TOP 50 RECRUITS IN NORTH CAROLINA
Lee County pass rusher Desmond Evans has game-changing skills
Desmond Evans was already a major college football recruiting target when Steve Burdeau became his head coach at Lee County High School in May 2018.
“I knew he was a talent,’’ Burdeau said. “Everybody can see the 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, long arms … everyone can see that. He fit the prototypical model if you were drawing up an outside linebacker or defensive end.
“But what I noticed about him watching film before I met him was the effort he plays with. He was making plays from sideline to sideline. You can’t teach effort. That’s a want-to thing. And he definitely has that.’’
THE FAYETTEVILLE OBSERVERS TOP PROSPECTS
Height/weight: 6-6, 240
High school: Lee County
247Sports.com: 4 stars, No. 1 weakside defensive end nationally, No. 15 prospect overall nationally
Rivals.com: 4 stars, No. 2 weakside defensive end nationally, No. 41 prospect overall nationally
Notes & numbers: Evans will be a four-year varsity starter for the Yellow Jackets. … He was only 13 when he played in his first three varsity games. … Made 45 tackles and 14 sacks as a sophomore, then added 69 tackles, 25 tackles for loss and 12 tackles as a junior to earn first-team All-Tri-County 6 4-A Conference honors. … Has been selected to play in the 2020 U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January. … Also stars in basketball. … Evans averaged 11.1 points and 6.1 rebounds as a junior.
Recruiting trail: Scholarship offers started rolling in during Evans’ freshman season from Kentucky and N.C. State in September 2016. He’s since added some of the nation’s premier programs to that list, including defending national champion Clemson and runner-up Alabama. Evans reduced his list to 10 finalists in May – Alabama, Clemson, Duke, Florida, N.C. State, North Carolina, Ohio State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia Tech made the cut. The next step will be setting up official visits to five of those schools during the season. Nothing is written in stone, but N.C. State and North Carolina along with Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina appear to be the most serious contenders.
Sammy's Take: Evans’ potential has been compared by some national analysts to ex-South Carolina All-American and former No. 1 NFL draft pick Jadeveon Clowney. Evans hasn’t developed Clowney’s nasty disposition yet, and he certainly isn’t as physical. But much like Clowney, he is a disruptive force coming off the edge using his speed and wingspan. I really like the way Evans plays with his head up and always keeps his eyes focused on the ballcarrier. He reminds me a lot of former N.C. State and NFL defensive end-linebacker Manny Lawson. But Evans is further along in his development at this stage than Lawson, who concentrated on basketball more early in his prep career.
Height/weight: 6-4, 280
High school: Dudley
247Sports.com: 4 stars, No. 6 strongside defensive end nationally, No. 109 prospect overall nationally
Rivals.com: 4 stars, No. 21 strongside defensive end nationally
Notes & numbers: Murphy earned HSXtra.com All-Area honors as a junior from the Greensboro News & Record while playing at Southwest Guilford. … He made 53 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and 10 sacks as part of a defense that allowed just 16 points a game. … Played there as a sophomore, too, making 15 solo tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks. … Transferred to Dudley for his senior campaign where he’ll team with top 2021 prospects in defensive tackle Payton Page and end Christian Lane. … Selected to play in the 2020 Polynesian Bowl all-star game scheduled for January in Honolulu.
Recruiting trail: Mack Brown’s comeback at North Carolina received a major boost on July 8 when Murphy picked the Tar Heels over Alabama, Florida and South Carolina. The Gamecocks led for Murphy until he took an official visit to UNC on June 21. Murphy also had offers from Baylor, East Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Mississippi State, N.C. State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Syracuse, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Sammy's take: Murphy is a true force coming off the edge. He seems to spend as much time in opposing backfields as the offensive players at times, using his quickness and speed to easily avoid blockers. I can see Murphy eventually moving inside to tackle as his size and strength improve at the next level. Either way, he’s a legit future NFL prospect.
