Recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network has just begun his annual coast-to-coast safaris to evaluate the top 2,000 high school players in the class of 2014. He recently returned from a trip to Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee and believes he already has identified the No. 1 prospect in the nation.
He is 6-foot-1, 225-pound running back Leonard Fournette of St. Augustin in New Orleans, Louisiana. He likely will choose Alabama, LSU or USC but has offers from Florida to Notre Dame to Texas to Michigan. He has 21.9 speed for 200 meters.
"He is one of the best running backs I have seen in the last few years. He reminds me of Adrian Peterson but he isn't quite as fast," Lemming said. "I sat with him and his coach and watched six game films. He is averaging 11.5 yards per carry and 25 yards per reception. He has great power and speed. It will be tough for anyone to surpass Fournette as No. 1."
From North Carolina across the deep South to Louisiana, Lemming said there is no better talent in the country. He hasn't been to Georgia and Florida yet. But this is SEC and ACC country and Lemming already has identified the leading prospects in the nation at running back, offensive tackle and cornerback.
Lemming, who also has evaluated talent in Illinois and Missouri, said at least two Chicago area products are in the mix--Marist tight end Nic Weishar and Plainfield South linebacker Clifton Garrett.
His next trip is to Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He will cover four/fifths of the nation by February. He will evaluate the top 2,000 juniors, most of them in person. He will personally interview nearly all of the top 300 players.
"I see all of them on film. That's the best way to scout," Lemming said. "I go to combines but they are vastly overrated in ranking players because the kids aren't playing football. It is like ranking baseball players by seeing them run sprints. You have to see them play football in order to accurately and objectively rank them as players."
The best player in Missouri is 6-foot-6, 320-pound offensive tackle Roderick Johnson of Hazelwood, a St. Louis suburb. Ohio State and Iowa have offered.
Alabama has two players who could rank in the top 10 nationally--6-foot-175-pound Marlon Humphrey of Hoover, arguably the best cornerback in the nation, and 6-foot-2, 220-pound running back Bo Scarbrough of Tuscalossa. Humprhey, son of former Alabama star Bobby Humphrey, likely will commit to Alabama. Scarbrough is committed to Alabama but has offers from Notre Dame and Michigan.
Another Alabama product who impressed was 6-foot-2 220-pound linebacker Tre Williams of Mobile.
The best offensive tackle in the nation could be 6-foot-6, 330-pound Cam Robinson of West Monroe, Louisiana. "I saw him play last week and he has great feet," Lemming said.
In the same game, Lemming observed two other players from Monroe, Louisiana--6-foot-4, 195-pound wide receiver Cameron Sims, who caught eight passes for 180 yards in the game, and 6-foot-2, 215-pound Laurence Jones, probably the best safety in Louisiana.
"All three should be playing in the NFL someday," Lemming said.
Mississippi's top prospects are 5-foot-11, 195-pound running back D.K. Buford of Oxford, 6-foot-1, 205-pound running back Aeris Williams of West Point and 5-foot-11, 175-pound running back/defensive back Jamoral Graham of Decatur.
In Tennessee, Lemming was impressed by 6-foot-6, 275-pound offensive tackle Alex Bars of Nashville and 6-foot-2, 190-pound wide receiver Josh Malone of Gallatin.
Bars, who has offers from Michigan and Ohio State, is the son of Joe Bars, who played at Notre Dame. His brother Blake is a freshman at Michigan and his brother Brad is at Penn State. Malone also has offers from Michigan and Ohio State.
According to Lemming, a sleeper in the class of 2013 is 6-foot-6, 250-pound defensive end Chris Jones of Houston, Mississippi. He is committed to Mississippi State and has been invited to the U.S. Marines' Semper Fidelis All-American football game.
"He will be a top 100 player before his senior year is over. He is a potential first-round draft choice in the NFL," Lemming said.
Lemming also predicts that Crete-Monee wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, perhaps the best uncommitted player in the class of 2013, could follow former teammate and best friend Anthony Standifer to Ole Miss. Oklahoma, Michigan and Oklahoma State also are in the mix.
After visiting with coach Nick Saban and his staff at Alabama, Lemming said it is easy to understand why the Crimson Tide are at the top of the mountain in college football.
"Without a doubt, Alabama has the best organized and prolific scouting organization in the country," he said. "They are so efficient, they even know about freshmen who are starting. They know everybody. If you want to learn about Recruiting 101, spend a day at Alabama. I picked up things in one day that I didn't know in my 34 years.
"Saban doesn't golf for a hobby, he is recruiting underclassmen. The top kids call them because he can't call them according to NCAA rules. They have everything going for them--smarts, precision, organization and non-stop aggressiveness."
But Lemming described Mississippi State and coach Dan Mullen as "the up-and-coming school in the SEC." Mullen just added former Illinois player and Minnesota coach Tim Brewster to his staff. Brewster, according to Lemming, is one of the nation's top 10 recruiters over the last 30 years. Remember, Brewster lured Julius Peppers to North Carolina and Vince Young to Texas.
And what about Vanderbilt, which has emerged as one of the most visible and successful recruiters in the Chicago area?
Lemming credits coach James Franklin, whom he describes as "one of the super up-and-coming head coach recruiters in the country along with Lane Kiffin of USC and Al Golden of Miami."
"Franklin is one of the best young recruiters in the country," Lemming said. "Vanderbilt is the only academic school in the SEC. But they are recruiting nationally and they are competing with all of the top programs with their aggressive approach. They will just keep getting better."
And why are more of the nation's top seniors choosing to participate in the Under Armour all-star football game rather than the more established U.S. Army game and the newer Semper Fidelis game?
"Kids are making their decisions on the basis of who gives the most equipment and Under Armour is giving hundreds and thousands of dollars-worth of equipment to influence kids. Now it is a bidding war," Lemming said.