Monday, February 29, 2016

Breaking down Baylor's 2016 recruiting class

Baylor's rise to national relevancy has been pretty much simultaneous to TCU's rise as both teams have done a great job of filling the power vacuum left by Texas' malaise over the last six seasons. Since they are both private schools within the same state and within two hours of each other, they are now bitter rivals for prestige and for recruits.

Since both schools have strategic approaches on both sides of the ball oriented around speed and athleticism, there's some real overlap in what they're after.

Here's a reminder of how TCU's recruiting classes have been ranked over this period:


And here's how Art Briles has done over that same period:

*Note: 2013, 2014, included a five star in the "4-star) mentions. Naturally they were both WRs, Robbie Rhodes (2013) and KD Cannon (2014).

Baylor's recruiting picked up faster than TCU's thanks to their breakthrough success in 2011, RG3's Heisman, and Baylor's refusal to give up ground afterwards. However now the two rivals are about roughly even.

Like Patterson in Ft. Worth, Briles has had some luck over this period with his 2-star selections, which have included kids like Bryce Hager, KJ Morton, Orion Stewart, and Taylor Young. In general, they've been polar opposites though with Baylor getting tremendous bang for their buck with their offensive selections.

The Bears offense is a perfect collegiate system which tends towards utilizing extreme specialists at multiple positions and playing their skills off each other in a way that can be devastating for their opponents.

A major challenge over this period for the Bears has been finding enough elite athletes on defense, particularly on DL, to produce top units that can execute Phil Bennett's aggressive strategies. There's also some challenges from the fact that there are emerging blueprints for how to at least slow down the Bear offense, the easiest cure for which is just more dominant receivers that won't allow man coverage to cut down on Briles' options. 

For this class the Bears needed another QB to learn the system and provide some depth after a catastrophic series of injuries in 2015, some potential impact DL, and more speed everywhere to ensure that Baylor doesn't find itself in a spread-out, up-tempo contest against a faster team.

Offense


Quarterback

Baylor's offense works quite a bit differently from every other system in the Big 12. It's simpler, easier to read, and primarily requires arm strength and accuracy down the field and out wide to the sidelines. There can be a lot of different reads since the offense is filled with option routes and RPOs (run/pass options) but none of them are particularly difficult there's just a lot of material to learn and some muscle memory to develop before a QB can thrive. Baylor also prefers their QBs be at least reasonably mobile as they've tended to mix in some QB run game but that's a distant second to their ability to make throws and learn to operate Briles' machine.

Takes:
Zach Smith: 6-4, 208. 3***
Grandview, TXSmith is at an advantage over previous Baylor QB recruits in that his HS's offense was similar to what Baylor is doing. He's got a strong enough arm to make the throws of the Baylor offense and he's also good at buying some time in the pocket and throwing a nice ball on the run, a skill which Petty lacked and which helped make RG3 so devastating.

Smith makes quick decisions and his big frame is going to fill out to a much heavier weight than 208 before he's done in Waco. It's not hard to see how a big guy who can make quick decisions and is hard to bring down in the pocket could do serious damage in the Baylor system.

Grade: B
I like Smith and think he's a great prospect for Baylor and exactly the kind of guy they've thrived with in the past, another athletic project or a guy with better mobility and this grade is an A.

Running back

Baylor's two-back approach to the running game usually calls for more of a downhill, power-back and those types have typically thrived running on undermanned fronts created through the Bears' extreme WR splits. They've had success with speed backs as well but the optimal fit is a power back with some wiggle in the hole.

Takes:
Kameron Martin: 5-9, 170. 4****
Port Arthur, TX
Martin is a true burner who's explosive in his initial burst but also has a 5th gear to pull away in the open field. If he sees a crease between the tackles he'll run through it hard but if he sees resistance he's prone to bouncing runs outside and trying to win the edge. He'll need to get heavier and show more willingness to go downhill and take what's there but if he can, he could be another Lache Seastrunk in this offense. He has some clips that caught my eye where he destroys a 46 front by getting outside of contain.

Grade: B+
Baylor has a ton of different guys already on campus that are good backs so taking a pure speed back with the potential to grow into "the guy" seems a good bet. Martin is potentially a more exciting version of Johnny Jefferson, or like I mentioned above, the 2nd coming of Lache Seastrunk.

