We're back with another film review. And not just any film review, a really, really important one. Our humble managing editor, Pete Volk, is a follower of all things Maryland, but football recruiting is his wheelhouse. Since Kareem Ali Jr. has been a favorite of Pete's since Day 1 of the 2015 cycle, I figured it was a good time to check in with him for a reaction:
The Recruit: Kareem Ali Jr.
High School: Timber Creek. Sicklerville, N.J.
247sports composite: Three stars, 44th-best cornerback and the 12th-best player from the state of New Jersey. Rivals is a little more keen on Ali, listing him in the Rivals 250 as a four-star, the 28th best corner nationally and seventh-best player in New Jersey.
Measurables: Ali is universally listed around 5-10 and 175, but I have to say he looks a little smaller than that on film. There aren't easily found measurables for speed and strength, so we'll speculate about that stuff downpage in the film review.
Junior season: Timber Creek was an elite New Jersey football team, finishing 10-2 and reaching the Group 4 state championship game, where the Chargers suffered a 31-22 loss to Shawnee. Ali was a two-way force for Timber Creek in 2013, finishing with 31 tackles, eight pass defenses and an interception as a lockdown corner who quarterbacks tended to throw away from. He was also a factor in the Chargers offense, where he totaled 339 all-purpose yards as a running back with four touchdowns. It's probably also signficant to note that Timber Creek is one of those schools that has at least a couple D-1 prospects every year, so a charismatic guy like Ali could possibly open further intriguing possibilities down the road.
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Offers: Ali has a superlative list of offers that includes, among dozens, Clemson, Florida, Michigan State, Nebraska, Penn State, West Virginia, Virginia and Wisconsin.
On film: Cornerback is one of the tougher positions to evaluate on film for a very simple reason: the better the cornerback, the fewer the targets, the lesser the highlights. This is definitely the case with Ali's junior-year film reel, which is largely made up by rushing plays on offense. He's a nice little speedy rusher who could possibly parlay that talent into a role returning punts or kicks on special teams, but that's not why Maryland coveted him so we won't waste anymore words on it.
As a cornerback, Ali is, in a word, solid. He's not big, not at all. In fact, to the eye he looks smaller than just about every receiver you can find clips of him covering, but as we've seen recently with Terps like Dex McDougle and Will Likely, height and size aren't really great factors for cornerbacks. If you're fast, nimble and physical, you don't at all need to be big and tall. Ali is fast, nimble and physical.
The speed is probably the thing that jumps out at you the most, both on defense and offense. Speed is so important here, because sometimes cornerbacks have to tangle with guys like Sammy Watkins and Stefon Diggs. In those instances a defense needs someone who can simply keep up with players who can both burn as well as turn on a dime. Ali has that showy type of speed and it gives me early confidence that this is a guy you can put on an island and he won't get beat deep, even against the best of them.
In game footage, he's a ball hawk with speed who flies to the ball, breaks up passes and generally just makes football plays. In combine footage, he shows all the physical talents you want to see in a corner like footspeed, hip swivel, upper body flexibility and busy hands. His head is also good in two ways. First, he is alert and you can watch him being QB- and ball-aware and not keeping his head locked down on the receiver. Second, he's a gamer who plays with emotion and engages in mental battle with the receivers he covers.
2015 outlook: Part of Ali's 2015 outlook is still TBD. If Maryland continues its hot recruiting and reels in Ashton White and Marcus Lewis, then it increases the odds of Ali (or one of those other two exciting prospects) redshirting. But as things stand right now, Ali is a stud recruit who plays a position of need. In 2015, Maryland will likely have Will Likely locking down one side of the field, but the other side is a question mark. The book is still out on Alvin Hill and Undray Clark, who will be seniors. Same goes for Jarrett Ross, who will be a junior. None of those three guys have proven yet that they are (or aren't) capable of being an every-down type of corner. Then we've got Daniel Ezeakwu, an currently an incoming freshman, and Denzel Conyers, an imcoming JUCO transfer who will be a sophomore. Both of those guys are nice physical prospects, but neither have played a down of football at Maryland yet. We won't know until we know. Then we'll know. No?
I know this much: Kareem Ali Jr. is a better-looking prospect at his age than any corner on Maryland's roster except for Likely, who was lighting the world on fire down in The Muck when he was a Florida high schooler but somehow slipped through the cracks and landed on our laps. Likely was ready to go on Day 1 as a Terp, and I think Ali projects at a comparable level. Ali doesn't look like a redshirt to me, he looks like an early player. Maybe Lewis and White join him in the Class of 2015 too and give him competition. Maybe Conyers and Ezeagwu will be game-ready studs by their second year in the program. Maybe Ross, Hill and Clark will make the leap and force Ali to fight harder for first-year snaps. If any of those things happen, it'll be a good problem for Maryland to deal with, but I think it's more probable that Kareem Ali Jr. will see action early and often in his Maryland career.
Longterm outlook: There's much to like about Ali. He's got speed, smarts and attitude and he plays a position Maryland is thin at, so Ali's longterm future in College Park looks terrific. There's recruiting-based reasons to love this commitment, too. It's a recruiting win for a coveted out-of-state kid who hails from an area regularly scoured by new B1G neighbors Penn State, Ohio State and Rutgers. It's Maryland's second big fish from NJ in two years along with Juwann Winfree. It's evidence that people are buying what Randy Edsall is selling, and not just from within the DMV. It's also an early domino that could set other commitments in motion, especially in the secondary. Kareem Ali Jr. is an out-of-state kid who could've gone to any number of exciting universities, many with better football reputations than Maryland's, but honed in on the Terps early and never let up. It's the type of transcendent recruiting coup that gives you hope beyond the individual player and the position he'll play. Maryland has exciting three- and four-star kids coming to visit from not just the DMV, but from Florida, from Texas, from Ohio and elsewhere. Ali is a very nice looking cornerback, but is he a trend, too? I can't wait to find out!
How do you feel about Kareem Ali Jr.'s prospects for early playing time?