Football recruiting has been stepped up to such a degree that coaches and analysts already are offering scholarships to players in the class of 2011 and evaluating players in the class of 2012.
I know the feeling. Everybody has an ego in this business. They like to identify potential stars before anyone else. That's what separates the great recruiters from the also-rans. That's what separates the experienced analysts from others. As former NFL quarterback and television analyst Don Meredith once said: "It ain't bragging if you can do it."
I identified Randy Moss, Bill Fralic and Seantrel Henderson as future stars when they were sophomores, before anyone outside their local areas knew who they were. I also got an early start on Jeff George and Emmitt Smith.
In 2005, I rated Chris "Beanie" Wells, Tim Tebow, Mitch Mustain, Andre Smith and Percy Harvin as the top five players in the nation (in order), well ahead of any other recruiting service. Only Mustain, who transferred from Arkansas to USC last year, has yet to meet expectations.
In 2007, I rated Terrelle Pryor as the No. 1 player in the nation at a time when ESPN didn't even rate him among the top five.
Here is another name to remember: Rushel Schell. At the moment, I rate him as the No. 1 player in the class of 2012.
I was driving through Pittsburgh last fall on one of my annual trips across the country and some coaches talked about him. I saw his film and was very impressed. He is a 5-11, 215-pound running back from Aliquippa, Pa. He attends the same high school as Tony Dorsett.
As a freshman last season, Schell rushed for 1,536 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has 4.5 speed, is very powerful, fast and instinctive. He has all the ingredients to be a great game-breaker. Within a year, he could be the best running back in the country, regardless of class. I haven't seen a better running back in the upcoming senior class.
In fact--are you ready for this?--I think he could be the best running back coming out of high school since Adrian Peterson. He isn't as good as Peterson because he doesn't have world-class speed. But I can't wait to see how he develops in the next year or two.
Meanwhile, I continue to rank offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson of St. Paul, Minn., as the No. 1 player in the class of 2010. But analyst Randy Taylor of the Chicago-based National Collegiate Scouting Association (NCSA) touts defensive end Ronald Powell of Rancho Verde, Calif., ahead of him.
Taylor favors Powell because he is a defensive end who figures to make a great impact at the college level. And defensive end is the strongest position in the class of 2010. Powell is a 6-4, 225-pounder who was credited with 80 tackles and 13 sacks last season.
Powell is very good. But he isn't in Henderson's class. I rate Powell as the third best player in California, behind versatile Anthony Barr of Los Angeles and defensive back Robert Woods of Gardena. Nationally, he ranks No. 11 on my preseason list.
On another note, speaking of surprises, Minnesota has received an oral commitment from 6-1, 205-pound junior running back Calvin Phillips of Momence. Phillips had been offered by Illinois and also had attracted interest from UCLA, LSU and Kansas. Minnesota gained an edge because Phillips is a cousin of Curtis Crossley, a former star at Bishop McNamara in Kankakee who currently is a regional scout for the Minnesota Vikings.