Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.
With the college football season nearly upon us, it’s time for another installment of the Farrell 50, the top 50 college football players in the country. However, as usual here at Rivals.com, we take a quick look at how each ranked out of high school and if they are exceeding or simply living up to expectations. Today continue with Nos. 36-40 made up of all elite defenders.
The skinny: Baker’s recruiting process really took offer during the late spring after his junior season, with offers from Georgia, Clemson, Tennessee and Kentucky rolling in. However, he decided not to drag his process out much further with a commitment to the Bulldogs in mid-June. After a promising 2016 season, Baker showed all of his true potential in 2017 with 44 tackles, three interceptions and nine pass break-ups. He is now considered one of the top cornerback prospects in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Farrell’s take: Baker was a skinny cornerback with solid skills coming out of high school, but was a three-star prospect because of questions about his strength. He could run with anyone but he wasn’t very strong in run support and could get pushed around a bit. He had a good showing at the U.S. Army All-America Bowl and raised his stock a bit, but we still saw him as a project and mid three-star. However, he has developed into one of the top defensive backs in the country.
The skinny: Allen initially committed to Northwestern during the spring after his junior season, but then flipped to the Eagles a few days before National Signing Day. A desire to play closer to home was the main reason for his change of heart. Allen, who impressed during the 2016 season with 10 tackles for a loss and six sacks, took his game to the next level last fall with 100 tackles, 15.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks and one interception for Boston College.
Farrell’s take: Allen was a mid-level three star kid with good size and length but who played weak competition and wasn’t the explosive player you see now. He’s become one of the more well-rounded defensive linemen in the country and leads a very underrated defense. Allen is also high on the radar of NFL scouts.
The skinny: Smith initially planned to wait out his process, but after some reflection he committed to USC in late May. UCLA, Oregon and Wisconsin were other schools that he considered. Smith has been extremely productive during his three seasons with the Trojans, having totaled 273 tackles and 19 tackles for a loss during this time. Look for him to have a big final season in Los Angeles.
Farrell’s take: Smith had a very strong freshman season and hasn’t looked back since, showing off excellent instincts and pure form tackling. He was just outside the Rivals100 for us mainly because of questions about his lateral ability and quick-twitch athleticism, but he takes such good angles, he’s so physical in shedding blocks and he diagnoses plays so well that he overcomes any lack of natural speed. He’s a great example of a guy who struggles in camp settings but dominates with the pads on.
The skinny: Brown took official visits to Auburn, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Georgia and Alabama before committing to the Tigers on National Signing Day. After a slow start as a true freshman in 2016, Brown has truly flourished with the Tigers. Coming off of a season that saw him finish with 57 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles, he has quickly become one of the top defensive tackles in the country.
Farrell’s take: Brown moved inside full time to take over the role of dominator at defensive tackle last season and had a great year. He has the power, the quickness and ability to crush the pocket to get the job done. In high school evaluations, he was always a bit up and down. He was inconsistent, but his ceiling was too high to keep him from that fifth star and so far we are looking smart.
The skinny: Jones committed to Ohio State over Notre Dame and Michigan during the summer before his senior season. Totaling 71 tackles and nine tackles for a loss during his two seasons in Columbus, many expect Jones to take his game to a much higher level this fall. He has impressed during the spring and fall and looks ready to anchor the interior defensive line for the Buckeyes.
Farrell’s take: A strongside defensive end in our 2015 rankings, Jones has grown into one of the most athletic and explosive defensive tackles in the NFL Draft. He blew out his knee playing hoops before his freshman year, which led to questions about how effective he’d be coming back, but he’s been a monster ever since. He’s always been at his best using speed and quickness off the snap and that was his calling card out of high school.