The recruiting process has become so accelerated over the past five years that if a coaching staff isn't currently evaluating the next class as it recruits the current class, it will be left behind in today's college football world. For this reason, we introduce our first-ever ESPN Junior 300 for the 2015 class. As you will see, we have produced more generalized prospect reports with strengths, areas of improvement and bottom line, which will then be re-evaluated and morphed into our current format after the prospects' junior season.
Evaluating 17- and 18-year-olds is an inexact science, and it's even more difficult to project sophomores. The next several months, this list will continue to grow and evolve as we gather more information and data. In addition, many players likely will see a position change between now and their senior season.
DE Jashon Cornell (St. Paul, Minn./ Cretin-Derham Hall) headlines the debut ESPN Junior 300 as the No. 1 overall prospect. In 2014, RB Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine) broke the trend of three straight defensive ends being No. 1 overall. We do not have any five-star players at this juncture, which is calculated. We feel that, until players get into their junior seasons, it is always wise to reserve judgment and allow these players to develop and earn their stripes with more experience and production. We purposefully take a cautious approach by under-grading at this stage.
Let the enjoyment and debate begin.
The state of California seems to be on the upswing, especially at QB. QB-DT Kevin Dillman (La Mirada, Calif./La Mirada), QB-DT Sheriron Jones (Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde), QB-PP Ricky Town (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure), QB-PP Josh Rosen (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), QB-PP Brady White (Newhall, Calif./William S. Hart) and QB-PP Kyle Kearns (Pleasanton, Calif./Foothill) are a few names to know early on.
It's a deep year at the running back position, with four or five RBs who could challenge for the top spot. There is not one true difference-maker at this stage like Fournette. Instead, there are several players who will be very difficult to separate as we continue the process. The backs are big and powerful, and only one back in the top five comes in less than 190 pounds. Louisiana and Georgia are both strong again at the running back position.
Much like the 2014 class, there is a stronger group at the defensive tackle position than there is at defensive end. Trenton Thompson (Albany, Ga./Westover), Hjalte Froholdt (Warren, Ohio/Warren G. Harding), Tim Settle (Quicksburg, Va./Stonewall Jackson), Daylon Mack (Gladewater, Texas/Gladewater), Shy Tuttle (Lexington, N.C./North Davidson), Daron Payne (Birmingham, Ala./Shades Valley) and T.D. Moton (Shreveport, La./Calvary Baptist) are all exciting interior players.
Quite honestly, it looks as if the quarterback position has a ways to go at this early stage and is very similar to the 2014 class overall. A few guys have really jumped out, including QB-PP Ty Storey (Charleston, Ark./Charleston), Rosen, Dillman, Town and QB-DT Chason Virgil (Mesquite, Texas/West Mesquite), but this is definitely a position that is going to require serious scrutiny as the process rolls along. There are some QBs we feel will start seeing significant interest in the fall, including QB-PP Brett Rypien (Spokane, Wash./Shadle Park) and QB-DT Brandon Wimbush (Jersey City, N.J./Saint Peter's Prep), among others.
• ATH George Campbell (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake) or Kevin Toliver II (Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian Academy) at No. 2 could have easily gone either way. We decided to stick with Toliver because he is a corner, although Campbell's versatility and top-end speed made it difficult.
• Placing the DTs in order was very taxing. Moton has made a strong push, and Settle, Mack and Thompson all received overall top-10 consideration.
• The running back position is so deep that it was difficult to order the players not only because they are very similar but also in deciding how high to place many of them; spreading them out created a lot of debate for our staff.
• Surprisingly, we did not feel the need to put a lot of WRs in the upper shelf of the initial list. At such a young age, very few are savvy and smart enough to be anything more than athletes winning on talent.
Names to know
QB-DT Kevin Dillman: Although he is still developing as a thrower, he might have the most upside of any QB prospect in the 2015 class to this point. He is further ahead athletically, but he has a big arm, and there is a lot to mold here.
OG Tristen Hoge (Pocatello, Idaho/Highland): The nephew of ESPN analyst Merril Hoge resides along the offensive line, and, although he has a tackle's body, he is a prime C/OG candidate with experience solely as a center, which is nice to see.
OT Mitch Hyatt (Suwanee, Ga./North Gwinnett): We are not sure we have seen such a young tackle prospect as technically sound at this stage as Hyatt. He is still developing strength and needs to continue to add to his frame, but he has good feet and isn't going to allow himself to be caught out of position.
S Derwin James Jr. (Auburndale, Fla./Auburndale Senior): James is a versatile safety who has some coverage talents that were evident at Nike's The Opening event this summer.
DE Terry Beckner Jr. (East St. Louis, Ill./East St. Louis): Beckner displays explosive get-off and the motor we like to see in a player who could be an end, 5-technique or 3-technique, if need be.
Sleepers to watch
WR Aramis Alexander (Burke, Va./Lake Braddock): A big, physical and productive player with nice ball skills.
WR Carl Tucker (Concord, N.C./J.M. Robinson): A more explosive version of Alexander.
DT Marquise Overton (Jenks, Okla./Jenks): A very explosive and disruptive presence in the middle. He'll heat up the trail soon.
TE-Y Bry'Kiethon Mouton (Lafayette, La./Acadiana): An athletic presence in the passing game with great ball skills and hand-eye coordination.
S Chuck Davis (Ashburn, Va./Broad Run): He might be undersized, but he plays like a linebacker. If the Honey Badger can have a role in college football, this guy can.