Most of the talk on college football’s national signing day centers around which true freshman can make the biggest impact for a program for that upcoming season. While true freshman often make big contributions, the impact junior college recruits can have on the BCS level shouldn't be overlooked. While recruiting a JUCO prospect is risky, they are solid stop-gap solutions and a short-term answer for a team that might be short on depth at a particular position.
Kansas State is usually one of the top programs for JUCO talent, so it’s no surprise the Wildcats signed six community college prospects. In-state rival Kansas topped Kansas State in JUCO signees this year, as Charlie Weis is bringing in a whopping 17 recruits. For a team that won just one game last year, loading up on JUCO prospects should bring hope the Jayhawks can make some progress in 2013. However, relying on junior college prospects also cuts down on the amount of freshmen a team can bring in, which is a concern for the long-term outlook of the program.
Identifying which junior college prospects will make the biggest impact is no easy task. Athlon has compiled a list of 15 impact junior college transfers, as well as a list of other players to watch in 2013.
15 Impact JUCO Transfers to Watch in College Football for 2013
Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Auburn
Gus Malzahn is one of the best offensive minds in college football, but he will have his hands full after Auburn finished 2012 ranked 115th nationally in total offense and 112th in scoring. The Tigers need to find an answer at quarterback but also need help at running back. Tre Mason rushed for 1,002 yards and eight scores last season, but depth is an issue with Onterio McCalebb expiring his eligibility and Mike Blakely deciding to transfer. Mason should be the lead back for Malzahn, but Artis-Payne should see plenty of carries. The Pennsylvania native rushed for 2,048 yards and 25 touchdowns at Allan Hancock (Calif.) College in 2012 and ranked as the No. 1 JUCO running back by Rivals. Expect to see plenty of Artis-Payne in 2013.
Leon Brown, OT, Alabama
With the departures of center Barrett Jones, guard Chance Warmack and tackle D.J. Fluker, Alabama’s offensive line must be rebuilt in 2013. The Crimson Tide have recruited well, so there’s no shortage of options for Nick Saban. Adding to the rebuilding project will be a new coach, as Jeff Stoutland left for the NFL. Brown spent the last two years at ASA College in New York and ranked as the No. 10 JUCO recruit by ESPN. At 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, he has the strength to move defensive linemen in the rush game, while possessing the athleticism to hold his own in pass protection. As with any JUCO recruit, Brown could use some development. However, he’s expected to help replace one of the three standout linemen Alabama lost after winning its third national title in four seasons.
Marquel Combs, DT, Kansas
After winning just three games over the last two years, Charlie Weis turned to the JUCO ranks for immediate help. The Jayhawks signed 17 junior college recruits this year, which Weis hopes will turn Kansas into a more competitive team in 2013. Combs ranked as the No. 3 prospect by ESPN and comes to Lawrence after two years at Pierce College in California. As a sophomore last season, he recorded 7.5 tackles for a loss, along with two sacks. Combs may not be a force in terms of statistics, but he should factor prominently into the rush defense, which could use a lot of help after allowing 192.6 yards per game last year.
Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
The Cornhuskers gave up only 105 points during their final six regular-season games but allowed 115 combined points in losses to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship and Georgia in the Capital One Bowl. In addition to finding the right solutions for a defense that struggled to get stops late in the year, Nebraska loses five key contributors from its defensive line. Gregory is one of six defensive linemen joining the Cornhuskers this season but is the only junior college prospect. He missed 2012 due to injury, yet ranked as the No. 2 JUCO prospect by ESPN. In his freshman season at Arizona Western College, Gregory recorded 82 tackles and nine sacks. After missing a year, Gregory will have to knock off some rust this spring. However, with the personnel losses and the struggles Nebraska had on defense late in the year, Gregory is being counted on to be a key member of the line in 2013.
