight, and does lack long speed to break off long runs, but I can see Larkin contributing for the team in a year or two once current starter Justin Jackson graduates or leaves for the NFL. Quarterback Aidan Smith is a three-star, pro-style quarterback from Fort Wayne, Indiana. Expect Smith to redshirt his freshman year, as Northwestern has capable quarterbacks to back up starter Clayton Thorsen. Thorsen looks to be entrenched as the starter for the next three seasons, so redshirting Smith will give Northwestern a viable option once Thorsen graduates. The Wildcats also have commitments from two wide receivers: Ben Skowronek and Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman (yes that’s a real name). I wouldn’t expect either to ever be on devy radars, as Northwestern is primarily a run first team and has neither guy is really an impact player.
Purdue has the lowest ranked recruiting class in the Big 10. The class doesn’t include very many skill position players, and I don’t expect any to ever have a real impact on the devy landscape. The most intriguing player in the class to me is running back Jack Wegher. Wegher is a three star from the IMG Academy, and that’s the main selling point for me. He should be college ready because of attending IMG, and he already has the size (5-foot-11, 200 pounds) of a college size back. Markell Jones is ahead of him on the depth chart, but I could see them splitting time down the line as they were pretty similar prospects coming out of high school. Three star Terrance Landers Jr. is the only other skill player of note in the class. At 6-foot-4, Landers has the size of a prototypical wide receiver one, but he needs to put on weight as he is only 170 pounds. I wouldn’t advise owning any players from Purdue on your devy team.
Wisconsin has three four-star prospects, and one of them is athlete AJ Taylor. Taylor can play either running back or receiver, but I assume that he will play running back in college. Taylor reportedly runs a 4.4 40-yard dash, and has a 35-inch vertical jump. He will be in the mix for playing time as a sophomore (or redshirt freshman) as Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale graduate after this year. Taylor is a similar athlete to Melvin Gordon when Gordon was coming out of high school. Gordon was bigger and a little slower, but both had nearly identical vertical jumps and shiftiness. The Badgers have commits from two three star receivers in Quintez Cephus and Kendric Pryor. They have nearly identical builds, as Cephus is 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, and Pryor is 6-foot-1, 175 pounds. While either of the two could end up starting down the line, I don’t think they’ll ever be major NFL draft prospects. Wisconsin is also a run heavy offense, so I wouldn’t target any receivers or quarterbacks from the school. Taylor is an interesting name to monitor, but I wouldn’t draft him until I actually see him get on the field.
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