August 23, 2006

Nobody's perfect: Sleepers we never saw coming

Nobody's perfect.

Rivals.com missed on Virginia offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, giving him a three-star ranking in 2002. We missed on Ohio State's A.J. Hawk, another three-star in the class of 2002. They were the fourth and fifth picks in April's NFL Draft.

But coaches are flawed, too.

Utah was one of the only schools to offer a scholarship to a two-star recruit from La Mesa, Calif., named Alex Smith. The quarterback went on to become the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft.

Ferguson, Hawk and Smith are classic examples of sleepers. Maybe you didn't pay attention to them during recruiting. Maybe you didn't pay attention to them when they came in during mop-up duty. But eventually, they will be noticed.

This is your guide to who could break out this season.

These are the rules for being a sleeper on this list: The player was not a four- or five-star recruit, did not make a postseason all-freshman team and did not make a preseason all-conference team.

Here's your countdown of the top sleepers for 2006:

Rivals.com 2006 Preseason Impact Sleepers
1. Minnesota running back Amir Pinnix, Jr.
The Gophers have had two 1,000-yard rushers in each of the last three seasons. While that likely won't happen this year with the departure of Laurence Maroney, the ineligibility of Gary Russell and the suspension of JUCO transfer Brylee Callender, Pinnix should put up big numbers even behind a rebuilding offensive line. In his only game as the featured back, Pinnix carried the ball 32 times for 206 yards and a touchdown against Michigan State while Maroney was sidelined.
2. Virginia Tech running back Branden Ore, So.
Ore spent the 2005 season playing behind leading rusher Cedric Humes and Mike Imoh, but he still managed to rush for 647 yards and 5.9 yards per carry. The injury to Imoh gave Ore a chance to emerge at midseason. He ran for 470 yards, including three 100-yard games, over a six-game span to end the regular season. This year, he's the Hokies' top option at running back.
3. Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill, R-Fr.
Hill nearly claimed the backup job to Brian Calhoun as a true freshman in 2005 before a broken leg kept him out for the season. Now, he's slated to take over full-time for Calhoun. Entering the season his is the No. 1 running back ahead of junior Jamil Walker and Dywon Rowan. He'll look to continue the Badgers' tradition of powerful running backs.
4. Alabama linebacker Terrence Jones, Sr.
A Tuscaloosa County High graduate, Jones has spent the last three seasons as a backup. This year, his time has come. He'll start in All-American DeMeco Ryans' spot at strongside linebacker and provide a veteran presence on a defense that lost Ryans, linebacker Freddie Roach and five other starters. He showed he's ready to seize the opportunity by receiving the Lee Roy Jordan Headhunter Award after spring practice.
5. Iowa linebacker Mike Humpal, Jr.
The Hawkeyes lost the Chad Greenway-Abdul Hodge linebacker combo to the NFL this offseason, but coach Kirk Ferentz could have another find in Humpal. The junior will move into Greenway's spot at outside linebacker. Humpal had 25 tackles as a backup last year and has the athleticism (a state wrestling champion and state runner-up in hurdles in high school) to become another one of the Hawkeyes' tackling machines.
6. Wake Forest running back Micah Andrews, Jr.
Andrews, the son of former Auburn and Atlanta Falcons running back William Andrews, has spent the last two seasons sitting behind Chris Barclay. The ACC Player of the Year in 2005, Barclay led the league in rushing three times. In Andrews' first chance to steal the spotlight, he ran 34 times for 254 yards in the 2005 opener against Vanderbilt while Barclay sat out because of a suspension.
7. Texas Tech safety Darcel McBath, So.
McBath, a former three-star prospect who was offered a scholarship by Notre Dame, moved from cornerback to safety in the spring and claimed the starting free safety job formerly occupied by Dwayne Slay. If he can avoid the injuries that have slowed his career so far, McBath could become an all-conference player.
8. UCLA running back Chris Markey, Jr.
Markey has spent the last two seasons in the shadow of Maurice Drew at UCLA, but this year it will be his turn in the spotlight. He has taken advantage of Drew's absence in the past, running 24 times for 161 yards against Northwestern in the Sun Bowl after Drew was injured. A year earlier as a true freshman, Markey filled in for an injured Drew against Oregon and ran for 131 yards. He also added 84 yards receiving.
9. Oklahoma State linebacker Chris Collins, T-Fr.
Collins, who was at one time a four-star Rivals100 member, has not played football since his junior year of high school when he was charged with sexual assault on a 12-year-old girl. He originally committed to Texas during his junior year of high school in 2004, but the Longhorns backed off their recruitment. Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy gave him a second chance when Collins enrolled in January. The case is still pending, but Collins will likely start for the Cowboys after being the talk of spring practice and fall camp.
10. Texas A&M safety Devin Gregg, So.
Gregg had 31 tackles in six games (three starts) as a true freshman before claiming a regular starting spot at free safety during the spring. He will play a big part in Gary Darnell's new 4-2-5 scheme an alignment Aggies fans hope will improve the nation's worst pass defense.
Best of the rest (in alphabetical order)
Purdue running back Kory Sheets, So.
Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher, So.
Colorado running back Hugh Charles, Jr.
Nebraska running back Cody Glenn, So.
Boston College wide receiver Tony Gonzalez, Sr.
Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter, So.
Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel, So.
Indiana running back Marcus Thigpen, So.
Oregon State wide receiver Anthony Wheat-Brown, Jr.
Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson, So.
Kansas linebacker Eric Washington, Sr.
The Rivals Five
Veterans who need to emerge: Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson was last season's revelation, erasing memories of lackluster seasons by leading his team to a Big Ten title his senior year. Here are five players you already know who need to emerge this season:
1. Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge, Jr.
The Volunteers hope new offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe can unleash Ainge's potential. Also helping is his tight grip on the starting spot, which he has shared with Brent Schaeffer and Rick Clausen the last two years.
2. Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball, Sr.
Working in his favor is All-American wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Working against him is a 49.8 completion percentage and 37-41 touchdown-to-interception ratio in three years as a starter.
3. Miami wide receiver Lance Leggett, Jr.
The former five-star recruit averaged 20.5 yards per catch and had four TDs as a true freshman, but regressed last year. Miami will need him to return to that form this year, especially considering the recent troubles of senior receiver Ryan Moore.
4. Florida State running back Lorenzo Booker, Sr.
Booker ran for a career-high 887 yards as a sophomore but dipped to 552 last year while splitting carries with Leon Washington. Although he set a career high with 329 receiving yards in 2005, more than 68 all-purpose yards per game will be expected of Booker.
5. Oregon State quarterback Matt Moore, Sr.
Even Biletnikoff winner Mike Hass could not save Moore from throwing 19 interceptions, which tied for the most in the nation. Moore will have to cut down on turnovers if the Beavers are to return to a bowl game.

More Preseason Player Rankings:
Quarterbacks | Running backs | Offensive linemen | Kickers/Punters | Wider receivers | Tight ends

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