There is no down time in recruiting any more, and even though National Signing Day for the class of 2013 was just Wednesday, it's never too early to take a look at the next crop of players who will be making headlines in the coming year.
TIME FOR 2014
After a memorable 2013 recruiting year, we turn our attention to the 2014 cycle. Get started with our complete 2014 rankings.
For the second consecutive year, and third of the last four, a defensive end is the No. 1 overall prospect. Da'Shawn Hand (6-foot-5/260 pounds) of Woodbridge, Va., follows Robert Nkemdiche (2013) and Jadeveon Clowney (2011) as the No. 1 prospect in the nation. Nkemdiche held the No. 1 spot from wire to wire in 2013, while Clowney took over the top spot in the spring of his junior year over DeAnthony Thomas and never let it go.
Like Nkemdiche and Clowney, Hand is simply a physically gifted player who is bigger, stronger, and faster than his competion. Hand is a hard worker who dominates the game with his ability and his desire. Wary of the recruiting process, Hand may end things sooner rather than later as he's already narrowed his list of choices to Alabama, Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia Tech.
The class of 2013 was generally considered a very deep year for running backs. Derrick Green (5-11/220) of Richmond, Va., headlined a talented group of runners and helped lead Michigan to the No. 2 class in the nation.
As good as the crop of running backs in 2013 was, there's a chance the class of 2014 could be even better, at least at the very top.
A whopping six running backs are in the top 25 nationally led by Leonard Fournette (6-2/227) of St. Augustine, La. Fournette has a combination of size, speed, and power that was unmatched in the class of 2013. When watching him run, an immediate comparison comes to mind -- Adrian Peterson. Is that setting expectations too high? Yes, definitely, but Fournette has the skill set to be as good as he wants to be.
Skill players are the earliest to develop physically, while linemen don't typically mature until much later, so it's no surprise that the early rankings for the class of 2014 are front-loaded with skill players to start. For comparison's sake, of the top 150 players there are 19 cornerbacks and only nine defensive tackles. There are 25 offensive linemen, all positions included, yet there are 29 receivers. Expect those numbers to begin to balance themselves out as bigger players begin to mature.
One player who could could top the list at either cornerback or wide receiver is Tony Brown (6-1/185) of Beaumont, Texas. He is the No. 1 cornerback and No. 3 player regardless of position. Brown is not alone at the top of the charts, with Marlon Humphrey (6-0/174) of Hoover, Ala., one spot behind him both nationally and by position as the No. 4 prospect in the country. Like Brown, Humphrey is a versatile athlete capable of playing on either side of the ball.
Leonard Fournette is the top-ranked running back in the 2014 class.
With only nine quarterbacks in the top 150, the signal caller position could take a step back from a deep group in 2013 that saw 35 players end the season rated four stars or better. The highest-ranked quarterback now is 60th overall in the top 150. Jerrod Heard (6-2/180) out of Denton, Texas, is a pass-first athletic quarterback with good mobility. Heard seems to have ended the speculation about his college choice early with a commitment to Texas.
It's hard to take early commitments too seriously in this day and age, as players commit earlier and earlier for fear of not having a spot later in the process, only to truly want to go through the recruiting process as seniors.
The teams in Texas, however, are leading the early commitment charge as is usual. Texas has seven commitments, and that number is usually closer to 20 by the end of February. Texas A&M also has seven with the nation's No. 1 linebacker -- Hoza Scott (6-3/225) of La Porte, Texas -- leading the way.
As we head into the new year, there are several burning questions that come to mind on the heels of an exciting close to the class of 2013:
-- Can Ole Miss keep up the momentum after landing Nkemdiche and finishing in the top 10 of the team rankings for the first time in the Internet era?
-- Will powerhouse recruiting programs like Texas and Miami, both of whom finished outside of the top 20 in 2013, bounce back?
-- Can anyone slow down Alabama in the South and Ohio State in the Midwest? The Crimson Tide are coming off yet another BCS Championship and scored the No. 3 recruiting class for 2013, while Urban Meyer and Ohio State landed the No. 1 class after an undefeated season.
-- Will USC return to the top 10 with roughly 20 scholarships to give in 2014 (15, plus five leftover from 2013)?
-- Can UCLA capitalize on the field the way they have in recruiting?
Recruiting is a year-round spectator sport, and we're here to make sure you have a front row seat.