Of course Duke didn't load up on players at the skill position. As any football analyst or coach will tell you, all the skill in the world doesn't mean anything if you can't block the other team's defense. As such Cutcliffe's staff will welcome a pair of highly rated tight ends and four solid offensive linemen.
So which players should you keep an eye on heading into the summer sessions? Who may have an inside track at playing as a true freshman? Who will become the foundation for the defense in the years to come? Which defensive players were the biggest "gets"? Which under the radar commits will burst onto the scene? TDD offers our picks below.
Offensive Players - Signing Day Superlatives:
Biggest Commitment: Originally committed to Rutgers, local prospect Desmond Scott had a change of heart back in July when he backed out of that decision and cast his lot with Duke. Rated as the nation's #30 running back and a four star prospect, Scott joins last year's recruiting prize, quarterback Sean Renfree, as the program's first two four star players under Cutcliffe. Scott could challenge for immediate playing time on Special teams, but with the medical redshirt of Re'quan Boyette applying a season ago, the Duke backfield has enough talent and depth to allow Scott a year to come in and work to on adding some extra strength in preparation of the physical demands of an ACC running back. Of course, he may very well bring enough to the table to avoid that year of being an understudy. When he does finally get on the field look for Scott's versatility to give Duke a major weapon out of the backfield either via handoff, pitch, or the passing game. Despite being just 5'9 and 180 pounds, Scott showed a good deal of toughness this season - finishing his runs and blocking in the passing game. He's got great hands and will add an immediate homerun threat to the Duke running game.
Most Likely To Be Seen In 2009: In the past Duke has made it clear that as the program continues to be built up, the best players will see the field early and often. Usually on the offensive side of the ball that means you are most likely to see skill players on the field early in their careers. The same could hold true this season for Duke. A season ago Coach Cutcliffe showcased a number of young receivers getting crucial minutes. Most of that group returns, but the Blue Devils do lose senior play-maker Eron Riley which may open up a spot for players like Conner Vernon or, our pick, Tyree Watkins. Duke has several TEs on the roster, but it's feasible for a guy such as John Farrell to break into the 2-deep. Another consideration could be Scott, who has a ton of talent and may, indeed, have too much talent to keep the redshirt away.
Honorable Mention: Ryan Hall has the size of a high major tight end and he had a solid offer sheet. Still, Duke has a number of talented prospects including Brett Huffman, Danny Parker, and Kenny Anunike. Farrell and Hall are closer to Huffman in terms of style of play and that may count for something depending on the role of the position in the offense. A sleeper pick could be offensive lineman David Harding. While it's unlikely that the Florida prospect will start, he could certainly make the two deep as a guard. Harding is the most ready of the four linemen commitments and had an offer sheet from a number of name programs including Florida State, Georgia Tech, South Carolina, West Virginia, as well as interest from Florida. Usually linemen take the longest to develop, but as noted above the Blue Devils are in a position where those players who give the program the best chance to win will get on the field - regardless of class.
Biggest Steal of the Class: Scott is certainly up there, but heavy consideration could be given to his high school teammate Corey Gattis who has emerged as one of the top overall athletes in the group and a key player getting Scott to switch his commitment. Aside from his obvious recruiting prowess, Gattis is a tremendous athlete who played quarterback at Hillside but projects to move out to receiver when he arrives at Duke. Gattis is a true student of the game and impressed scouts at the Shrine Bowl with his perimeter blocking and crisp routes. With the Blue Devil passing attack looking to get stronger and stronger in the coming years as the program transitions from Thaddeus Lewis to prized third year to be sophomore Sean Renfree in 2010, athletic receivers will become more and more crucial and a kid who is around 6'0 and 190lbs while running a 4.5 forty will certainly factor in.
Honorable Mention: In keeping with the theme of athletic receivers and the very definition of a "recruiting steal"...you could also consider New Jersey product Tyree Watkins who changed his decision from Virginia to Duke within the last two weeks after taking a visit to Durham. Watkins may very well show up on the 2009 box scores with some frequency. A 6'1 190lbs receiver with a 4.6 forty and an offer sheet that includes Penn State, Pittsburgh, Iowa State, Virginia, Rutgers, Syracuse, Stanford, and Iowa, Watkins was a late addition to the overall class and may very well end up as a regular player on Saturdays in just a few months.
Complete Offensive Recruiting Class Breakdown:
QB: Sean Schroeder (6'3, 185)
RB: Desmond Scott (5'9, 180)
WR: Tyree Watkins (6'0, 185); Kyle Griswould (5'10, 170); Corey Gattis (5'10, 165); Conner Vernon (6'1, 175)
TE: Ryan Hall (6'4, 235); John Farrell (6'3, 225)
OL: David Harding (6'4, 285); Perry Simmons (6'4, 260); John Coleman (6'5, 270); Joey Finison (6'4, 290)