Monday, February 22, 2016

Breaking down Texas Tech's 2016 recruiting class

Heading into Lubbock, Kliff Kingsbury had a strong reputation from Texas A&M as a great mind within the Air Raid coaching tree but something to prove in terms of overseeing and fielding a good defense.

That bore out pretty clearly over Kingsbury's first few years at Tech. He immediately translated an iffy stable of QBs (Michael Brewer was hurt, Davis Webb was a freshman with illness, Baker Mayfield was a walk-on) and the presence of future pro TE Jace Amaro into an explosive offense while struggling to field a good defense.

The reputation of the A&M/Kingsbury iffy culture was borne out when Kliff had to fire much of his defensive staff for various reasons after they struggled to put a unit on the field that could resist an opposing running game. The jury is still out on whether new DC David Gibbs (son of zone-blocking guru Alex Gibbs) and his "get turnovers at all costs!" strategy will work at Tech.

One thing is clear though, the Raiders need to continue plugging in guys that will make for fearsome weapons in the Air Raid but more than that they desperately need physical athletes on defense. The Big 12 title is never won by an explosive offensive team that plays average or mediocre defense, there's always a team out there that can light up the scoreboard and play solid defense. Tech will always be an explosive also-ran until they get this figured out.

In this class Kingsbury took 25 players, including one greyshirt and three JUCO transfers, 17 of the total coming from Texas. They were able to pick off a couple of Jayhawk community college guys and six players from the south (Louisiana, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Arkansas) but Tech always lives and dies in Texas.

What's interesting about this class is that they ended up with a few West Texas kids, a region that hasn't really been that dominant in Texas HS football since the oil boom slowed down, and five kids from just two Texas high schools (Cibolo Steele, which is a San Antonio suburb, and Dallas Skyline). You wonder if they settled some and failed to cast a wide net, were trying to ensure they got key players from those schools, or if they really got five great players from those two schools.

We'll make a note of how that went as well as how they did in finding the kinds of athletes that will give them a chance to play Big 12-winning football.

Offense


Quarterback

Like many other Air Raids, Tech seems highly invested now in finding QBs that can run and scramble, and the schools of Air Raid doing this are almost becoming a hybrid of the Leach offense and the Oregon system. Like I noted with other teams, the Air Raid becomes much more devastating when the QB allows the offense to have numerical advantage to run the ball on 5-, 5.5-, or 6-man fronts. As Kelly always said of his Oregon QBs though, being able to throw the ball still comes first.

Takes:
Jett Duffey: 6-0, 175. 3***
Mansfield, TX

Duffey is a 3rd generation HS spread QB, meaning that his offense is built around QB option and deep throws as a way to attack the entire field in as conceptually simple a manner as possible. He's great in the QB run game, great at scrambling and throwing on the run, and he throws with touch and accuracy down the field. The big question is whether he can learn to make decisions quickly on RPOs or quick game concepts after a few years of Air Raid training. Another concern is whether he can be this quick and elusive closer to 200 pounds. Like many other dual threats, he's a good athlete who can have value elsewhere if he can't handle the upgrade in required know-how for the position.

Grade: C+
There are some that think Duffey was a steal who will be a big time QB in the future. It's possible, but I've seen a lot of Duffeys in the past struggle with the sped up decision-making process of the college level. You can't just buy time with your legs and wait for guys to get open in most B12 offenses. RG3 pulled it off at Baylor but that was a 3rd generation offense and he was an elite athlete.

Running back

Tech seems to want speedy backs who can be useful with screens and the quick game in addition to running the ball and their outside zone run game can feature a wide variety of different types of backs, so long as they are fast enough to threaten the perimeter and good at cutting upfield.

Takes:
Da'Leon Ward: 5-11, 180. 3***
Dallas, TX

Ward was one of Tech's Skyline HS pulls and is probably the best one, imo. He has good balance and runs hard when cutting upfield. His HS specialty was running up real close to his OL and thus positioning himself to dart through creases as they appeared, he did that mostly on power concepts but it's a skill that can be translated to outside zone. Go watch some Aaron Green TCU clips for a glimpse of what I think this kid could be.

