Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A dozen young'uns to watch

OK, so Signing Day happened two weeks ago. A bunch of guys you don't know much about signed with a bunch of different schools, and now they'll be forgotten for a while.

Most of them will, anyway. But a few guys always step up as freshmen and make themselves known immediately, usually because they're in the perfect system or at a position that's barren of talent or experience. If your primary competition is a walk-on, there's a good chance you'll be seeing more than just special-teams duty.

Which guys will be doing that this year? Here's my best guess:

1. Lache Seastrunk, RB, Oregon. Seastrunk's a five-star lightning bolt from Texas with absurd speed and change-of-direction ability. You think LaMichael James is fast? Wait til you see Seastrunk. I had him near the top of this list even before James was arrested Wednesday on a domestic violence charge, and there's a chance now that he'll be the starter for Oregon's season opener. Don't be surprised at all if Seastrunk makes a name for himself as the next Steve Slaton/Reggie Bush and runs for 1,000-plus yards this fall.

2. Michael Dyer, RB, Auburn. With Ben Tate and his 1,400 yards out of eligibility, Auburn needs a running back. Enter Dyer, a five-star guy in the top 20 overall on Rivals who reminds me a lot of Mark Ingram. He doesn't have elite speed, but he's a 5-foot-8, 210-pound bowling ball who's fast enough and has fantastic moves and balance. I expect Dyer to get immediate playing time, probably platooning with little speedster Ontario McCalebb and getting close to 200 carries.

3. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina. Notice a theme here? Steve Spurrier has a couple decent running backs at his disposal, but there's nobody at Lattimore's level; he was Rivals' top running back and the No. 10 player in the country. He's a bigger guy (6 feet, 210 pounds) with an unusual upright running style sort of similar to Herschel Walker or Adrian Peterson. He might not find a whole lot of holes behind South Carolina's O-line, but he'll get plenty of chances.

4. Andrew Hendrix, QB, Notre Dame. Redshirt sophomore Dayne Crist is the only scholarship QB currently on the roster and will likely be the starter after seeing a handful of snaps last year behind Jimmy Clausen. He also tore his ACL in November and won't be available for spring practice, meaning one of ND's freshman QBs will have a chance to earn some playing time. Hendrix has a little bit of competition in Luke Massa and Tommy Rees, but neither of those guys came with Hendrix's hype (he was a high four-star with offers from just about every major school nationally). Hendrix should have a chance to compete for the starting job right off the bat, and I wouldn't be shocked if he wins it.

5. Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE, UCLA. For the record, I just copied and pasted his name rather than spending five minutes trying to make sure I spelled it correctly. Anyway, UCLA was sorely lacking a pass-rushing defensive end last year; Brian Price absorbed double-teams on a regular basis and still easily led the team with seven sacks. Odighizuwa is a big-time recruit -- rated eighth overall nationally by Rivals -- and could have gone absolutely anywhere he wanted. He's an unreal athlete and will likely start as a true freshman.

6. Chris Martin, DE, Cal. Jeff Tedford somehow brought in two five-star guys (safety Keenan Allen was the other), and both have a decent shot at starting as freshmen. Martin has been compared to Julius Peppers and should fill a serious pass-rushing void that might be even worse than UCLA's. The defensive tackles (departing senior Tyson Alualu and stud sophomore Cameron Jordan) combined for 13.5 sacks; no other D-lineman had more than two.

7. Keenan Allen, S/WR, Cal. The "other" five-star Cal recruit, Allen has absurd athleticism and put it on display as a return man at the Army All-America Bowl. Nobody's quite sure where he'll end up in college -- Rivals says defensive back, but ESPN and MaxPreps rate him as an athlete -- but he's shown that he can do anything. As a senior in high school he scored 53 (!!!) touchdowns on offense while compiling a ridiculous 145 tackles and eight interceptions. I'd put him higher on the list if he had a defined position, but he'll probably return kicks and get some playing time on both sides of the ball as a freshman.

8. DeMarcus Milliner, CB, Alabama. Javier Arenas and Kareem Jackson are both gone from 'Bama's ridiculously good secondary, so it's time for some fresh blood. There are options -- LSU transfer Phelon Jones and redshirt freshman Dre Kirkpatrick (a five-star in 2009) are probably next in line -- but Milliner enrolled early and has the size, speed and hype (No. 23 player nationally on Rivals) to compete for a starting spot or nickel duty right away.

9. Ronald Powell, DE, Florida. OK, so I should probably include the top-ranked recruit in the country. A look at the measurables: Powell is 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds and has been clocked at 4.52 in the 40. He also racked up 26 sacks in his final two high school seasons while playing a little running back, linebacker, tight end, etc. Pretty talented, yes? As for Florida, Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham are both headed to the NFL, so the opportunities will be there (one end spot should be open for competition opposite senior Justin Trattou). Powell obviously has all the talent to be an elite player; it's just a matter of whether he'll be ready as a freshman to beat out former backup Willie Green.

10. Kyle Prater, WR, USC. Prater was Rivals' top receiver in the country and the No. 3 recruit overall, getting tagged as the next Mike Williams (the college version, not the NFL one) because of his 6-foot-5 frame, hands and body control. USC is actually fairly thin at receiver with Damian Williams gone -- Ronald Johnson is now the obvious No. 1 guy, but Brice Butler was second among receivers with just 20 catches last year -- so Prater should have a shot at pushing his way into the starting lineup.

11. Cullen Christian/Demar Dorsey, CB, Michigan. UM needs all the help it can get in the defensive backfield -- especially with Donovan Warren headed to the NFL a year early -- and they couldn't have done much better than landing Rivals' third-ranked cornerback and ESPN's top-ranked safety (although Dorsey will start out as a corner). Unless Michigan sticks with Troy Woolfolk at corner (my bet is that he switches back to deep safety in UM's weird 4-4 defense), one of the freshmen will probably start opposite 2009 uber-recruit and redshirt freshman Justin Turner.

12. Da'Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee. Rogers isn't here because of any obvious openings in Tennessee's lineup; it's purely a talent thing. A top-10 overall player in the country on Rivals who's been compared to Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones, Rogers is 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds with the size, speed and hands to be a dominant No. 1 guy. He might just be too good to keep off the field, even with Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore nominally ahead of him on the depth chart. Tennessee now just needs to find a QB to get those guys the ball.

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