Quarterbacks take most football headlines, tangible at every level of the sport, but those who combat the sport's most important position come in thereafter.
In the college football recruiting class of 2023, Cormani McClain may have become the most coveted non-passer of any recruit in the country. The Lakeland (Fla.) Lake Gibson star works at wide receiver and defensive back at the high school level, but most expect the lengthy prospect to play in the secondary in the college ranks.
Whether value at projecting the position resides in frame, athletic profile, production or ceiling at a given position -- McClain would still be tabbed atop most recruiting boards in the same light. He stands 6'2", 170 pounds or so, and shows great speed on tape with elite ball skills to boot. Over the last two varsity seasons, he has 15 interceptions to his name along with nearly 1,000 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns on offense.
McClain is fresh off of a visit with his South Florida Express teammates to USC, and he spent time at Alabama with his mother the weekend prior. National champion Georgia got him on campus at the end of January. Other programs like Oregon, BYU, Miami, Florida and Ohio State have been linked to him at one point or another.
The rising-senior recruit recently told Sports Illustrated he was in no rush to make a decision and anticipates using the majority of the year to help narrow the recruiting process further. He is looking to build relationships with several new coaching staffs in the process, especially after the fluidity in the fall included so many updates to an elite prospect's contact list. McClain has publicly voiced frustration with that part of the process, but it hasn't slowed the number of blue bloods positioning themselves to make a play for the Floridian.
Within his game, it's tough to make an argument against him being among the top-ranked prospects in the country, regardless of position. The modern traits and production fit in nearly any defensive scheme at the next level and the offseason has provided more settings in which McClain has continued to impress.
Earlier this year, SI got eyes on the rising-senior at a 7-on-7 tournament and there wasn't a pass caught by a receiver he was assigned to over an entire weekend of action. There is an ease of movement for a player of his stature, but also a patience when the opposition is mid-route. McClain almost knows he's more athletic than his counterpart, creating a calculated approach both at the line of scrimmage or down the field. But when he wanted to press, pass catchers were often jammed up before getting off of the ball.
Even when McClain lost leverage inside, which happened occasionally due to some over-aggressive attempts near the line, the makeup speed was apparent even on a soggy and muddy field. Otherwise he remained in phase, used his off hand like a veteran and even let some of his assignments know they were in for a longer day with few targets.
When working exclusively on defense, the most appealing trait of McClain's game is masked. It's his ball skills, something seen frequently when he works on offense or encounters the rare challenge down the field or at the apex on a 50/50 ball.
Many of the offseason positives to take away from McClain's game are also evident where it matters most in the scouting department: Friday nights. As a do-it-all type for Lake Gibson High, there are seemingly endless samples of McClain's combination of length and ball skills on display for all to take in. He can win at the apex, over the shoulder and even on contested grabs like a polished wide receiver type can.
McClain has been a multiple position player for the duration of his football career, making many curious about how high his defensive back ceiling just may be. He's already, arguably, the top ball hawk among DB projections as it currently stands, so any thought of adding the combination of more experience and/or technique will only reemphasize the point. But when the ball is released and No. 7 makes his break for it there aren't many losses on the resume.
It's when the ball is up for grabs where the top-end of McClain's projection exists. It's not just the ball skills and long arms, but the urgency or twitch apparent when he realizes the potential for a reception or interception. The instincts ooze off the charts as far as the actual football is concerned, something right in line with what every college defensive coordinator wants in the pass-first nature of today's game. That speed, desire and production translates following the interception, too, in case wonder remained. McClain notched a pair of defensive scores as a sophomore and had two called back last fall.
There is plenty of room for McClain to improve his game, especially from a lower-body strength and technical standpoint, but he also has the qualities that blur the margins between floor and ceiling going for him. He works bail technique, press-man and off coverage well in man or zone fronts, with an understanding of passing players off and working combination routes thanks to the wide receiver background. His speed allows for more read steps or drops than most every other prep defensive back, too, so his trail technique -- by design or default -- is also among the best, nationally.
The thought of another year of two-way work before settling on one position, somewhere in the secondary, is the kicker in supporting McClain's status as perhaps the top skill recruit in the class of 2023. How high is SI on the Floridian? A look back at the SI99 rankings from the 2022 class reveals as strong a cornerback group as our staff has scouted.
Even then, McClain would check in above the rest should he have been a senior last year.