Kansas didn’t have to be the worst Power-5 football team in the country.
Their resources are better than many other schools, their recruiting situation isn’t necessarily as bad as it seems (KS kids are underrated and they can always recruit Texas), and their culture has proven it knows how to put together a winning effort in the basketball sphere. Whoever is in charge of making football decisions though…those people might be the problem.
Mark Mangino had tremendous success at Kansas, but unfortunately he turned out to be kind of a jerk, to put it one way. His successor Turner Gill was a disaster who was completely unable to halt the program’s descent to the dregs of the league. Then came Weis…and total ruin.
The biggest problem was the 2013 recruiting class signed by Weis, in which he decided to throw a hail mary in hopes of a quick fix for the roster and signed 35 players. 20 of those players were JUCOs and none of them brought the kind of talent influx needed to make Kansas a winning program. For all of Weis’ expertise in offense, maintaining a culture that got the most of college kids (particularly so many at-risk athletes) was clearly not his strength. His decision to load up scholarship spots with kids that would only be around for a few years (if that) devastated the program’s roster.
The goal with the David Beatty hire was supposed to be to grab an ace recruiter (A&M’s top Dallas guy) so as to restock the Jayhawks with Texas kids and slowly get back on track. Now we come to the 2017 class, which features 21 signees, nine of which are JUCOs, three Texas high schoolers, and two kids from the DFW metroplex.
This begs the question, do the Jayhawks think that their foundation is strong and just needs a few key additions here and there to finally field a competitive team? Or are they struggling to enact a good long-term plan for the rebuild of Jayhawk football?
Btw, I discussed some of these guys with 247’s Kevin Flaherty, who knows KU football as well or better than anyone on this planet and knows the B12 in generally really well.
Kansas seems to prefer to go the Kingsbury route in which you run an Air Raid offense with a mobile QB, which provides some easy, cheap ways to pair the rep-intensive passing game with an effective run game, one of the classic dilemmas for the Air Raid O. However, they’ve ended up signing some less mobile, more Leach-ian type QBs in the past.
Payton Bender: 6-0, 187. 3*** from Fulton, MS (JUCO)
Bender was a guy that couldn’t win the starting job with Mike Leach at Wazzu and consequently left to go JUCO and expand his options. The reward for that risk was a Kansas scholarship offer and the chance to try and supplant young Carter Stanley as the QB.
Bender is basically a JAG in terms of B12 quarterbacking, he can deliver the ball on time and make some reads, his arm is fine, but he doesn’t offer much value-add. They’ll be hoping that their surrounding talent can carry the day while Bender helps add effective distribution.
This program needs another Todd Reesing in the worst way and it’s inexcusable that they can’t seem to find one. Bender may have a solid season at some point if they can get some talent around him but their inability to find a QB that can bring a spark to the program is a major problem.
Kansas runs some inside and outside zone, but their main focus is on the passing game and they somewhat wasted Ke’aun Kinner last year (5.3 ypc) constantly playing from behind and playing with a poor OL. Ideally they’d have someone that can make something happen without great blocking or that can add some dimensions to the passing game.
Octavius Matthews: 6-2, 200. 3*** from Fulton, MS (JUCO)
The backfield mate of Peyton Bender, Matthews is a pretty versatile athlete who shone brightest at Itawamba CC catching bubble routes and check downs out of the backfield. As a runner he’d be at his best on outside zone executing basic “plant and go” reads. Without a good OL he’d probably be lost but he has some value as a guy that can catch passes out of the backfield.
Dominic Williams: 5-8, 185. 3*** from Frisco, TX
Williams fits the bill for what they need, he’s a really bouncy runner that can make people miss in a broom closet and then get going north and south with a quick burst. He’s also lethal running bubble screens out of the backfield. He’s fairly powerful and can break tackles with a combination of a jump step and stiff arm/push off.
Both of these guys make a lot of sense for the Jayhawk offense, whether you see it in the future or not, because both of them have the kinds of traits that could thrive in what Kansas is trying to do.
