The evolution of National Signing Day has been astonishing. The unofficial southern holiday has transitioned from an informal gathering of football nerds into show business. On Wednesday, the University of Kentucky spared no expense in providing the BBN with an inside look at the future of Kentucky football. From Mitch Barnhart down, the university is to be commended for its continuing support for Wildcat football program. In my strange world of former player, media, and fan; I was incredibly proud of my alma mater on Wednesday.
However, as the signees awaken this morning, the transition begins from superstar status into a snot nosed freshman. Print the stars on a piece of paper, take a match and burn it. Time to go to work and earn respect on the collegiate level. De-recruiting is not an expected challenge for this class. More on that later. While fumbling through the teleprompter, I began to ponder how this class stacks up against Stoops’ first three and other manners to categorize certain players. The following are film observations that are most likely clouded due to fatigue and a killer coffee hangover:
Sleeper of the Class
DE CJ Carter-Following UK commitment, Carter went from unevaluated prospect to a 3-star player within a 24-hour period. ESPN had him ranked as UK’s 11th best prospect in the class. Attending a small, private school with a 2-8 record while undergoing a coaching change could be reasons for initial assessment. Or, yet another example of the erroneous misperception of the recruiting analysis process.
Three-way tie; Devante Robinson, AJ Rose, Jaylin Bannerman. Robinson didn’t camp or self-promote. Try to find a 6’1 180 CB that ran a 4.35 forty while leading his team in tackles on the master boards. Most likely, and if you can, that player will be rated much higher than a 3 star. Rose and Bannerman are equally as baffling. AJ has legitimate SEC talent to play three to four positions. A long, rangy OLB like Bannerman is extremely difficult to find. All three will the opportunity to compete for immediate playing time if necessary.
Instant Impact Offensive Player
Tate Leavitt-Hutchinson Community College offensive linemen are extremely well coached football players. Add to the equation that Tate was sought-after by Top 10 football programs along with film evaluation and the projection that Leavitt will be an instant starter was not that difficult to formulate. Plus, OT was a critical position of need.
Instant Impact Defensive Player
Jordan Bonner-6’6 230 outside linebackers that can run, play in space, and rush the quarterback are invaluable. While joining a team that returns defensive linemen that tallied 2.5 Tackles for Loss and 1 QB Sack, it’s safe to say that Bonner will see immediate action and be called upon to increase defensive explosion plays.
Landon Young-6’7 308 offensive tackle with a wing span that stretches from Richmond Road to Commonwealth Stadium. Young is the prototypical left tackle and a foundation builder. Only question I have regarding Landon is will he play right or left tackle. I’m not to the point of projecting him in the starting lineup, however it will be extremely difficult to keep the All American out of the huddle.
Position group upgrades
Linebacker, Offensive Line, Defensive Back, and Special Teams-Kash Daniel, Jaylin Bannerman, Jordan Bonner, Boogie Watson, and Roland Walder are the best collection of signed linebackers throughout the Stoops’ regime. Not even close. With the additions of Tobias Gilliam, Devante Robinson, and Jordan Griffin; Kentucky’s secondary skill level has made an astonishing upgrade over a three-year span. With no blue cool aid currently in my glass this morning and taking youth into consideration, I’d place the UK secondary in the SEC’s Top 5. Special Teams also benefitted from a collection of potential returners and a starting punter in Grant McKinniss. As last season taught us, a quality punter and emergency field goal and kick off specialist are necessary. McKinniss brings both qualities.
Stoops era class ranking
First. Forget the recruiting service rankings. Be a rebel and think/evaluate for yourself. 2014 was the year of the stars. 2015 was recruiting for substance and need. Combine those two and you have this year’s haul. Last year I ranked 2015 as Mark Stoops’ best work to date. “Experts” disagreed. 5-6 starters, 8-9 contributors, and 2 Freshman All Americans later, that assessment proved to be correct. It’s not that I’m smart. Let’s be honest, I’m not splitting the atom any time soon. But in evaluation one consideration has to factor: Does Player X love to play the game of football or is football a hobby that brings vast accolades? Collectively, last year’s class loved the game. Initial thoughts on the newest Wildcats present the same assumption. 2014, prove me wrong. Please. Get to work.
Defensive Tackle/Nose Tackle-Kordell Looney and Naquez Pringle were must gets. Both can immediately provide competition as well as depth to a group that lost three starters. Da’Quize Cross, and TJ Carter could benefit from a redshirt year. Defensive linemen are the most coveted and valued Signing Day entity and the position that separates upper level SEC teams from the pack.
Tobias Gilliam, Kayaune Ross, and Roland Walder-The more tape I watched, the more I liked the trio. Ross is a tall, athletic outside receiver with a high motor. The adversity he’s dealt with to sign with Kentucky speaks of high character. Walder and Gilliam are spleen busters, meaning that on film violence upon contact stood out amongst their peers. Call them what you want; snot bubblers, thumpers, etc… Two physical and well coached football players.
Kentucky Sports Radio site was packed with great information yesterday. Hoped you enjoyed. As I fade back into irrelevance we’ll keep you updated on football goings on.