Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Breaking down Kansas' 2016 recruiting class

To your collective benefit, or detriment depending on how you look at it, I got some feedback and insight into this class from the man who follows Kansas Jayhawk football more closely than any other man on this planet, arguably even more so than did Charlie Weis. That'd be Kevin Flaherty of 247.

If you are remotely interested in Kansas sports or recruiting in general and you don't follow him on Twitter, rectify this error. You can also read his notes on the 2016 Kansas class here for free.

So, apparently David Beaty and his staff had limited room and were only able to sign 15 scholarship players in this class, 12 of which are high schoolers. Considering that this team is exceptionally young and just went "defeated" in 2015, it's pretty tough to rebuild the Jayhawks with recruiting classes of this size. David Beaty has one of the toughest jobs in all of AQ football and I don't think his program is on the verge of bowl eligibility.

For this class breakdown I'm also including four preferred walk-ons that they signed because there's a very good chance these guys are a factor in the great roster rebuild taking place after Weis burned everything down.

Kansas went into seven different states to pull this class together but 11 of these kids are from Texas and raiding that state is going to be a major strategy for Beaty and his staff. He needs to find guys that can turn his Air Raid offense into another fearful unit within the Big 12 and they need to find more Ben Heeney's on defense to keep that unit at least respectable. It's a tough path for Kansas.



Air Raid coaches seem to be universal these days in preferring "dual-threat" quarterbacks. I believe this is because the number one challenge for an Air Raid team is beating opponents that can play their run games with only five or 5.5 guys in the box. The easiest way to be able to run the ball on teams with a stout front that will play two-deep coverage is to regain a numbers advantage with a mobile QB. There's also the added benefit of the off-schedule play, which can unravel a good pass defense and is the hardest feature to prepare for.


Tyriek Starks: 6-2, 185. 3***
New Orleans, LA
At first glance of the tape, you wonder if everyone lost their minds when it comes to Tyriek Starks. The kid is lightning quick (4.6 or better) and has a rocket arm with a knack for throwing fade routes and deep posts with touch. However, there's precious little on his film where he's reading the triangle or doing much of anything other than running option, scrambling, checking down, or most commonly just chucking it deep. If he can maintain most of his speed at around 210 and learn to make reads and accurate throws in the quick passing game, he could dominate this league like Pat Mahomes. If not, he's probably a great prospect at WR or DB.

Dagan Haehn: 6-2, 190. 0*
Lake Dallas, TX (preferred walk-on)
Haehn had to overcome a torn ACL that he endured during spring practice before his senior year but came back in five months and led his team to the Texas 5A D2 semifinals before going down. Considering that he was playing on a just-rebuilt knee, his senior tape is pretty impressive.

Overall he's just a tad slower with a slightly weaker arm than you'd like to see from a B12 QB offer. However, considering he's now in year two coming off a knee injury where his muscles atrophied as well as his solid size and room for growth, there's a decent chance that Haehn becomes a 6'2" 210 pound kid that knows how to run this offense and is quick and strong enough to do some things with his legs.

Grade: B+
There is zero risk with either of these takes as one is a plus athlete that could be helpful elsewhere if he doesn't pan out and the other doesn't have a scholarship offer yet. If you think Ryan Willis is probably the answer at QB for the foreseeable future, and I do, you have to like what Kansas did at QB in 2016.

Running back

The Jayhawks need someone special somewhere, running back is as good as any other spot. Flex RBs are often highly useful in the Air Raid but a sturdy inside runner who can punish a 5.5 man box would perhaps be most valuable


Khalil Herbert: 5-10, 195. 3***
Ft. Lauderdale, FL
The Jayhawks managed to pluck one of Florida's excess speedsters out of that state and convince him to take part in the B12's least famous Air Raid O and they may well reap the rewards. Herbert is excellent in space, the key will be getting him there either with effective blocking or by utilizing him in the screen game. Although he's short, his low center of gravity doesn't translate to running through people, he's at his best hiding behind OL before darting through a crease. He'd be at his best running screens, draws, and gap schemes, which unfortunately are not the Jayhawks' forte.

Grade: C+
The Jayhawks grabbed just one player and I'm not sure he'll be a feature back or major part of the offense, but his speed makes him a legit weapon and that's a big value add. Getting a tough, between the tackles runner would have been nice.


The Jayhawks curiously added some solid TEs in their last class and don't have a great need in the Air Raid for a lot of ancillaries since they'll be in four-wide sets more often than not. With their available scholarship numbers I wouldn't have taken a guy here unless they had a chance with someone special.



