Monday, February 15, 2016

Breaking down Oklahoma's 2016 recruiting class

Most schools generally have two aims in recruiting, first and foremost to stock the roster with talents that will grow into productive players as upperclassmen a few years down the line. The second is to fill immediate needs and this is usually done with JUCO recruits that have already been developing and are now hoping to catch on somewhere.

Now, JUCO transfers rarely have a big impact in year one at their new school. Some coaches, like Bill Snyder or Sooner OL coach Bill Bedenbaugh, will actually use the JUCO ranks to snag talent that they intend to redshirt and continue developing themselves. That unquestionably happened with many of OU's 2016 takes, but they're also looking to find some guys that can help right away because the Sooners are gunning for a second consecutive Big 12 title and a chance at a national championship next season.

They've got Baker Mayfield for one more season and he's surrounded by a lot of young talent on both sides of the ball that Stoops is hoping will mature to a level that will allow them to dominate in 2016. However, they're replacing their top WR (Sterling Shepard), defensive building blocks Eric Striker and Zach Sanchez, and also a few OL and Striker's complementary outside-backer Devante Bond.

To fill out this roster with guys that could help plug some of those holes they snatched four JUCOs and went into nine different states. Oklahoma's evolutions towards becoming a JUCO-heavy school that recruits nationally has been an interesting one, they clearly seem to be relying on current staff connections rather than their classic recruiting turf in Texas.

They're still milking the Fresno area of California, which was once again very good to them, pulled three very good prospects out of Texas as well as two from Oklahoma, and also ventured north, east, and into Louisiana to find the rest. It's a relatively small class of 19 kids plus a certain transfer from A&M that we'll discuss as well.



I've heard tell that OU is looking to go dual-threat from here on out with their QBs but there isn't great evidence of that in this class. OC/QB coach Lincoln Riley has specifically said that they want guys who are accurate and can make good decisions which are the main ingredients in a spread passing system like this. I don't think they particularly care if their QBs can run or not since the Air Raid is easily adaptable to utilize either pocket QBs or dual-threats, but it isn't a great system for running QBs who aren't reliable in the passing game.


Austin Kendall: 6-2, 210. 4***
Waxhaw, NC
Kendall is the kind of prospect that becomes terrifying in the Air Raid, especially at a school like Oklahoma where he's certain to be surrounded by excellent athletes at the skill positions. Where Kendall excels is throwing accurate balls with good velocity to every part of the field from the pocket. He can move around some and buy time or take yardage if you gift it to him, but no one is confusing him with Baker Mayfield, Kendall is firmly in the "pocket-QB" spectrum. He should be excellent when he's learned the reads of the Air Raid since he has a strong arm, can throw with anticipation, and is good at navigating the pocket.

Kyler Murray: 5-9, 180. 5***** (once upon a time)
Allen, TX (survivor from the great College Station fire of 2015)
Murray was a fiercely contested by Texas and A&M in the 2015 recruiting cycle but ultimately ended up with the Aggies where he was blooded some as a true freshman in the SEC and struggled to make the most of it.

Murray is the answer to a question probably no more than three humans have ever asked: "What if Rafael Furcal was a spread QB?"

He's lightning quick and can throw on the run or from different parts of the field, like Baker or Johnny, but he's smaller than either of them and has had some clashes with authority in his time. He can be devastating in spread running schemes due to his elite quickness but his frame is too small for "featured runner" to be his full-time occupation. The Air Raid is perfect for him, especially one like the Oklahoma system that always includes the RB heavily, and he has a lot of potential in the passing game after he gets more seasoning. If he doesn't lose too much practice time from playing baseball, Murray could be the answer to replacing Mayfield in 2017.

Grade: A
Murray may end up being more trouble than he's worth, but he may also be a star QB that allows OU to maintain high-level QB play when Mayfield is done. Kendall is an ideal prospect to groom for the future and insurance down the line if Murray opts to focus on baseball, gets stepped on by Jordan Elliott, or has some other issue emerge that keeps him from holding down the starter's role.

