Incoming freshmen usually steal the spotlight on college football’s signing day, but there’s no shortage of intrigue and potential surrounding the junior college recruits that may have inked signed in December.
While the transition from junior college to the FBS level is challenging, prospects already have at least one year of playing experience and are usually recruited to fill a specific void for the upcoming season.
The 2015 recruiting haul of junior college prospects is no exception, as several key transfers are headed to the SEC, with Auburn’s Jovon Robinson expected to be an impact performer. Outside of the SEC, Penn State tackle Paris Palmer, Florida State’s Lorenzo Phillips and USC receiver De’Quan Hampton are other names to watch.
Here’s a quick look at some of the key impact junior college recruits for 2015:
15 Impact Junior College Transfers for 2015
Tony Bridges, CB, Ole Miss
247Sports Composite Rank: No. 7 Overall, No. 1 CB
The Rebels had one of the stingiest pass defenses in the SEC last season, limiting opponents to just 12 touchdown passes and 192.1 yards per game. This unit has some offseason work ahead, as standout cornerback Senquez Golson and safety Cody Prewitt have expired their eligibility. Golson’s ball skills will be missed after he recorded 10 interceptions and eight pass breakups last year. Bridges was a late flip to Ole Miss from Auburn, and the 6-foot-2 defensive back arrives in Oxford after earning NJCAA first-team All-America honors in 2014.
Chris Carson, RB, Oklahoma State
247Sports Composite Rank: No. 23 Overall, No. 4 RB
Carson was a late flip from Georgia to Oklahoma State, and the Georgia native should be an instant-impact performer for the Cowboys. With three quarterbacks receiving snaps under center and a revamped offensive line, 2014 was a transition year for Oklahoma State’s offense. The Cowboys averaged only 121.7 rushing yards per game in Big 12 action. With Desmond Roland (770 yards) out of eligibility, combined with the dismissal of Tyreek Hill (534 yards), Rennie Childs (294 yards) is the team’s top option at running back. Expect Carson to at least earn a split of the carries in 2015, as his 6-foot-2 frame should add some punch to the rushing attack.
Davon Durant, LB, Arizona State
247Sports Composite Rank: No. 6 Overall, No. 1 ILB
Arizona State’s defense returns largely intact next season, but Durant is expected to carve out meaningful playing time in coach Todd Graham’s aggressive scheme. Durant is expected to push for time at the Devilbacker position (defensive end/linebacker hybrid) in 2015, but even if he doesn’t start there, the South Carolina native will carve out snaps somewhere in the linebacking corps and add depth to a unit that already features Viliami Moeakiola, Salamo Fiso and Antonio Longino. Durant played in five games at Butler Community College in 2014 and recorded 45 tackles and three sacks.
Justin Evans, S, Texas A&M
247Sports Composite Rank: No. 29 Overall, No. 3 S
It’s no secret Texas A&M needs to upgrade its defense in order to win the SEC West. The Aggies took a big step towards that goal by hiring John Chavis away from LSU to coordinate the defense, and coach Kevin Sumlin also reeled in another elite class to upgrade the talent. Evans will have an opportunity to earn immediate playing time this season after the Aggies allowed 15 passing scores in SEC play. The Mississippi native intercepted six passes over the last two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and earned first-team All-MACJC honors in 2014.
Devonte Fields, DE, Louisville
247Sports Composite Rank: No. 5 Overall, No. 1 WDE
Fields is easily the most accomplished player on this list. The Texas native had a standout freshman campaign at TCU in 2012, earning AP Big 12 Defensive Player of the year honors after recording 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for a loss. After an off-field incident prior to 2014, Fields was dismissed from TCU and landed at Trinity Valley Community College. Last season, Fields appeared in 12 games and recorded 6.5 sacks. With Lorenzo Mauldin and B.J. Dubose out of eligibility, Louisville is counting on Fields to help keep the pass rush near the top of the ACC. Fields has potential to earn All-ACC honors in 2015.