Height/weight: 6-1, 190
High school: Myers Park
247Sports.com: 4 stars, No. 46 wide receiver nationally, No. 256 prospect overall nationally
Rivals.com: 4 stars, No. 9 wide receiver nationally, No. 49 prospect overall nationally
Notes & numbers: An independent school all-state pick as a junior at Providence Day, Rooks made the decision in January to transfer to Myers Park for his senior season so he can graduate in December. … He caught 58 passes for 728 yards and 11 touchdowns in 11 games as a junior, despite sitting out the second half in four blowout games. … Has accumulated 1,414 yards and 21 touchdowns receiving over the last 18 games. … Earned All-Charlotte Observer first-team honors and was an all-state pick by USA Today as a junior. … Has been timed at 11.24 seconds in the 100-meter dash and recorded a long jump of 21 feet, 4 inches. … Brother, Patrick, played basketball at Clemson.
Recruiting trail: Like Lee County’s Evans, Rooks was something of a prodigy who received his first college offer as an 8th-grader from Louisville. Pretty much everyone else at the FBS level offered from there, and he’d eventually receive approximately 30 before whittling the list to Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, N.C. State, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia Tech. Rooks ultimately decided to remain in state and play for the Wolfpack.
Sammy's take: What’s not to like about Rooks? He really has it all. Great hands. Quick on his feet and shifty as a runner. He has a true second gear when he breaks into the open field. Rooks makes the hard catches look easy, runs clean, tight routes and knows how to use his hands to shed defenders who try to hold him up at the line of scrimmage. Seamlessly makes the transition from receiver to ballcarrier and doesn’t mind getting physical when he needs to. An immediate impact player for N.C. State.
Height/weight: 6-3, 220
High school: Mallard Creek
247Sports.com: 4 stars, No. 3 outside linebacker nationally, No. 34 prospect overall nationally
Rivals.com: 4 stars, No. 8 outside linebacker nationally, No. 76 prospect overall nationally
Notes & numbers: Simpson joined the Mallard Creek program as a 170-pound running back and was a starter there as a sophomore. … Added weight and muscle during the offseason and shifted to linebacker as a junior. … Made 74 tackles, 28 tackles for loss, eight sacks and deflected six passes to earn a spot on the I-MECK 4-A Conference team and the Charlotte Observer’s All-Mecklenburg County squad. … Has been timed at 11.15 seconds in the 100-meter dash.
Recruiting trail: More than 20 Football Bowl Subdivision programs extended scholarship offers to Simpson, starting with North Carolina in April 2018. The Tar Heels remained a player to the very end along with Georgia, and both received unofficial visits in April. But Auburn eventually received Simpson’s verbal commitment June 14, just days after a trip to campus, which is not far from where he once lived when his father was stationed at Fort Benning in the Army.
Sammy's take: Playing with the speed of a running back and blessed with a high football IQ, Simpson is the kind of defender who can streak into the backfield to sack the quarterback, or chase a receiver down from behind. He reacts so quickly sometimes it looks like he knows the snap count. Simpson doesn’t shy away from contact, although he’s not a big hitter. But he’s a sure tackler who rarely overruns a play. Simpson is still raw, having only played linebacker for one season, which means his best football is likely ahead of him.
Height/weight: 6-5, 277
High school: Providence Day School
247Sports.com: 3 stars, No. 35 defensive tackle nationally, No. 368 prospect overall nationally
Rivals.com: 4 stars, No. 5 strongside defensive end nationally, No. 88 prospect overall nationally
Notes & numbers: After working as a tight end at Providence Day as a freshman, Cowan found a home on the defensive line as a sophomore. ... He recorded 87 tackles, 23 tackles for loss and 12 sacks that season to earn first-team independent schools all-state honors. ... Cowan was an all-league pick and second-team All-Charlotte Observer selection as a junior. ... Wears No. 12 in honor of his uncle, Rydell Cowan, who was a cornerback at Appalachian State.
Recruiting trail: Nearly 40 programs have extended scholarship offers to Cowan, including all four teams that competed in the 2019 college football playoff. He took his first official visit to Ohio State in June and came away impressed by the Buckeyes. Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee are the schools he's been most focused on entering his final prep season.
