Yes, it's only May and the dust is nowhere near close to settling with the Class of 2012. But what is crystal clear are the priorities for Mississippi State between now and February of 2012.
Find defensive linemen, find them early and often and find them late. Glancing at the 2011 roster, that need is obvious.
At defensive tackle alone, MSU loses Jeff Howie after this year not to mention the chance that juniors Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd could enter the NFL draft early and bypass their senior year at MSU. Moving to the edge, MSU is already hampered with inexperienced depth and senior Sean Ferguson moves on after this year.
So who's out there for the taking and who does MSU have a legitimate shot at landing next February? Naturally that picture will become clearer this summer at Bulldog camps and as expected, more and more names will surface on the 'want list'.
But glancing at tackle, MSU may need to grab a juco guy and maybe a high school tackle or two. Tops on that list has to be Quay Evans, a highly-touted prospect from Morton (Miss.) that has long liked the Bulldogs since the fall. Right behind Evans is another Magnolia State product in Long Beach's Nick James, who like Evans holds numerous BCS offers. MSU must first hope that James finds his way to campus this summer or fall because at this point in time, it appears LSU is the frontrunner and James' lone visit of the spring.
Staying with the tackles, let's move on to several linemen that currently play defensive end but could easily move inside at the next level. Likely tops on this group is McDonough, Ga., native Dalvin Tomlinson (6-2, 270), and naturally he has a ton of SEC offers, including the homestate Georgia Bulldogs. Tomlinson did visit MSU this spring and took in one of the spring scrimmages and is a fan of Chris Wilson. But he will be a tough pull.
The same can be said for another Georgia native with Covington's Sheldon Rankins, who currently has MSU in his Top 5. Rankins has yet to visit MSU but is planning camp stops at MSU and Ole Miss among other places this summer. Having him camp in Starkville would be a positive step as would getting him back for the fall or on an official visit.
And two other possible defensive tackle prospects include Nelson Adams of Brandon (Miss.) and Dominique Banks of Denton, Texas. Both have made it known that they are favoring MSU early in the process and both hold the frames (Nelson is 250 lbs. right now while Banks is 255 lbs.) to play inside in the SEC.
Staying with defensive line, the need for a juco defensive end may also prove to be a priority depending on how the 2011 season plays out. That is why East Miss. Community College's Denico Autry is a priority, and his current Top 3 includes (in no order) MSU, Texas and Alabama. Autry unofficially visited MSU this spring and has already formed relationships with a few current Bulldogs. But as noted, MSU will face stiff competition for Autry, including the likes of Florida as well.
Moving along to the high school ranks, the Bulldogs currently sit in good position with a handful of prep defensive ends. Recent U.S. Army All-American game nominee Channing Ward of Aberdeen (Miss.) is obviously tops on MSU's list and the Bulldogs will likely face a strong battle from Ole Miss, LSU and possibly Alabama.
Also on MSU's radar list is McComb (Miss.) native A.J. Jefferson and Plano, Texas, product Bryce Cottrell, and MSU sits in good shape with both and near or at the top of their list of favorites. Other guys to keep an eye on this camp season will be Will Freeman of Northwest Rankin (Miss.) and Smackover (Ark.) native Jeff Savage, who could also grow into a defensive tackle in college. Another candidate who is coming to MSU's camp is Gulfport, Miss., product Jamison Goins, who iat 6-2 and 245 pounds is being recruited as a linebacker and defensive end.
Looking behind those oh-so-valuable linemen, the linebacker picture is not near as clouded. And a lot of these needs will also be determined by MSU's recent signing class. Will Darion Arrington or Zach Jackson eventually be linebackers or maintain their high school roles and stay in the secondary? For the most part, many expect MSU to ink a pair or three linebackers in this class.
Tops on that list is Long Beach, Miss., talented linebacker Richie Brown, who owns the quickness and athletic ability to play outside and also owns the smarts and toughness to play the middle spot. A pair of other Magnolia State products are also on MSU's board of linebackers and both are guys to pay close attention to this summer at camp. Those candidates are Jerry McCorvey of Vancleave, Miss., and Lelland Ducksworth of North Forrest (Miss.) High School. Another candidate who favors MSU and Pittsburgh is Belle Chasse, La., safety/linebacker Quadry Antoine, who is already at 215 pounds, and will camp at MSU this summer.
Ducksworth and McCorvey have made it known that MSU is one of the main schools they are eying. And if an offer comes down this summer, one or both could join MSU's list of 2012 commitments. McCorvey could also play a defensive end role if need be and fall into that recruiting category.
And closing out today's defensive candidates, let's take a moment to glance at the secondary. MSU already has a commitment from McComb (Miss.) safety Deonte Evans. Some predict he could play linebacker at the next level but I believe his size will keep him at safety.
So who gets that last safety spot? And it's a spot where MSU inked four possible safety candidates last year in Jackson, Arrington, Taveze Calhoun and Kendrick Market. Will it be Fred Tiller of Clinch County (Ga.) High School? Or Zach Jackson of Snellville, Ga., or Adarrius Perkins of Forrest County (Miss.) High School, who could play various positions? Or will D.J. Thompson of Pearl (Miss.) become the front runner at this point? Could it be Will Redmond of Memphis, Tenn., who owns the skills to play safety, running back or corner?
Also a possibility is that MSU may just take another athlete capable of playing safety but not necessarily taking another definite safety prospect.
And closing today's column with those valuable 'island guys', look for MSU to take two corners in this class due to the fact that five of the current seven corners on the depth chart are either juniors or seniors. Possibly moreso than any other position, MSU has a depth-filled group to choose from and several are liking what they see from the Bulldogs.
Among that group includes Cedric Jiles of Clinton, Miss., Jordan Batiste of Lutcher, La., and Jonathan Jones of Carrollton, Ga. All three have plans to participate in MSU summer camps. Of course, I expect MSU to still recruit DeVante Harris of Mesquite, Texas, despite his recent commitment to Oklahoma.
Also planning to come to camp and another corner to watch is Brookhaven (Miss.) cornerback Greg Sims, who looks to use the camp scene to boost is resume. As is Northwest Rankin (Miss.) safety/corner prospect Nigel Green.
Yes, I threw a lot of names at you today but that's how it is this time of the year. Things will narrow down after camps, especially with MSU having a small number to sign for its 2012 class. I am also certain I left out a possible candidate or two, which is where you guys enter the picture and let me know of your candidates.
And later this week we move on to the offensive side so stay turned.