Ancillaries

Baylor's "veer and shoot" offense actually utilizes a TE/H-back as a critical piece of the offense in a way that none of the Air Raid B12 teams do. Briles has a more diverse and gap-oriented rushing attack than the Air Raiders and loves to run two-back concepts that force a defense to come downhill in a hurry and expose themselves deep and wide to the vertical passing game on RPOs and play-action. If the TE can also move in space and catch alls the better but he needs to be a good blocker.

Takes:

None.
Grade: FBaylor will need to find some TEs in 2017, I think the absence of TEs in this class is potentially problematic.

Receivers

The upshot of Baylor's extreme WR splits, tempo, and option routes is that their receivers usually just need to be fast and needn't necessarily be very quick laterally. Antwan Goodley did amazing things in this offense just from running slants, gos, comebacks, and screens. Straight line speed is king, anything else is gravy.

That said, opposing defenses are learning how to take advantage of Baylor's reduced route tree and it's becoming more important that Baylor have multiple athletes out wide that can't be covered up in space even if they aren't running multiple routes per game. So to prevent more teams from playing hybrid man/bracket coverages, they need ISO guys and they need more than one.

Takes:

Donovan Duvernay: 5-9, 185. 3***
Sachse, TX
Donovan Duvernay would be a good take for an Air Raid team even if his brother wasn't the fastest player in the state. At Baylor he's going to have to prove himself in the slot against a crowded field but he has real quickness and receiving ability so if he learns to run routes better than anyone else he has a chance to find the field. You also wonder if he might have upside on defense.

Devin Duvernay: 5-11, 193. 4****
Sachse, TX
The fastest player in the 2016 Big 12 class, at the Sparq event he ran a 4.38 40, 4.24 shuttle, posted a 37.7" vertical, and a 37' toss. This is one of the best athletes you're likely to see in the Big 12 in the coming years. What's worse is he already has a fair idea of how to use this speed and has some terrifying clips on his senior tape where he's setting up safeties on double moves from the slot or finding soft spots in zone. He has good hands and seems a pretty sure thing to be the next Kendall Wright or Tevin Reese in the slot or perhaps another Corey Coleman on the outside. Or both.

I think Devin is the 2nd best player in this class.

Tren'Davian Dickson: 5-11, 170. 4****
Navasota, TX
Once a Texas commit, Dickson just couldn't say not to the allure of playing in the most explosive passing offense in the country. He's got some of the best hands in the whole class and if you throw it anywhere near him he's probably bringing it in. Dickson lacks the breakaway speed of Duvernay or Martin but he's very sudden (all-spark quickness) within 10 yards, which makes him nearly impossible to cover up effectively. Like Duvernay, I could see him in the slot or outside.

Perhaps the 4th best player in this class...Baylor does absurdly well at WR these days.

Denzel Mims: 6-3, 175. 3***
Daingerfield, TX
Mims has an argument to make as the fastest player in the class given his 21.3, state-winning time in the 200m. I think Duvernay will prove to play faster on the gridiron, but Mims is going to be a real handful in this offense running in straight lines. His QB at Daingerfield could almost never lead him so you rarely see on highlight tapes how fast he is save for the fact that it's very obvious how easy it is for him to get separation or to get open. He's almost never running all out as it would be wasted effort.

A benefit of him having a QB who lacked a strong arm is that you see him snag some back shoulder fades and demonstrate coordination with the ball in the air. I think Mims would have been a 4-star had he played somewhere like Southlake Carroll in a better passing offense.

Jared Atkinson: 6-3, 200. 3***
Mesquite, TX
Another taller burner, Atkinson ran a 4.54 40 at a Sparq event with a 4.34 shuttle, 33.4" vertical, and 34.5' toss. Once he knows how to beat press coverage and run the Baylor routes he could be really dangerous with his size/speed combo.

Grade: A+
Any of these guys could become dominant, 1k yard receivers and it wouldn't shock me, even Donovan Duvernay who's a pretty good athlete in his own right and only looks average when compared to his freakish twin brother. If he has a "I'll show you guys I'm worth this opportunity!" mentality rather than a "he's the athletic twin, I'm the smart/social/musical one" then don't count him out.

