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February 1, 2012
Making an early impact on the college level not only requires outstanding physical tools, but also the mental capacity to pick up a college system in a short amount of time. One other key factor, though, is coming into a situation where opportunity exists to see the field early. These five players from the Class of 2012 possess that combination and should be making headlines early in their college careers.
DE Jonathan Bullard, Shelby (N.C.) Crest (Florida)
Bullard was the top overall performer for the East team throughout the week at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, and one of the reasons he set himself apart is because he brings such a wide array of attributes to a defense. Listed at 6-4 and 265 pounds, Bullard has the size and strength to push around offensive linemen and be stout in run support. But he also possesses and explosive first step and great technique when rushing the passer. Florida head coach Will Muschamp frequently pointed out the Gators lack of success getting to the quarterback this past fall, and Bullard can come in immediately and address that weakness. The Gators are also not deep at the defensive end position, evidenced by the fact they had to move natural defensive tackles like Sharrif Floyd to the end spot at times to address needs.
WR Stefon Diggs, Olney (Md.) Good Counsel (TBD)
Five-star wide receiver Stefon Diggs will not declare his college intentions until after National Signing Day, but the 6-0, 185-pound prospect is such a unique playmaker he is sure to see the field soon after his arrival on the college campus of his choice. One area where Diggs can certainly help a team next fall is in the return game. His combination of speed, agility and creativity makes him a threat to take one back every time he touches the football, but those same attributes should help him see the field early at wide receiver as well. Another attribute that is crucial to making an early impact at the college level is confidence, and Diggs possesses that in bunches. Last fall for Good Counsel he totaled 1,443 yards of total offense and 13 touchdowns while adding four interceptions double as a cornerback on defense.
WR Dorial Green-Beckham, Springfield (Mo.) Hillcrest (Missouri)
Not surprising to see the No. 1 player in the country make the list, and Green-Beckham gets extra points because the 6-6, 220-pounder already looks college ready. He creates mismatches with his size on the outside, but also has the speed to take short passes and turn them into long-gainers. There is a lot of pressure coming onto a college campus with as much fanfare as Green-Beckham has, but he's already showed he can handle that this past fall when he caught 119 passes for 2,233 yards and 24 touchdowns despite every defense he faced geared to stop him. What's interesting is that he now goes to Missouri which has not been known to feature at downfield passing attack. They will certainly mix that in now with Green-Beckham in the fold, but the big receiver also has the ability to be a force in the short and intermediate passing game.
DT Ondre Pipkins, Kansas City (Mo.) Park Hill (Michigan)
Ranked as the No. 14 player in the country and the No. 3 defensive tackle nationally, Pipkins certainly has the talent to see the field early in his college career, but that possibility is enhanced by the situation he is going into at Michigan. The Wolverines lost all-conference second team nose guard Mike Martin to the NFL following the 2011 season, and have little depth or proven talent to waiting in the wings. Michigan coaches have already told Pipkins to arrive on campus ready to contribute, and it is not out the question he could be the starting nose tackle by the end of fall camp. At 6-3 and 330 pounds, Pipkins is also one of the most physically ready defensive tackles in the 2012 class. He has a wide, sturdy frame, but wears his weight well and the bulk is more muscle than outright girth. We also like the work ethic and drive Pipkins displayed at the U.S. Army Bowl: key factors he will need to seize the opportunity at Michigan next fall.
S Shaq Thompson, Sacramento (Calif.) Grant (Washington)
In the biggest high school showcase in the country, Thompson stood out from his peers and was the biggest defensive playmaker on a field full of playmakers at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl last month. At 6-2 and 210 pounds, Thompson is a big safety, but he also has the speed to run with wide receivers and track down running backs across the field. Thompson will join a Washington defense that badly needs playmakers, after surrendering more than 35 points per game during the 2011 season. Thompson is rangy and closes passing lanes quickly, but he also has the size to come down in the box and be an extra linebacker in run defense. He plays the game with reckless abandon, and will quickly be known as a fearsome hitter who makes wide receivers think twice before crossing the middle of the field.