Sammy's take: Cowan is one of those guys who plays with a lot of emotion. When he makes a big play it can affect his entire defensive unit. He has really quick feet and starts his rush with a natural, strong hand punch. Cowan needs to work on squaring up on ballcarriers when he makes tackles — he's more of a jersey puller at present. But there is no denying he has the size and quickness of a big-time prospect.
Height/weight: 6-3, 210
High school: Clinton
247Sports.com: 4 stars, No. 6 inside linebacker nationally, No. 85 prospect overall nationally
Rivals.com: 3 stars, No. 45 outside linebacker nationally
Notes & numbers: Kaba began his prep career as a freshman at Scotland, where he appeared in three games and made five tackles. ... Played there alongside his older brother, Karfa, who is now a defensive lineman at N.C. A&T. ... Stepped into the starting lineup as a sophomore, making 48 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and 10 sacks for a Scotland team that reached the state 4-A finals. ... Transferred to Clinton for his junior campaign and earned All-East Central 2-A Conference honors with the Dark Horses. ... Has been invited to play in the U.S. Army All-American Game on Jan. 4 in San Antonio.
Recruiting trail: Kaba was courted by a number of FBS powers, including defending national champion Clemson and national semifinalists Notre Dame and Oklahoma. But as his May 9 announcement date approached, N.C. State held the upper hand. A spring practice visit to South Carolina, however, made a big impression on Kaba, who chose to join the Gamecocks over Florida, N.C. State and North Carolina during a ceremony at Clinton.
Sammy's take: I've nicknamed Kaba "The Missile'' because of the way he launches himself into ballcarriers. He is a nasty hitter who sticks his nose into every tackle. But Kaba isn't just physical. He has the speed to slice through blockers to make plays in the backfield or drop into pass coverage. But his forte is to streak in and deliver a bone-jarring hit that leaves ballcarriers stunned.
Height/weight: 6-0, 205
High school: Myers Park
247Sports.com: 4 stars, No. 24 safety nationally, No. 285 prospect overall nationally
Rivals.com: 3 stars, No. 5 safety nationally, No. 78 overall nationally
Notes & numbers: A varsity player since his freshman year when he made 13 tackles and two interceptions in four games, Roseman-Sinclair will enter his senior season having already appeared in 32 prep games at Myers Park. ... He earned All-Southwestern 4-A Conference and All-Mecklenburg honors as a sophomore when he recorded 40 tackles, two tackles for loss and made three interceptions. ... Made All-Southwestern again as a junior with 69 tackles, four tackles for loss and two more picks. ... His goal-line interception in the fourth quarter last season helped set up a game-winning field goal against Hickory Ridge.
Recruiting trail: Virginia Tech appeared to be Roseman-Sinclair's college destination until Mack Brown hired former Tar Heel and NFL cornerback Dre Bly to join his staff at North Carolina. Bly had worked with Roseman-Sinclair as an assistant at Myers Park, and the opportunity to reunite led Roseman-Sinclair to choose UNC on Jan. 8 over offers from Kentucky, Maryland, Tennessee, the Hokies and West Virginia.
Sammy's take: This is a big-play safety who can pick off a pass and return it for a touchdown one second, then lower the boom on a ballcarrier to force a fumble in the next. Roseman-Sinclair has a high football IQ, which helps him quickly diagnose and react to plays. He's extremely mature both mentally and physically.
Height/weight: 6-5, 315
High school: Leesville Road
247Sports.com: 3 stars, No. 51 offensive guard nationally, No. 893 prospect overall nationally
Rivals.com: 4 stars, No. 3 offensive guard nationally, No. 112 overall nationally
Notes & numbers: Mayes spent his first three varsity seasons at Raleigh's Sanderson High, where he was twice named to the All-Cap 7 4-A Conference squad. ... He has transferred to Leesville Road for his final prep season. ... A powerful prospect who can bench press 350 pounds, dead lift 565, squat 480 and clean 255. ... Selected to participate in the prestigious combine sponsored by Student Sports, The Opening Finals, in Frisco, Texas, in late June and early July. ... Was one of three North Carolina players making the finals along with Mallard Creek's Trenton Simpson and Jacolbe Cowan from Providence Day.
