With less than a week before National Signing Day Feb. 1, the University of Maryland football program appears headed to its highest-rated recruiting class in more than a decade.
After the commitment of DeMatha High School's Anthony McFarland Jan. 27 -- the second-best player in the state of Maryland and third-rated all-purpose running back in the nation, according to Rivals.com -- Maryland's 2017 recruiting class sits at No. 13 in the nation, per Rivals.
The last time the Terps were close to that ranking in Rivals' list was when they finished with the 16th-rated class in 2005. That class included future NFL wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey.
"It's hard to start much better than they have," Rivals.com mid-Atlantic recruiting analyst Adam Friedman said of Durkin's staff. "We know that this class is full of some really talented players. We've got [six] four-star prospects and a bunch of highly rated three-star prospects in here, as well. I think that this is going to be a good foundation for Maryland. As long as they can continue to add size in the trenches, they're going to be able to start making some waves here in a year or two."
Maryland's top-rated commitment this year is arguably Kasim Hill, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound quarterback out of St. John's College High in Washington, D.C. Hill, who committed last spring, played in the Under Armour All-America Game Jan. 1. Rivals rates Hill as the fourth-best pro-style quarterback in the class.
Hill will enter an open quarterback competition when he arrives on campus in the summer. Maryland is losing Perry Hills, its starter this past season, and Caleb Rowe to graduation. That leaves Tyrrell Pigrome and Max Bortenschlager, both of whom saw the field in 2016 and will be sophomores next season, as the top returners at the position. Other quarterbacks in the competition include rising redshirt sophomore Gage Shaffer, who hasn't gotten on the field in two years with the Terps, rising junior Caleb Henderson and walk-on transfer Ryan Brand.
"He's got a big arm. He can really get the ball down the field. And even more so than that, I think he does such a good job understanding the system that he is [in] and delivering the ball to the right receiver at the right time," Friedman said of Hill. "He's a very deliberate player, and he's very good at reading his keys and reading the defense, and I think that's something that is going to really help him and be an early contributor at Maryland. The ability to get the ball out of his hands quickly is something that Maryland desperately needs at the quarterback position."
A quick decision-maker is necessary because the Terps' offensive line remains in flux. Left tackle Michael Dunn, the leader of the unit, is graduating. Left guard Mike Minter, who will be a senior next year, is very effective in run blocking and could take over the leadership mantel, as could center Brendan Moore, who will be a junior next fall.
Other returners include rising juniors Damian Prince and Derwin Gray and rising sophomore Terrance Davis. Prince was the starting right tackle in 2016, but the Terps experimented some with Dunn at right tackle and Gray at left tackle. Maurice Shelton, who Maryland will lose to graduation, started the year at right guard, but Davis eventually took his spot.
The top two offensive linemen in the incoming class are Marcus Minor, a 6-foot-4, 285-pound four-star out of DeMatha, and Jordan McNair, a 6-foot-4, 276 pound three-star out of McDonogh High School. Friedman thinks Minor can play tackle or guard on either the left or right side and believes McNair can play right tackle or either guard spot.
"[Minor] really comes off the ball well and is aggressive; he's got the mentality that offensive line coaches want. He plays with this mean streak," Freidman said. "That's something that is desperately needed at Maryland. His pass blocking, [there's] going to be a learning curve there, as with any offensive lineman moving from high school to college. As soon as he can be a reliable pass blocker, I think that you could definitely see him on the field.
"McNair is a very nimble, big offensive lineman. We've got him listed at 276 pounds, and that's probably about 20 pounds light or so. … I think he's a road-grader type as an interior offensive lineman but is nimble enough to be a good pass blocker. Getting that good experience against next-level pass rushers is something that is going to be really key for him to develop as a pass blocker."
The Terps' offense also gets a boost with McFarland, a four-star running back who announced his commitment via SnapChat. McFarland joins rising junior Ty Johnson and rising sophomores Lorenzo Harrison and Jake Funk in Maryland's stable of running backs. McFarland
explained his decision to join the Terps on Twitter
Among other players who are set to sign with Maryland Feb. 1, Friedman, in particular, likes Lawtez Rogers, a three-star defensive end out of Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Kenny Bennett, a three-star cornerback out of Philadelphia and three-star outside linebacker Ayinde Eley out of Good Counsel High School.
Rogers has "great size and athleticism for a defensive end," per Friedman, while Bennett "plays with an edge and is somebody who has a nose for the ball." Eley "needs to add weight to his frame and develop some more physicality and toughness" but will find the conditioning and weight-training programs at Maryland to take care of that, per Friedman.
Maryland has more work to do to keep some other commitments in the fold, especially on the defensive line. Three-star defensive tackle Camaron Spence, from St. John's High School in Washington, took an official visit to the University of Florida the weekend of Jan. 13-15, while three-star defensive end Kofi Wardlow, also out of St. John's, visited the University of Notre Dame the weekend of Jan. 20-22 and is visiting Virginia Tech University the weekend of Jan. 27-29.
Breyon and Brandon Gaddy, twins from Virginia Beach, Va., are visiting Florida the weekend of Jan. 27-29. The Gaddy brothers decommitted from the University of Tennessee in November and committed to Maryland in December but appear to be wavering. Breyon Gaddy is a four-star defensive lineman, while Rivals lists Brandon Gaddy as a three-star athlete, but he is likely a defensive lineman at the college level.
"Not having a defensive line coach right now I think hurts Maryland with the Gaddy brothers and with Cam Spence," Friedman said. Mike London, Maryland's defensive line coach in 2016, was hired to be Howard University's head coach in early January.
However, Maryland is still in play for a handful of top prospects, notably four-star safety Tariq Castro-Fields from Riverdale Baptist High School and four-star inside linebacker Ellis Brooks out of Richmond, Va. Castro-Fields, who is deciding between the Terps and Penn State University, is Rivals' fourth-rated player in the state. Several teams are in on Brooks, including Maryland, Penn State, Northwestern University, the University of Oregon, Louisiana State University and the University of Michigan.
"Outside of those guys, I think Maryland has mainly moved on to the 2018 class, trying to set up their scholarship board for that class, get in some early offers and make sure the kids feel like they're a priority," Friedman said.