Grade: C
I don't know who all was available to Kansas here but I think they were wise to stand pat for 2016.

Wide Receivers

Again, Kansas desperately needs weapons. They would benefit heavily from adding some possession guys that could be reliable targets but they could also get a ton out of having an ISO guy. Ultimately, they need two really good WRs of any variety in order to win with Ryan Willis as the QB. One of them can, and might, be a TE.


Keegan Brewer: 5-9, 160. 0*
Lake Dallas, TX (preferred walk-on)
Haehn's teammate and top target at Lake Dallas, Brewer had 106 catches, 1600 receiving yards, and 31 total TDs as a senior. I think his SPARQ numbers he ran as a junior say it all: 4.8 40, 4.22 shuttle, 28' power ball toss, 31.8" vertical.

He has great hands, he's tough, and as his low shuttle indicates he has waterbug speed running routes on the inside or the outside. I think these white dudes that dominate at the HS level, lack breakaway speed but are ultra-quick laterally, and have great hands are often underrated. However, while I'd happily extend offers to these guys who are 6'0" or 180+, Brewer's lack of size makes you wonder if he'll be able to survive the uptick in violence from 5A ball to the Big 12.

Fantastic guy to take a chance on as a preferred walk-on though, if nothing else defending Haehn throwing to Brewer on the scout team will be a reasonable practice facsimile to defending the likes of Mayfield or Mahomes.

Evan Fairs: 6-2, 180. 3***
Richmond, TX
Fairs is the fourth best player in this class (by my count) and has real potential to be an ISO WR on the outside for the Jayhawks. He's got legitimate speed and regularly runs past HS DBs who try to play off against him and he can go up and high point the ball with his big frame. Their QB often threw post routes to him that faced safety help and he was rewarded by Fairs going up to get it in the face of head-hunters. He can also do damage after the catch on hitch passes to punish off coverage. When this kid is 210 or so he'll be a load to handle.

Grade: C+
The Jayhawks did about as well as they could here with the numbers they had available. Fairs was a fantastic take and Brewer has real upside if he can get bigger and stronger and little downside if he can't. I think one more scholarship offer would have been helpful as they're really going to need Fairs to be a hit for this class to pan out.

Offensive line

This was Kansas' area of greatest need because they were absolutely dreadful here in 2015, fielding one of the worst offensive lines the conference has ever seen. Their system definitely needs long guys that can protect the passer and beyond that, it's about finding a coherent scheme that they can find guys to execute. If consulted I would suggest outside zone and indeed that's where they made their bones last year and what they seem to be recruiting for.


Lucas Jacobs: 6-2, 295. 2**
Ona, WV (preferred walk-on)
Jacobs played center in high school and was usually asked to maul DL with a double team to open holes that were then typically filled by linebackers as quickly as they were filled with running backs. He's solid at getting low and driving a guy off the ball but wasn't good at finding defenders at the second level. If he ends up cracking the depth chart it's probably not a good sign for the Jayhawk OL rebuild.

Antione Frazier: 6-5, 250. 3***
Huffman, TX
Frazier is our first example of what almost every Kansas OL recruit in this class looks like: Thin (for an OL), long, light on his feet, and with questionable upside in regards to how big he'll get. If he could maintain his current quickness at 300 I'd think this was an amazing take but his frame doesn't look like the frame of a guy that should play above 280 or 290. Of course, if OZ is the main scheme that could work just fine and he could be an effective RT or OG.

Hunter Harris: 6-3, 257. 3***
Aledo, TX
Harris is an interior prospect that mirrors Frazier on the outside. He's quick on his feet, plays with a nasty edge, he can execute a combo block and then climb up to a linebacker, and he doesn't look like a guy that will ever be that big. I foresee some early morning alarms and sandwiches in his future.

Malik Clark: 6-5, 310. 2**
New Orleans, LA
Clark comes from the same school as Starks in New Orleans, a nice package deal for Kansas. Clark would be a plus athlete at guard, might be able to stick at RT, but probably won't ever be athletic enough to be a lead tackle on the left side. He's a very promising pick-up for Kansas with big eventual upside after a few years of training.

Chris Hughes: 6-4, 260. 3***
Harker Heights, TX
Texas fans may recognize this as the younger brother of Cam and Naashon Hughes, and his body seems to fit somewhere in between those two Longhorn signees. He's never going to be as big as Cam but he adds weight more easily than Naashon. I think his upside is as a very athletic, 290 pound guard who's excellent at executing reach blocks on outside zone.