Offensive line

Baylor works a lot of angles in their running game and often face undermanned nickel and dime fronts on all of their runs, so they like to punish this by fielding as massive an OL as they can find. Like Tech, they basically want four obstacles and a lead tackle but ideally the guards are at least semi-credible as pullers since they run some power and borderline maulers since they are generally so big. They're basically looking for guys that fit halfway between "mauler" and "obstacle," tweeners who are quick enough to execute their schemes but bring overwhelming size and power to the mix. Finding a lead guard who's a rockstar pulling on power would be a nice plus. 

Takes:

JP Urquidez: 6-7, 300. 4****
Copperas Cove, TX
Urquidez has drawn mixed reviews but I think he'll be really good once he learns some technique and adds some strength because all of the tools are there. Sometimes he shows really quick feet, other times he gets guys thanks to his reach and then relies on that rather than finishing blocks with his feet. Sometimes he shows real aggressiveness and power, other times he lacks punch. I think he could be a lead tackle in their system with some time and confidence-building work in practice and in the weight room.

Branton Autry: 6-4, 320. 4****
Coffeyville, KS (JUCO)
Autry has loose hips to find guys at the 2nd level or in the pass rush but doesn't always have good knee bend or quick enough feet. He has some good quickness but I don't think he's quite at the level of a B12 tackle and his reach is also borderline for that position. This kind of massive tweener is pretty much exactly what they look for in guards though so he could be a nice one at that position in due time. I know a lot of Baylor writers are plugging him into the 2016 depth chart but I think he might be a redshirt.

Patrick Hudson: 6-5, 300. 4****
Silsbee, TX
After his junior tape I thought Hudson was probably a guard or right tackle, albeit a totally dominant one, in the Baylor offense. His senior tape is amazing though, he could dominate most all of the B12's DL next year as a run blocker and his eventual upside could very well be as a phenomenal left tackle and day one draft pick. They might get him into action early (like sophomore year perhaps) as a guard or tackle and then eventually move him to left tackle if he proves dominant at pass protection and/or if Urquidez isn't up for it/fits at RT.

Grade: B+
All of these are excellent takes for their system, I held them back from an A grade just because taking only three guys is a bit risky at a position that often sees attrition, misses, and injuries. They only took four in 2015 so it's not like they're overflowing with numbers here in their underclassmen ranks and Autry is a JUCO transfer. They seem to have a high opinion of their own ability to have high hit rates on transfers.

Defense


Defensive line

Defensive line is the biggest question mark for Baylor in 2015 after they lose their entire starting front from a year ago. Andrew Billings was the DPOY in 2015 and was massively important in keeping Taylor Young free and allowing the Bears to be more conservative in coverage without getting gashed as a result. The Bears need another DT who can command a double team although it's unlikely they'll find someone who can beat them like Billings did. The Bears suffered in 2015 from not being able to bring pressure without blitzing and need at least one dynamic edge-rusher to make this system work as ideally designed.

Takes:

Micheal Johnson: 6-3, 230. 3***
Missouri City, TX
Johnson is a pretty raw prospect at this point, he's sudden moving straight ahead but I'm not sure how flexible or agile he is moving laterally or turning the corner on an OT and his pass rush moves are mostly limited to bull rushes. He's athletic enough to be a B12 DE and who knows what he'll be after a few years of S&C and coaching but he doesn't look like a top edge-rusher at this point.

Brandon Bowen: 6-5, 227. 4****
Trophy Club, TX
Bowen reminds me a tad of Oakman just in the fact that he's basically just huge and overpowering without a ton of demonstrated flexibility. He's good with his hands and should easily translate his athleticism, size, and skills to becoming a very good defender on the edge against the run. Like with Johnson, I don't know if he'll become the great pass-rusher they need.

Bravvion Roy: 6-2, 315. 4****
Spring, TX
Roy is a big time 3-tech prospect with the quickness off the ball to cause problems for opponents and a need to gain better conditioning and understanding of how to use his hands. I think he's a good prospect for what they need inside at the 3-tech spot, reminds me of Blackshear.

Dequinton Osborne: 6-0, 310. 3***
Kilgore, TX (JUCO)
Osborne has the two things you want to see from a shorter DT, he's very quick and he knows how to play double teams and use his hands. He could be a good nose tackle for them that's good at preserving his gap and the line of scrimmage against zone double team blocks and he's disruptive enough to force those double teams unless you trust your guards to keep him from making periodic TFLs in the backfield.

