Who knew that recruiting classes could be finished by June? That seems to be Tennessee’s goal, as they gained a commitment from 3-star defensive back De’Shawn Rucker on Sunday.
Rucker is an early candidate for “Best recruit whose ranking doesn’t match their offer list” and simultaneously “Best recruit whose ranking doesn’t match their film.” Right now Rucker is tagged as the 512th overall player and 32nd best safety. That is, quite simply, not how staffs across the south are treating him.
While we don’t have insider access to their coaching offices, Rucker would almost certainly be a take for schools like Clemson, Florida State, Auburn, and more. Part of the reason for the lag is that he doesn’t play at a more traditional high school powerhouse in the state. Tallahassee tends to not produce all that many Division I football prospects compared to the rest of the state’s more populated cities.
Yet Rucker stands out even among the more well known recruits. There is a trio of talented safeties in Tallahassee for the 2021 class: Terrion Arnold, Ahmari Harvey, and De’Shawn Rucker. Even though Rucker is currently ranked lower than the other two, he might be the best of the bunch.
Rucker has adequate build for both safety and cornerback—but those aren’t his main calling cards. His strengths lay in his speed and his instincts. Rucker has impressive closing speed on ball carriers in the backfield, seemingly making up 10 yards of ground at a time. There’s some plays where he seems scrambled in the secondary, but within seconds after the ball is snapped, he figures out where the play is heading and who he needs to go after. For some kids that delay would be enough to get them both out of position and far away from the action. Rucker has the type of skills to make up for it. He also packs a punch when he makes contact, though he could clean up his form and technique.
A decent comparison for Rucker is a further along version of Mordecai McDaniel from the 2020 class. McDaniel was committed to Tennessee for a while before ultimately flipping to the Florida Gators. He had a similar trajectory, where major schools were on him before his ranking caught up to his actual talent. He was also a very good athlete who needed a lot more seasoning before he was ready to see the field. Rucker will need a lot of work as well—but the position clearly comes more naturally to him than it did McDaniel at this point.
To top it all off? Tennessee didn’t just beat other SEC teams for him—they beat out the Clemson Tigers for Rucker. He was trending towards Clemson for over a month, but Jeremy Pruitt and his staff dug their heels in and convinced him to look at Tennessee.