Jamal Adams scored 16 touchdowns in 2013. He only touched the ball 35 times on offense.
Playmakers come in all shapes and sizes. They play different positions and affect the game in a myriad of ways. Perhaps the greatest playmaker in LSU history stood only 5'9" and played defense. There's a certain indescribable quality all playmakers share. Defensively, they are players typically identified as "always around the football" and known for creating turnovers. On Special Teams it's guys that express a penchant for flipping field position and even occasionally taking one to the house. Offensively it's utilized to describe all manner of players, typically those capable of making explosive, game-altering plays seemingly all by themselves. Not all players that score touchdowns are playmakers.
It's not easy to define, but it's almost always easy to spot.
Jamal Adams is a playmaker.
LSU doled out 29 offers to defensive back prospects in the 2014 recruiting class. While flush with young corners and particularly established on the outside, featuring two likely starters which are both true sophomores, the safety pool is thinner. Craig Loston departed for the NFL after completing his senior campaign and while young Rickey Jefferson looked good in spots, no other player has stood out as anything more than competent. Junior cornerback Jalen Mills shifting to safety should help solidify the position, but he figures to be an early entry candidate for the NFL draft. Thus the need for athletic, playmaking safety prospects.
DB prospect Ed Paris committed early in the process. It was of little surprise when the Mansfield, Texas native, formerly transplanted from Louisiana, picked the Tigers, his expressed favorite. He quietly trucked through his senior season, making a handful of trips to Baton Rouge, hardly even flirting with any other programs. Paris features exceptional size for a corner and display safety versatility, but it's clear the staff was looking to add more.
Most attention narrowed to Monroe native Laurence "Hootie" Jones. LSU seemed in pole position, though Alabama remained a lingering threat. The longer the process wore on, the more it seemed Hootie would wind up in Tuscaloosa, which is precisely what happened, then un-happened, then happened again. No matter, around the time Hootie was set to decide, LSU began dialing up the heat on Hebron, Texas safety Jamal Adams.
Fortunately for LSU, they had an ace in their pocket, as the previously mentioned Ed Paris maintained a close friendship with Adams. Though it wasn't largely reported across recruiting sites, Steve Ensminger also did a bang-up job staying in touch with Adams, assuring him they were interested. In short order he showed up in Baton Rouge for the Arkansas game, followed by Corey Raymond making a visit to his home just days later and a return trip to Baton Rouge, this time with parents in tow. Things looked temporarily derailed when a bad ice storm hit Dallas and delayed/cancelled many flights. Paris and family were right there, and the families buckled up and made the trip out to ensure Adams would get the chance to take in LSU with his folks.
Adams was once considered a heavy Texas lean, but also had ties to Florida, through his godfather Joker Phillips. However, the short succession of visits with LSU left many with the feeling that Adams was a strong lean. His commitment wouldn't come until the Under Armour All-American Game on January 2nd. You may remember his baby-usage during his commitment. Adams' decision was even a surprise to Les Miles.
Adams ranks as a composite 5-star talent on 247, with a rating of .9847 compiled from all major sites. 247 themselves rank him as a 4-star, with a 96 rating. He's somewhere between the 5th and 7th best safety in his class and roundly considered a top 5 player from the state of Texas.
110 - 101 = Franchise Player. One of the best players to come along in years, if not decades. Odds of having a player in this category every year is slim. This prospect has "can’t miss" talent.
100 - 98 = Five-star prospect. One of the top 30 players in the nation. This player has excellent pro-potential and should emerge as one of the best in the country before the end of his career.
97 - 90 = Four-star prospect. One of the top 300 players in the nation. This prospect will be an impact-player for his college team. He is an All-American candidate who displays pro-potential.
89 - 80 = Three-star prospect. One of the top 10% players in the nation. This player will develop into a reliable starter for his college team and is among the best players in his region of the country.
79 - below = Two-star prospect. This player makes up the bulk of Division I rosters. He may have little pro-potential, but is likely to become a role player for his respective school.
Tale of the Tape
Short Shuttle: 4.23
Vertical Jump: 34"
SPARQ Rating: 117.63
Adams' SPARQ score rated as the 27th best of all 168 competitors at The Opening. LSU signees Malachi Dupre and Ed Paris both best him. Only five DBs at the event scored higher than Adams. Neither here nor there, but three of those five DBs were Tony Brown, Adoree Jackson and Ed Paris. In hindsight that probably would have just been unfair if they all came to Baton Rouge.
Athletically, Adams passes the eyeball test. But does the film back up the physical traits?