De’Quan Hampton, WR, USC
247Sports Composite Rank: No. 13 Overall, No. 2 WR
High expectations surround USC in 2015, and the Trojans could be a national title contender if all of the pieces fall into place. One area coach Steve Sarkisian will be watching this spring is the receiving corps. Top target Nelson Agholor left for the NFL after grabbing 104 receptions in 2014. JuJu Smith is back after a standout freshman campaign (54 catches), but quarterback Cody Kessler needs a No. 2 and No. 3 target to emerge. Could Hampton – a 6-foot-4 physical target – be one of the answers? Kessler and Sarkisian certainly hope Hampton can help ease the departure of Agholor, while teaming with Smith, fellow junior college recruit Isaac Whitney and Darreus Rogers to keep USC’s passing offense performing at a high level.
D.J. Jones, DT, Ole Miss
247Sports Composite Rank: No. 4 Overall, No. 1 DT
The Rebels have upgraded their talent and overall depth up front in recent years, and coach Hugh Freeze and line coach Chris Kiffin appear to have another standout coming to Oxford in Jones. The South Carolina native spent two years at East Mississippi Community College and recorded 12 sacks in that span. At 310 pounds, Jones has the size to push for snaps on the interior, which should help to spell Robert Nkemdiche and Issac Gross. Look for Jones to be a disruptive force for Ole Miss in 2015.
Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee
247Sports Composite Rank: No. 2 Overall, No. 2 RB
Coach Butch Jones continues to elevate the talent level in Knoxville, and the 2015 signing class could feature a handful of impact newcomers. One of the top names to watch is Kamara, as the former Alabama running back should team with sophomore Jalen Hurd to form one of the top one-two backfield combinations in the SEC next year. Kamara redshirted at Alabama in 2013 and spent 2014 at Hutchinson Community College. In his only year in the junior college ranks, Kamara rushed for 1,211 yards and 18 scores.
Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss
247Sports Composite Rank: No. 37 Overall, No. 1 QB
If the Rebels can find an answer at quarterback, coach Hugh Freeze’s team certainly has the talent to win the SEC West next year. Kelly redshirted at Clemson in 2012 and played in five games with the Tigers in 2013. The New York native was dismissed in the spring of 2014 and landed at East Mississippi Community College. Kelly threw for 3,906 yards and 47 scores last season in the junior college ranks. The 6-foot-3 quarterback had an off-field incident in December, but assuming he stays out of trouble, Kelly has a good chance to start the opener against UT Martin.
Jeremiah Ledbetter, DT, Arkansas
247Sports Composite Rank: No. 18 Overall, No. 2 DT
Coach Bret Bielema has Arkansas headed in the right direction, and the Razorbacks should take a step forward in the win column in 2015. Coordinator Robb Smith was one of the SEC’s top assistant hires last season, as Arkansas’ defense made steady gains throughout the year. Smith will have his work cut out for him in the spring, especially up front where end Trey Flowers and defensive tackle Darius Philon are off to the NFL. Ledbetter was an active defensive lineman at Hutchinson Community College the last two seasons, recording 22.5 career sacks and second-team NJCAA All-American honors in 2014. He should help soften the blow of Philon’s early departure to the NFL.
Marquavius Lewis/Dante Sawyer, DE, South Carolina
247Sports Composite Rank: Lewis: No. 3 Overall, No. 1 DE, Sawyer: No. 16 Overall, No. 2 WDE
South Carolina’s defense is looking for answers after allowing 6.2 yards per play and giving up 36.8 points per game (SEC-only contests) in 2014. Coach Steve Spurrier adjusted the coaching staff to provide help, hiring Jon Hoke to team with Lorenzo Ward as co-defensive coordinators. The Gamecocks also dipped into the junior college ranks by bringing in Sawyer and Lewis. Both players are expected to help jumpstart an anemic pass rush that registered only eight sacks in SEC play last season. Lewis recorded 18.5 sacks in two years at Hutchinson Community College.