Marcus Hardison, DT, Arizona State
Despite having the Pac-12 Defensive Player of Year (Will Sutton) anchoring the middle of the line, Arizona State allowed 182.9 rushing yards per game. If the Sun Devils want to push for the Pac-12 South title, addressing the run defense is one of the offseason’s top priorities. And landing Hardison from Dodge City (Kan.) Community College should be a huge help for Sutton and Arizona State’s defense. The 6-foot-5, 290-pound tackle ranked as the No. 5 JUCO prospect by ESPN and No. 14 by Rivals, while recording 50 tackles and four sacks last season. Hardison brings a good mix of speed and athleticism to Tempe, and coach Todd Graham and coordinator Paul Randolph are counting on him to contribute right away in 2013.
Lavon Hooks, DT, Ole Miss
Not only did Ole Miss land the nation’s No. 1 high school prospect (Robert Nkemdiche), but it also picked up the services of the top JUCO recruit (according to ESPN) in Hooks. The 6-foot-4, 290 pound defensive tackle recorded 9.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles for a loss at Northeast Mississippi Community College last season. In addition to his time on the gridiron, Hooks showcased his athletic ability by playing basketball and leading the MACJC in rebounding as a freshman. Depth and talent in the trenches is always needed in the SEC, and it appears Hugh Freeze and his staff did an excellent job of rebuilding the Rebels’ defensive line for 2013. With defensive tackles Gilbert Pena and Uriah Grant departing, Hooks will be counted on to have a key role in the defense this year.
Deon Long, WR, Maryland
Long started his collegiate career at West Virginia but transferred to New Mexico before playing a down in Morgantown. The Washington D.C. native starred in his one and only season with the Lobos, catching 47 passes for 809 yards and four touchdowns. Long transferred to Iowa Western Community College after Mike Locksley was fired at New Mexico and led the NJCAA with 100 receptions, 1,625 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns in 2012. Long is reunited with Locksley in College Park and should team with emerging star Stefon Diggs to form a solid tandem for the Maryland quarterbacks.
Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn
Marshall is undoubtedly one of the most interesting JUCO prospects in the class of 2013. He was an excellent athlete in high school and played defensive back with Georgia in 2011, recording five tackles in 13 games. However, Marshall was dismissed from the team last February and landed at Garden City (Kan.) Community College in an attempt to resurrect his career. Instead of playing defensive back, he shifted back to his high school position of quarterback and threw for 3,142 yards and 18 touchdowns, while adding 1,095 yards and 19 scores on the ground last year. Marshall’s dual-threat ability is a good fit for Gus Malzahn’s offense, but he will have to compete against two quarterbacks that have experience at the SEC level in preseason practice (Jonathan Wallace and Kiehl Frazier).
Chris Martin, DE, Kansas
Martin is no stranger to BCS teams, as he signed with Cal coming out of high school and spent the 2010 season with Florida. Martin was regarded as one of the top-20 high school recruits by Rivals and ranked No. 13 on its list of top JUCO players for 2013. Martin spent 2012 at City College of San Francisco, recording 65 tackles and 4.5 sacks. The California native isn’t the only junior college recruit headed to Lawrence, as coach Charlie Weis signed 16 other JUCO players, including defensive tackle Marquel Combs. Martin should help add some punch to a pass attack that averaged just one sack a game, while helping to fill the void left behind by departing seniors Josh Williams and Toben Opurum.
Chris Mayes, DT, Georgia
For any 3-4 defense to work, it has to have a big, space-eating defensive tackle on the interior. With Georgia losing John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers (each over 350 pounds), the Bulldogs needed to land a potential starter on the recruiting trail. Mayes initially signed with Georgia in 2011 but did not qualify academically. He recorded 17 tackles and a forced fumble in 2011 at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College but redshirted in 2012. Mayes is still a work in progress but with his size, he figures to contribute to the Georgia defensive line rotation prominently in 2013.
