Like most others, I've been operating under the assumption that there's no Stefon Diggs-esque figure in this year's recruiting class for Maryland. I still believe that - let's be honest, there's really only one Diggs - but what Rivals has recently done with Deon Long has given me some pause.
They gave him his fifth star two days ago, making him the first junior college five-star since Cam Newton. That also makes him the second five-star receiver to join Maryland's program in as many classes. And yesterday they ranked him as the top JuCo prospect in the country,
What's most interesting, though, might be what they have to say about him.
"He did all it while only playing in two fourth quarters all year," said Iowa Western offensive coordinator Mike Strohmeier. "He was actually pulled by halftime in most games. I truly believe he will make an immediate impact at Maryland."
"He has shown he can do it at all levels," said Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell. "He has taken a very, very roundabout route to college. But we feel he's the kind of player that can come right in at Maryland and be an all-conference difference maker and in a year or two be an NFL first-round talent."
Yeah, I know I'm about a day late on this, but I just now found the story, it's a slow day, and there's an interesting place to take the discussion. But more on that in a second: as for Long, there was never any doubt, at least in my mind, that he would be able to instantly step in and play. But be a difference maker? An all-ACC type? A first-round talent? That's glowing praise indeed, and it changes, at least to some degree, the way you have to look at Long as a player.
Which isn't to say he's necessarily going to be a Diggs-type. But it is to say he might be the next best thing, and that Maryland's going to be one of the very few programs in the country that can claim two five-stars in their wide receiver corps.
This raises an interesting question, one that's been discussed in previous threads: how does the presence of Long change things for Maryland's offense? It's not just him, either, really; Marcus Leak is an ACC-level starter and Nigel King may well be one in the future, too. Pair that with Diggs and there's a ridiculous assortment of talent out on the edges. It has to change the way Mike Locksley approaches things offensively.
See, the plan last year was to rely on the running game, because C.J. Brown was the only available quarterback and the running backs (including Wes Brown, Justus Pickett, and Albert Reid) seemed a safer bet than the still-unproven receivers. The focus was the zone-read option, a plan we really only saw work once Devin Burns got a crack of the whip under center given that Perry Hills didn't have the legs to take advantage of it. It might've worked with Brown, but even if it didn't, it was really the only viable way forward.
That's no longer true. Not with five half-decent quarterbacks, a better offensive line that can hopefully protect whoever wins the job, and a ton of skill position talent. The scheme isn't going to be overhauled; it'll still be based on the zone-read. But Locks can open things up a bit more and get creative in a way he most certainly couldn't last year. And whoever wins the job will most certainly need to be a competent passer.
That doesn't rule out Brown entirely, necessarily - it's been a year since we've seen him in action, and he's almost certainly improved his arm and ability to read coverage. But it does give the likes of Caleb Rowe and Perry Hills a better shot at winning the job. Brown may still have the least reliable arm of the bunch, depending on what Ricardo Young looks like, and if that means Maryland's receivers would go to waste with him under center, it'll be darn tough to hand him the reins. Depending on how Young's come along, it could help him out as well.
The good news for Maryland and their receivers is that with four guys jockeying for the job, plus a fifth in Shane Cockerille to at least apply a little pressure, there's plenty of competition, and whoever wins the job will probably have proven himself at least decent. And with all the talent beside him - Brandon Ross, Wes Brown, Stefon Diggs, Marcus Leak, and now a certain five-star Mr. Long - that may well be enough to put up a lot of points come fall.