Thursday, February 11, 2016

Breaking down Kansas State's 2016 recruiting class

After checking back I realized that Manhattan should have come before Lawrence in our order...I think I make this mistake or a similar one annually when I break down the Big 12's classes. However, in this case it allowed Snyder to do a little extra work in snatching up some extra JUCO transfers and preferred walk-ons, who often end up forming the foundations of his teams.

I'm going to look at 25 of the players Kansas State will be bringing in as they try to rebound from their awful 2015 campaign that was ruined by injuries to their leading QB Jesse Ertz and many of their best defensive players.

They're losing quite a bit next season with the most grievous losses coming on the OL and at cornerback and could really benefit from finding some players in this class that they can plug in for immediate help.

They went into nine states to put together this class, pulling nine players from Kansas and six from Texas to make up the bulk of the team. There are seven JUCOs/transfers, four greyshirts, and two preferred walk-ons in this bunch.

Offense


Quarterback

This is where Kansas State makes their living, playing ultra-versatile and super tough QBs that can execute their spread West Coast passing attack AND their single-wing QB run game. When they have all that rolling, there's just not a ton you can do even if none of their players are exceptional talents. Jake Waters was great in that passing game but too small to handle the runs, Joe Hubener was poor in that passing game. They've got a gazillion guys already on campus competing for next year but they've added one more.

Takes:

Skylar Thompson: 6-2, 193. 3***
Independence, MO
Were he heavier or committed to a more high-profile school, Thompson would have been a four-star. My eyes have him pegged as a guy that will probably play at 215 or so and be a 4.8/4.4 guy (40 and shuttle times). As a runner he's tough, laterally quick, and gets up to speed quickly which is key for KSU's offense. He's already good at setting up his blockers and will only get better under Collin Klein's tutelage but his greatest attribute is his vision.

More importantly, Thompson is the best passing prospect I've seen Snyder sign and a lot of that is due to his excellent vision. He's got a good arm, he throws with a lot of touch and with great ball placement, but he also knows how to scan defenses and find open receivers. I don't think he's the answer in 2016 but Thompson should be very productive at Kansas State.

Grade: A
Thompson is the perfect Wildcat QB prospect and probably the best one I've seen in the 2nd Snyder era coming out of high school.

Running back

Theoretically the K-State running game can thrive with a variety of different types of running back but they often seem to target scat backs that can hide behind double teams before darting through creases. They have a very diverse run game and generally want guys that will take the time to learn how to block, protect, precisely read their keys, and run hard before they're allowed to see the field.

Takes:

Mike McCoy: 6-2, 215. 3***
Topeka, KS
McCoy is a big, punishing back who lives to set up defenders to come inside so he can then take the edge and get up to speed where the F=MA equation makes his stiff arm a nasty tool. He's running mostly zone schemes in high school and is the prototypical outside zone "plant and go" RB. He also loves hitting the cutback on inside zone and then bouncing it even further out to the cutback sideline. Whatever, KSU runs everything so if he emerges as their best runner that's how they'll use him. They haven't had too many power backs like him.

Grade: B-
McCoy is a nice take but their only one at the position and his preferred style will be harder against D1 speed. They'll probably want to take two more in 2017.

Ancillaries

Kansas State is all about the ancillaries and they use a ton of different formations, many of which you don't even see from other Big 12 schools, in their massive playbook and "kitchen sink" offense. They love the fullback position and regularly recruit guys to be featured fullbacks in their offense. They're also big on the TE position and will use them in any way they can find use, including as H-backs, in attached alignments, and flexed out. Their biggest need is probably for a true TE that can block and run routes.

Takes:

Brock Monty: 6-3, 210. 2**
Wichita, KS (preferred walk-on)
I had to think long and hard about where this HS QB/FS was going to fit in college. The fact that Harbaugh also offered him a preferred walk-on position at Michigan helped clarify his best projection, which is as a TE. He was a smart with QB with nice touch on his throws but he lacked the arm strength for that to make him a particularly attractive option at that position.

However, his frame should fill out to 240 or so without losing too much of the 4.8 type speed he has. If he can maintain his current quickness, and takes well to blocking and catching, he'd be a nice target at TE.

Ian Rudzik: 6-1, 225. 2**
Ulysses, KS (greyshirt)
In your standard football movie plot, there's often a stereotypical villain who's always played by a big, meaty white dude who's often the fullback and/or opposing linebacker who's all downhill all the time and runs over people until some plucky hero finally takes him down, usually with deception. That's Ian Rudzik playing HS ball in Kansas.