Grade: B-
It makes sense for Tech to seldom take more than one back per year unless they find an explosive flex RB that can be a difference maker. I think they got an above average prospect in Ward.

Ancillaries

Tech pretty much never uses a TE or FB save for in short yardage situations or now and then for lead zone. Kingsbury vastly prefers to just use RPOs and keep more athletes on the field in keeping with Leach's old "throw it short to people who can score" philosophy.

Takes:
None.
Grade: F
This doesn't really matter, though it's strange that they never seem to be aiming to find another dominant flex TE like they had in Amaro.

Receivers

Tech needs guys that can score with the ball in their hands but their system makes a lot of out guys that just know how to get open since everyone is generally operating in a lot of space and with favorable match-ups because of how spread out they are and their option route-heavy passing game. Getting guys that know how to get open is probably most essential, followed by getting guys that can do real damage with the ball.

Takes:
TJ Vasher: 6-5, 180. 4****
Wichita Falls, TX

Vasher is a nice possession target on the outside with real size, one of many such guys in this WR class for the Raiders, but I'm not sure how much attention he'll be able to command so long as opponents have a CB they trust to stick on him without getting beat over the top. He has some quick first few steps that will be useful for getting open but not as much long speed to run by people. Vasher is a good blocker and good at catching jump balls and back shoulder fades which portends well for his ability to torture number 2 corners trying to guard him alone on the sideline.


Antoine Wesley-Cox: 6-4, 180. 3***
Cibolo, TX

Yet another big target with good hands, he's basically another Vasher, a guy that won't be pleasant to cover up with your second best corner (especially if he's sub 5-11) but at the same time isn't a guy that's likely to command a double team.

Derrick Willies: 6-4, 205. 4****
Athens, TX (JUCO)

Willies is immediate help for a team that might be losing two of its top targets from a year ago and didn't have a really terrifying outside threat in 2015 but manufactured deep threats via Mahomes' ability to scramble and beat people deep outside of the pocket. Willies isn't quite as fast as you'd like for a major deep threat on the outside but he's got a big catch radius and certainly isn't slow. He does damage on hitch routes and screens on film and has some explosive acceleration after the catch.

De'Quan Bowman: 5-11, 180. 3***
Hutchinson, KS (JUCO)

Bowman has the requisite speed and ability to play slot WR in this offense but doesn't stand out as an extraordinary talent in this regard. Most of his big plays on his highlights are a result of horrible leverage and play from his opponents. This is the kind of take that makes you wonder if Kingsbury puts too much emphasis on having numbers at WR over shoring up other positional needs.

Bryson Denley: 5-8, 165. 3***
Cibolo, TX (greyshirt)

Denley is an apparent greyshirt and I'm not sure what the reason for the delay in his enrollment is related to. He was a good back at Cibolo Steele but he'll probably be a slot receiver for Tech. He's not as explosively quick as Jakeem Grant but he will be hard to handle running routes or screens in the middle of the field with his change of direction abilities.

Grade: C-
The Raiders didn't really land much in the way of standout talents given that they used five scholarships here. I'm sure Kingsbury will find some weapons in this group and the overall strategy of forcing defenses to try and match up to multiple 6-2+ targets is likely to yield some results, but you wonder if they could have achieved the same result without using as many scholarships. After all, they took six WRs in their last class as well.

Offensive line

The formula that Tech is looking for is to find four obstacles and a lead tackle in a given year. Since they are primarily an outside zone/passing team, there's no reason not to recruit mostly tackle-sized kids that are tall and reasonably light on their feet and hope that one or two per class end up being really strong athletes that can hold up at left tackle. Mike Leach was a master at finding kids who were a fit for this system and Kingsbury seems to have picked up on some of his tricks.

Takes:
Bailey Smith: 6-5, 300. 3***
Allen, TX
Smith packs a lot of punch at the HS level, like you'd hope from a 300-pounder, but he's also good at climbing up to find linebackers off combo blocks and has some "mauler" in him with his ability to drive ahead and plow a road. He's less great at turning his hips and getting square on guys in space and he's almost assuredly a guy that will move inside to play guard where he won't have to navigate as much space and can focus on learning to get low and drive people.