Running back

Oklahoma is always going to emphasize the running game because they always have great backs and Bedenbaugh builds very good offensive lines. They want a feature back who can carry the ball 20 times a game and outside zone is usually a major component of the attack, which requires a powerful plant and go back that can turn upfield and run over Big 12 DBs. They have some counter and gap schemes in the mix as well now so an inside runner with wiggle could also fit but the guys Bedenbaugh is collecting on the OL suggests OZ will always be the mainstay. Since they're an Air Raid team it's also very easy to make use of a good flex RB.


Abul Adams: 6-0, 205. 4****
Durham, NC
Lincoln Riley has really been working his old North Carolina connects to bring some talented southern talent to Oklahoma. My favorite thing about Adams is that he has legit speed and the ability to stop in his tracks and then get going again with fantastic acceleration, but he's smart and tough enough to use it to cut upfield rather than trying to win the edge all the time like so many other great athletes playing RB.

When he hits a crease with his shoulders square and enough room to get up to speed, he can take it to the house, if someone gets in his way he's strong enough to bull ahead for positive yardage. He's a perfect back for the zone-heavy OU run game. 

Grade: B
The Sooners are well stocked with talent at RB already so taking a single player in 2016 to keep the stable full was the right move. Adams is probably not a transcendent talent but he's a very good one and could be dominant in the Sooner scheme if they continue to produce good OL and passing games that can keep opponents from loading the box.


As I like to say about the Air Raid, "there's an app for that," meaning that because the system is ultimately built around simplicity, repetition, and spacing it's not difficult to incorporate a good fullback, TE, or any other support player if they are worthy of being a focal point in the offense. OU also still needs some blockers to help clear a path for situations where the Sooners want to be able to run the ball (four minute offense, short yardage, when playing Tech, etc)



Grade: D
This isn't really a big deal as it's not hard to find blockers from the ranks of 3rd string LBs and DEs or walk-ons and it's not essential that they find TEs or FBs that can be a big part of the offense, they just have the flexibility to incorporate them if they do.


It is very important that the Sooners find good WRs in this system, obviously, and an immediate impact player would be nice although you aren't likely to find a freshman or even JUCO WR that can immediately be plugged in and be the kind of possession target that Shepard was in 2015. As I've noted, you ideal want an ISO guy in this offense and then a reliable possession guy. Two possession WRs can also work, two ISO WRs would be dominant but they need to be able to help convert 2nd and 7 or 3rd and 5 as well.


Zach Farrar: 6-4, 205. 3***
Southlake, TX
Farrar was teammate to Texas commit Lil'Jordan Humphrey and the main ISO/deep threat guy for the Carroll Dragons last year. Farrar ran a 4.51 in the Sparq test with a 36.7" vertical so he's a huge and fast WR that is going to simply overwhelm most of the cornerbacks he faces even at the college level. He can go up and get the ball and he can run past people, when his route running has been refined he'll be a player that commands a double team against most opponents, a true ISO prospect.

Adrian Hardy: 6-2, 185. 3***
Houston, TX
Hardy is quicker than fast and played a lot of QB in high school because he was a pain to tackle in the open field and all too easy to get to the 2nd level in Dekaney HS's single-wing package. Spend some time with his film and you'll see that this same quickness can be paired with absurd hands to make him a dynamite target in the middle of the field. He'll be a possession receiver in this offense that is regularly targeted running up the seam.

Mykel Jones: 6-0, 180. 4****
Patterson, LA
Jones also lacks elite speed (4.75 type guy) but he's super fluid and smooth and is already running good routes. Jones has great economy of motion and does a great job of efficiently setting up defenders in the open field to fall victim to his jukes and bursts after the catch. Like Hardy, he's likely to become a reliable possession guy in the Air Raid.

Grade: B+
The Sooners didn't find anyone to immediately replace Shepard, but that was never going to happen anyways. Instead they stocked up with two guys that are likely to find success in the circumstances in which they'll find themselves within this Air Raid passing attack as well as a guy in Farrar who could become a dominant weapon down the line that they build around.

Offensive line

Bedenbaugh's preference is to use huge people to play OL and when he arrived in Norman one of the first things he did was try to bulk up the existing roster to get as big as possible. Last year a short-term solution for replacing Jonathan Alvarez when he was injured was to plug in 6-8, 339 pound Derek Farniok at right guard. They want guys that can move their feet to pull or block on zone but they want as big a group as possible. It'll be interesting to watch Kyler Murray try to see the field over this bunch in a few years.