The Jayhawks are mostly a four-wide spread team and while they use TEs they’re virtually always flexed out and running routes. They don’t get into bigger sets very often save for in situations like short-yardage and the goal line. They’d really benefit from having a big, powerful flex TE that could be a matchup win and help them attack third downs and the red zone. They use a FB at times but those can be found without allocating scholarships.
Kenyon Tabor: 6-4, 215. 3*** from Derby, KS
Sounds like this guy slipped under the radar in a major way. Tabor is probably a good enough athlete that he could spend some time at outside WR but his ability to win over the middle and make difficult catches in traffic would probably be most useful inside, where he played in high school. He’s also a willing and halfway decent blocker in-line, perhaps he’ll be better after some college S&C when he gets his weight up. However, there’s no question that Tabor will be a guy that the Jayhawks use to try and gain a matchup advantage in the seams and he has plus athleticism and good size for it.
One signee here is probably enough for what Kansas is after and Tabor is as good a flex TE as I’ve seen in the 2017 Big 12 crop thus far.
Here’s the real key to the Kansas offense, besides QB and OL, the former of which the Jayhawks have basically punted on. It’s not hard to get guys in the Air Raid that can learn to get open and cause problems in four or five-WR sets, especially if the QB play is good, but the Jayhawks need difference makers. They need guys that can really hurt you after the catch, who can win against man coverage from good DBs, and who can stretch the field vertically. These guys are basically being asked to carry the water for the offense.
Quan Hampton: 5-8, 165. 3*** from Texarkana, TX
Hampton looks exactly like you’d expect from his height and weight. He can make really sharp cuts thanks to his high leg turnover and he actually runs some nice double moves in the slot with that ability. If he hits a crease, he’s gone and he can run some crossing routes over the middle. He’s a shorter, harder to hit target perhaps but he knows how to get open and he’s lethal after the catch.
Takulve Williams: 6-0, 199. 3*** from New Orleans, LA
If you’ve observed the early results in 2018 recruiting you’ll have noticed that Kansas is currently ranked like 6th nationally thanks to signing three four-star recruits from Louisiana. That’s not the pipeline I think they were expecting to open with Beatty at the helm but it’s a really good one if you can pull it off.
Anyways, Williams is a straight line burner with a lot of special teams triumphs on his film. They’re going to start him at WR, I think he should eventually move to safety (particularly with the other guys they signed in this class) but we’ll see how he develops as a route runner. At safety he’d be a plus athlete.
Daylon Charlot: 6-0, 195. 4**** from Patterson, LA (via Alabama transfer)
Charlot transferred a year ago and will be eligible in 2017, much like Carlos Strickland for Kansas State. He never got up to much at Alabama but he’s a plus athlete who can fight for the ball in the air on the outside or perhaps develop into a tricky slot. I think the 4-star rating might prove too generous but he’s a nice athletic addition for the Jayhawks with some real quickness.
Kerr Johnson: 5-11, 180. 3*** from Santa Rosa, CA (JUCO)
Johnson is one of the best route runners I’ve seen in the Big 12’s 2017 class thus far. He probably runs in the 4.65 range but he sets up his routes with lateral quickness and various moves and fakes that make that speed absolutely lethal because he’s running into open grass. He has phenomenal hands and should be an absolute nightmare on third down or the goal line because of his double moves. I bet he starts next year.
Travis Jordan: 6-3, 185. 3*** from Marrero, LA
The surest sign of a future dominator is the guy who runs without any apparent effort. Jordan has a totally effortless gait, he’s a natural catcher, and he’s physical. He honestly reminds me of Justin Blackmon with the way he easily blows by people both on his routes or after the catch. His QB trusted him deeply and even throws a post to him at one point on his film before he’d even broken his route inside. He caught it, of course, and ended up in just the right spot. Guys like Travis Jordan can really lower the bar for what Kansas needs at QB.
I know this grade will shock people and perhaps incite derision but this group is really athletic, includes some people with amazing ball skills, and abounds in both depth and quality. I’m not sure how Kansas can do much better than this in WR recruiting, obviously the question will be whether they can get the ball to them.
(Grade knocked down a full letter after observing OSU’s class. Still a great group but perhaps not two full deviations over a passing “C” grade.)