Gio Pancotti: 6-5, 277. 3***
Bellaire, TX

Pancotti is definitely at least a future "obstacle" who doesn't always get low with a flat back against the run and relies too much on his size or favorable angles at the HS level to get displacement against the run. He does have loose hips though and solid feet. He could be a good guard after several years of seasoning or perhaps a right tackle.

Zach Adams: 6-7, 310. 3***
Fredericksburg, VA

Adams is pretty good in space and on the edge, which combined with his 6'7" frame is pretty much all a school like Tech needs to extend him an offer. He plays too high currently but at the HS level if he gets his hands on a guy then the battle is pretty much a guaranteed victory. There's a chance he could become a left tackle but I think a spot on the right is much more likely.

Travis Buffy: 6-8, 270. 3***
Missouri City, TX

Buffy is my favorite player in this class, and like with many players, I'd like to start by listing his Sparq measurables: 5.53 40 time, 4.69 shuttle, 23.8" vertical, 35' power ball toss.

This is a quick, powerful kid who's only going to get heavier and stronger and likely without losing his foot speed due to his massive frame. Currently he's too weak and too light to hold up against athletic edge rushers who will lean into him, but I think a redshirt and a few years of seasoning and coaching could make him into a lead tackle.

Grade: B-
Tech loaded up on a bunch of guys that will make for good developmental prospects down the line and may have found a future left tackle in this bunch. This isn't one of the better OL classes around the league but it's a solid one that is likely to meet the needs of the Raider system.

Defense


Defensive line

The Raiders are playing a sort of hybrid front these days, a single-gap 4-3 defense in principle but with a "rush-end" who sometimes takes on linebacker-type assignments. They basically have the same needs as every other team but they use slanting for their non-edge rushers so the ability to demand and play double teams is less essential since they're often just taking gaps.

Takes:

Houston Miller: 6-3, 228. 3***
Keller, TX

Miller is the rush-end of this group, a fantastic athlete who ran a 4.67 40, 4.18 shuttle, jumped 30.9", and threw the power toss 36.5'. He's fairly raw right now in terms of pass rush but he can take the edge against most any OT with pure speed and he's a nightmare on the perimeter both on the backside of a play or forcing the edge. He's basically a classic 4-3 Under Sam linebacker who will be at his best if covered up some on the edge by the presence of heavy DE techniques, which he will in this defense.

Noah Jones: 6-5, 255. 3***
Moore, OK

Jones has the fantastic tape of a player who's far too athletic for the level at which he's playing, in this instance playing Okie high schools. He'll be great as a 5-tech or 4i-tech DE that can set the edge or slant inside, either way using his burst off the snap and long arms to beat blockers to spots and attack the ball. High upside guy here.

Ivory Jackson: 6-3, 275. 3***
Amarillo, TX

Jackson will be good at slanting due to some good lateral quickness but he's not sudden or explosive at penetrating into the backfield. Best case scenario is him growing to 300+ and using his quickness to clog things up inside as a nose tackle or learning to use his hands well enough to stay outside as a 3-tech DT/strongside end type player.

Nick McCann: 6-2, 290. 3***
Texarkana, AR

McCann is more of a pure nose tackle prospect than Jackson, he plays smart but he isn't really fast unless he can build up speed and if you cross him up it's pretty much over. He plays some end on HS tape but I don't see that working out in the Big 12, he might make it as a 3-tech.

Clarence Henderson: 6-1, 234. 3***
Dallas, TX

Another Skyline kid along with Joe Wallace (below). Henderson was once a state-ranked guard prospect before it became obvious that this 6'1" kid was never going to be big enough to translate his prodigious skill as an OL into a college-sized body. His tape at left tackle, if it existed for a 6'5" 300 pound kid, would be enough to have NFL teams begging to draft him out of high school.

Instead, he'll probably end up as a DE of about average athleticism.

