Top 10 2015 Recruits to Watch in ESPN High School Football Kickoff
ESPN announced the lineup and schedule for its 2014 High School Football Kickoff event, which will take place between August 22-24 in various high school locations.
Of the 10 games that will be played and televised on either ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU, almost all feature at least one or two blue chip prospects. Nine of the 20 teams participating won a state championship in their respective class last season.
Included among those blue chip prospects are the top three overall players on the 247Sports composite rankings for the 2015 class. Four other participating players rank inside the national top 45.
Here is a quick preview of the 10 highest-rated prospects to keep an eye on during the ESPN Kickoff event. Crazy as it sounds, the games are less than two months away from actually taking place!
Note: Unless otherwise cited, all rankings via the 247Sports Composite.
5-Star ATH Torrance Gibson (Uncommited)
Team: American Heritage (Florida)
Composite Rank: 16
Torrance Gibson is listed as an "athlete" but projected to play quarterback at the next level. He'll be lining up under center for American Heritage when it squares off with Dwyer on August 24.
At 6'4", 200 pounds, Gibson certainly has the height to play QB (although it would equally suit him as a wide receiver). He also runs a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash. If he was considered as a QB on the composite rankings, only Josh Rosen would place higher.
Gibson has not yet committed, but did share his top seven teams in order on May 29. Tennessee and Auburn were tied atop his list with LSU, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Miami and Central Florida behind them.
All seven of those teams will keep a close eye on this one.
4-Star TE Hale Hentges (Alabama)
School: Helias (Missouri)
Composite Rank: 104
Hentges is not a new-age, uber-athletic tight end such as current Tide sophomore O.J. Howard, but he isn't a stiff, either. He is more of an inline tight end: sure-handed, physical and just as tough and willing to mix it up as Saban likes them.
Hentges' game will not blow casual viewers away, but he is the type of player who always seems to end up on winning teams. In that regard, heading to college football's perpetual winner seems a fitting choice.
Helias made the Missouri Class 4 State Championship last season and will face Nixa during the ESPN Kickoff event.
4-Star LB Jeffery Holland (Uncommited)
Team: Trinity Christian
Composite Rank: 41
Jeffery Holland is close to the ideal outside linebacker prospect: 6'2", 230 pounds, super quick in space and explosive off the edge.
He and his even more highly regarded teammate—a cornerback whom we'll get to in a bit—helped lead Trinity Christian to the Class 3A Championship in Florida in 2013, anchoring a defense that allowed an average of under 11 points per game in four playoff contests.
Holland is choosing primarily between Florida and Auburn, although out-of-region schools such as UCLA and Ohio State are also in the mix.
4-Star ATH Kerryon Johnson (Auburn)
Team: Madison Academy (Alabama)
Composite Rank: 36
Kerryon Johnson is a versatile athlete capable of playing running back or safety at the next level—and playing well at either spot.
More likely than not, though, his future will lie on offense, where his sturdy, 6'0", 200-pound build will make him difficult to deal with between the tackles despite the lack of ideal speed off the edge.
According to Bryan Matthews of AuburnSports.com, Johnson won the running back MVP trophy at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge in Baltimore, Maryland, earlier this summer, besting a field that included highly regarded 2015 names such as Ronald Jones II and Soso Jamabo and younger names such as Jacques Patrick and Dylan Moses.
"It just means all the hard work I've been putting in is paying off," said Johnson after the competition, per Matthews. "That was a tough group of running backs. You had a lot of top players over there so just to be named No. 1 was tremendous. The linebackers were running the same 40's as some running backs."
For what it's worth, ESPN Scouts Inc. (subscription required) likes Johnson as a safety more than a running back and compared his ball-hawking tendencies to those of current Alabama star Landon Collins.
Auburn is getting an exciting young prospect next season.
5-Star DB Tarvarus McFadden (Uncommited)
Team: American Heritage (Florida)
Composite Rank: 34
In a different time, Tarvarus McFadden might have played safety.
As it stands, he still potentially might. But in 2014, McFadden's 6'3" frame is precisely what college and NFL defenses are looking for in a cornerback prospect. After watching what the Seattle Seahawks were able to do—en route to the Super Bowl—playing press-man on the outside, players with McFadden's length and range are en vogue.
McFadden carries his frame well and is physical at the line. He has good closing speed and great instincts in coverage. He is almost everything one could look for in an outside cornerback prospect.
Although LSU was once heavily favored to land the American Heritage prospect, Florida State now leads on his 247Sports Crystal Ball.
4-Star WR Da'Vante Phillips (Uncommited)
Team: Miami Central (Florida)
Composite Rank: 73
Da'Vante Phillips stood out as a junior at Miami Central, catching 47 passes for 872 yards and 10 touchdowns despite an offensive backfield that featured Dalvin Cook and Joseph Yearby, two senior running backs that were ranked in the national top 45.
