NSD 2019 Wrap-Up: Big Ten superlatives
National Signing Day is in the rear-view mirror, but it’s worthwhile to take one more look at which prospects could be special in the coming years. We start with the Big Ten:
HIGHEST CEILING: Bryce Benhart, Nebraska
Overview: Benhart is all of 6-foot-9 and about 300 pounds and he looks like someone who already plays in the NFL. Once he refines his game at Nebraska under the tutelage of coach Scott Frost and his assistants, Benhart should definitely be someone who is intriguing to professional teams because he’s so massive. The high school wrestler - yes, at that size - more than held his own at the All-American Bowl and moved to No. 18 at offensive tackle.
Farrell’s take: Benhart reminds me of Mike McGlinchey, the former Notre Dame offensive lineman who ended up as a first-rounder, because he’s so tall and athletic but still very raw around the edges. He has the chance to be special and with the right coaching, the sky is the limit.
MR. VERSATILITY: Giles Jackson, Michigan
Overview: There is no doubt Michigan is looking for dynamic playmakers on offense - and the Wolverines might have found one in Jackson, who was originally ranked as a running back but ended up as a four-star receiver in this class. He finished with 74 catches for 1,414 yards and 14 touchdowns at Joe Mixon’s old high school and Jackson could be used in the slot, coming out of the backfield or on special teams in Ann Arbor.
Farrell’s take: Michigan fans will love Jackson and so will the coaches because he can do so many things to keep a defense off balance. It will be fun to see how Michigan utilizes him and it’s ironic that he comes from the same school as Mixon, who was one of the most versatile offensive players I’d seen out of high school in years.
SPEED DEMON: Daxton Hill, Michigan
Overview: It would be worthwhile to see if Hill backpedaling moved faster than a lot of receivers running their routes. The five-star is so incredibly dynamic, he breaks on the ball so easily and he’s so smooth in everything he does that he has the chance to be special in Michigan’s secondary. That’s why Alabama never stopped recruiting the kid and it was huge for the Wolverines to get him back in the fold.
Farrell’s take: Hill could be the most dynamic defensive player in the 2019 class and some have said he’s going to be Jabrill Peppers with elite speed which is saying something. Usually it’s an offensive player who gets all the accolades about being fast, but in this case Hill is the guy in the Big Ten.
CANNON ARM: Graham Mertz, Wisconsin
Overview: Mertz set an All-American Bowl game record with five touchdown passes last month and that was coming off a strong week of practice as well. The Wisconsin signee has a live arm, he can make all the throws and he’s proven to be a big-time gamer as well after throwing for a state-record 51 touchdowns in his senior season. Finishing as the second-best pro-style quarterback in the class, can Mertz go to Madison and compete for starting playing time right away?
Farrell’s take: Should we have made Mertz a five-star? That will be the question he will answer in his career at Wisconsin. He has a ton of tools, including a live arm, and it will be interesting to see how Wisconsin changes their offense with a true passer under center. They could be very, very dangerous.
MR. SANDMAN: Tyler Endres, Iowa
Overview: This goes to the biggest sleeper in the conference and that’s always a tough call, but we decided on Endres, who picked the Hawkeyes over Iowa State, Minnesota and Wisconsin. History plays a big part here since at last check, Iowa had nine offensive linemen on NFL rosters. With pretty good odds in his favor, Endres has the chance to develop into something special. Actually, this award could go to all of Iowa’s offensive line commits - Endres, Justin Britt, Noah Fenske and Ezra Miller - since all of them have a three-star ranking.
Farrell’s take: You know one of the Iowa offensive linemen will end up as a high NFL draft pick and Endres has the frame and aggression to be the guy. I’ll throw in a shout out to tight end Logan Lee from the Hawkeyes' class too since they do such a good job with tight ends as well.
FUTURE NO. 1 PICK: Christopher Hinton, Michigan
Overview: Late in the rankings cycle, Hinton lost his fifth-star but the Michigan signee was so consistently dominant at the All-American Bowl that it was nearly impossible not to make him one of the top players in the class. Hinton ended up No. 15 nationally and second at defensive tackle behind only Alabama signee Antonio Alfano. He was also the top-ranked Big Ten signee after doing so well the entire week in San Antonio.
