It’s time to look at the recruiting class of 2011 and single out the players who stand the best chance of being future Heisman candidates.
Making this list is not as simple as checking off some 5-star players from the recruiting sites.
First off, I narrowed my list to quarterbacks, running backs and multi-purpose athletes. No matter what anyone says, you can forget about tight ends, linebackers or linemen winning the trophy.
Second, I looked at the abilities of the players in question. I asked: Do their skills translate to the next level? How quickly will they make an impact? Do they have the physical measurables and the intangibles needed to succeed?
Third, I ask how well do they fit into the system in which they will be playing? Does their future system produce the numbers needed to win a Heisman?
This year’s Heisman Trophy winner was first tabbed as a potential candidate on this very site, way back in February of 2007, so let’s see what’s in store for this year’s class. I expect at least one of these players to make a strong run at the Heisman within the next two to three years:
(in alphabetical order)
Brandon Allen, Arkansas–A top-flight quarterback from Fayetteville, Allen should fit nicely in Bobby Petrino’s offensive system. He’s got a strong arm, with somewhat of an irregular delivery, but he’s accurate and should end up being a very efficient passer. At 6-1, he’s more in the mold of a Stephon LeFors than a Ryan Mallett.
Mike Blakely, Florida–I first noted Blakely early in the season when I saw his team take on Plant High. I thought he was the best running back in a game that also included touted recruit James Wilder for Plant. Blakely is an explosive runner who can cut on a dime. He’s got tremendous vision, great forward lean and superb balance. He’s not a true burner, but he’ll have enough speed to get downtown on most occasions. In short, he’s a natural running back, which is something Florida hasn’t had in a while.
Malcolm Brown, Texas–Brown probably has the most raw talent of any back in this class. He’s a big, bruising runner with good speed for his size. He’s just the element Texas has been missing in recent years and he should start from Day One. With his downhill style, he is best suited for an I-formation attack and that’s what Texas will be running during his career. At worst, he’s probably another Cedric Benson. At best, he could be another Ricky Williams.
Andrew Buie, West Virginia–Combine Dana Holgorsen’s wide open offense with a speedster running back like Buie and you have a potential under-the-radar star in the making at West Virginia. Buie should be highly productive running, catching and returning kicks and punts for the Mountaineers.
Tra Carson, Oregon–It seems like every year, the recruiting services underrate a Texas skill position player headed out West. This year, that guy could be Carson, a power back with surprising speed. I think he’ll flourish in Chip Kelly’s offense and become the next star Duck running back.
Jeff Driskel, Florida–It’s almost a cliche to say this by now, but Driskel really might be the closest thing to a clone of Tim Tebow physically. I think he might actually be a better athlete overall, with more fast-twitch ability, and he’s got a better throwing motion and stronger arm to boot. I do believe he’s best suited to the style of offense run by Urban Meyer–so we may never get to know just how good he could’ve been running and throwing–but he should do well in any system.
Kiehl Frazier, Auburn–This is the next great Tiger quarterback. He’s not a physical phenom in the mold of Cam Newton, but he’ll be a three-year starter for Auburn and by his junior year should be one of the best quarterbacks in the country. He’s equally good running or passing and he’s a tremendous leader. What more do you want in a quarterback? He’ll put up some fantastic numbers for Gus Malzahn and, because of having more time in the system, should be the all-time Auburn passing leader before he’s through.
Aaron Green, Nebraska–Green is ahead of the game as he already has an innate ability to makes the first tackler miss. He’s a decisive runner who explodes to daylight and who sets up runners with the ease of a crafty veteran. He’s got magic and creativity and a good amount of breakaway speed. He sort of has a Reggie Bush-like style to him. Once he gets a little stronger, he should be a big star for the Cornhuskers.
Kevin Hogan, Stanford–Amazingly, Stanford has become a vogue destination for Heisman-level players of late. While it remains to be seen if David Shaw can keep the Harbaugh magic alive, you have to like his chance of doing so with recruits like Hogan in the bag. He’s another quarterback in the mold of Andrew Luck–strong armed, accurate, athletic and tall. He might be the heir apparent to Luck when it’s all said and done.
Braxton Miller, Ohio State–Miller is a more refined–but smaller–version of Terrelle Pryor. Since the Ohio State offense basically consists of letting its quarterback run around willy nilly making plays, Miller should fit in just fine. He’s a great scrambler and runner, but he’s got an arm more akin to Troy Smith’s than Pryor’s. He’ll play a lot from the getgo, especially with Pryor being suspended, and probably end up a three year starter and a future star.
Jerrard Randall, Oregon–Randall’s relatively low profile is another example of how recruiting services fail to properly take into consideration how well a player fits into a school’s system. The prospect of Randall playing quarterback in Oregon’s spread should be quite unnerving to the rest of the Pac-12. This is a guy who is a clear upgrade physically over Darron Thomas and should help ensure that the Ducks stay in the nation’s elite for years to come.
Bubba Starling, Nebraska–It is a good possibility that Starling enters the Major League Baseball draft and makes millions since he is considered an top prospect in that sport. But if he goes to Nebraska, we are talking about an elite athlete playing quarterback in a spread system. He’s got the size, arm strength and physical tools to be a major star and an eventual high NFL draft pick.
James Wilder, Florida State–Wilder is a specimen with fine bloodlines who should make an instant impact for the Seminoles at either tailback or linebacker. If he chooses to play tailback, he’ll be an upright power runner with great feet, superlative strength and above-average speed. He is a punishing runner who attacks and physically overwhelms defenders. He’s not the most natural or instinctive runner, but he’s a fine athlete who should work it out and get better with every carry.