ACC's best: FSU leads pack for league's top five-star signees
Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.
A conference’s ability to lure top five-star prospects can often correlate not only to recruiting momentum, but also a rise in the level of recruitment for the conference as a whole. In our weeklong series, we take a look at the top five-stars signed by each Power Five conference since 2013. The ACC knows this well, as a bump in recruiting has led to a couple of recent national titles.
MORE ACC: Recruiting king at each position
The skinny: Wilson took official visits to Florida State, Oklahoma, Ohio State and LSU before committing to the Seminoles on National Signing Day. LSU seemed to be the leader until the end, but Wilson pulled off a mild surprise by heading to the Sunshine State. At Florida State, while the defensive line unit is strong and deep, Wilson definitely has the athleticism and ability to make an early impact this fall.
Farrell’s Take: Wilson always showed a non-stop motor, and his get-off was often unstoppable. He was a guy who emerged for us after his sophomore season as he began to dominate events and at one point he was our No. 1 overall player. Wilson is expected to have a great career at FSU.
The skinny: Florida was considered the early favorite for Lawrence, while North Carolina and North Carolina State both fought hard to keep Lawrence in-state. The Wolfpack actually had the last crack at Lawrence on an official visit, but it was Clemson that won out, as it held off N.C. State, Alabama, Florida and Ohio State. As an early enrollee last year, Lawrence impressed immediately in practice and then followed that up with 62 tackles and 6.5 sacks last fall. Expectations are through the roof for Lawrence this season.
Farrell’s Take: Lawrence was a massive high school prospect, tall and big, who had exceptional pass-rushing moves and worked off contact extremely well for a taller interior lineman. He had light feet, always had a counter for whatever an offensive lineman threw at him and was well coached in the nuances of the position. He finished as our No. 2 overall but was No. 1 at one point. The NFL scouts are now drooling.
The skinny: Akers originally committed to Alabama, but after re-opening his process in March he trimmed his list to Florida State, Ole Miss, Tennessee and LSU. This really came down to the ‘Noles and in-state Rebels, with Akers eventually deciding on Florida State. After enrolling in college early, Akers made a big splash during the spring, which immediately put him into the spotlight as a true freshman this coming season.
Farrell’s Take: Akers was a beast of an athlete out of high school. While we got to scout him often as a pure running back, he played quarterback in high school and was the focal point of the defense on every play. Even with all that attention, he was unstoppable and goes down as one of the top five or six running backs I’ve ever scouted. I expect him to have an amazing career at FSU if he stays healthy.
The Skinny: Blanding, who had early offers from top programs from coast-to-coast, did not drag out his process - he committed to Virginia almost a year before his National Signing Day. Blanding followed a huge true freshman season with two more impressive campaigns. He enters his senior season with 356 tackles and six interceptions, and is currently one of the top safeties in the country.
Farrell’s Take: I always liked Blanding a lot as a hard-hitting safety, but the more I saw him in high school, I became enamored as well with his ball skills, smooth coverage ability and underrated offensive potential. We projected him as a safety, but he reminded me of Keenan Allen a bit, a kid who could play offense if he wanted. Unlike Allen, Blanding stayed on defense and was my “can’t miss” prospect of the class of 2014, at least among the big names. He hasn’t disappointed, although he is under the radar at Virginia.
The skinny: James proved to be a rarity in recruiting as he committed to Florida State almost three years before his own signing date and firmly stayed with his word throughout. He quickly established himself as one of the top safeties in the country as a true freshman, finishing with 91 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. However, a knee injury early in 2016 derailed James' season and progress. Now fully healthy, huge things are once again expected out of James this fall.
Farrell’s Take: I’ve said it before and I will say it again: James is the most athletic and dynamic safety I have ever scouted, and that’s saying something. And, after an average start, he came on and became a dominant defensive back as expected as a freshman, and his loss to injury last year hurt the Seminoles as much as any player loss in the country. He can blitz, he can tackle in space and support the run and he can cover a ton of ground in the passing game. And this is only the beginning, as he will be an absolute star this year and beyond.
The skinny: Kaindoh was originally an early commitment to Maryland, but he re-opened his process in late November of his senior year, which eventually led to a commitment to Florida State in late December. He also took official visits to Alabama and Penn State before flipping to the Seminoles. As with Marvin Wilson, Kaindoh joins a loaded defensive line, but he's already shown flashes of the athleticism that should earn him early playing time.
Farrell’s Take: Kaindoh had ups and downs throughout the evaluation process, although he was consistently a five-star. Early on he was a skinny edge rusher, but he evolved into a guy who handled the run much better and developed an inside rush, pushing him all the way to his No. 5 ranking. Kaindoh, like Wilson and Akers, hasn’t had a chance to live up to his ranking, but he’s expected to.
The skinny: Smith committed to Clemson early but then re-opened his process to take a closer look at a few other schools. Eventually, after also taking official visits to Oregon, LSU, Maryland and Auburn, he re-committed to Clemson at the Under Armour All-American Game. Smith redshirted as a true freshman in 2016 and will be fighting for playing time this summer.
Farrell’s Take: A big, physical linebacker, I remember seeing Smith as a freshman and being blown away by his skill. And he got better throughout high school, stepping up to the competition level at IMG. He is the rare linebacker who could blitz off the edge, cover tight ends, simply dominate the middle in college, and this should be a breakout season for him.
The skinny: With three older brothers having played football at Virginia Tech, the Hokies were immediate frontrunners for Fuller. Despite a heavy push from Clemson, he pulled no surprises and did commit to the Hokies. Fuller had two impressive seasons in Blacksburg, but his third and final one was cut short due to an injury. After foregoing his senior season, he was drafted in the third round by Washington, where he finished his rookie season with 40 tackles.
Farrell’s Take: Ask anyone who Fuller's biggest fan was and the answer will easily point toward me. From the first time I saw him as a freshman - I was obviously aware of the family tree - he carried himself like a star. His backpedal was arguably the most fluid I had seen in my career. Add good size, amazing instincts and sneaky closing speed, and you had a corner you can put on an island. The knee injury in college hurt his draft stock, but Washington got a steal in round three.
The skinny: Taylor made an early commitment to Florida State over Alabama, Tennessee, LSU, Virginia, Ohio State and Florida. Playing in a deep secondary as a true freshman, he earned playing time and finished with 16 tackles and one tackle for a loss. While the Florida State secondary is still loaded, Taylor has impressed and is likely to be starting at cornerback during the 2017 season.
Farrell’s Take: Taylor wasn’t the biggest cornerback in high school, but his instincts were off the hook and he was sudden and played the ball very well. His closing speed was his strength, but he had excellent ball skills as well and could play bigger against taller receivers. Yet another FSU commitment on this list, Taylor should be a starter this season.
The skinny: Ramsey originally committed to USC but decided to keep his options open. He eventually took official visits to Florida, Florida State, Washington and Mississippi State, which ultimately led to his flip to the Seminoles on National Signing Day. After an impressive collegiate career, Ramsey was drafted with the fifth overall selection in 2016. He became an immediate starter as a rookie and finished with 55 tackles and two interceptions.
Farrell’s Take: Ramsey is a great athlete who played safety and cornerback in college, and he's already one of the best lockdown corners in the NFL after a great rookie season. He had very good range and length, had tremendous explosion out of high school, and he was always a willing tackler. He was a freaky athlete so his draft status and early success aren't huge surprises, although he’s ahead of my expected learning curve.