Now that DeAngelo Benton is signed, sealed, and delivered into the Auburn fold--which still seems a little weird to type that, given that we're talking about a guy who signed twice with LSU and was an LSU commit the day before Signing Day--I figure it's safe to send Google out after the recruit that will lead our wide receiving corps to the Promised Land. Hopefully.
Basics: Sayeth the Auburn Signing Day info sheet:
DeAngelo Benton40 catches, 15 touchdowns ... so, around two touchdowns for every five catches his senior season. Jiminy Christmas. (Though it's worth noting this did take place in the fall of 2006. How much that matters, we'll get into momentarily.) And while any and all "high school All-American," All-State, championship honors have to be taken with a few grains of salt, this is still a much longer honors list than most other recruits.
WR, 6-3, 205
Bastrop, LA (Bastrop HS)
HIGH SCHOOL: Honored as the 2006 Class 4A MVP after hauling in 40 catches for 947 yards and 15 touchdowns in leading Bastrop to its second straight state title ... Averaged 23.6 yards per catch his senior season ... Named a high school All-American by Parade Magazine and SuperPrep in 2006 ... Caught 41 passes for 869 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior in 2005 ... Earned 4A all-state honors as a junior
What the Auburn info somewhat peculiarly leaves out is that Benton spent his 2007 season at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia and then sat out 2008 entirely. As, of course, you all know by now.
Recruitnik hoo-ha: This is going to get complicated, because in a fashion Benton has been graded/ranked three times--once after high school in 2007, once after his year at Hargrave in 2008, and then once after his year off for this past year's class. Breakin' it down:
2007: Rivals was highest on Benton at this stage, giving him four stars and ranking him the No 7 WR in the country and No. 41 prospect overall. Scout also called Benton the No. 7 wideout and a four-star prospect, but ranked him somewhere around No. 100 overall. ESPN was somewhere in between, ranking him the No. 11 wideout but the No. 52 prospect overall. They gave him a squarely four-star grade of 81 and said:
This guy is a serious vertical threat with great size, a physical style and outstanding hands. Benton is a crisp route-runner, stabs and shows burst out of the break. He's a physical receiver that uses his body well when it comes to shielding defenders from the ball ... Serious red-zone target. He possesses big hands and long arms and shows flashes of being able to make the difficult catch. Shows good initial burst up the field after the catch and a decent second-gear when he gets into space. Possesses good size and strength to sustain blocks when in position ... He is not always as fluid as some others and can be a bit herky-jerky in his movements. Overall, Benton could be special and has all the measurables you want in today's receiver.I've read a lot of these ESPN things by now, and when "a bit herky-jerky" is the worst they could say about you, it's safe to say they were impressed.
2008: ESPN doesn't re-evaluate, so we're done with them. Rivals, however, were impressed enough with Benton's year at Hargrave to bump him up to a fifth star and to a grade of 6.1 from 6.0. Scout kept him at four stars, but, like Rivals, did rank him the top prep school wideout in the country.
2009: Understandably, the year away from football didn't help Benton in the eyes of the gurus. Rivals dropped him back to a four-star and his grade to 5.8. Scout now views him as a three-star.
So what the hell does all that mean? Well, that at one time Benton was a truly elite prospect, a gin-u-wine physical specimen the likes of which Auburn currently does not have at the receiving position. How much of that sky-high potential is still out there? The gurus, at the least, don't know.
Links of potential interest: I know I'm supposed to be excited for his hands and speed and all that, but check out the blocking:
There's a bunch of free stuff over at Benton's Rivals video page, and there's the one standard hip-hip-soundtracked clip of drills and highlights on YouTube. As you can see: Benton is tall, and fast.
For a guy who's "been around" as long as Benton, you might think there was plenty of interesting Goggle-bits out there for consumption ... but I'm not finding them. Most of what turns up is accounts of and reaction to the Rueben Randle-vs.-Benton scholarship brouhaha that in all likelihood landed Benton at Auburn in the first place. This report from TigerRag on Feb. 9 is probably the most comprehensive and I guess credible:
Benton had been planning to attend LSU since 2007. Unfortunately the Bastrop High School product's grades were always in question until last week. For the first time in years, Benton was eligible to take his game to the next level.Miles also went on record as saying he made "some hard, fast decisions" with Benton's recruitment. I'm hoping this winds up as one of those "blessings in disguise" things for Benton, but at the same time ... dude, to spend at least three years (and possibly a lifetime) hoping to play for LSU, finally getting your grades in order, to be on the eve of finally turning in your papers to make it official ... and then get dropped like a hot potato because your former teammate's father threw a hissy fit? Man, that's gotta suck. (I believe Benton told the pay sites he wanted to come to Auburn and the Randle/Miles shenanigans had nothing to do with his decision ... I am skeptical.)
