D'Andre Swift of St. Joseph's Prep, Jon Taylor of Salem, and Mark Webb of Archbiship Wood are three of the most highly recruited football players in the region.
As Wednesday's national signing day approaches, here is a scouting report on the three stars:
D'Andre Swift, running back St. Joseph's Prep
Strengths: The Georgia recruit, one of the best players in state history, is a dynamic talent with speed, power, and explosiveness. The 5-foot-9, 215-pounder quickly bursts through the hole, changes direction easily, and breaks tackles with his strength and low center of gravity. He has terrific vision, finds holes and exploits them in an instant. When he gets to the second level, he shifts into another gear and leaves defenders in his dust. Swift is also highly dangerous as a slot receiver and kick returner. He's a strong leader as well. One of the area's top track and field sprinters, he placed fourth in the PIAA District 12 Class 3A 100-meter final in May with a clocking of 11.13 seconds.
Needs to work on: Since Georgia likes to run the ball down the throats of opponents, Swift will need to take care of his body and stay healthy. He was slowed in the middle of last season with an ankle injury. The four-star recruit will also need to work on his blocking skills. He will have to get comfortable with picking up blitzes and protecting the quarterback. Swift will have to get used to the higher level of play in the Southeastern Conference since he will have to go up against bigger and faster opponents. The good thing is, Swift will identify any weaknesses and work tirelessly with Georgia's coaches to improve his skills. He's been doing that since he started playing youth football with the Enon Eagles at 6 years old.
Most memorable moments in high school: A four-year starter for the Hawks, Swift rushed for 4,112 career yards and 54 touchdowns. With his dazzling plays, he helped the Prep claim three PIAA state championships. Against Catholic League rival La Salle last season, Swift carried 19 times for 275 yards and a career-best seven TDs. In his final three high school games, the Northeast Philadelphia resident rushed 76 times for 767 yards (an average of 10.1 yards per carry) and nine scores. The incredible stretch run started in the state quarterfinals as Swift carried 18 times for a career-high 318 yards and two scores in a 38-17 romp over Parkland. The following week against District 1 champ North Penn, the Scout.com all-American rushed 31 times for 268 yards and four TDs. Finally, in the Prep's 42-7 thrashing of Pittsburgh Central Catholic at HersheyPark Stadium, he carried 26 times for 161 yards and three scores.
How he will be used in college: Georgia is an ideal location for a lightning-quick, tough-as-nails running back like Swift. Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart and his staff focus on recruiting beefy offensive linemen with strong run-blocking skills. Star running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel will return to Georgia as seniors in the 2017 campaign. But it's a good bet that Smart makes sure Swift still gets his share of touches. He may see considerable time as a slot receiver or kick returner as a freshman. If he stays healthy, Swift figures to be Georgia's go-to ballcarrier in 2018. When that happens, SEC foes will have to be prepared to stop him from doing what he does best - breaking long gains and regularly finding the end zone.
- Rick O'Brien
Jon Taylor, running back Salem
Strengths: The Wisconsin recruit is a rare blend of speed and power. As a junior, he earned the unofficial title of the state's fastest man by winning the 100 meters at the track Meet of Champions in 10.60 seconds. He regularly displayed that speed in football, running away from speedy secondary players in the open field. Taylor played this football season at 211 pounds. He was a big back by high school standards, especially competing at the Group 1 level, the smallest classification in New Jersey sports. As a result, Taylor would barrel through tacklers as often as he would run away from them.
Needs to work on: Taylor caught just three passes as a senior, although he took one of them 76 yards for a touchdown on a screen. He's an old-fashioned power back who will need to develop a better feel for his role in the passing game, both as a receiver and a blocker. Taylor also will need to adjust to a huge step-up in competition. He did what great players are supposed to do at the Group 1 level in New Jersey: Dominate in terms of statistics and impact on the game. This is a running back who went through a seven-game stretch as a senior in which he gained 224, 276, 228, 250, 238, 385, and 242 yards, with a total of 25 touchdowns. Still, that was against a series of small schools. All scholastic athletes must show they can rise up to meet the challenges of playing against bigger and better athletes in college. Taylor just has to make a larger leap. It's worth noting that Wisconsin senior running back Corey Clement, in whose footsteps Taylor hopes to follow, played at Glassboro High School, which was in the same conference and same group as Salem.
Most memorable moments in high school: Two situations stand out about Taylor in high school. One was the sight of him winning the 100 meters at the track Meet of Champions last June as a junior. At a event filled with lithe and lean runners and jumpers, Taylor was set apart because of his burly build. He looked like a football player. He also set himself apart on the track, pulling away from those slender, speedy runners and crossing the finish line first to earn the title as fastest man in the state. Five months later, Taylor led Salem to a 50-8 victory over Haddon Heights in the first round of the South Jersey Group 1 tournament. It wasn't just that he ran for 238 yards and four touchdowns and jacked his season total past 2,000 yards that Nov. 12 afternoon. It was the way he turned up instead of out as he approached the sideline and the way he finished every run.
How he will be used in college: Taylor appears to have selected the ideal college program in Wisconsin. With their beefy offensive line and iron-clad commitment to the running game, the Badgers seem to fit Taylor and vice versa: He's a classic power back, and they are a classic power team. Given some time in a college weight room plus some natural maturation, and Taylor easily could be a 225-pound running back with track-star speed. His hard-nosed, die-hard running style also seems like a good match for Wisconsin and cold-weather Big Ten football.
- Phil Anastasia
Mark Webb, wide receiver Archbishop Wood
Strengths: The Georgia recruit's size - 6-foot-3, 200 pounds - strength, and hands are his main strengths, but Wood coach Steve Devlin has also lauded Webb's work ethic. Webb also has the speed required to excel in college. He has been clocked at 4.75 seconds in the 40-yard dash. And while that time is not exceptional, scouts have lauded Webb for being able to use his speed to quickly get behind the defense right off the line. Scouts have also called Webb a "complete receiver" because he catches nearly everything thrown his way. One coach compared Webb to Will Fuller, the former Roman Catholic and Notre Dame star now playing for the Houston Texans.
Needs to work on: Webb needs to work on what every high school receiver headed to college needs to work on: route running. Superior size and strength often allow inefficient routes in high school to result in big plays since the receivers are often so much bigger and more physical than the defensive backs. But in big-time college football, every player is a top-notch athlete, so Webb's advantage in height and weight should be neutralized a bit. That means that precision in his routes is essential to gaining separation, which is especially important considering the speed of college defenses forces quarterbacks to make even quicker decisions. Webb will also need to improve his speed to earn separation against the nation's best secondaries.
Most memorable moments in high school. Since he was a freshman, Webb has typically worn a smile and appeared to genuinely love the game, which is likely why Devlin has raved about Webb's willingness to work. Some players like the game because they have always been good at it, but they may not be willing to put in the work that major college football requires. On the field, Webb was a nightmare matchup in the red zone because of his size and leaping ability. Though tall, he also possessed the speed to stretch high school defenses and make big plays. In the PIAA District 12 Class 5A title game, Webb caught three passes for 74 yards and a touchdown. In the Class 5A state quarterfinal, Webb hauled in a 71-yard touchdown pass from quarterback to account for the winning points. In his first two games this season, Webb accounted for 10 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown.
How he will be used in college. Webb is likely to be used as a receiver who can play on the outside, not necessarily to stretch the field vertically with speed but with the height and strength to pull down deep, back-shoulder throws and jump balls. He will also likely be a major threat in the end zone because of his height and leaping ability.
- Aaron Carter