It's sort of unfathomable, to me at least, that a position coach of Jay Sawvel's caliber can produce a 1st Team All-B1G cornerback, turn unheralded 2* prospects into extremely productive Big Ten players and completely turn around what was historically woeful Minnesota pass defense, and yet have only *one* DB commit on National Signing Day.
Crootin' is weird. Really, really weird.
Official Gopher: Craig James- Corner Back from Edwardsville, IL. #NSD14 #Gophers pic.twitter.com/KwwlcyUpPu— Gopher Football (@GopherFootball) February 5, 2014
Edwardsville (IL) Edwardsville HS cornerback Craig James committed and will sign with Minnesota, becoming the lone defensive back in the class of 2014. A legitimate track star with excellent speed, Craig is set to join a lineage of Sawvel CBs that could see the field early at Minnesota.
James is rated as a 3 star prospect according to 247Sports' Industry Composite, choosing Minnesota over offers from Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Iowa State, Missouri, Syracuse and Northern Illinois. He is the 20th member of the 2014 crop of future Gophers and 8th projected defensive player.
247Sports's Steve Wilfong with an update article (free) from the fall on James' recruiting options:
"Minnesota is the same situation as Kansas, they need DBs and I’d be able to play early. ... I’ve heard good things about them like the campus is nice and everything."
ESPNU Evaluation ($):
Way above average (coverage skills). Can move his feet, flip his hips and catch the ball. In man coverage he shows very good make-up speed but is usually disciplined enough to stay on top of receiver. In zone coverage he gets his eyes back into the QB and once the ball is thrown displays a good ability to cover ground.
(Likely Fraudulent) Measurables
Weight: 165-170 lbs.
Fake 40 Time: 4.39s electronic.
I try to avoid doing these sort of cheap comparisons, since it's a set up for expectations to eventually go unmet, but James is a carbon copy of Briean Boddy-Calhoun. A smallish CB with great speed, a knack for big plays and added value in the return game.
If you're only going to sign one corner in this class, a kid like Craig James (#RIP5DH) more than makes up for a lack of other signees at the position.
Coach Sawvel has made it a trend to play a true freshman CB in the Big Ten three seasons in a row, starting with Derrick Wells, Eric Murray and now Jalen Myrick. James could easily be the fourth in that line, as he has the type of speed and big play ability in the return game to make a difference on special teams right away while getting his feet wet in protected nickel/dime packages. Despite Sawvel and Claeys' preference towards longer CBs who can play man-press and make open field tackles against Big Ten running backs, BBC and Martez Shabazz were more than capable of playing in this system and making an impact. James should do the same.
James has all the capabilities of playing field corner for Sawvel in press-man, quarters, off man and zone scenarios. He has the speed and break to handle the underneath routes, plus the hip flexibility and feet to turn and run with receivers. James can even mix it up a bit on screens and with running backs, showing a willingness to lower the pads and run through blocks in order to disrupt the play. He needs to bulk up a bit, which goes without saying, though he possesses the skills needed to contribute at the field and nickel CB spots early. Craig will be a special teams returner at a minimum, and in time could develop into a starting caliber CB.