FOX Sports Next released its first Class of 2014 recruiting rankings in September of 2012, and players have had a full season of football and have already begun Spring camp circuit.
Whether it's a position that is especially talented or barren, or a region that is producing a special group, the dynamics change from one class to the next. The Class of 2012 had all of the offensive and defensive linemen. The Class of 2013 was a deep year at running back and quarterback. While it's still too early to know for sure, the Class of 2014 looks to be loaded at the running back position, especially in the South.
The West class of offensive linemen in 2012 and the receivers in the Class of 2008 were special groups. The South class of running backs in 2014 is one of those groups that could be remembered the way we talk about Julio Jones, A.J. Green, and the receivers in 2008. Da'Shawn Hand (6'5/260) of Woodbridge, Va. opened the rankings at the No. 1 spot, and while he hasn't fallen far, there is a new No. 1 in the Spring update. With what could be a historic class of running backs in 2014, it seemed only fitting that a running back lead the way in the FOX Sports Next Class of 2014 rankings.
No. 1 RB Leonard Fournette (6'2/230)
St. Augustine High School, New Orleans, La.
It says something about the depth of the running back position when the No. 1 overall player in the country might be the fourth or fifth best running back in the country. Sony Michel (5'11/205) of American Heritage in Plantation, Fla., Joseph Yearby (5'9/190) of Miami Central in Miami, Fla., and Racean Thomas (6'0/195) of Oxford High School in Oxford, Ala. all have a good claim to the No. 1 spot in the nation. But Fournette's combination of size, speed, balance, vision, and power gave him the edge over his peers. It seems the days of the 25+ carry per game running back are numbered and the emphasis on the positions is being devalued in today's spread schemes, but players like Fournette don't come around very often.
No. 2 DE Da'Shawn Hand
Woodbridge High School, Woodbridge, Va.
Hand was the first No. 1 on FOX Sports Next, and he certainly has a legit claim to the spot with his size and athleticism. Hand has the size to play defensive tackle in the 4-3 while having the quickness and strength to play end in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme. While the running back position may be de emphasized in today's game, there's no denying the value of a big, fast defensive end who can hold down a double team or single handedly crash a quarterback's pocket.
No. 3 OT Cameron Robinson (6'6/315)
West Monroe High School, West Monroe, La.
Protecting the quarterback is always job number one of a defense, and having a player like Robinson at left tackle goes a long way to accomplishing that task. Light on his feet and college ready with his size, Robinson is what is all too commonly referred to as a prototype. Only with Robinson, he truly is the prototype left tackle. Robinson gets uncannily low in his stance because of his flexibility and explodes out of his stance. Because of his agility and length, he's an ideal pass blocker, but with his power and tenacity, he's an asset in the running game as well. Linemen are typically ranked by where they'll be in years three and four of their college careers, but Robinson looks like the rare offensive lineman who could be an impact player as a freshman.
No. 4 DE Lorenzo Carter (6'6/240)
Norcross, Norcross, Ga.
Typically it's the offensive tackles that are referred to as bookends, but Carter and Hand are ideal bookends at defensive end. A little longer and leaner than Hand, Carter has the pursuit speed of an outside linebacker and uses his hands better than most interior linemen. Carter's ability to sink his hips, change directions and pursue in close quarters makes him the ideal end to defend the read option as he's capable of turning inside or outside and dragging down the ball carrier in the backfield.
No. 5 CB Tony Brown (6'1/185)
Ozen High School, Beaumont, Texas
If the running back class isn't the theme in 2014, the versatile athlete is. The rankings are littered with 6'0+ athletes who can play multiple positions, and the best of the bunch looks to be Tony Brown of Ozen High School in Texas. Projected at corner, Brown could just as easily end up at safety on the next level. He has safety size with cornerback agility, and is a legit track competitor. Brown has the skills to fit in any scheme in that he's strong enough to play press and release coverage, and he's agile enough to run downfield with the fastest receivers.
With nearly one year to go until Signing Day for the Class of 2014, the rankings released this week will be in a state of flux for the next year as players develop and are discovered, but it's a safe bet to assume these five players are going to be at or near the top of the heap when all is said and done.