Strengths: Athleticism, Explosion, Coverage Instincts, Playmaking Ability, Hitting
Athleticism: Right at the top of the clip at :09 seconds and and :39, you immediately see the caliber of his athletic ability. Adams played a part-time role as a RB and WR for his team, while also returning KOs. Though he's absolutely a safety at the next level, I'd peg Adams as a 4-star RB if he so chose. Most impressive is ability to find a hole and explode the second level, much like we saw from Jeremy Hill. He displays excellent vision and strong ability to run through contact and make big plays when the ball is in his hands. As a safety, this translates to an ability to make huge plays on turnovers.
Explosion: The previous two clips are fantastic examples of not just his overall athletic ability but how explosive he can be. At 2:20, we see again. In a play that looks like he may be dead to rights on the sideline, he's able to run through an arm tackle and explode up the sideline, cut back across the field and then run through another arm tackle to house a short reception. It's an amazing display of how dangerous he can be when he gets the ball in the open field.
Coverage Instincts: At 1:04 there's a solid example of his ability to read and anticipate coverage. I can't fully tell, but it looks like he's in a either a Cover 2 or possibly in man coverage on the slot. At any rate, watch how quickly he reads the route and is able to jump and break up the pass. He anticipates where the ball is headed, gets physical with the receiver and forces the incomplete. At 1:20, it's less pronounced, but he's able to read the flow of the play and move to the football. These are outstanding skills to see in a young safety.
Let's turn to another video to discuss his other strengths.
Playmaking Ability: The aforementioned offensive plays and returns are strong examples of his ability to do damage with the football in his hands, but perhaps less applicable to his natural position of safety. This applies to his coverage instincts, but check out :20 above. This might be the play that defines his overall ability. He drops into a Cover 2, reads the route, plants and drives toward the route, undercuts the ball, makes the pick and takes it 90 yards to score. That's the total package: athleticism, explosion, instincts and playmaking all wrapped into one play.
Hitting: Start at 1:00 of the above clip and keep going. Enough said.
Height: I feel like I'm grasping at straws attempting to identify weaknesses in Adams' game, but from what I see it's hard to nail them down. Adams is likely in that 5'11" to 6'0" range, which is hardly short, but also perhaps not the larger body type of a guy like Eric Reid. That said, when you look at some of the best safeties in the NFL, being 6'1" plus isn't a necessary attribute. Both Earl Thomas and Ed Reed are guys who tremendously affect the game standing at 6'0" or below.
I hate failing to identify where a prospect lacks, but the combination of athleticism + tape of Jamal Adams is about as good as any prospect in this signing class, and I include Leonard Fournette in that discussion.
I maintain high, high hopes for Jamal Adams. In fact, if I had to stake my name on three players to succeed at the highest level from this signing class, I'd pick Leonard Fournette, Malachi Dupre and Jamal Adams. Why? I think he's got that rare combination of physical talent and "it" factor. Tyrann Mathieu is a player many fell in love with on the recruiting trail for being an underrated baller, and while Adams doesn't suffer from that same "underrated" labeling, he's a player I can see coming in and making an instant impact, even as early as the Wisconsin game.
See this entry from an SI column quoting the always elusive "anonymous" recruiter:
Jamal Adams, S (LSU):"He's the real deal. He got all the physical tools and he's got the attitude and confidence too. The stage isn't going to be too big for him as a freshman. He'll come in and play. He doesn't give a s--- who else is there."
Why? Because he displays everything I love to see from young players. He's not just a guy that's simply a better athlete than everyone on the field and winning that way. No, Adams wins with smarts, athleticism, physicality and toughness. He reads and anticipates coverages but he's also not afraid to come up and tackle. He's an exceptionally physical player and while players like that sometimes concern me with lack of tackling technique, I remain impressed with how consistently he wraps up and takes down targets in the open field.
Simply put, Jamal Adams passes too many tests for me to think he'll be anything but a star. Eye ball test? Check. Tape test? Check. Athletic test? Check. Be shocked if this guy isn't great... not when he is.
High End: Superstar. I'm talking Thorpe-Award-winning, game-changing safety. LaRon Landry 2.0.
Low End: Multi-year starter. I honestly think his floor is being a solid starter for us. Somewhere above Craig Loston and beneath Eric Reid.
Realistic: I struggle to find a ton of flaws in his game. Adams is so fluid, smart, athletic and confident that he's everything I envision from a safety. I listed height as a weakness above, but he's actually right in the range I prefer from safeties. Most taller players struggle to turn and run in coverage, and I think Adams athletic ability and tape illustrate he's more than able to handle various coverage responsibilities. To me, Adams is a lock to be an All-SEC player and don't be surprised if he's locked down a starting safety spot at some point this season.