The Junior College signing period is almost here, and with that is the release of the 2014 JC player rankings.
The best way to build a program is through recruiting high school prospects who can be developed in a particular program's mold and will be around for a longer period of time.
As someone who both played (Nassau) and coached (Hutchinson) at the junior college level, I have a tremendous respect for this level of football and the opportunities it can offer to young prospects and the talent it can produce. Junior colleges can provide college programs with opportunities to fill holes on their rosters with older and more experienced players while they recruit and develop high school prospects for the long term.
Junior colleges can provide a program with an impact-type player at times, the way quarterback Cam Newton was at Auburn or linebacker Lavonte David was at Nebraska. At other times and more frequently, it can provide ways for a college program to supplement and strengthen its depth chart.
Below is an overview of the 2014 crop of junior college prospects and what they have to offer for college programs.
The big catch: The battle for the top spot came down to a pair of receivers, and it was a close call. The edge went to D’haquille Williams (Laplace, La./Mississippi Gulf Coast CC), a receiver with an excellent combination of size and athleticism. A current Auburn verbal, Williams is still a bit raw in areas, but he possesses great ball skills and big-play ability and is talented enough to come in and make an impact as a receiving target.
An argument for the No. 1 spot was also made for Lavon Pearson (Quincy, Calif./Feather River College), who is close behind at No. 2. A Tennessee verbal, Pearson is arguably a little more well-rounded as a pure receiver prospect at this point than Williams, but he doesn’t possess quite the same stature or physical tools. What the fluid receiver does bring is excellent ball skills and the ability to be dangerous after the catch. Pearson could come in and have an immediate impact in a similar manner to former Volunteers receiver and juco import Cordarrelle Patterson.
Tight coverage: It is not a particularly strong crop of secondary prospects, but a pair of talented cornerbacks lead this group and landed in the top 10. Shattle Fenteng (Loganville, Ga./Hutchinson CC) is the top-rated CB. He is a physical, explosive man-to-man matchup defender. A Georgia commit, he possesses the ability to mirror quicker wide receivers. Standing 6-foot-1, he also holds up against bigger targets in red-zone/jump-ball matchups.
The other top-10 defensive back is Tee Shepard (Fresno, Calif./Holmes Community College), likely a familiar name to many recruiting fans as he was a Notre Dame commit in the 2012 class out of high school. A corner with nice size, he displays good leaping ability and ball skills and can be a physical presence at the position.
Another cornerback outside the top 10 who we believe is worth keeping an eye on is Danzel McDaniel (Dodge City, Kan./Dodge City CC). A top-50 prospect, he is an aggressive, physical, tall (6-1) and athletic corner.
Think big: The strength of this 2014 junior college class is within the trenches as the offensive and defensive lines are the deepest group. A dozen offensive linemen landed in the top 50, including six in the top 20. The group is led by two offensive tackles and top-10 overall prospects in 6-6, 310-pound Dominick Jackson (San Mateo, Calif./College of San Mateo) and Chad Mavety (Garden City, N.Y./Nassau CC). Jackson, an Alabama verbal, brings good size, strength and agility and can offer some versatility as well. Mavety needs some polish but is a big tackle prospect (6-6, 320) with the tools to be a good, well-rounded OT and come in and contribute to a program.
Jordan Prestwood (Tampa, Fla./Arizona Western) is a name that probably rings a bell to recruiting fans as he was a promising prospect in the 2011 class and bounced around some before landing in junior college. A good athlete for his size (6-6, 315), he has grown and gained some experience as he transitions back to the FBS level. The guard position features a pair of Lackawanna College teammates in Jermaine Eluemunor and Jarell Broxton. Eluemunor (6-6, 300), who is committed to Texas A&M, could contribute at offensive tackle, though we believe his best fit will be at guard. Broxton (6-5, 328) is a big man we believe is a bit underrated in this juco class. He is a nice pickup for Baylor.
The largest group represented is the defensive tackles, with 15 in the top 50. Three defensive tackles are among the top 10, including Tennessee verbal DaVonte Lambert (Milledgeville, Ga./Georgia Military College), a tough and disruptive player. Dalvon Stuckey (DeFuniak Springs, Fla./Pearl River CC) was a promising prospect coming out in the 2012 class and remains one as an active defensive tackle. One of the more interesting prospects in this class is Alfonso Hampton (Chula Vista, Calif./Southwestern College). Someone to keep an eye on, he didn't play football in high school and is a bit of an underrated prospect, but he possesses a nice combination of size, strength and agility and displays promising upside. Recent Nebraska verbal Terrell Clinkscales (Dodge City, Kan./Dodge City CC) brings very good size (6-3, 315) and strength to the trenches.
The defensive end group is not as strong as the interior group, but some good talent can be found, led by Oregon verbal Tui Talia (Pleasant Hill, Calif./Diablo Valley) and D.J. Pettway (Pensacola, Fla./East Mississippi).
An interesting prospect in this group is jumbo athlete Jeremy Liggins (Oxford, Miss./Northwest Mississippi). With an excellent blend of size (6-4, 285) and athleticism, he has played quarterback in both high school and junior college, but we believe his best long-term fit is along the defensive line. Listed as an athlete, he could contribute in more than one way, though his lack of focus at one position could be a bit of a concern.
Empty backfield: While we believe there are some good prospects to be found on the perimeter offensively, this is not a strong group for those looking for some help in the backfield.
At quarterback, we don’t see another Cam Newton, Zach Mettenberger or Nick Marshall in this group and no quarterbacks landed in the top 50.
The running back position is slightly stronger, but only one player, Ole Miss verbal Akeem Judd (Milledgeville, Ga./Georgia Military College), is ranked among the top 50. Sitting just outside the top 50 is De’Chavon Hayes (Richmond, Va./Lackawanna College), a good all-purpose back who flashes big-play ability. Listed in the athlete category but capable of making a play in more than one way offensively -- including out of the backfield -- is Tyreek Hill (Garden City, Kan./Garden City CC). An Oklahoma State verbal, Hill is ranked No. 4 overall and can be an explosive weapon with his speed, ability to make defenders miss and ball skills. He is capable of making plays as a running back, wide receiver and in the return game.
Look beyond: The ESPN JC 50 represents the top prospects in the class, but there are also some promising prospects beyond the top 50. Geronimo Allison (Council Bluffs, Iowa/Iowa Western CC) is a tall receiver who can win foot races and make plays. Dominique Robertson (Riverside, Calif./Riverside CC) is a physical and nasty offensive tackle who landed just outside the top 50. David Moala (Norwalk, Calif./Cerritos College) is a wide-bodied and surprisingly agile defensive tackle who can be a disruptive presence.
These are just a few of the prospects who didn’t make the top 50 but can still help an FBS program. You can look at the Recruiting Nation database for evaluations of more than 100 juco prospects.