- Deon Long, WR (He’s a freshman in my book, so deal with it)
This is the most obvious selection on the list. Deon Long absolutely obliterated the competition while playing for Iowa Western Community College. Long caught 100 passes for 1,626 yards (135.5 yards-per-game) to go along with 25 touchdowns receptions. Now obviously the competition wasn’t stellar by any stretch, but it can’t be understated how Long fared against his opponents as he led Iowa Western to a National Junior College Athletic Association Championship. And he never played in the fourth quarter.
As many people may already be familiar with Long, his road to College Park was not the easiest. Long graduated from Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. back in 2009 and originally enrolled at West Virginia. However, the local product never played for the Mountaineers and ended up transferring to New Mexico. In 2011 as a redshirt freshman, the Dunbar graduate thrived as he caught 47 passes for 809 yards and four touchdowns for the Lobos. Long seemed to excel in Mike Locksley’s system at New Mexico as a mere freshman.
Long is likely to enjoy similar success in his first year under Locksley at Maryland. Despite his immense talent, he still won’t be the first option for quarterback C.J. Brown. That will be sophomore phenom and electrifying playmaker Stefon Diggs. Diggs will be the first option that the opposing defensive backs will try to minimize. I say minimize because you really can’t stop Diggs; you can only hope to contain him.
Back to Long. He is a physical specimen that can make any catch on the field — deep route, fade, slant, you name it. His size (6’1, 180 lbs.) allow him to go up for many jump balls and come down with them easily. The former Lobo wideout could be a huge red zone threat for the Terps with former standout tight end Matt Furstenburg having moved on to the next level with the Baltimore Ravens. Long also has elite speed, which seems to be a common theme in the Maryland offense. According to multiple sources, Long’s 40 time has been clocked at 4.30.
The Dunbar product definitely has a lot of hype coming out of junior college. The likes of Florida, Illinois, and Nebraska offered Long before he ultimately decided to go back home to College Park for the final two years of his collegiate career. According to Rivals junior college recruiting rankings, Long was the number-one ranked prospect and was one of two receivers in the top 10 (the other being Georgia commit Jonathon Rumph). Long clearly has the pedigree to be an elite wideout and should help to take a lot of the pressure off of Diggs this fall.
- Will Likely, CB
The commitment of cornerback Will Likely came as somewhat of a surprise last December. Likely was a highly touted prospect out of Glades Central High School in Belle Glade, Fl and had offers from every major powerhouse from Alabama to Florida to LSU. While at Belle Glades Central, Likely played both running back and cornerback and put up some pretty impressive numbers. Likely rushed for 1,223 on 90 attempts and 17 touchdowns for the Raiders during his senior season. The Raiders multipurpose playmaker also recorded 47 tackles and intercepted four passes.
Sometimes you can’t really just judge a prospect by their statistics in high school; some kids play in the middle of nowhere against a low level of competition. In Likely’s case, he played against some of the best competition in the entire country. Just between Belle Glades Central and rival Pahokee High School, the area has a history of churning out NFL stars with the likes of Fred Taylor, Santonio Holmes, and Anquan Boldin hailing from the two schools.
Likely might not currently be at the top of the Terps depth chart when it comes to defensive backs. However, I think Likely will make a significant impact on the team this fall. The Belle Glades Central alum was an extremely effective return man during his high school days. During his senior season, Likely returned four punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns for the Raiders. He has pretty good speed in the open field and always has his legs moving even after contact. In the return game, Likely is very patient and waits for holes to develop, much in the same manner as the guy returning kicks last year for the Terps. Letting Likely return kicks should allow Randy Edsall to give Stefon Diggs a few plays off as he won’t have to assist on special teams.
As for the defensive side of the ball, Likely is a ball-hawking defensive back with great hands. The fact that Likely lined up at wide receiver quite a bit while in high school helps him in pass coverage on defense. He is able to make great reads on the ball and out-muscle opposing wideouts. Likely’s speed allows him to easily recover if he ever falls out of a pass play. At times, just when it looks like Likely has no chance to make a play on the ball, he bursts into the play and knocks the ball away or comes up with an INT. I could see Likely playing his way into a nickel corner-type position by the midpoint of the season. His pedigree is undeniable and you have to think that he’ll see substantial time at defensive back throughout the fall.
- Yannick Ngakoue, LB
With fellow Friendship Academy teammates Derwin Gray not enrolling at Maryland this fall, linebacker Yannick Ngakoue becomes the crown jewel of the 2013 recruiting class. With offers from South Carolina and Florida State in addition to Maryland, Ngakoue committed to the Terps on National Signing Day. The Friendship Academy linebacker put up some pretty outstanding numbers during his high school career. In his junior year, Ngakoue tallied up 87 total tackles and registered nine sacks.
Obviously it’s tough for a freshman linebacker to start and have a storied start to their career in the ACC. However, I could see Ngakoue having a decent impact for Maryland this upcoming season. The Terps don’t have an incredible linebacking core coming back with veterans Demetrius Hartsfield and Kenny Tate having graduated. According to the current depth chart, Matt Robinson, Marcus Whitfield, Cole Farrand, and L.A. Goree are the presumed starters. Farrand and Robinson were very productive throughout the season, with Robinson seeing limited action due to injury. Guys like Alex Twine, Shawn Petty (yes, he is actually a linebacker), and Abner Logan will get more of a look this year. However, none of those guys have the pedigree of a guy like Ngakoue.
Ngakoue has very strong instincts for such a young linebacker. The Friendship Academy linebacker is able to stay at home and read a defense or can drop back in pass coverage. He also rushed off the edge quite a bit while at Friendship Academy and Archbishop Carroll. His speed off the edge allows him to get to the quarterback and record more sacks than your average linebacker would. Ngakoue plays against the run pretty well and is able to stay within a running play throughout. I don’t envision him as a starter, but he will provide even more depth and a tremendous amount of athleticism that should lead to some key sacks for the Terps.