Kyle Peko, DT, Oregon State
Led by defensive end Scott Crichton and tackles Castro Masaniai and Andrew Seumalo, the Beavers showcased one of the nation’s most-improved rush defenses in 2012. After allowing 196.8 yards per game in 2011, Oregon State held opponents to 129.5 yards per contest in 2012. Crichton is one of the Pac-12’s top defensive ends, but the Beavers must replace Masaniai and Seumalo, leaving a gaping hole on the interior of the line. Peko was ranked as the No. 22 JUCO prospect by ESPN and recorded 46 tackles and three sacks last season at Cerritos (Calif.) College. Considering the losses on the line, Peko is expected to contribute for a starting spot this fall.
Quincy Russell, DT, Oklahoma
Fixing the rush defense is a top priority for Bob and Mike Stoops this offseason, especially after the Sooners allowed 192.2 yards per game on the ground last year. Making matters worse for Oklahoma is the departure of tackles Casey Walker, Stacy McGee and Jamarkus McFarland, along with ends R.J. Washington and David King. Considering the personnel departures and the spread offenses in the Big 12, the Sooners may mix in more 3-4 personnel in 2013. Russell was a key pickup for Oklahoma on the recruiting trail, as he adds much-needed bulk to the interior. The Texas native was a first-team NJCAA All-American at Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College and ranked as the No. 39 JUCO prospect by ESPN. Even if Russell doesn’t make a huge impact, he’s a valuable depth addition and should help Oklahoma improve its rush defense.
Corey Smith, WR, Ohio State
With a 12-0 record last season and most of its core returning for 2013, the Buckeyes are among the top contenders to play for the national title. While there are some concerns about the defensive line, the offense is hoping to jumpstart a passing attack that ranked 101st nationally last year. To help take some of the pressure off of quarterback Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes are bringing in running back Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott, along with receivers James Clark and Jalin Marshall. However, perhaps the most interesting addition came through the junior college ranks. Ohio State doesn’t recruit JUCO players often, which means Smith isn’t being brought in to sit on the bench. The Ohio native caught 51 passes for 733 yards and nine touchdowns at East Mississippi Community College last year, while posting 28 receptions for 438 yards as a freshman at Grand Rapids Community College in 2011. Smith doesn’t need to emerge as Miller’s go-to threat, but he should be a valuable pickup for a team that had only two wide receivers catch more than 15 passes last year.
Jake Waters, QB, Kansas State
Replacing Collin Klein is no easy task, but the Wildcats have two talented options waiting in the wings. Daniel Sams showcased potential in limited action last year, while Waters led Iowa Western Community College to a national title last season. The 6-foot-2 passer finished the year with 3,501 yards and 39 touchdown tosses, while throwing just three interceptions. Waters ranked as the No. 1 JUCO quarterback by Rivals, and he will have an opportunity to steal the starting job away from Sams in the spring.
Sam Wren, DE, Oklahoma State
With both of the Cowboys’ defensive ends departing seniors, Mike Gundy and coordinator Glenn Spencer dipped into the JUCO ranks to pick up Wren, who could be a potential starter in 2013. The Texas native ranked as a top-20 junior college recruit by ESPN and was a first-team All-Western States Football League selection in 2012. Wren also recorded 14.5 sacks last season at Arizona Western College and possesses good speed and explosiveness off of the edge. Although Wren could add some bulk and contribute in an every-down role, his best fit right away appears to be as a pass-rush specialist in 2013.
Others to Watch
Ben Bradley, DT, Auburn
Nick Brassell, ATH, Ole Miss
Chris Brown, DT, Kansas State
Bear Cummings, DT, Florida
Tyler Ferguson, QB, Penn State
Shaquille Fluker, DB, Georgia
d’Vante Henry, LB, West Virginia
Andre Lewis, WR, Utah
Vincent Mayle, WR, Washington State
Tanner McEvoy, QB, Wisconsin
Devon Nash, DE, Kansas State
Damond Powell, WR, Iowa
Jonathon Rumph, WR, Georgia
Beau Sandland, TE, Miami
Dreamius Smith, RB, West Virginia
Za’Darius Smith, DE, Kentucky
Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
Aaron Wimberly, RB, Iowa State
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