Joe Wallace: 6-0, 333. 3***
Dallas, TX

It can be very difficult to be effective between the tackles without longer arms, particularly in today's B12 where guards are often just slow tackles with huge frames and long reach. If you're a shorter nose tackle that can't stop double teams or bigger guards from getting their hands on you then you can be in for a tough day.

Wallace has all three of the traits that can allow a shorter big man to hold his own in the trenches: quickness, weight, and strength. He's quick off the snap, so it's not as easy for big OL to get their hands on his low-driving body, he's strong so if he gets under your pads you are in real trouble, and he's really heavy so even if you can get your hands on him with leverage he's still hard to move. I don't know if he'll ever be terribly disruptive but he may at least be able to cause a pileup and cover up the linebackers.

Mych Thomas: 6-1, 324. 3***
El Dorado, KS (JUCO)

Another low to the ground, ultra-heavy DL for the Red Raiders but this one is coming more college ready after some time in the Jayhawk Community College league that produces dozens of B12 prospects every year.

Thomas is what Tech hopes Wallace and McCann will become when they are upperclassmen in Lubbock. He's quick laterally and can cause some problems through stunting or by getting under your pads. I doubt he finds great success playing double teams in the B12 but he's not awful at it and Tech will be stunting him around to avoid that troubling scenario.

Grade: C
Tech spent a lot of scholarships grabbing players to fill holes after they lost most of a bad DL to graduation. Most of these tackles don't look like great players but guys that will need real instruction and a slant-heavy scheme to find success, which puts limits on what Tech can do at DC if Gibbs doesn't work out. I gave them a passing grade because Jackson might become a good player and both Miller and Jones are actually really strong prospects.

Linebackers

Tech has rarely seemed to field good linebackers in the Big 12 era, I'd even venture a guess that they've had fewer linebackers earn All-B12 honors than any other school in the conference (Kansas had several good ones in the Mangino era and Rhoads had a handful at Iowa State). They found one good one in the 2015 class with D'Vonta Hinton and he was playing a lot of snaps by the end of the year. Their scheme would be at it's best with two good ones that can both blitz or find the ball but if they just had one good blitzer and one good inside-backer they'd be in much better shape. These guys need to have some lateral range because Gibbs likes to take away short routes with the backers and force deeper throws to his secondary.

Takes:
Brayden Stringer: 6-2, 200. 3***
Cypress Ranch, TX

Stringer is a great prospect if he can get to 220 or so and bring some pop when he blitzes without losing the lateral agility that makes him a good prospect to begin with. He's great at uncoiling and lighting people up coming downhill and also has a knack for breaking up passes by closing in on QBs and getting his hands up when they try to throw into his passing window. He'd probably be best as an athletic inside-backer who's focused mostly on playing behind the DL.


Jordyn Brooks: 6-0, 223. 3***
Houston, TX

Brooks is a legit athlete who ran a 4.67 40 at the Sparq to go along with a 4.64 shuttle that tells you he's probably not ideally suited to playing in the secondary. In high school he was a terror on the edge closing from behind on the backside of plays or forcing the ball inside on the frontside. He's an intriguing prospect for them as an outside-backer who can add something in the blitz with his acceleration but he'll have to learn a lot to fit there.

Johnathan Picone: 6-1, 212. 3***
Mandeville, LA

Picone is truly athletic and explosive in short areas and is at this point a raw but intriguing player. He ran a 4.38 shuttle with a 37.4" vertical, so he's got the ideal athleticism to scrape, pursue the ball sideline to sideline, and unload coming downhill. I'm not sure he knows what he's doing right now but with time he could become a really versatile inside-backer with an ideal skill set athletically.

Grade: C
Tech got three mostly raw prospects here to fill two spots in coming seasons. All three have the athleticism to play in this league, but each have some developmental challenges ahead before they can be contributors that finally allow the Raiders to enjoy above average (or even average) linebacker play.

Cornerbacks

Gibbs' style in coverage is to play mostly cover 3 and tampa-2 with the corners playing a great deal of deep zone so they can be ballhawks. They're technically on islands some but Gibbs mixes in some disguise and pressure and they are generally playing deep zone so speed or size are less essential here. What is non-negotiable is that they find guys that can break on the ball and either catch it or make the tackle.