Logan Roberson: 6-5, 318. 2**
Harrah, OK
Eventually, Bedenbaugh is finally going to have the kind of center he wants for his offense rather than the smallest guy on the roster who's worthy of playing (Darlington and now Alvarez). Roberson played LT in high school and he's excellent at zone blocking. He can reach block a DE or if the guard next to him is able to reach the DL Roberson is equally adept at trading off that DL and climbing up to find and take out a LB. His quickness and expertise in the realm of combo blocking combined with his massive size make him a fantastic prospect at center.

Johncarlo Valentin: 6-5, 330. 3***
Philadelphia, PA
You'd expect a guy that's 330 pounds to be a mauler who can root out the toughest DL but perhaps struggles to find targets in space...that's what you'd expect. For Johncarlo, somehow the opposite is true. Valentin is fantastic on the move and never more dangerous than when he gets a free release to the 2nd level to find LBs to pancake. He's less great at driving opposing DL off the line of scrimmage but he can turn a shoulder and he's not giving up much penetration. My guess is that he's more heavy than powerful, so his weight is only an asset if you are trying to move it or it's coming at you after getting up to speed.

Valentin is a phenomenal guard prospect for the Sooners that could be unleashed on their favorite counter or outside zone schemes and might have a really high ceiling after he reworks his body and gets stronger.

Erik Swenson: 6-7, 285. 4****
Downers Grove, IL
The Sooners had to beat out Harbaugh and Michigan for Swenson so he's probably one of their biggest prizes in this class. I think he'll probably end up at RT as I'm not sure he's going to be quick enough in pass protection to play left tackle and keep their QBs clear of the pass-rushing talent Charlie Strong is stockpiling in Austin. We'll see though, most of his HS tape features him run blocking and he's very strong there with great feet.

Ashton Julious: 6-8, 330. 3***
Scranton, PA (JUCO)
One of three JUCO transfers to OU from Lackawanna CC, Julious has the least obvious utility for the Sooners. He's good at throwing cut blocks and when he gets on a DL he can totally envelop them with his massive body but his foot speed is iffy and I don't know if they want a 6-8 guy playing inside at guard, even though they've done it before. I suspect that Julious is here for upside and depth.

Ben Powers: 6-5, 315. 3***
El Dorado, KS (JUCO)
Evidently Bedenbaugh loves to take JUCO OL, redshirt them, and develop them on his own time before getting them on the field. However, Powers is a guy that might compete for a job immediately. I think he's got tackle feet but the Sooners will probably turn him into a plus athlete and pass protector at guard, where they now have two vacancies with Kasitati graduating and Alvarez moving to center.

Grade: B+
The Sooners grabbed four guys with exciting futures and then took a flyer on a guy in Julious that could become something special or else might be a massive depth builder. I'm not sure they found their next NFL LT in this bunch but short of that they did a great job here.


Defensive line

The Sooners are firmly committed to their 3-4 defense now, which requires two major components to work properly. The first is DEs that are strong and versatile enough to hold the edge or work inside while grappling with big offensive tackles or double teams coming from the guards or TEs as the case may be. These guys are often tweeners but long, powerful guys are the ideal. The other need is for a true nose tackle that can eat space and double teams in the A-gaps.


Amani "Moose" Bledsoe: 6-5, 263. 4****
Lawrence, KS
It's unfortunate for the Kansas schools that Oklahoma came in and stole one of the more obvious talents in the state but their 3-4 D offers greater maximization for his skill set than does the 4-3. He's long and athletic and capable of doing great work setting or rushing the edge or hand-fighting with offensive tackles but he's probably at his most dangerous when knifing inside into the B or A gaps on stunts. He'll have opportunities to do both at Oklahoma, often with the accompanying threat of a LB blitz off either shoulder that should help him to find favorable match-ups.

Grade: C+
Oklahoma didn't have a ton of scholarships to give out this class and DL is where it suffered. They got about as good a prospect as they could have found short of a future NFL nose tackle but they'll have to get more in 2017. They took four in 2015 so I'm sure they felt comfortable with fewer numbers here.