Jeremy Faulk: 6-2, 265. 3***
Garden City, KS (JUCO)
In his presser Briles mentioned Faulk as a potential solution this year at nose tackle, which is interesting since he's kinda small currently, are they planning on going stunt-heavy in the near future? They probably should given their lack of good, pure edge-rushers...

Anyways, he's a well above-average athlete for a DT that could cause many B12 teams some real problems if he can avoid getting taken down by double teams and massive guards. The 6'1" 255 pound Isaac Gross had a nice run doing exactly this at Ole Miss so it's feasible.

Grade: C
For the most part, Baylor took guys that project to be solid players but they didn't get any guys that project clearly (to my eyes at least) as potentially dominant players in this system. Bennett is basically holding steady here, they'll need to find a transfer pass-rusher in the future or else get better coverage players in the secondary to allow more stunting and blitzing in order to manufacture pressure. They could also go 3-4 but I don't see that as likely with this LB class.

Linebackers

Baylor wants two linebackers like most every other 4-2 team in the conference. Versatility is best but short of that they need at least one outside-backer and one inside-backer. Bennett often brings zero blitzes (man coverage with no deep safeties) so it's best if both of these guys have some suddenness and know what they're doing when blitzing. They've had a lot of success grabbing laterally quick, extra short fire plugs here such as Eddie Lackey and Taylor Young.

Takes:

Deonte Williams: 6-1, 215. 3***
Plano, TX
Williams is pretty quick laterally and played some space-backer and outside-backer in high school, he'd be an above average athlete at the latter and not at the former spot. He knows how to play underneath routes in zone coverage with his eyes on the QB and is a solid blitzer thanks to his quickness.

Grade: C-
Williams is a great take at linebacker in keeping with other guys they've signed and had success with, if they can play him on the inside he'll be a plus athlete. The lack of other signatures is interesting but they did sign four in 2015 and the one I actually watched (no way that guy stays at space-backer, btw) I really liked.

The secondary

Baylor basically plays two types of DBs on the field, they need three coverage-oriented players to staff their corner spot and at free safety. The free safety spot is particularly challenging yet essential since his ability to play off man coverage allows the nickel to attack the edge and the run game. In 2015 their free safety couldn't do this and a potential star player in nickel Travon Blanchard often had to be used conservatively to bracket slot receivers. The nickel and strong safety are more pure support players, guys who can play zone, play coverage, but need to be able to play in or around the box.

Cover DBs

Each corner in this system has slightly different assignments and degrees of coverage ability. The field corner is the most pure coverage player since he's away from the action in the box and can mostly focus on locking down an outside receiver. The boundary corner needs to be able to play run force on the edge as Bennett does like to call some cover 2 on the boundary at times and he should also be comfortable blitzing. That said, if Baylor has a guy that can play lockdown coverage without help they want him on the boundary to free up the strong ("deep" in Baylor's bizarre nomenclature) safety to play the run aggressively. The free safety needs to be a good tackler and a rangy player but what's most essential is that he can play off-man coverage on a slot to free up the nickel.

Takes:

Kenan Ivey: 5-9, 185. 3***
Lancaster, TX
Ivey seems like a guy Baylor could have laid off on in order to get more numbers at LB or OL but whatever. He's got real range and is a violent striker coming from his FS position on film, his play is pretty reckless as he'll often come downhill so fast that if a ballcarrier has room to make a juke he'll end up reduced to taking swipes at them as they go by.

Interestingly, that happens repeatedly on his highlight tape and he always succeeds in getting a hand on the ball and using the force of his momentum to cause a fumble. He'll need to show he can break down and tackle reliably when the players in front of him don't succeed in lining up ball carriers for kill shots.

Raleigh Texada: 5-10, 160. 3***
Frisco, TX
Baylor signed most of the small, violent, ultra-quick in-state DBs in this class that TCU normally get, I wonder if Patterson is privately fuming about that.

Raleigh is the younger brother of Ranthony, who may be a All-B12 field corner at TCU next year if he's back on form after his injury. If he gets heavier he has a mean enough disposition to play on the boundary but it's more likely that he'll be a field corner who can play MEG technique (man coverage in a cover 4 scheme, "Man Everywhere he Goes").

Rajah Preciado: 5-9, 179. 3***
College Station, TX
Ran a 4.56 at the Sparq with a 4.38 shuttle and a 31.3" vertical. Those numbers suggest he's athletic enough to play corner and hold up in man coverage, though he's a bit shorter and the vertical says he might struggle on jump balls.