Recruiting trail: Mayes attracted offers from 22 FBS programs and took unofficial visits in March to Auburn, North Carolina (twice) and Georgia Tech. But defending national champion Clemson won the Mayes sweepstakes, landing a verbal commitment on March 11.
Sammy's take: Mayes is the best blocking prospect in the state by far in the 2020 class. He runs like a tight end and displays surprising side-to-side quickness for a man his size. He fires off the line with purpose and just keeps driving and driving until he pancakes the defender. Mayes will need to work on his pass blocking at the next level, but his quick feet and reactions will eventually make him just as adept at that as he is blocking for the run.
Height/weight: 6-0, 185
High school: Myers Park
247Sports.com: 4 stars, No. 28 wide receiver nationally, No. 151 prospect overall nationally
Rivals.com: 4 stars, No. 25 wide receiver nationally, No. 108 overall nationally
Notes & numbers: Muhammad will be a three-year starter at Myers Park, where he was named to the All-Southwestern 4-A Conference first team and All-Charlotte Observer first team as a junior. ... Made his varsity debut as a sophomore by catching 54 passes for 703 yards and six touchdowns. ... Improved those totals to 58 catches for 1,003 yards and eight scores as a junior. ... He also rushed six times for 95 yards and two touchdowns, and averaged 36.5 yards as the Myers Park punter. ... He's the son of the two-time NFL All-Pro receiver of the same name. ... His father racked up 860 career receptions for 11,438 yards and 62 touchdowns playing with the Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears.
Recruiting trail: A hot recruiting prospect since his sophomore year, Muhammad reeled in more than 30 FBS offers. He cut that lengthy list to eight schools in May — Auburn, Michigan State, N.C. State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas A&M. He surprised many by choosing Texas A&M in June on the same day he received an offer from Alabama.
Sammy's take: An outside receiver who can win a jump ball or streak down the sideline to catch the deep pass, Muhammad can even pull up and throw a pass or run the jet sweep. Simply a versatile, all-around athlete and competitor. He may be the best of the in-state receiver prospects making yards after the catch. Also a spectacular return man.
Height/weight: 6-4, 266
High school: Providence Day School
247Sports.com: 4 stars, No. 11 defensive tackle nationally, No. 161 prospect overall nationally
Rivals.com: 4 stars, No. 8 strongside defensive end nationally, No. 134 overall nationally
Notes & numbers: Bingley-Jones burst on the varsity scene as a sophomore at Kannapolis' A.L. Brown High School. ... He made 60 tackles, 22 tackles for loss and two sacks in earning a spot on the 2017 Independent Tribune Football Dream Team. ... But prior to his junior season, Bingley-Jones decided to transfer to Providence Day for the stronger academic program. ... He earned first-team all-state for independent schools and a spot on the All-Charlotte Observer team as a junior after making 78 tackles, 13 sacks and recording two safeties.
Recruiting trail: The recruitment of Bingley-Jones was intense and featured more than 20 schools vying for his services. After camping at Florida in July 2018, he gave the Gators a verbal commitment two days later. But Mack Brown's return to UNC prompted him to take an unofficial visit to Chapel Hill on Jan. 12. Three days later he decommitted from Florida. Bingley-Jones made five unofficial visits to UNC after that before giving Brown his pledge on Aug. 3.
Sammy's take: The first thing you notice about Bingley-Jones are the long arms, which help him clog up passing lanes when he's rushing. He doesn't overpower blockers, but always stands his ground and hardly ever gets totally blocked out of a play. Although he's a defensive end at the prep level, he'll likely convert to defensive tackle at some point for UNC.