OU is playing a true 3-4 defense these days, even against the spread, and it enables them to be very aggressive at outnumbering the run game and blitzing the quarterback. They need three types of linebacker to make it work properly. First, they need a pair of inside-backers that excel at finding the ball and filling creases behind a DL that's aligned and designed to protect them and enable them to make the tackle. Secondly, they need an edge-rusher on the boundary who needs to be capable dropping into the flat but is primarily a pass-rusher. Finally, they need a space-backer to the field that should be a great blitzer but also needs to beat blocks, cover, and make tackles in space. This guy needs to be the most versatile piece of the puzzle and losing Eric Striker hurts.


Caleb Kelly: 6-3, 215. 5*****
Fresno, CA
Kelly is the crown jewel of the class and just the latest 5-star player to come to Oklahoma from the Fresno area. He's a freak athlete who can generate tremendous power over very short distances and totally overwhelm the offensive players trying to block him or escape his arms. He's a good enough overall athlete to be a space-backer for Oklahoma down the line if he can learn all the coverage roles though I wonder if he was sold more on playing on the boundary where he'd have less space to worry about and could focus on accumulating gaudy sack totals.

Mark Jackson: 6-3, 221. 4****
Cibolo, TX
I honestly wonder if A&M was more disappointed to lose Murray or Jackson to OU. I'd try and convince Kelly to learn the tricks of the trade at space-backer in order to allow Jackson to be the boundary guy because this kid is a brilliant pass-rusher with a spin move and outside move that make him unguardable for HS OTs. You want this guy rushing the passer regularly and he could thrive in either a stand-up OLB role or as a true DE once he reaches his eventual playing weight.

Jon-Michael Terry: 6-3, 220. 3***
Tulsa, OK
Terry is the one obvious inside-backer in this class. He played both ways in high school and doubled as a WR that was a feature within the offense in addition to playing inside-backer. He's very fluid and great at filling creases and keeping up with RBs when covered up by the DL but with his size he'll eventually be able to deal with blockers that reach him as well. Terry's eventual ascendance might be a relief for Sooner fans tired of seeing smaller inside-backers struggle to stop the forward momentum of bigger backs.

Kapri Doucet: 6-1, 225. 3***
Scranton, PA (JUCO)

Emmanuel Beal: 6-2, 215. 2**
Scranton, PA (JUCO)
The Sooners grabbed both outside linebackers from the Lackawanna CC defense with Doucet and Beal. Despite his larger size, Doucet was more often used as the space-backer then Beal because he's a better overall athlete and could play in space while still bringing pressure despite coming from a wider alignment. That said, Beal is a gifted pass-rusher and would be very difficult to block working off a good DE and opposite another good pass-rusher at the space-backer position.

Doucet should be helpful as they try to find someone that can handle Striker's role while Beal's participation in 2016 will likely depend on whether previous recruits like Ricky DeBerry or Ogbonnia Okoronkwo are ready to be featured pass-rushers at that Jack position occupied in 2015 by Devante Bond. There's also a chance Beal moves inside but I expect Doucet to remain on the perimeter.

Grade: A
The Sooners took numbers here but everyone included has at least three years of eligibility left (three to play two for both Doucet and Beal) so while they may plug in Doucet to help replace Striker they'll have time to develop each of these players. That coming day in the future when the Sooners could keep Kelly and Jackson on the field together full time (in their base 3-4 or perhaps in a 2-4-5 nickel package) along with "Moose" Bledsoe is not a day any Big 12 team should be looking forward to.


OU played with cover 4 quite a bit in 2015 and it's an important part of their coverage arsenal, but these days they are primarily a MOFC team utilizing more Saban-style pattern-matching cover 3 than two-deep zone. They mostly play their safeties field and boundary with the field guy (strong) more commonly carrying responsibility to play what amounts to man coverage on slot receivers while the boundary guy (free) spends more of his time playing in the deep middle.

There are two ways to make this work, one is to have a free safety with a ton of range who can cover a lot of ground on the back end while the strong safety is a guy that you're excited to have closer to the action where he can impact the game as a box player. Since OU tends to play a space-backer over the slot who is more of the "blitz the edge, join the box) weapon this isn't the way they like to do it.

Instead they go with option two, get a coverage-minded strong safety who can free up the space-backer to attack the offense and to protect a less rangy free safety from getting abused in the seam. With this model you basically want a physical corner playing strong safety while a heady and tough guy manning the deep middle at free safety.


