MORE: Class of 2014 Rivals100
At the beginning of the class of 2014 ranking cycle, it didn't look like many would challenge Woodbridge (Va.) Woodbridge Senior defensive end Da'Shawn Hand for the top spot. However, after numerous evaluations, the gap between No. 1 and No. 2 seemed to close each time.
Still, despite pressure from many different prospects, Hand hangs onto the No. 1 spot in the final class of 2014 Rivals100. Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell breaks down why.
"There were so many different contenders at different times this year, and going into the all-star cycle we knew Hand would have to be dominant to stay on top," Farrell said of the 6-foot-4, 260-pounder. "Not only did Hand have a dominant senior season, but he was also outstanding compared to the rest of the top talent at Under Armour. He dominated from the start and showed his versatility in the game itself moving to defensive tackle due to injuries. But it came down to the wire, and to my surprise the biggest competition wasn't from Jabrill Peppers, Leonard Fournette, Cameron Robinson or any of the other big names we've heard all year long. It came down to Hand and Myles Garrett in the end."
Farrell talks about the talents of each.
"Hand is a superior athlete in every sense of the word," he said. "He could be a standup linebacker, he could be a dominating weakside or strongside end and he could even be a 4-3 defensive tackle if needed. He's added so much size and strength over the last many months and still has room to play at 275 or 280 pounds. His versatility edged out Garrett who simply blew us all away at Under Armour as well.
"Garrett has great length and has tremendous technique. He'll beat you outside, he'll counter you inside, he dips his shoulder and gets low for a tall defensive end and uses those long arms to make plays that appear out of reach. His first step is amazing and he has tremendous closing speed. He shot up from the back of the five stars right into the discussion for No. 1. His body of work is similar to that of Hand, although the versatility of Hand just gives him a slight edge. Both of these guys have amazing futures and high ceilings."
Hand is committed to Alabama, while Garrett, a 6-foot-4, 245-pounder from Arlington (Texas) Martin, is committed to Texas A&M.
"It's going to be a lot of fun following these guys in the SEC," said Farrell. "And I expect both of them to make big plays in this budding rivalry over the next three or four years."
Others heading into the all-star game rankings cycle who appeared to have a chance to unseat Hand were Peppers, Fournette, Robinson, Marlon Humphrey and quarterback Kyle Allen, based on positional importance. While all impressed, none of them made the final discussion because of the dominance of Hand and Garrett.
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"Peppers was great in practice, he was active, physical, showed he could flip his hips effectively and run with receivers despite his big frame, but he struggled a bit in the game," said Farrell. "Fournette had a good game and showed the patience needed to be a great back as well as pretty good speed and excellent vision, but he's not a home run guy.
"Robinson is really raw and needs work on everything from proper stance to arm extension to finding his blocks. Humphrey struggled quite a bit in practice, but had a solid game so he was the opposite of Peppers, but neither showed they should be the first ever No. 1 player at their positions. Finally, Allen was average in practice and good in the Army Bowl, and he has a chance to be an elite prospect; but he wasn't going against defenses like those at the Under Armour Game, had so it's hard to say he's No. 1.
"In the end we feel we have a great, deep class for 2014 and the right guy at No. 1, but time will tell. Over the years there have been some that panned out perfectly -- like Vince Young, Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin and Jadeveon Clowney -- while others were surpassed. This year is a crapshoot with so many good players, but Hand is special."
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