Farrell’s take: Defensive tackles are at a premium on NFL Draft boards, especially if they can rush the passer and Hinton can do that. I’m not saying he will be No. 1 overall, that will obviously be a quarterback, but I can easily see him as a top-10 NFL Draft Pick if he continues to develop.
INSTANT IMPACT: Zach Charbonnet, Michigan
Overview: With Karan Higdon gone and Chris Evans no longer with the Michigan team, the backfield for the Wolverines is wide-open and Charbonnet is already on campus. The four-star is all-business when it comes to football and he proved that in his senior season rushing for more than eight yards per carry when everybody knew he was getting the ball. He fits Michigan’s offense perfectly and he could become the main ball carrier early in his career, especially with some major losses.
Farrell’s take: Michigan has had many highly ranked running backs disappoint at the college level over the years but in Jim Harbaugh’s offense Charbonnet is a great fit and should be physically ready. Is he the next great running back in the Big Ten? I think he could be.
FITS LIKE A GLOVE: Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
Overview: Ohio State had nine players this past season with 20 catches or more, including Parris Campbell with 90 and K.J. Hill with 70 so the Buckeyes - even under new head coach Ryan Day - are going to throw the ball and throw it a lot. Wilson was exceptional at the All-American Bowl, he can get open against anybody and he makes tough catches look easy. With some departures at receiver, Wilson should fit in perfectly in Columbus and start putting up stats quickly.
Farrell’s take: Wilson’s route running and hands make him a great fit for the Ohio State offense and he can take a wide receiver screen and make things happen as well. Justin Fields will likely be the quarterback for the Buckeyes and he will love Wilson, who can make quarterbacks look very good even if they misfire.
BOOM OR BUST: Zach Harrison, Ohio State
Overview: At the All-American Bowl, not a lot of players looked like Harrison, a legitimate 6-foot-5, 245-pound specimen, but he’s still refining his game as a defensive end and he does have skinny legs that resemble a basketball player more than a Big Ten defensive end. Still, he has all the physical tools in the world and position coach Larry Johnson is one of the best in the business to develop Harrison’s potential into something special.
Farrell’s take: Harrison is either going to be a star and first-rounder or he’s going to be just an average football player and a disappointment. He has all the physical tools to be great but he’s so raw and has so much to learn it’s tough to figure out if he’s going to be great or average. We ranked him as a five-star based on his ceiling and we think he will reach his potential, but he’s a few years away from a true evaluation.
EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES: Penn State RBs Devyn Ford and Noah Cain
Overview: Two seasons ago, Penn State had a generational running back in Saquon Barkley, now starring for the New York Giants. This past season, Miles Sanders rushed for 1,274 yards and nine touchdowns before leaving for the NFL. Now the Nittany Lions are bringing in two high four-star backs in Devyn Ford (No. 40 overall) and Noah Cain (No. 43) in this recruiting class. They have different styles - Ford more shifty, Cain more power and straight-line speed - and they could see immediate playing time for an offense that will work in a new quarterback.
Farrell’s take: Penn State should look at Georgia and see how the Bulldogs used Nick Chubb and Sony Michel together because Ford and Cain can be a dynamic duo if used properly. I expect Cain to do more work between the tackles and for Ford to be used in the passing game and for both to have very good careers at Penn State.
HIGHLIGHT MAN: Wandale Robinson, Nebraska
Overview: Unstoppable at the All-American Bowl, the comparisons to Purdue receiver Rondale Moore are dead-on except for that Robinson had an even more dominant week in San Antonio. The diminutive receiver is nearly impossible to defend in space, he makes tough, athletic catches and he should be a perfect fit in Scott Frost’s offense at Nebraska. With leading receiver Stanley Morgan now gone, Robinson has the chance to step in early and make a huge impact all over the field.
Farrell’s take: Nebraska fans will love Robinson as he will get everyone out of their seats at times. He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands, he’s a good route runner with excellent hands and he can make people miss. Look for Nebraska to get him the ball in many ways early in his career.