He ran an 11.0 flat in the 100m and has legit explosiveness moving downhill but iffy fluidity changing directions in space. He could play inside-backer but has the highest ceiling as another hammering fullback in the mold of Braden Wilson or Winston Dimel.

I'm not sure why they are grey-shirting him other than that they can since his best competing offer was at Kansas and they suck. He's already got the build to play FB but if you can greyshirt a kid, you do, everyone wins except his parents' checking account.

Nick Lenners: 6-4, 240. 3***
Lincoln, NE
It's surprising to me that they pulled this kid from Lincoln when Mike Riley has brought an offense to Husker-ville that emphasizes TEs. Evidently they didn't offer.
Lenners played several positions in HS from "dive option" fullback to split end WR and was solid in all of them. He's got some potential as a blocker and was effective out of an H-back alignment and he's solid in the route running department.

Grade: C+
I think Rudzik will probably be a really good player here while Monty and Lenners make it likely that KSU will be able to credibly use TE formations but I don't know if either of them will ever be impact players.

Wide Receivers



Kansas State regularly gets away with recruiting this position more poorly than the rest of the league for two main reasons. The first is that their passing game is very timing-intensive and diverse and thus well-suited to making the most of hard-working guys that understand how to get open and have good hands. Secondly, they are exceptional at teaching those skills to raw athletes and are fantastic at nabbing players who's only established skill is being absurdly fast and then teaching them to be wide receivers. It almost doesn't matter who they signed here except they do need at least one speedster who's athletic enough to get open even when the focus of a defense is on him.

Takes:

DJ Render: 5-11, 170. 3***
Kennesaw, GA
Render is a very well rounded receiver who got a lot of play in high school thanks to his 4.6 or so speed and ability to do damage on screens and sweeps but also to get open against zone or take the top off a defense with deep routes. He's a good prospect in the slot and potentially outside as well, his solid hands and understanding of how to get open should play well in the Wildcats' timing routes.

Corey Sutton: 6-1, 197. 3***
Charlotte, NC
You just have to rattle off Sutton's Sparq numbers to know he's a special athlete: 4.56 40, 4.12 shuttle, 37.4" vertical, 35' power ball toss, Sutton is a better athlete than even many of the guys that will line up at WR at the power programs. He'll need to learn to run more patient routes, he gets open too quickly and too easily at the high school level, but he can catch the ball in traffic and if he takes to KSU development he could be very good down the line.

Isaiah Harris: 5-9, 165. 3***
Ft. Worth, TX
Harris relishes in dominating HS opponents with his absurd quickness (another 4.12 shuttle guy) and has been utilizing it to make himself into a very effective route runner. His short choppy steps combined with that quickness just make him a nightmare to try and cover up. He'll probably end up in the slot but we'll see, there's a little bit of Tyler Lockett in his game.

Byron Pringle: 6-2, 210. 3***
El Dorado, KS (JUCO)
For my money Pringle is the second best player in the class. He's coming to KSU as a ready made ISO receiver with three years of eligibility remaining. He couldn't be guarded by opposing defenses while at Butler unless they A) doubled him with a safety over the top or B) played him with a cushion and yielded easy gains underneath. Very few WRs ever progress beyond demanding more than that.

For Pringle it's about speed and his ability to beat press coverage with fakes and sheer quickness. He can go up and high point balls and is a fantastic red zone target on fades for that reason, he's also excellent at running slants. I think he'll start next season.

Grade: A
The only question is how these guys will take to coaching and the time it takes to master the timing of the KSU passing game. The level of athleticism here is well beyond what most of the guys the Wildcats have fielded in the last few years could boast of.


Offensive line

Like at Wide Receiver, the Wildcats employ a very diverse set of schemes and will feature whichever OL are best while always ensuring that they have double teams and ancillaries at the key points to make sure they are always working at advantage. Last year's OL was reasonably solid and regularly employed a former walk-on at RT. The key here is whether they acquired guys with baseline athleticism and size and then their playbook is extensive enough to allow them to make the most of whatever skills are present in the group.

Takes:

Tom Killilea: 6-6, 270. 2**
Lenexa, KS (preferred walk-on)
Killilea is really quite flexible and mobile for a guy that had to accept a walk on spot rather than a scholarship. He wants to be known as "the Hulk" but yeah, you're going to have to do a lot more to earn that one, son. He chose KSU over a variety of FCS offers which is somewhat baffling to me because the kid has some quickness and flexibility and isn't terribly far from being at playing weight to compete in the Big 12. I think he could be a depth chart-caliber RT in due time.