He's physical enough to play free safety and has the quickness and recovery speed to play off man there, plus that's that the position he played in high school. They got another Terrell Burt here, and unlike most Baylor commentators, I don't mean that as a bad thing.

Parrish Cobb: 5-11, 175. 4****
Waco, TX
Part of what marks Baylor as an ascended program these days is the fact that they were able to protect a hometown prospect from getting raided by the Sooners, who had Cobb's commitment until late in the process. 

He has nothing on his tape to tell me how he might perform as a force-corner on the boundary but he's brilliant in man coverage and could play press-man on the boundary and free up the strong safety to play in the box. Or he might be a dominant field corner who spends his Saturday afternoons playing without any help at all. Tough loss for Oklahoma, even though they still signed a fantastic cornerback.

Chris Miller: 6-0, 184. 3***
Frisco, TX
Miller is the most safety-like guy on this list who's HS tape is replete with examples of him demonstrating range and tackling ability closing on the ball from deep alignments and landing big shots. His Sparq numbers: 4.57 40, 4.09 shuttle, 38.6" vertical, 35' toss, indicate he's one of the better athletes in the class and usually you want such players at corner.

However, with his comfort covering ground and striking, he's probably one of the better FS prospects that any B12 team signed in 2016.

Grayland Arnold: 5-10, 170. 3***
Kountze, TX
The son of a boxer, Arnold is a guy I really wanted at Texas but Baylor cleaned up in 2016 with most of the state's top coverage players. Like some of the other guys in this section, he played a lot of free safety in HS but he also played some corner and demonstrated the athleticism to play some man coverage and stick with receivers on difficult routes.

With his quickness and propensity for violent play he might be the best boundary corner prospect that Baylor is bringing aboard. He might be one to get redshirted and developed before he sees the field but don't be shocked if he isn't ultimately one of the better players they signed.

Grade: A
Baylor signed six guys with at various stages of physical and technical development but all of whom can flip their hips and run and most of whom are good tacklers with some positional versatility. Any time you can load up on athletes like this in the Big 12, you do so.

Support DBs

I think you get the idea by now, these are the nickel and strong safety spots. They like to use more of a space-backer at the nickel but I'm sure they'd play more of a safety at that position if that's what they had on their roster.

Takes:

None.

Grade: D+
Honestly, I don't think this will be a big deal. They loaded up on so many great athletes at WR and with their cover DBs that I think they could very easily move over the rejects from either position and end up with a lot of strong candidates to play these spots. If they'd landed Brandon Jones it would have been a major coup and might have made this the best class in the B12, but they failed there.

***

Art Briles signed an exceptionally fast and athletic class in a league all about speed in space so Baylor fans should be at least moderately excited about the next few years. They aren't going to slip too far in the Big 12 with A-rated WR and CB classes joining the program

The two areas where Briles needs to do well in order to help Baylor continue to fight to be king of the hill are at OL (where they got whipped by OU this last year) and DL (the hardest place to find impact players).

Well Baylor didn't get great numbers along the OL but they signed perhaps the 2nd best OL in the state (gotta go Greg Little #1) and two other promising players there. They got great numbers along the DL but I'm not sure they signed any impact players. However, if all of these athletes pan out they're going to be able to find a formula that works.

On defense, look for them to start to emphasize stunting and blitzing, afforded by having so many good coverage players on the field, rather than trying to sit back in cover 2 and lean on the DL like they attempted in 2015. On offense, they'll just keep on doing what they're doing with better and better players involved.

Just like Patterson's Frogs, Briles' Bears aren't going anywhere just yet.

3 comments:

  1. Michael Johnson to Baylor is interesting. Maybe I've been hanging around the recruiting water cooler too much, but I thought he was being recruited by squads like UW and Houston to play OLB. And from my quick review of him, OLB does look like a better fit. But you never know what an 18 year old will grow into with a few years of S&C.

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  2. Your point about Cobb and Bowen is key. Baylor has been getting top flight WR and offensive talent. Now, they are starting to get DEFENSIVE players that OU and other Tier 1 programs want.

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    1. They're still struggling to get enough of them to really put together great defenses and their system doesn't really do them too many favors.

      I've been a defender of Phil Bennett for a long time but I'm starting to wonder if they would be better off getting an odd front defensive coach who knew how to manufacture pressure better.

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