His senior season—Phillips' first as the featured offensive weapon—will begin with a stern test against Alabama powerhouse Hoover, but Phillips should be up for the task. He is 6'2" and physical against coverage, and he's great at catching the ball in traffic.
Because of his frame—which appears capable of adding weight at the next level—his ball skills and his competitiveness, Phillips was likened to Dallas (and former Oklahoma State) Cowboys star Dez Bryant on his profile at ESPN Scouts Inc. (subscription required).
He is considered a heavy Florida State lean.
5-Star DE Josh Sweat (Uncommited)
Team: Oscar Smith (Virginia)
Composite Rank: 2
A former wide receiver prospect, Josh Sweat possesses almost-unheard-of speed off the edge for someone his size (6'5", 237 lbs).
Because he runs a purported 4.5 in the 40-yard dash and appears capable of bulking up—a lot—in a college weight program, it was fair for Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer to compare the prospect to Jadeveon Clowney as he does in the video above.
Even at 230 pounds, Sweat uses his wiry strength from his long arms to complement his speed and cause problems around he edge. If he adds the threat of a bull-rush to his repertoire, he has a chance to become borderline unstoppable.
He and his teammates at Oscar Smith will take on Florida's Booker T. Washington, the reigning No. 1 team in the country, at 9:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, August 23. That is perhaps the showcase event of the ESPN Kickoff Event, and Sweat might be its marquee attraction.
Virginia Tech, Florida State, Tennessee and Ohio State are leading among a deep host of teams that are vying for his services.
5-Star DT Trent Thompson (Uncommited)
Team: Westover (Georgia)
Composite Rank: 1
It is rare for a defensive tackle to sit atop the overall national rankings, but Trent Thompson is the rare type of prospect that warrants it.
At 6'4", 292 pounds, he shoots off the line like a defensive end or linebacker but remains physical. He had 12 sacks as a junior in 2012.
But what Thompson is now, while promising, is not what has scouts giddy. It's the thought of what he might one day become. Bud Elliott of SB Nation called him "a defensive tackle of limitless potential," expounding on that thought by writing the following:
While there are certainly more dominant high school players, there might not be one with more upside. Thompson is a trim 6'3.5 and 290 pounds, with the ability to add another 15 or 20 pounds of good weight in the coming years. He had good length and impressively is young for his grade level. Because of his youth, so much of his potential has yet to be tapped.
Thompson shows great explosion off the ball for a man of his size. His first step is excellent, reminiscent of some defensive ends. And he comes off the ball with good bend at times, though that will be something to improve at the college level. He blows opposing blockers off the ball, though I would like to see him to a better job of attacking a half-man (again, something that will improve with more experience, maturity and college coaching). Once he beats a blocker, his burst to the ball carrier is incredible, and he engulfs running backs.
In-state Georgia is currently the favorite to land Thompson, although everyone from Auburn, Alabama, Florida State and Clemson—the classic Southeast powers—to USC remains on his relative radar.
Everybody wants a piece of Thompson.
5-Star DB Kevin Toliver (LSU)
Team: Trinity Christian (Florida)
Composite Rank: 3
Formerly the No. 1 overall player in this class, Kevin Toliver has "dropped" down to No. 3 behind Trent Thompson and Josh Sweat but still probably remains the biggest name to casual fans of the sport.
The way he moves his hips in coverage would be considered "fluid" for a player of any size; that he does it in a 6'2" frame makes him unique. The weakness of taller cornerbacks is supposed to be their thick hips and slow feet against smaller, quicker slot-type receivers.
Toliver has no discernible weakness.
If he can polish up the rough edges of his game—things such as form tackling, which often take a while for younger prospects to learn—Toliver can quickly become one of the most feared cornerbacks in college football. He has Patrick Peterson-type measurables.
(And he's at the right school, LSU, to develop them.)
4-Star OT Jack Jones (Tennessee)
Team: Oakland (Tennessee)
Composite Rank: 137
Jack Jones is an interesting offensive line prospect. He could easily rise up or fall down the rankings based on his senior season.
At 6'4.5", 280 pounds, he has the size and length to do well at the FBS level. His frame should grow a little bit and add weight in a college strength program, but, even at 280, he does a decent job generating power from his arms and legs. He also finishes well and shows a willingness—if not an eagerness—to mix it up as a run blocker.
But his game also comes with a few negatives.
ESPN Scouts Inc. (subscription required) listed Jones' areas of improvement as the following: "At times will raise pads and play a bit too high. Needs deep set improvement and enhanced quickness vs. speed edge rushers. Lacks footwork technique. Can lose base."
Tennessee's coaching staff will have a project on their hands when Jones arrives in Knoxville next season, but if they can polish up the technique portion of his game, they'll get a physical, high-upside kid capable of playing either tackle or (more likely) guard in the SEC.