Maryland's football programs received two pieces of bad news Friday, with the departures of wide receiver Marcus Leak and defensive back D'Andre Payne. As the presumed No. 1 wide receiver and a player who has actually been seen in a Maryland uniform, Leak is the move that will probably receive more attention. The loss of Payne, however, could be even more significant down the line for Randy Edsall's program.
See, Maryland has a pretty strong group of defensive backs this season -- my colleague Bill Connelly, an impartial observer, called it "one of the best secondaries on the East Coast." With experience and talent at both corner (Will Likely, Sean Davis) and safety (Anthony Nixon, A.J. Hendy), the Terps look poised to have one of their better pass defenses in years.
Here's the problem: all four of those players (and top reserves Alvin Hill, Jarrett Ross and Denzel Conyers) are upperclassmen. Three of the starters (Davis, Nixon and Hendy) are seniors.
Via Bill C.'s preview, here's how the unit looks:
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Sean Davis||CB||6'1, 200||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8492||13||97.5||11.9%||4||1||0||8||1||0|
|William Likely||CB||5'7, 175||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8856||13||74.5||9.1%||4||1||6||9||1||0|
|Anthony Nixon||S||6'0, 205||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8342||13||49.5||6.0%||0.5||0.5||1||4||0||0|
|A.J. Hendy (2013)||S||6'1, 207||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9225||13||26.0||3.3%||1||0||1||2||0||0|
|Alvin Hill||CB||6'0, 200||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8125||4||10.5||1.3%||0||0||1||3||0||0|
|Jarrett Ross||CB||5'9, 205||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8382||12||9.5||1.2%||0||0||0||3||0||0|
|Josh Woods||CB||6'1, 196||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8495|
|Elvis Dennah||S||6'2, 210||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7923|
|Milan Collins||DB||6'0, 205||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8354|
|Daniel Ezeagwu||CB||6'0, 200||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8320|
|Denzel Conyers||DB||6'2, 216||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8430|
|Antwaine Carter||S||6'2, 180||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7556|
|Darnell Savage, Jr.||CB||5'11, 160||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8435|
Maryland does not have a single upperclassman in the secondary who has recorded a collegiate tackle, and none of them have particularly impressive recruiting pedigrees. Maryland has missed on multiple high-value defensive back targets over the past few years (Jalen Tabor and Kareem Ali, Jr. are two of the more prominent examples), and it's showing in the depth chart.
How bad is it? Maryland's current projected 2018 secondary is Darnell Savage, incoming 2016 cornerback recruit Travon Stott and ... that's it. That may seem a bit too far out to think about, but football players take time to develop, and coaches have to keep track of their roster years in advance.
So what can Randy Edsall do? Recruit, obviously. There's always the transfer market, which Maryland used to bring in Conyers and Payne, but that route isn't always the most consistent. Getting top-quality high school athletes is the most sustainable way to build a winning program, and while Edsall has been able to do so along the lines, there's still some work to do in the secondary.
The three-star Stott (.8300 on the 247Sports Composite) is Maryland's only defensive back commitment in its 11-man 2016 class, but some targets remain on the board. The Terrapins have offered around 30 defensive backs (some positions aren't so clearly defined), but only a few remain as truly legitimate targets.
Avalon School (Md.) athlete Trevon Diggs is one of Maryland's top targets no matter the position, and for good reason. The younger brother of Stefon gets a .9540 on the composite, and could answer many of the Terps' questions in the secondary if he decides to play cornerback in College Park. Alabama will be tough competition, but Diggs is close friends with four-star QB commit Dwayne Haskins.
Diggs was joined on Haskins' list of 20 recruits he wants to bring with him by three other defensive backs: Phoebus (Va.) cornerback Robbie Robinson (.8800), Epsicopal (Va.) cornerback Patrice Rene (.8925) and Potomac (Md.) safety Greg Ross (.8432). Ross recently committed to North Carolina, while Robinson and Rene are longshots at best (Virginia and Ohio State are considered the favorites, respectively).
Even the more realistic options are either committed elsewhere or rumored to be favoring a different school. St. Edward (Ohio) cornerback Tony Butler (.8596) pledged to Pittsburgh, but may visit College Park after receiving a Terrapin offer. Mechanicsville (Va.) athlete JJ Givens (.8538) and Lloyd C. Bird (Va.) athlete Jalen Elliott (.8567) are both on Maryland's radar, but both are top Virginia Tech targets as well (the Hokies tend to get what they want with Virginia defenders).
So what would constitute "enough" for Maryland? Obviously, landing Diggs would go a long way, but the bigger issue can be found at safety, not corner. Expect some other names to pop up over the next few months (is this where we see four-star McDonogh safety Eric Burrell finally get an offer?), but until then, Diggs is the unquestioned focus of the class.
As a former defensive backs coach, you'd expect Edsall would be able to make something of the unit. But Signing Day 2016 could be a pretty significant indication of where the unit will be in a few years.