The sacrifice of missing out on the final semester of their senior year is an easy decision for most recruits, as the chance to play early is the ultimate motivator for all incoming prospects. The advantages of enrolling early are immense - a six month head start on acclimating to college classes and being away from home, much-needed extra time in the weight room with a structured college strength and conditioning program, and valuable reps in spring practice. Here are five highly-talented early enrollees already on campus that figure to play a key role this upcoming fall.
Jalen Tabor is at Florida after switching from his previous commitment to Arizona.
1. CB Jalen Tabor - Florida
Tabor (Washington, D.C. /Friendship Academy) is pretty much penciled in as the starting nickel at the very least. In reality, the 6-1, 190-pound incoming five-star cornerback is probably better suited for the outside than Brian Poole, the No. 2 cornerback coming back, whose best fit is really as a nickel. Tabor excelled during Under Armour practice, using his size and physicality to provide tight man coverage, while also showcasing rare transition skills for a bigger defensive back. Tabor quickly picked up the schemes being thrown at him that week, and he might be the most scheme versatile defensive back in this class because of his instincts, ability to play off or tight, and cover agile, smaller wideouts or win the jump ball against the bigger targets. Therefore it is very likely that it will be Vernon Hargreaves and Tabor as the starting corners come week one.
2. RB Jalen Hurd - Tennessee
With 1,911 career yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns, Marlin Lane has the early inside track start for the Vols. But Hurd (Hendersonville, Tenn./Beech), who should be cleared by spring practice from Sept. shoulder surgery, is likely to challenge Lane for the top spot on the depth chart. If healthy, Hurd should be no worse than the No. 2 running back, and his size/speed combination, along with his penchant for big plays with the ball in his hands, should give Butch Jones and his staff a versatile playmaker on offense.
3. WR Speedy Noil - Texas A&M
There should be no doubt that Noil (New Orleans/Edna Karr), the No. 1 wide receiver in the 2014 class, will play a lot, even for an Aggies team that returns Malcome Kennedy, Ricky Seals-Jones, LaQuvionte Gonzalez, Ja'Quay Williams, Jeremy Tabuyo, Edward Pope, redshirt freshman Kyrion Parker and junior Sabian Holmes. In fact, come Aug. 28, Speedy could end up starting in the slot for the season opener at South Carolina. Noil has many similar characteristics to former Florida standout Percy Harvin, including the ability to absolutely fly with the ball in his hands. His ability to stretch the field, line up inside or outside, and experience at wildcat quarterback make Noil a perfect fit for the Aggies’ spread offense, putting Speedy on the fast track to become one of the top playmakers in the SEC.
4. DT Andrew Brown - Virginia
It looks like Brown (Chesapeake, Va./Oscar Smith) will have the first crack at Jake Snyder’s strong-side defensive end spot right out of the gate, and will slide down to tackle as well on passing downs. He could also end up being the full time replacement for Brent Urban at defensive tackle, which could be a more natural fit for his continued physical progression over the next seven months. A physical, explosive presence as an interior pass rusher and run defender, Brown should give the Cavaliers a much-needed talent infusion from Day one.
5. QB Kyle Allen - Texas A&M
Starting as a true freshman quarterback might be asking too much of anyone, but if there was ever a mentally and physically prepared signal caller to jump in and handle the duties, it is Allen (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain). Allen does an incredible job with timing and anticipation, showcasing pinpoint accuracy and quick release. But besides possessing elite physical traits, where Allen has a chance to beat out more experienced quarterbacks on campus is his ability to pick up complex offenses quickly and his intense competitive nature. It won’t be easy for Allen, but Sumlin proved he is a “best players play” head coach by starting a relatively unknown redshirt freshman, and that worked out pretty well for the Aggies.
Others to watch: Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty Co.) will be given every chance by Urban Meyer to step right in, and if he learns the playbook over the next eight months do not be surprised to see McMillan provide the Buckeyes with a physical presence as the starting mike linebacker. It is extremely difficult for freshmen offensive linemen to step right in and play, but five-star Cameron Robinson (Monroe, La./West Monroe) has the tools to compete for the spot left behind by Cyrus Kouandjio. Michigan graduates four of the top five receivers, including Jeremy Gallon, so two returning wideouts combining for 21 catches, there will be plenty of opportunities for Drake Harris (Grand Rapids, Mich./Grand Rapids Christian), who missed his senior season with a hamstring injury, to step right in and make plays. Expect an intense spring competition between Cole Stoudt, Chad Kelly and Deshaun Watson (Gainesville, Ga./Gainesville), with the Clemson coaching staff giving Watson a chance to prove he is the best fit to take over in Chad Morris’ system. Ole Miss expects safety C.J. Hampton (Meridian, Miss./Meridian) to play a lot in 2014.
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