Rank, Player, Position, School (Recruit status) - Sammy's take
- Mike Wyman, WR, Greensboro Dudley (Committed South Carolina) - 6-4 mismatch for cornerbacks
- Kendall Karr, TE, Stuart W. Cramer (Committed UNC) - Deep threat at tight end spot
- Ja'Qurious Conley, WR-FS, Jacksonville Northside (Between Duke, UNC, South Carolina, Virginia Tech) - Does it all with speed and flair
- Quentin Williams, DE, Mallard Creek (Committed Miami) - Classic edge rusher with 4.6 speed
- Antonio Barber, WR, Cornelius Hough (Decommit in May from Tennessee; N.C. State, UNC now favorites) - Elusive runner with running back moves
- Ray Grier, WR, South Point (Committed to UNC) - Physical receiver with breakaway speed
- Da'Quan Stewart, WR, North Mecklenburg (Committed South Carolina) - Good hands, great instincts
- D.J. Jones, RB, Pine Forest (Committed UNC) - All-around back who can do it all
- Maleik Faust, S, Charlotte Harding (6 FBS offers led by Duke, West Virginia) - In-your-face, aggressive defender
- Zay Peterson, S, Clayton (Committed Louisville) - Great tackler who hits with an attitude
- Ahmani Marshall, RB, East Forsyth (Committed Wake Forest) - Versatile, hard to knock off feet
- Anthony Carter Jr., OL, Matthews Butler (Top 11 includes N.C. State, UNC) - Massive blocker with college strength already
- Jhari Patterson, WR, Asheville Reynolds (8 FBS offers, including ECU, UNC, N.C. State, Wake) - Speedy wide out with lots of moves after catch
- Jonathan Adorno, OL, Rolesville (Committed N.C. State) - Smart blocker who excels in pass blocking
- Davin Vann, DT, Cary (Committed N.C. State) - Powerhouse who wrecks anything in his path
- Stephen Sings, DE, Charlotte Vance (Committed Virginia Tech) - Furious pass rusher with legit 4.6 speed
- Quasean Holmes, RB-WR, Mallard Creek (3 FBS offers, including Syracuse, West Virginia) - Hard-nosed runner gets tough yards
- Isaiah Fisher-Smith, S, Greensboro Page (Committed Duke) - Prep linebacker with nose for ball
- Jason Romero, DE, Scotland (Committed East Carolina) – Prototypical edge rusher for 4-3 front
- Ezemdi Udoh, TE, Terry Sanford (Committed N.C. State) – Great size, running ability, huge potential
- Stefan Thompson, LB, Charlotte Vance (Committed Syracuse) – Aggressive defender against pass or run
- Jefferson Boaz, TE, East Surry (Committed UNC) – Huge 6-7 target with surprising speed
- Malik Puryear, DE, High Point Christian (Committed Wake Forest) – Firecracker rusher off edge
- Michael Frogge, TE, Northern Guilford (Committed Wake Forest) – Hard to tackle, soft hands
- Ayden White, CB, Christ School (Committed N.C. State) – Plays man-to-man with attitude
- Adrian Spellman, DE, Northeastern (4 FBS offers, including Duke, ECU) – Great length and potential
- Phifer Griffin, OL, Union Academy (Committed Illinois) – Great size, relentless attitude
- Jaylen Smith, DT, Hertford County (Committed N.C. State) – An incredible Hulk in the middle
- Devan Boykin, CB, Jamestown Ragsdale (Committed N.C. State) – Fabulous on returns, coverage
- Cedric Gray, LB, Ardrey Kell (Committed UNC) – Fast, agile athlete with good height and length
- Elijah Burris, RB, Mountain Island Charter (Committed UNC) – Shifty runner with deceptive speed
- Markel Samuel, DE, E.E. Smith (Committed Appalachian State) – Long, lean and agile pass rusher
- Shane Whitter, LB, Burlington Williams (Committed Wake Forest) – Headhunter at inside backer
- Keyshown Lindsey, RB, Westover (Wake Forest offer) – Highly underrated big back with speed
- Navy Shuler, QB, Christ School (Committed Appalachian State) – Gunslinger who likes the deep ball
- Alec Mock, LB, Weddington (6 FBS offers including Army, Air Force) – A bulldog with great instincts
- Malik McGowan, OL, Charlotte Catholic (Committed UNC) – A mauler who overpowers with size
- Joshua Ilaoa, DT, Mallard Creek (Committed Syracuse) – Athletic OL turned DT
- Jayden Chalmers, CB, Lee County (Committed UNC) -Man-to-man cover specialist
- Sam Brady, LB, North Lincoln (Committed Virginia) – 6-4 prep WR with 4.6 40 speed
Fayetteville Observer staff writer Sammy Batten has produced a ranking of the state’s top college football prospects annually since 1994. Here’s a look back at the previous players who have been ranked No. 1 and a brief description of their collegiate careers.