Cam Durley: 6-6, 275. 3***
Sugar Land, TX
Durley had to take an extra year to get eligible after initially being a part of the 2015 class. He's raw, but he's long and quick and unlike the other guys in this class it's very easy to see him being an athletic OL at 300+. So long as the eligibility issue wasn't an indicator that he'll struggle with college life and schematic complexity, he's the best OL prospect in this class and the most likely future LT.

Grade: B
The Jayhawks recruited guys that fit what they want to do and what could conceivably work on a consistent basis at a place like Kansas, which is getting hard-working, quick, and hard-nosed guys that can learn to become an effective unit with time and focus on zone blocking techniques.

It's instructive that they determined to take so many projects and arrive at a good OL through real investment and development given how awful the unit was last year and how many holes they have. I hope Beaty is given enough time to see this plan through.


Defensive line

Kansas has been running a 2-4-5 defense the last several years under Clint Bowen, a very good scheme both for a smaller school like Kansas and for the Big 12 conference. Theoretically, if Kansas could force 3rd and long it'd be a nasty scheme to blitz from. Their needs in this scheme are for a pair of really sturdy tackles to allow the stand-up DE/OLBs to play exclusively on the edge. They also need said DE/OLBs to be athletic enough to be worth featuring and athletic enough to occasionally drop into coverage in the flats.


Deelsac Davis: 6-3, 290. 3***
Highland, KS (JUCO)
Davis was kicked out of another JUCO before attending Highland and has a rep there for taking plays off. A glance at his film gives a clear reason for why that would be, Davis plays like a 3-tech, always looking to club OL and get into the backfield. However, they often lined him up as a nose tackle where he'd be double teamed, and his methods for dealing with double teams would leave most humans exhausted and dispirited.

He's a real talent who could do some damage if regularly facing 1-on-1 blocks from guards, but that's not the design of Kansas' defense so he'll either have to develop some new techniques or else face the bench.

Isi Holani: 6-3, 300. 3***
Riverside, CA (JUCO)
Holani also tends to play like a 3-tech, or 3-4 DE, preferring to engage a single blocker and get inside of him with his powerful arms before shucking them in a two-gap technique to defend either gap. Like Davis, he's going to have to learn how to deal with the realities of regular double teams, but his style is a little better suited to the role of plugging the interior.

Isaiah Bean: 6-4, 210. 3***
Humble, TX
I have Bean no. 3 on the Jayhawks list of commitments and he's an ideal DE prospect for them. Beal is a terror on the edge, he's flexible enough to work inside against tackles, he's physical despite currently being pretty skinny, and he's a blur around the edge. I'm not sure how he was overlooked as he has the classic "future All-B12 pass-rusher" starter's kit. When he's 230 or 240 in a few years with more refined pass-rush moves, look out.

Grade: C+
Bean is the real deal and I feel confident he'll pan out for Kansas unless there are off field concerns that prevented him from being a desirable take for other programs. Holani and Davis are typical JUCO-roulette options. If they take well to the program and develop in the art of eating space they have ideal frames and talent to protect Kansas' defense. If not, well...Kansas will probably continue to not be great at defense.


To really kill it in the 2-4-5 like Dave Aranda has done at Wisconsin (and now LSU) then you want guys at the inside- and outside-backer positions who are dangerous in the pass rush and capable of punishing teams for trying to block them with RBs. They also need to be capable of playing fast and downhill in the box since those DEs are wide off the edge and God knows how much protection the interior DL are going to offer.


Sam Skwarlo: 6-0, 200. 0*
Lawrence, KS (preferred walk-on)
I'm going to venture a guess that "6-0, 200" is completely false and that Skwarlo is probably closer to 5-10, 185. He was a fantastic wrestler who wrestled at 170 (probably cutting from 180 or so) and in HS he was an explosive RB and very capable inside-backer. If he can stay quick at 5-10, 215 or so he could be a great outside-backer with lateral range to pursue the ball but the strength and wrestling technique to take on blocks in the box. My favorite highlight of his was him chasing down a bigger RB from behind and suplexing them backwards from the one yard line, just shy of a TD.