Heading into Wednesday his eligibility for the Class of 2009 remained as a question mark to everyone except for those on the "inside". It appeared as if coach Les Miles and his staff were going to surprise the rabid Tiger fans on signing day with Benton's announcement which would have been the topping on the cake.
However, those plans were changed on Tuesday night after Rueben Randle's father (Emmett Randle) made his feelings known on KNBB 97.7 FM radio show in Monroe. It was indirectly made clear Benton's signature may have some kind of effect on Randle's ...
On Wednesday evening with National Signing just about wrapped up, coach Miles held a press conference to dissect all of the signatures the Tigers had received thus far. When it came time for the media to unload questions to the headman, Miles was asked if Benton still possessed an offer from LSU prior to his signing with Auburn and Miles replied with a simple, "no."
He was then asked if the revoking of the scholarship offer had anything to do with the Randle situation and Miles responded, "I have to be real honest with you, recruiting has its own view. And I'm not going to dispel or concern myself with how that all fits". Then Miles followed his response with a "No."
At that point it became obvious Benton picked Auburn because he had no other option.
Lotso f LSU fans thought the same, including Richard Pittman at ATVS. Pittman consistently referred to Benton as someone who could be an "immediate contributor" wherever he went, be it LSU or Auburn. His take:
Benton and Randle are of similar talent. Yes, I think that highly of Deangelo Benton. The big difference between Benton and Randle is that Benton is already two years out of high school, and he's a big academic risk. Benton will probably qualify and enroll at Auburn this summer, but he could go to the NFL at literally any time if he is having academic problems or if he has a big year. He actually could be one-and-done if the NFL wants him. Randle is going to be there for at least 3 years.That eligibility stuff is accurate, by the way. Like most former prep schoolers, Benton has the full 5 years to play 4 in terms of his NCAA eligibility, but since the NFL's "3 years after high school graduation" age limit doesn't care if you spend those three years at prep school or minor league baseball or beet farming, Benton could conceivably declare after his first year at Auburn.
Now that I've said that, watch Randle leave after 3 years and Benton stay at Auburn for 4, being all-SEC in each one.
I don't have a big problem with Benton going to Auburn. I think ultimately it's a good place for him. He's talented enough that he could probably be their top receiver almost immediately, whereas at LSU he would be behind Lafell and would be fighting with a number of other very good prospects for any sort of playing time. At LSU right now, even very good wide receivers may struggle to find the field.
There's some information here about how close Benton came to being eligible while at Hargrave before curiously walking out on the school. His high school coach at Bastrop, Brad Bradshaw, discusses some of the academic difficulties here.
Bradshaw, incidentally, was less than thrilled with Miles's decision to leave Benton out in the cold and had nothing but good things to say about Benton's potential:
"He’s the most physical receiver I’ve ever coached, catching the ball in traffic and being tough and blocking," Bradshaw said. "He’s a big, ol’ tough kid."I'm pretty sure I recall reading quotes even more glowing than those, but I can't find them. Damn newspaper archives.
What conclusions we can draw, if any: On a normal SEC team with a normal SEC recruiting corps with a normal pro-style offense, would we expect a kid--no matter how physically talented--to step right into starting lineup and become the team's biggest downfield receiving threat? Nope. But Auburn has neither an up-to-par receiving corps nor a two-WR offense nor anyone with Benton's likely big-play ability, and will be running an offense designed to throw deep on a regular basis. If Benton has remained in something approaching game shape, if he stays healthy and eligible, and generally "stays with the program," to use an overused phrase, he is going to see a ton of playing time and a ton of the ball.
So: am I excited about Benton's arrival? Yes. Aside from maybe The Toro or Tyrik Rollison, I'm not sure if there was a more critical recruit in Auburn's class. That said, I wonder if maybe Auburn fans aren't a tiny bit ... a tiny, tiny bit ... over-excited. Because we don't know for sure what kind of shape he's in or how much rust he might have. We don't know if he's going to stay for longer than a single season, regardless of how well he performs on the field. And hell, particularly at Auburn--hello, Greg Smith!--there's always the uncertainty that surrounds any recruit that took a circuitous route to campus.
But I did say only a tiny bit. The odds are very good that for a season, at least, Auburn's going to have a legitimate SEC-quality deep threat for the first time since Devin Aromashadu departed.