Takes:
Desmon Smith: 6-2, 191. 3***
Odessa, TX

A Permian Panther, (go MOJO!) Smith is a pretty interesting case study in how Gibbs' scheme will work in the Big 12 and what kinds of players he needs. Smith runs a 4.52 shuttle and frankly isn't very quick or a guy I would want to see playing even press-bail against some of the wide receivers in the league. However, he can flip his hips, he breaks on the ball well, and he's very smart about navigating space. He'll grow to be a productive player in deep zone, I think and if he proves too slow to hack it at corner he probably has value inside at safety.

Douglas Coleman: 6-0, 175. 3***
Zachary, LA

To my eyes, Coleman is the second best take of this class because he's just a tremendous athlete. His Sparq numbers are instructive to what different athletes can look like: 4.81 40, 4.03 shuttle, 35' power ball toss, 39.2" vertical leap.

His absurdly good shuttle time and vertical leap numbers are very apparent in the way he has tremendous short area burst. This is the kind of guy that always plays much faster than his 40 time would suggest since he can explode out of his stance or downshift and pull away in a hurry. He's got good hands as well. Given that he'd play more off coverage at Tech and that he's faster within 10 yards than he is in 40, I think he can stick just fine outside at corner.

Grade: C+
That's it for Tech's CB class, they have a potentially phenomenal take in Coleman and an iffier one in Smith. This is what concerns me about Kingsbury's approach in Lubbock, you never see him skimp on loading up with WRs but he's only got four DBs in this class in a league where he needs to field at least five at a time.

Safeties

The Raider safeties have a bit more on their plate than the corners, who can be more easily shielded by Gibbs' coverage schemes. These guys need to be able to cover ground in the middle of the field, drop over slots, and they HAVE to find a box safety that can make tackles against the run when they blitz. The Raiders were absolutely atrocious in that regard last year and relied on 170 pound freshman Jah'Shawn Johnson to fill that role in 2015. As much as he struggled, when he was injured things got even worse.

Takes:
Kevin Moore: 6-0, 188. 3***
Lafayette, LA

Moore played linebacker in high school at Louisiana, but he may push to start as the boundary/box safety for Tech in 2016. He brings bad intentions to his tackles and has the change of direction, speed, and knack for navigating the wash to fill creases and pursue the ball from sideline to sideline. Tech desperately needs this skill set, Moore was an important addition although he'll have to learn how to also play the safety position before his skills in the box can translate.

Damarcus Fields: 6-0, 180. 3***
Taylor, TX

Fields is a ballhawk, which is certainly the primary reason that Gibbs brought him aboard, and he can play man coverage on receivers or be an intimidator playing zone in the middle of the field. He could be a nickel but he'd be best utilized as a free safety of the type that Gibbs had at Houston in his legitimately strong "3rd ward defense" but hasn't seen yet on his roster in Lubbock.

Grade: B-
Tech probably should have taken fewer WRs and added another kid here and at corner, but both of these guys are great fits for the system Gibbs wants to run and address glaring issues on their roster.

Unless David Gibbs proves to be a magician, which is still possible, I don't think Kingsbury's ability to field explosives offenses will be enough to get Texas Tech to the top of a league that includes a ton of explosive offenses, some of which still put a priority on playing defense. However, they did grab four or five kids with real athleticism on defense and that might prove to be enough.

3 comments:

  1. Considering how awful the Raider's secondary was last year, and how many WRs and few DBs Kingsbury took this year, an outsider wonders if it is his plan to convert some of those WRs to the defensive side of the ball. Any feel for the likelihood of that?

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    Replies
    1. He should do so, I'm not sure how many of them have the quickness for it though nor am I sure of whether they have the culture to transition skill players into becoming violent DBs.

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  2. I enjoyed the write-up and understand that you put more thought into comments regarding individual players than grades for position classes.

    That being said, when you mentioned how hard of a time Jah'Shawn Johnson had last year I threw the baby out.

    Regardless, you've got a new reader.

    Cheers.

    ReplyDelete