Trace Kochevar: 6-6, 230. 2**
Salina, KS (greyshirt)
Kochevar may stay at his HS position of TE, it's hard to say, but he is currently very thin and very tall. He's going to end up much, much bigger before all is said and done and his greatest attribute in high school is being able to fire out low with good knee bend and a flat back. He'll be a punishing blocker no matter where he ends up but I think KSU is hoping that's at tackle.

Blake Hickey: 6-4, 275. 3***
Godley, TX
Playing in Texas, Hickey had more obvious value to recruiting services. He was an effective pulling guard who could root out a DE when pulling on counter and absolutely mauled people moving downhill on zone. He'd be a better guard prospect than K-State regularly gets from their developmental takes.

Abdul Beecham: 6-3, 285. 3***
Brenham, TX (JUCO)
Beecham is another excellent guard prospect who'll be plugged into the system sooner than Hickey but has four years to play three in Manhattan. He was the left tackle at Blinn last year and was quite good in pass protection for a shorter guy. He's great in outside zone and climbing up to linebackers on combo blocks.

Breontae Matthews: 6-6, 315. 3***
Fullerton, CA (JUCO)
Matthews has Beecham's mobility with three more inches and 30 more pounds on him. I assume he'll get a look at tackle immediately since KSU is losing both starters from last year. He's currently at his best in zone, which of course is more than fine, but he'll have to learn new schemes at KSU since they don't pare down that much.

Grade: C+
This is how K-State builds OL these days, a combination of long term projects from the HS ranks and impact JUCO transfers that can plug holes. All of these guys have foreseeable upsides that include starting for quality OL.

Defense


Defensive line

Whereas Kansas State's offense can take hard working kids and transform them into weapons through a dizzying array of schemes and tactics to give their players opportunities to be at advantage, their defense still relies on having some good athletes. The Wildcats like to play four-down on defense to help control the line of scrimmage while keeping two deep safeties which requires defensive tackles that can protect the linebackers while they read keys and spread out to stop the pass and defensive ends that can set the edge but also get a pass-rush without blitzing much.

Takes:

Kaelin Key: 6-0, 254. 3***
Mission, KS (greyshirt)
It's funny to me that a kid who seems near maxed out at HS has a 3-star rating while a kid like Tom Killilea, who's far from where he'll eventually be, is given only two. Key is too quick and powerful for HS OL, but he's not that great at protecting his body with his hands and when collegiate OL get their mitts on his body he'll get tossed aside. He'll need to add a lot of weight to anchor in the KSU D and he'll need to keep his motor (very good) and work with his hands to be able to translate his production to college.

Jordon Robertson: 6-4, 254. 3***
Dallas, TX
Robertson is similarly feisty as Key but with a much bigger frame and room to add helpful muscle weight in order to grow into a defensive tackle. He's pretty athletic but plays in more of a read and react, protective DE type of system currently. I think he'd made a good 3-technique in a few years and possibly one that can rush the passer.

Bronson "Boom" Massie: 6-3, 211. 3***
Lufkin, TX
Massie is a ferocious bEASTexas kid with a killer inside move and the athleticism to read a play and then find the ball. He's got everything K-State would want in a DE except the weight to grapple with college-sized OTs. Whenever that comes he could be a very productive player for them.

Raymon Price: 6-1, 290. 3***
Norwalk, CA (JUCO)
In his last year at Cerritos Price had 11.5 sacks in 11 games and he reminds me a lot of impact JUCO Demond Tucker who joined Iowa State last year. Like Tucker, Price spent some time at nose tackle but he needs space to work with in order to execute his pass-rush moves and would be best at K-State if they could line him up as a 3-technique and allow him to work on guards in isolation. He's got an inside move he'll use to cross an OL's face that should prove useful against run or pass.

Grade: C-
The Wildcats need good DTs in their program and brought in a long shot project, a developmental take, a promising DE project, and a JUCO that might have an impact but doesn't match their typical preference for big guys who can cover up LBs. If they hadn't landed some solid DT classes in previous years I'd find this haul worrisome.

Linebackers

As I mention above, Kansas State's reliance on playing most two-deep zone puts an onus on having linebackers that can cover ground. They tend to be more clear about having an "inside-backer" vs an "outside-backer" than many other teams in the B12 with the former asked to stay within the box and eliminate creases while the latter is more of an athlete and tool for erasing space and blitzing.

