Recruiting in the ACC can be more challenging than playing in the ACC.
Clemson is a recruiting wagon. Florida State, despite struggling the past couple of seasons, is still Florida State. North Carolina and Louisville both appear to be on the rebound. And even Boston College has upgraded from pitching #Dudes to recruiting guru, Jeff Hafley.
And like it has on all other, more serious aspects of life, the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated recruiting efforts for seemingly all programs. For a school like Syracuse, which relies on campus visits to sway the opinion of football prospects, the inability to bring recruits to upstate New York makes landing ACC-caliber talent that more challenging.
Dino Babers and his staff – some of whom head into their first full season recruiting in the ACC for Syracuse – have to navigate unchartered waters as they look to stock their roster.
Fans – and some columnists *drops head, raises hand* – tend to easily get caught up in the star ranking system assigned to recruits and classes. Chandler Jones and his 2-star ranking were an example of an obvious miss.
A better way to evaluate a recruit, at least from a fan’s perspective, is to look at his offer list. But with staffs and recruits temporarily forbidden from in-person contact, offer lists might not be as reliable. Fans must trust that staffs can correctly spot talent. That seems to be Syracuse’s strategy for the Class of 2021, at least in the near future.
Babers and his staff have secured seven commitments at this point. From a numbers’ standpoint, they are a bit ahead of the curve. June is historically a month that yields a slew of commitments for the Orange. But if fans are looking for some offer list wow factor from the seven commits, they need a little belief without evidence, as Babers would say.
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Hayden Nelson has respectable offers from Iowa State and Indiana. The rest of his list includes Ball State, Bowling Green, Western Michigan, Wyoming, Columbia, Harvard, and Princeton, among others.
Nelson stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 248 pounds. Listed as a 3-star Weakside Defensive End, Nelson has the height, and potentially the reach, to be an effective pass rusher in the ACC. A year or two of college strength and conditioning will help him pack on the muscle and weight necessary to tangle with offensive linemen. And, he’s the seventh ranked player in the state of Wisconsin. The top five have committed to the Badgers.
Derek McDonald out of Atlanta is like Nelson. McDonald is also 6-foot-4 while weighing slightly less than Nelson. Akron, Chattanooga, Southern Illinois, and similar schools have offered.
McDonald’s versatility is what makes him an intriguing prospect. According to Mike McAllister, McDonald has played both sides of the ball in high school; tight end, wide receiver, defensive line, and linebacker. He’ll play either defensive end or linebacker for the Orange.
Jaelin Moss out of Fairport, NY is another potential diamond in the rough. His only other offers are from Sacred Heart and Stony Brook. But Moss comes from good stock. His cousins are former Syracuse defensive stars Arthur and Chandler Jones.
Listed as a defensive tackle, the 6-foot-5 Moss has the height of many offensive lineman he’d face. And at a current weight of 260 pounds, it isn’t a stretch for him to be pushing 300 pounds as an upperclassman.
Kendall Long is a 6-foot-3, 215-pound wide receiver out of Lexington, SC. His offer sheet is similar to his three future teammates: Akron, Appalachian State, East Carolina, and Georgia State.
Long’s height and weight make him a matchup nightmare for smaller defensive backs. Long told McAllister that Syracuse plans to use him as an outside receiver.
Syracuse’s three other commits are defensive tackle Terry Lockett of Springfield, MA, safety Malcolm Folk from Newtown Square, PA, and running back Josh Hough of Beaver Falls, PA. Lockett has been offered by Michigan, Folk has a Northwestern offer, and Hough has offers from Kentucky and Pittsburgh.
When in-person contact and campus visits resume, many of Syracuse’s recruits are sure to receive additional Power 5 offers. That will validate what Babers and his coaches initially saw.
Until then, such is life recruiting in the ACC.