Maciah Long: 6-2, 230. 3***
Houston, TX
Long was a state championship winning quarterback with North Shore, beating Sam Ehlinger and Westlake (barely) in the state final. He's got excellent burst running downhill and he was excellent hitting cutback lanes on QB power demonstrating that he has excellent vision as well. Kansas is planning to turn him into a heat-seeking missile of an inside-backer, which is probably where his skill set best translates in college. He'll probably be excellent at forcing opposing OL to come off the double teams (which will help those hapless DTs mentioned above) and nasty on the blitz.

They may also use him in a Wildcat package. He's a heralded prize and my no. 2 guy in the class.

Grade: B
Poor numbers here but they got a real stud in Long and Skwarlo may just become a worthwhile player down the line, you figure one of these walk-ons will and you know they'll get the chance.


Kansas observes the same strategy as many other cover 4 teams in around the country trying to find ways to emulate the success of the Spartans. They like to play a space-backer in the nickel position on standard downs and then ask the free safety to play over the slot without much help underneath on play-action or RPOs. It's a hard knock life.

The boundary safety is ideally a guy who excels at supporting the run and cleaning things up. Lots of guys can be effective in that role, hopefully they find someone who can play FS and have a real stud at SS to boost their run defense.


Ian Peterson: 5-11, 180. 3***
Round Rock, TX
Peterson runs a 10.7 in the 100 meters, which is real speed on the football field, and sometimes you see it on film but other times he doesn't appear to have a strong grasp of where he should be. He's a tad small currently, but with some extra muscle and a few years in the program he could be a FS that aligns deep and relies on his track speed to cover grass on the back end. Peterson may prove to have been a very good take.

Bryce Torneden: 5-10, 181. 2**
Lawrence, KS
Torneden is listed in some places as a corner but he needs to be playing safety to be at his best in the Big 12. He chose Kansas over a competing offer from my son's favorite team:

With all due respect to Kansas, I think that was a mistake.

I'd peg this kid as having speed in the 4.65 to 4.7 range and he's very quick laterally and changing direction. If you slowed down Quandre Diggs' HS tape by just a bit it'd have looked like this. Torneden also shows some real ability to blast through the wash to make tackles against the run. I think he could be a high caliber nickel or free safety, which is obviously richly valuable, and hope they don't play him at corner where his speed will be only average and his tackling frequently unused. If he bulks up to 200 or more he could also be a strong safety.

Grade: B+
The Jayhawks didn't grab many numbers (they didn't take numbers anywhere but OL) but they got two different guys that could conceivably fill the demanding FS position and be at least solid if not a plus at the position. That's a fantastic NSD for a school like Kansas. I think both of these guys are probably a few years away from playing, btw.


Everyone's gotta have good corners in this league. Kansas' style of defense is a little more of an aggro-cover 4 approach that is more dependent than some others on corners that can play on islands on the sidelines (with help inside) with the boundary corner position taking the heaviest burden since the throws are more easily accessible to QBs like Dagan Haehn whereas a good field corner really only has to be worried against guys like Mason Rudolph.


Stephan Robinson: 5-11, 173. 3***
Miami, OK (JUCO)
Robinson is good in press coverage and can stick in someone's hip pocket in and out of their breaks. He's also physical enough and a good tackler. He could be a good player if asked to play the field corner position.

Julian Chandler: 5-11, 163. 2**
Missouri City, TX
Chandler has good hips and has some recovery speed (maybe sub 4.7) but isn't really a good enough athlete to survive in this scheme against better B12 WRs and you wonder if that won't be increasingly true after he adds needed weight. However, he uses his eyes really well and has great hands, two underrated skills that allowed him to snag several INTs. If he can get strong enough I think his combination of football IQ and athleticism would make him great in the nickel.

Kyle Mayberry: 5-9, 163. 3***
Tulsa, OK
Mayberry is my no. 1 guy in this class and by far the best athlete that Kansas signed. He's physical, he can play multiple roles and techniques at corner, and he ran an electronically timed 4.5 40 which puts him in the elite echelon of B12 cornerbacks for speed.

The problem is that he's tiny, maybe not even 5-9, and that's largely why Kansas was able to snag him. Height is useful at cornerback, but quickness matters a great deal more and a guy that can force a QB to hit tight windows is not one that you pass on because perfect throws to a big WR will beat him. Go ask Ole Miss if they're glad they took Senquez Golson even though he was tiny.

Grade: B+
Two guys that I think have an upside that could put them on the field for a worthy B12 defense plus a guy that I think could be All-B12 in a few years if everything goes right. That's a nice haul at a critical position for the Jayhawks.

This team is several years away and they need to do really well in 2017, but this class was pretty solid for filling the needs they have with players that could be valuable.

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