Chanse Sylvie: 6-0, 186. 3***
Shreveport, LA
Sylvie is a fairly rangy headhunter, which you love to see from a dude with good size (6-0 and a frame that probably gets to 200 or so) for the position at the Big 12 level. With a few years of development in the Oklahoma scheme and getting versed in opposing team tactics he could very well be a free safety that thrives as the sole zone defender in man coverage who intimidates opponents coming over the middle while quickly adding an extra hat to stop the run.

Grade: C+
Sylvie is a good take and perhaps one of the corners will get moved to safety, but the Sooners need more cover safeties for the day when Steven Parker either graduates or departs for the NFL.


When they mix in cover 4 the OU cornerbacks need to be able to play physical, force play on the edge but for the most part these guys are more pure coverage players. They're going to be on islands down the sideline pretty often and while the Sooner coverage packages can send them help here and there, they both need to be pretty good and ideally one of them can play mostly without assistance.


Parnell Motley: 6-1, 180. 3***
Washington, DC
Motley is excellent at playing screens and being physical on the perimeter but he has enough COD (change of direction) and acceleration that he might be able to stick at cornerback for the Sooners. If not, his size and physicality on the perimeter would make him a great candidate for the strong safety position that this class is otherwise missing. He might also be a nickel.

Jordan Parker: 5-11, 184. 4****
Pittsburg, CA
Parker's Sparq testing results speak to him being possibly the best athlete in the whole 2016 Big 12 recruiting class and one of the best candidates to grow into the kind of lockdown corner you can build a defense around. He ran an electronically timed 4.49 40 with a 4.27 shuttle, 35' power ball toss, and 36.9" vertical leap. Parker is a physical player in addition to being a good coverage athlete and will fight blocks on the perimeter to disrupt screens like a B12 corner must. He's confident enough in his recovery speed to play off coverage and get eyes on the backfield, which is very valuable in a cover 3 scheme like Oklahoma's. This was a fantastic addition.

Grade: B+
Only two guys so this isn't a dynamite haul but both takes were excellent. Parker should be All-B12 before he's done in Norman if he wants it and Motley is a versatile project of the sort that every Big 12 defense should be stocking up on every February.

Oklahoma did very well here with a class that was limited in size and are already on track to leverage their playoff success into a strong haul in 2017 as well, perhaps adding more Texans into the mix.

The Sooners were at a disadvantage against Clemson in the playoffs, featuring a team with more and better athletes particularly in the upperclassman ranks, but they are starting to reverse that trend with these last two classes.


  1. Couple of questions regarding process first.

    Your grading seems dependent on
    - Number taken at that position
    - Quality
    - Fit. I really like how you include fit into your rating. This is one of my peeves about the recruiting industry star ranking.

    My question is about number taken as it relates to quality. I don't think it should unless there is a gross misallocation of players. To wit, I don't understand how OU's RB could be anything other than an "A" based on the fit, quality, and limited numbers in the class.

    Class size:
    I think 19-21 is actually in the OPTIMAL class size, and that classes of 25 should be outliers only for programs with high numbers of player declaring early for the draft.

    Having only about 20 slots means that you've had relatively low attrition over the past couple of years. This means most of your players are gaining seasoning in your program and maturing physically and academically.

    If you're bringing in 25 - 30 players, you've had a lot of early departures. There are only a limited number of programs where that can be viewed as a okay (eg, Bama and Ohio St, and K-St as a different model). Early departure means that you maturing players through your program. On the offensive side of the ball, this is likely really important for OL, WR, and QB consistency.

    On to the players:
    QB - Number (N), Quality (Q), Fit (F)
    N-A, Q-A, F-A

    RB - What transcendent talent would come to OU this year with the present RB depth chart (in addition to Mixon, Perine, Anderson and Brooks have gotten good reviews)? So, I think OU did really well getting a good fit for the system.
    N-A, Q-A, F-A

    Ancillaries - The Sooners brought in Dalton Wood as a preferred walkon. He's a guy that was part of the 2015 class but didn't show up. Good measurables. Proven flakiness.
    N-A, Q-C, because he may never stick, F-A

    Receivers - You're bullish here longterm, but what about next year? I'm discounting Hardy (position switch) and Farrar (baseball this spring), so could Jones contribute in 2016?
    N-A, Q-C (OU needs immediate contributors, but probably didn't get even one), F-A

    Offensive line - Julious is an interesting take. Swenson was a Michigan cast off, as you surely know, so was this a dig at the Sooners getting sloppy seconds? Bedenbaugh's done well with highly regarded players at OU and with lesser regarded players prior to coming here. Except for one of the G spots, there's time here.
    N-A, Q-C (with the caveat that projecting OL development is worse than a coin flip in most cases), F-C (No one stands out as a certain T).

