Saturday, May 25, 2013

the recruit: Quin Blanding

Name: Quin Blanding
Position: S
Hometown: Virginia Beach
School: Bayside
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 201

24/7: 99, five stars; #1 S, VA #3, US #9
ESPN: 90, five stars; #1 S, VA #3, Atl. #4, US #11
Rivals: 6.1, five stars; #1 S, VA #2, US #4
Scout: five stars; #3 S

Other offers: Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Florida, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Auburn, Clemson, Tennessee, Penn State, UCLA, North Carolina, NC State, West Virginia, Vanderbilt, Illinois, Purdue, Maryland, Cincinnati, Connecticut

It's time to begin the recruit profile series again.  Normally I've been able to save some of the best recruits for last, because normally they wait til near the end to commit, and these are always, without exception, written in order of commitment.  Five-star mega-dudes with offer lists the size of Lindsey Lohan's rap sheet don't usually finish their recruitments this early.

Quin Blanding, obviously, did.  This is the fruit of Mike London's labor in the state: having wrapped up previous classes fairly early, he had time to plant the seeds for years like 2014 and 2015.  As a result, this recruitment was over almost before it began.  Blanding's offer list actually is less extensive than it might've been had he waited even another six weeks or so, but it's impressive (to say the least) all the same, a veritable who's-who of programs.

Blanding is also an elite recruit on a dizzying level.  Sometimes we get a guy we call a five-star recruit because one service said so.  Good for us and all that.  Blanding is a five-star recruit because every service says so, the first such player we can claim since Eugene Monroe from way back when there were only two services.

Why do they say so?  For one, Blanding's size; he's tall for a safety (even an NFL safety), a little heavier than most, and still faster and quicker than any of his peers.  Most of our depth chart guys are in the 6'0", 190ish range.  ESPN says he possesses "ideal size" but the truth is he's actually bigger than ideal without sacrificing one mote of the necessary athleticism.  He's already built like a guy playing on Sundays, except without the years of weight training.

The services then follow that up by trying to outdo each other in gushing about Blanding's actual game: instincts, ball skills, and the like.  24/7 writes: "What stands out most about his game is his ability to read a play. He is rarely out of position .... His speed, versatility and leaping ability were also all on display throughout the competition."  ESPN is eerily similar: "Excels in coverage with instinctive ball-hawking skills and a real feel for route recognition and field awareness. Reads the quarterback eyes and knows where he is going with the football which allows for so many big plays. Disciplined and rarely caught out of position. The ideal roaming safety who can read, react and close on the football quickly from any alignment."

Rivals agrees too: "It comes down to a few things at the safety position: How do you see the field? How quickly do you react? Do you avoid false steps and misreading the play and are you willing to come up and smack someone in run support and make them pay down the middle of the field in the passing game? ...Blanding has all of those attributes."  They then go on to trump the other two by talking up his leadership skills, which they rarely fail to mention in any one of their many Blanding Is Awesome articles.

It's really almost not worth diving too deeply into the scouting reports.  Of all the ideal attributes of a top-notch free safety, Blanding isn't missing any of them.  Even Scout, which comes up with the only downside in his game because they have to fill up the "Areas for Improvement" section somehow ("backpedal quickness" is what they've come up with) goes on two seconds later to say he "really doesn't have a weakness in his game."  So the real question is, does Blanding go straight to the all-ACC lists or does he go bust?

We'll turn to the ranks of Rivals's previous five-star safeties for the answer.  There actually aren't many.  Of those evaluated as DBs, 2002 through 2004 produced mostly guys who played offense, grew into linebacker, or were cornerbacks.  2005 is the first time we see safeties who stuck at safety: Kenny Phillips became a very, very good player for Miami and an eventual first-round draft pick, and Demetrice Morley was on track to be just as good but let off-field problems derail his career.  2006 had two more safeties: Reshad Jones (Georgia) and Myron Rolle (FSU), both future NFLers.  Chad Jones in 2007 had a good career at LSU, was picked in the third round of the NFL draft, but chose baseball eventually.  2009 had Craig Loston, who has slowly become an impact player for LSU.  2010, you've got Lamarcus Joyner, doing outstanding work at FSU, and Matt Elam, who did outstanding work at Florida and then left early to be a first-round pick.

What did I learn from the little sojourn through history?

-- Rivals rarely hands five stars to safeties.  Cornerbacks get about three times as many five-star designations as safeties do.
-- When they do, they're not wrong.  I didn't leave out any busts on purpose just to make the list look better.  For the most part, the only reason a player busted out is because he was a head case.  Worst-case scenario for non-head-cases was taking a couple years to reach full potential.  Blanding is not a head case.

We're not bringing in an all-world recruit who does everything in order to redshirt, obviously.  Blanding will be on the field from Day 1.  There are those who think he could start for college programs right this minute.  Hell, there are those who think he could've started for college programs last fall as a high school junior.  They might be right.  In 2014, though, UVA will probably have this little luxury: two long-term starters (Ant Harris and Brandon Phelps) entering their senior year.  So if Blanding does start from the get-go, either something very bad happened or we're going to have an NFL safety roaming the defensive backfield for three years.  More likely is that Blanding gets into the rotation in the two-deep and then takes over the starting job as a true sophomore.  Blanding will also face a little competition from Anthony Cooper and Malcolm Cook, two players who aren't as far along on the eligibility scale.  Both have gotten good press.  But Blanding aces the eye test and literally everyone who's seen him play raves about both his physical and mental game.  How much early playing time he gets depends somewhat on his adjustment to the college game and his scheme pickup, but anyone betting against his becoming a starter sooner rather than later - and a likely full-time resident of the various all-ACC lists - is a sad and foolish man.  The only downside is that if all goes as planned, he'll probably only be around three years.

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