1994: Cuncho Brown, TE, Winston-Salem Parkland (Penn State/4-year letterwinner, 2-year starter)
1995: Titcus Pettigrew, WR, West Forsyth (Penn State/4-year letterwinner, 2 years as wide receiver and 2 years as safety; starting safety as a senior)
1996: Anthony Saunders, RB, Western Guilford (North Carolina/3-year letterwinner, 1-year starter at fullback)
1997: Julius Peppers, DL, Southern Nash (North Carolina/3-year letterwinner and starter; 3-time NFL All-Pro selection)
1998: Nick Maddox, RB, Kannapolis Brown (Florida State/4-year letterwinner and 1-year starter; Member of FSU’s 1999 national championship team)
1999: Andre Williams, RB, Northern Durham (North Carolina/2-year letterwinner before back injury ended career)
2000: Robert Boulware, DB, Charlotte Vance (Tennessee/3-year letterwinner, 1-year starter at safety before giving up football to concentrate on track)
2001: A.J. Nicholson, LB, Winston-Salem Mount Tabor (Florida State/4-year letterwinner, 2-year starter and second-team All-ACC as a senior)
2002: Chris Leak, QB, Charlotte Independence (Florida/4-year letterwinner and starter; Led Gators to 2006 national championship)
2003: DeMario Pressley, DL, Greensboro Dudley (N.C. State/4-year letterwinner, 3-year starter, 2nd-team All-ACC in 2006)
2004: Toney Baker, RB, Jamestown Ragsdale (N.C. State/3-year letterwinner, 2-year starter)
2005: Brandon Spikes, LB, Shelby Crest (Florida/4-year letterwinner, 3-year starter, consensus All-American 2008, six-year NFL veteran)
2006: Dwight Jones, WR, Burlington Cummings (North Carolina/2-year letterwinner)
2007: E.J. Abrams-Ward, WR, Thomasville (Tennessee, Red-shirted as freshman in 2008, then dismissed from team; Finished career at WR at Winston-Salem State)
2008: Xavier Nixon, OL, Jack Britt (Florida/All-SEC Freshman team pick by The Sporting News; 4-year letterman and starter)
2009: Robert Crisp, OL, Athens Drive (N.C. State; 4-year letterwinner and 2-year starter)
2010: Stephone Anthony, LB, Anson County (Clemson/4-year letterwinner and 3-year starter; Currently playing with NFL’s Atlanta Falcons)
2011: Todd Gurley, RB, Tarboro (Georgia/Three-year starter with 44 career TDs and 3,285 yards rushing; 1st-round pick in 2015 NFL Draft by St. Louis Rams)
2012: Marquez North, WR, Mallard Creek (Tennessee/Two-year starter, 74 career catches)
2013: Derrell Scott, RB, Havelock (East Carolina/Appeared in 2 games as a freshman at Tennessee in 2014, but transferred to ECU after the season. Played 7 games for Pirates in 2017 before finishing career at Hampton in 2018. )
2014: Johnny Frasier, RB, Princeton (N.C. State/Left program in spring 2017)
2015: Dexter Lawrence, DT, Wake Forest (Clemson/Helped Tigers win 2 national titles; first-round pick by New York Giants in 2019 NFL draft)
2016: Justin Foster, LB, Shelby Crest (Clemson/2-year letterwinner as reserve defensive end)
2017: Zamir White, RB, Scotland (Georgia/red-shirted in 2018 as freshmen due to injury/Expected to compete for playing time in 2019)
2018: Quavaris Crouch, LB, Harding University (Tennessee/Competing for playing time as true freshman in 2019)