Takes:

Mason Barta: 6-2, 205. 2**
Holton, KS (greyshirt)
One of the advantages of playing in the Big 12 is that it's possible to play heady, undersized linebackers because the OL and run games simply aren't as big or physical as they are in other conferences. Consequently, Kansas always has four to eight white dudes on campus competing at linebacker who are all solid at filling creases between the tackles, some of whom have enough range to play outside-backer, and few of whom are dangerous as blitzers.

Barta is one of a couple of guys in this class that will make sure that supply doesn't run dry for the Wildcats. He'll need to add some weight and get closer to 220 or so but if he does he has the suddenness and know how to be an inside-backer for them. I'm not sure there's another role he's athletic enough to fill save for on special teams.

Jimmy McKinney: 6-0, 230. 3***
Oologah, OK
McKinney is another take like Barta but perhaps with a little more suddenness in his game. I have my doubts about whether he's even 6'0" and I think 230 is more his destination than where he's at currently but he's a solid player in the box with some nice examples on tape of attacking guards in the pass rush and getting gut pressure. He reminds me a lot of Jonathan Truman.

Grade: D
These guys may make sure that K-State doesn't run out of guys that can get in the way of runners and make tackles, they may accomplish that. However, the Wildcats need more guys like Elijah Lee that can cover in space and impact offenses with the pass rush. Stockpiling Will Davis' is no way to win a B12 title.

Cornerbacks

Like every other team, K-State is at their best when they have a corner who can play on an island. They used Morgan Burns in that fashion last year and it went okay, he wasn't really that good of a coverage player but he was good enough that they weren't always killed for it. After that, they want guys that can play on top of a route without getting beat and reliably break on the ball to either contest or make a tackle. They virtually never play press coverage.

Takes:

Javier Craft: 5-11, 170. 0*
Greenwood Village, CO (preferred walk-on)
Craft's dad was coached by K-State coach Tom Hayes in the NFL. I have no idea why no one else knew about him because he has the hips and acceleration to play in the Big 12. He has clips on his highlight tape where he recovers and gets WRs on his hip when defending deeper routes and he's also a willing tackler. I think he'll be a big time corner for them in the future.

Jordan Noil: 6-2, 190. 3***
Hutchinson, KS (JUCO)
Noil has been labelled as a safety but he's got the athleticism to stick on guys when they break routes and he's athletic enough to play off coverage without conceding much when opponents throw underneath. His length is useful there. He'd have good range playing deep zone as a safety but I doubt he moves inside when he can play corner.

DJ Reed: 5-11, 190. 0*
Norwalk, CA (JUCO)
Reed has three years of eligibility left. He's good playing off coverage and staying on top of routes with sticky fingers to snag errant passes in his area. He's a solid tackler as well, I think he could make a decent no. 2 corner in this scheme.

Cedric Dozier: 5-10, 180. 4**** (once upon a time)
Roanoke, AL (graduate transfer from Cal)
Dozier was once an athletic corner prospect who later became a player who couldn't hold his starting job on a very bad California defense. The only hope here is that he figures things out in the simplicity of the KSU D but I think they just took a flyer knowing that he'll be one and done whether he's helpful or not.

Grade: B-
I think the Wildcats actually did really well here. DJ Reed isn't the strongest take but I could see him having value down the line after learning the art of off coverage the Wildcat way. I doubt Dozier amounts to much but if you have a scholarship, what's the harm of taking a one-year flyer on him? Craft and Noil could be good DBs.

Safeties

The safety position is absolutely crucial for the Wildcat defense since it's a bend don't break philosophy. The nickel needs to be a versatile player who can force/blitz the edge but also play vertical routes without always having safety help. They basically want a physical corner in this spot who doesn't have to be brilliant in coverage but can't be bad either. Then they have their free safety spot that needs to be a great athlete with real range and reliable tackling ability and their strong safety who should be an eraser that can drop into the box.

Takes:

None

Grade: F
Uh oh, and they just lost sophomore safety and 2015 starter Kaleb Prewett out of the program. I've no idea what they'll do if Dante Barnett isn't back in 2016 and beyond that they could really be in trouble at free safety. Expect them to hit the JUCO ranks hard next recruiting class for safeties.

Kansas State recruited a really strong offensive class but that's where they've generally been able to make lemonade out of lemons regardless. Meanwhile on defense they've landed very, very little that will help them produce units with enough athleticism to actually bend without breaking. If Snyder's Wildcats go down long term it won't be because of lack of QB play like in 2015 but because their defenses fall apart.

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