The analysts agree: Shaq Roland is South Carolina’s best football prospect in the Class of 2012.
However, they’ve yet to reach a consensus on who comes next in the pecking order behind the Lexington standout.
ESPN was the last major recruiting agency to release its rankings Wednesday, and it was no surprise to see Roland rated higher than any other player from the Palmetto State. He checked in at No. 46 on ESPN’s top-150, lower than Scout’s No. 17 and Tom Lemming’s No. 20 overall rating and but higher than Rivals’ No. 63.
“This has been a state that we have felt has been so strong in years past,” ESPN national recruiting director Tom Luginbill said. “Whether it’s been A.J. Green or Jadeveon Clowney or Da’Quan Bowers or Stephon Gilmore, it’s been an exceptionally strong [state] in years past. In this class I don’t know if you have that definitive, stand-out-above-the-rest guy.
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“What we haven’t seen are two to three guys that are a cut above or a different level. Regardless of where they are from, they were going to be top-20 or top-15 players. We haven’t seen that out of South Carolina this year.”
Clemson commitment Patrick DeStefano, an offensive lineman from Dorman, was the only other instate prospect ranked among ESPN’s top 150, checking in at No. 61. Tom Lemming also rated him as the state’s second-best prospect, ranking him 66th overall.
However, Scout (No. 111 overall) and Rivals (No. 189) believe that Bamberg-Ehrhardt defensive end Martin Aiken is the next in line after Roland.
Everybody agrees that Roland is the state’s best. A dynamic athlete with the ability to beat teams in a variety of ways – he capable of producing big plays at wide receiver, running back, Wildcat quarterback, return man and in the secondary – he drew interest from most of the nation’s power-conference schools before cutting his list of offers this spring.
“We’re going to have him in the athlete category because he plays so many positions,” Luginbill said. “We actually believe he could play on offense or defense at the next level. Personally if you ask me, I think he’ll end up as a wide receiver. I just think that’s the most natural fit for him. He’s got great ball skills and has a knack for playmaking with the ball in his hands in the open field.
“There’s no doubt he’s the type of player that can create a lot of mismatches one on one.”
Roland has cut his finalists down to South Carolina, Alabama, Florida and Georgia. He plans to make a decision before playing a down in 2011.
The Gamecocks are considered a favorite to land his services. If that happens, USC will have landed the consensus top recruit from South Carolina in three consecutive years, following in the footsteps of commitments by Clowney and Marcus Lattimore.
ESPN’s recruiting analysts usually find they are 80 to 100 players into their top 150 before they start seeing their individual prospect grades start to slip significantly. However, Luginbill said that happened around No. 55 in the Class of 2012.
“What that leads us to believe is that it’s a bit of a top-heavy class,” he said. “What it also indicated is that all the way through 250, so many of those guys are similar in terms of their skill sets and their ability level that the guys just outside of the 150 have a legitimate shot to be in there as well. So, we had to make tough choices.”
ESPN ranks Florida State commitment Mario Edwards, a defensive end from Billy Ryan (Texas), as the nation’s top overall prospect. Rivals has Hillcrest (Mo.) receiver Dorial Beckham-Green atop its rankings, and Scout lists Southern Cal commitment Arik Armstead, an offensive tackle from Pleasant Grove (Calif.), as its No. 1 player.