A three-star rating is by definition an above average projection for a prospect. That being said, most observers of college football recruiting, regardless if its players, coaches, fans or analysts, agree that the perceived (emphasis on that word) gap between a high three star and a low four star rating is larger than any other differential when explaining value to football prospects.
Wide receiver Ryan Sousa of Lake Nona (Fla.) could be the "value" three-star pick-up for Florida State in the 2014 cycle. The Seminoles currently have the top class in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
In every class, there are three-star prospects that are rated that way for a variety of reasons, but who ended up having sterling careers in college and finding their way to the NFL. Some come out of nowhere and we all sit around and wonder “where did that guy come from”- those are evaluation misses and many times a function of excellent player development by coaching staffs and the work ethic of that particular prospect. Many times, though, you can see it coming and you approach the rating more with “he’s rated x, but it would not surprise me to see him perform at y level”- those are “value” three-stars. The programs that load up on three-star talent in every class then proceed to annually beat up on programs that are always ahead of them in the recruiting team rankings are recruiting these types of prospects.
In every recruiting class at every high-level FBS program, though, there is at least one, many times a handful, of “value” three stars. Here’s a look at one in each class in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the 2014 cycle.
Boston College- Kamrin Moore, S, Arlington (Va.) Bishop O’Connell (84 numerical rating)- Moore may not be the biggest or fastest safety prospect but when you watch his film, there is no doubt he will come up and strike you. He’s also not bad in coverage.
Clemson- Taylor Hearn, OT/OG, Williston (S.C.) Williston-Elko (83)- Hearn was one of the earliest commits in this Tigers class. The 6-foot-5, 305-pounder moves well, is currently in the process of re-shaping his body and had a great camp at Clemson earlier this month. Offensive line is an extremely developmental position and Hearn looks to be in the process of developing nicely.
Duke- Christian Harris, OT, Suwanee (Ga.) Collins Hill (85)- Harris worked out as a defensive end the first time we saw him- at the Atlanta Nike Football Training Camp in the spring of 2012- and at that point it was obvious his future was on the offensive line. He’s a plus athlete with an excellent frame on that side of the ball.
Florida State- Ryan Sousa, WR, Lake Nona (Fla.) (86)- The latest Sousa to come out of Lake Nona, Ryan isn’t going to blow you away with his size or his speed, but he’s an excellent football player, the type that will make more highly-rated prospects look bad as college players.
Georgia Tech- Tyler Merriweather, DE, Demopolis (Ala.) (86)- On film, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Merriweather is active and athletic. Each and every cycle, there are excellent players that come out of the Yellowhammer State that Alabama and Auburn and the rest of the Southeastern Conference (or most of the SEC) ignore. They go elsewhere and end up in the NFL. Merriweather has the skill set to be that guy in this class.
Maryland- Johnathan Thomas, RB, Davers (Mass.) St. Johns (87)- It’s hard to put Thomas in this category as he may very well be the top impact prospect in the Terps’ class to this point and his high three-star rating may be more a function of offer list and competition level, but the bottom line is that without having to beat a who’s who of college football, Maryland got a commitment from a nearly 200-pound back that has been laser-timed at 4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
If he can get big enough to play defensive tackle, North Carolina commit Tyler Powell could be a handful to deal with at the college level. The Virginian is extremely tenacious and tough to block as it is.
Miami (Fla.)- Nick Linder, OL, Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas (80)- Linder has the bloodlines and the raw ability to develop into a quality offensive lineman for the Hurricanes. He’s undersized at just more than six feet tall and 250 pounds, but you can bet he will work and work to add good weight and his nasty streak will go a long way.
North Carolina- Tyler Powell, DT, Midlothian (Va.) Cosby (80)- Powell was dominant in multiple camp settings this spring and summer. The only question about him is size, meaning can he get big enough to play on the interior of the defensive line at the collegiate level, where he has the highest ceiling given his athletic upside. The 6-foot-4, 252-pounder has great strength, so he’s not that far away, but that’s the reason his projection isn’t quite as high as others.
Pittsburgh- Jalen Williams, S, Newburgh (N.Y.) Free Academy (83)- Safeties that are 6-foot-1 with the frame and playmaking ability Williams has do not grow on trees. Given that, he has a real chance to make an impact for the Panthers. The state of New York, if you look at the NFL roster numbers, generally has a slew of undervalued prospects and Williams may be the one this cycle.