Paris Palmer, OT, Penn State
247Sports Composite Rank: No. 12 Overall, No. 2 OT
Improving the offensive line is expected to be the biggest area of focus for coach James Franklin and line coach Herb Hand this spring. The Nittany Lions allowed 44 sacks last season and had their scoring average drop from 28.7 in 2013 to 20.6 in 2014. Adding to the preseason concerns for this unit was the departure of left tackle Donovan Smith to the NFL. Palmer is expected to help ease the loss of Smith and strengthen the line at one of the tackle spots after playing two years at Lackawanna College.
Lorenzo Phillips, LB, Florida State
247Sports Composite Rank: No. 17 Overall, No. 1 OLB
Florida State’s defense has to room to improve after allowing 5.5 yards per play last season. The Seminoles enter spring with a few question marks, starting up front with the departure of tackle Eddie Goldman and end Mario Edwards Jr., while the linebacking corps dealt with numerous injuries last season. Linebacker Reggie Northrup’s availability for the 2015 season is also in question due to a torn ACL. Playing time in the front seven is certainly available for Phillips, as the Louisiana native is an instant-impact recruit for the Seminoles. In 2014, Phillips recorded 14 sacks and 18.5 tackles for a loss at East Mississippi Community College. Phillips won’t arrive until the summer, but he has potential to help in the front seven as an edge rusher.
Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississippi State
247Sports Composite Rank: No. 9 Overall, No. 1 OT
Mississippi State returns one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in senior Dak Prescott, but the line loses three starters, including left tackle Blaine Clausell. However, the Bulldogs may not see a drop in performance by the offensive line if Rankin is able to secure a starting spot this offseason. The Mississippi native enrolled in time to compete in the spring after earning All MACJC honors in 2014. At 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, Rankin already has the size needed to compete right away in the brutal SEC West.
Jovon Robinson, RB, Auburn
247Sports Composite Rank: No. 1 Overall, No. 1 RB
Robinson originally committed out of high school to Auburn but was ruled ineligible after a guidance counselor at his high school (Wooddale) changed one his grades to help the running back qualify in 2012. Robinson was the NJCAA player of the year in 2013 after rushing for 2,387 yards and 34 scores. With Cameron Artis-Payne, Nick Marshall and Corey Grant departing, the Roc Thomas (214 yards) and Peyton Barber (54) are the top returning options at running back. Robinson is expected to win the starting job and push for 1,000 yards for coach Gus Malzahn’s high-powered offense in 2015.
Other Key JUCO Transfers to Watch in 2015
Chase Abbington, RB, Missouri
Cory Butler, DB, Utah
Johnathan Calvin, DL, Mississippi State
Malik Cuellar, OL, Missouri
Jeremy Cutrer, S, LSU
Jamal Danley, OL, Oklahoma
Allen Edwards, DL, Pittsburgh
Anthony Fotu, DL, Arizona
Marcell Frazier, DL, Missouri
Donald Gray, WR, Mississippi State
Paul Harris, WR, Louisville
Brandon Hodges, OT, Texas
Tyler Howell, OL, Missouri
Khalil Hunter, OL, Louisville
William Johnson, CB, Oklahoma
Traver Jung, LB, Mississippi State
Shalom Luani, S, Washington State
Justin Martin, CB, Tennessee
Kameron Miles, S, Boise State
Nehemiah Mitchell, DE/LB, Vanderbilt
Camion Patrick, WR, Indiana
Aaron Porter, LB, Washington State
Maurice Porter, OT, Baylor
Dominique Reed, WR, Arkansas
DeVondre Seymour, OT, Georgia
Jason Smith, QB/ATH, Auburn
Jeremy Smith, RB, Louisville
Maurice Swain, DT, Auburn
Jonathan Taylor, DT, Alabama
Demond Tucker, DT, Iowa State
Quincy Vasser, DL, Texas
Isaac Whitney,WR, USC