    1. "My question is about number taken as it relates to quality. I don't think it should unless there is a gross misallocation of players. To wit, I don't understand how OU's RB could be anything other than an "A" based on the fit, quality, and limited numbers in the class."

      Don't make too much of the grades, I put a lot more thought into the comments on the players and the comments on the grade than the grade itself.

      "Receivers - You're bullish here longterm, but what about next year?"

      Someone already on campus needs to step up, you were pretty much never going to find a big time contributor to help ease the loss of Shepard in 2016 from this class.

      "Swenson was a Michigan cast off, as you surely know, so was this a dig at the Sooners getting sloppy seconds?"

      I actually didn't know that but it's not terribly surprising. I think he's a solid take, 4-stars seems high.

    2. I respectfully disagree with your assessment of the offensive line.

      First, Oklahoma's rushing attack prizes size and lateral quickness over raw hitting power, and thus both Roberson and Valentin project as good fits in the interior.

      Second, I do not put the same weight as you do that Swenson is a "Michigan cast off." I see a guy who is a solid three-star right tackle who could potentially start in 2017. I'm not saying he's the next Drango in the Big12, but nothing to scoff at either.

      Third, Powers really is a guy who can start immediately, probably at guard to start off with, but potentially shifting over to tackle depending on the rotation.

      So I see "B" grades at quality and fit. Nothing great, but definitely good.

      (I admittedly have no idea what to think of Julious. Your guess is as good as mine.)

    3. I hear what you're saying.
      The C for quality comes from two things. First, projections of high school OL to the college OL is poor. Therefore, unless you get a sure-fire, 5-star player, average is what you get from me--no grade inflation here :).

      For fit, I get concerned by the absence of OT candidates. Brown is likely leaving after 2016. So the OL will be replacing one next year. OU's got two good prospects in 2015, in addition to Samia.

  2. Defensive line - OU took 4 DTs, at least 3 with NG potential, in 2015. I wonder if one of those guys ends up as a DE opposite Walker. Regardless, OU'll need at least 5 DL to get heavy minutes to match up going forward so not getting another DE was a disappointment.
    Can Bledsoe project for one of those spots next year?
    N-D, Q-A, F-A

    Linebackers - Replacing Striker is the same as replacing Shepard in my book, possibly impossible for because of practice ethics and on the field energy and production. His body language in the Orange Bowl on Clemson's opening drive in the 3rd Q showed the OU was done on defense.

    OU's brought in 7 LBs in the last 2 classes, 4 that were 4/5 star with another an underrated Oklahoma product (Terry) and a JUCO (Doucet). The substrate isn't the problem now.
    N-A, Q-B, F-A

    Safeties - Parker leaves for the League after 2016. OU's supposedly got his replacement in Haughton (2015) or Motley (2016). I think these were two good takes. I'm bullish on both Motley, who I think fits here (but I thought the same thing about Jordan Thomas), and Sylvie.
    N-A, Q-A, F-A

    Cornerbacks - Jordan Parker looks the part of an OU CB, but missing on two other players hurts.
    N-D, Q-A, F-A

    OU did better than expected: QB, RB
    OU met expectations: LB, S
    OU didn't meet needs: OL (quality/fit), WR (quality), DL (number), CB (number)

    In an ideal world, the Sooners would've gotten a rainmaker at WR, better LT candidates. I would trade a LB and OL for another DL and CB. It's hard to fault the staff for the misses on the DL/CB side because the Sooners felt they were in good position with desireable DL (Daniels) and CB (Cobb, Mayden) late in the process.

    1. I think OU's done well overall over the last three classes that I've observed. As long as the coaching continues to be a step up they should be contending regularly for the B12 title, I don't know if they are recruiting well enough to do better in the playoffs than they did last year against Clemson but perhaps so. We'll see.

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