Syracuse- Colton Moskal, LB, Lake Zurich (Ill.) (80)- Boston College has made a living over the years with this type of player- the tough, hard-nosed, strong inside linebacker that is more athletic than given credit for, works hard on developing his athleticism and loves football. The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder was part of the Core 6 athletics training organization, which annually produces blue chip talent in the Midwest.
Virginia- Jordan Ellis, RB, Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge (87)- Ellis lacks breakway speed, but otherwise is a complete back with outstanding vision and tackle-breaking ability. He has a chance to be a very productive back for the Cavaliers and perhaps beyond if he puts up yardage in college.
Virginia Tech- Xavier Burke, TE, Lawrenceville (Va.) Brunswick (86)- The Hokies snatched up Burke quickly after a great showing at Virginia Tech’s prospect camp last summer and the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder has continued to impress every time we’ve seen him from an athleticism standpoint. He’s still a raw football player, but these types of guys are the types that the Hokies have made a great living on over the years.
Wake Forest- Daiquan Lawrence, CB, Chesapeake (Va.) Western Branch (76)- The Demon Deacons have no three-star commits currently, so there are no “value” three stars, but Lawrence, at 6-foot-1, has the chance to develop into an excellent cornerback with rare size given the skill set he brings to the table. Wake Forest has done this a lot during the Jim Grobe era- but most of the time they’ve tapped into south Florida rather than the Virginia Tidewater. Regardless, Lawrence is the same “type” of prospect.
Wake Forest is trending for three-star quarterback/athlete Trace McSorley. He's one of the winningest quarterbacks in Virginia high school history.
-Pittsburgh for four-star offensive tackle Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh, Pa./Mt. Lebanon)- Paul Chryst has a reputation for having great offensive line play- as does the Pitt program- as does Western Pa. in general. Will the Panthers score here like they did with Michael Grimm?
-Virginia Tech for three-star athlete Greg Stroman (Manassas, Va./Stonewall Jackson) over Virginia. The Cavaliers were the team to beat but a recent Hokies offer and attention has changed things up for the Northern Virginia star.
-Florida State for running back Shai McKenzie (Washington, Pa.). In one of those ironic scenarios- Noles assistant Sal Sunseri could return to his old stomping grounds and swipe an excellent power running back
-North Carolina for four-star safety M.J. Stewart (Arlington, Va./Yorktown). Tar Heels assistant Walt Bell, one of the rising assistant coaches nationally for recruiting, could swipe Stewart from the in-state programs.
-South Carolina has been informed it is out for the services of Top247 offensive tackle Bentley Spain (Charlotte, N.C./Providence), meaning North Carolina and Stanford are the two left standing for the U.S. Army All-American. All signs point to the Tar Heels, which would be a huge in-state recruiting win for Larry Fedora and company.
-Florida State still felt like it was right there for Top247 defensive end Jalyn Holmes (Norfolk, Va./Lake Taylor) after his outstanding visit to Ohio State, which included real signs he may have even committed to the Buckeyes, who are now the team to beat (Crystal Ball says 72 percent Bucks). That being said, the confidence of the Seminoles behind the scenes can’t be discounted. The more time that passes without Holmes going public with a commitment to Ohio State, the more long-time favorite FSU can counter the serious momentum that the Buckeyes have with Holmes, who is a U.S. Army All-American Bowl selection.
-Want another Florida State-Ohio State battle? Five-star offensive tackle Damian Prince (District Heights, Md./Bishop McNamara) is visiting Columbus and the Buckeyes have always been strong players. They haven’t been as strong as the Noles for most of the process, but don’t think Prince is a lock to end up in Tallahassee, either. In fact, the first Crystal Ball prediction of Prince to Ohio State rolled in earlier Thursday.
-In the SEC roundup this week, we cautioned not to count out Vanderbilt for four-star receiver and U.S. Army All-American Jamil Kamara (Virginia Beach, Va./Bishop Sullivan). We would not count out North Carolina State at this stage either. Virginia remains the team to beat, but he genuinely likes both the Pack and Commodores.