Kansas’ biggest problem over the last several years has been the putridity of their OL. They eventually started a 265 pound freshman at LT last year (Hakeem Adeniji) and saw an upgrade in their pass protection. Their biggest need is for athletes that can improve their protection and perhaps create some margin for their run game.
Joseph Gilbertson: 6-3, 284. 3*** from Wichita, KS
Gilbertson has college-ready size, or nearly college-ready size, which is a part of his ranking here. He’s feisty and when he doesn’t reach a guy he’ll still keep pushing until he gets his guy down. I think he’d be best in an IZ/gap scheme type system where it’s more about mauling people but he might develop into a solid outside zone kind of guy. His fit in pass protection is a bit more iffy, perhaps they’ll put him at center to help him out.
Earl Bostick: 6-6, 270. 2** from Barnwell, SC
Bostick played as a highly disruptive DE and a mauling TE in high school, despite his massive size. He’s got loose hips and is very good at finding and connecting (violently) with linebackers at the second level. Granted he hasn’t played OL yet, but blocking TE and OT aren’t completely foreign countries and this kid has real athletic potential.
Charles Baldwin: 6-5, 305. 4**** from Brooklyn, NY (via Alabama transfer)
Baldwin wasn’t popular with Saban and got himself kicked out of Alabama for “rules violations.” Kansas was happy to bring him aboard and he’ll probably start at RT opposite young Adeniji. Baldwin’s JUCO tape shows a guy that could be a major upgrade in pass protection for Kansas due to his athleticism. He’s a willing run blocker but not really a mauler but that hardly matters in this offense. They need to keep their QBs upright so they can throw the ball to Steven Sims, LaQuvionte Gonzalez, and all of these incoming athletes.
The numbers here aren’t great, Gilbertson and Bostick are long-term takes, and Baldwin needs to avoid whatever it is that got him kicked out of Alabama. That said, I think all of these guys could be important contributors and if Baldwin allows Kansas’ RT position to go from “wet toilet paper” to “no longer where you go to get easy pressure” then that could make a huge difference next year.
Kansas has done pretty well here in the past with Daniel Wise and Dorance Armstrong, Jr, the latter of whom might be the best pass-rusher in the Big 12 in 2017. They play a four-man DL and need edge-rushers and DTs that can blow things up inside with hopefully at least one that won’t get driven five yards off the ball when the double team comes.
Keyshaun Williams: 6-2, 270. 3*** from Poplarville, MS (JUCO)
Williams is a tweener and I’m frankly not sure where he fits in the Kansas defense. He’s pretty athletic but at his best knifing through interior gaps, not trying to set the edge against a tackle. If you put him inside at DT he might be able to make some plays on slants but any time the OL catches him with a double or an angle he’s going to be in big trouble. I’m not sure he’s more than a spot duty guy for them.
Willie McCaleb: 6-2, 255. 3*** from Senatobia, MS (JUCO)
McCaleb plays mean and hard but he’s just not that great of an athlete. Like Williams, he’s good at slanting into interior gaps and then he has some real burst into the backfield once he’s clear of the OL but where does this skill set fit positionally on the Kansas DL? I’m not sure. He’ll probably play some DE opposite Armstrong but he could be an easy target for option plays or a good OT.
JJ Holmes: 6-2, 310. 3*** from Hutchinson, KS (JUCO)
Holmes is a pretty good looking player. He plays with good pad level, he’s really quick laterally, and he’s sturdy enough and technically sound enough to fight a double team without getting blown away. I think he could be really disruptive as a 3-tech but could also survive as a nose. In Kansas’ slant-heavy scheme playing with Wise and Armstrong he could really be trouble.
This is where a school like Kansas usually gets into trouble, struggling to find big men that can help them hold up in the trenches against the Oklahoma’s of the world. Holmes is a worthy addition that probably plays immediately but I’m not sure these other two fellows do much more than offer a breather to the starters.
Kansas plays a pair of inside LBs much like the rest of the league’s 4-2 defenses and are looking for much the same thing. Guys with lateral quickness to handle the spacing of the league’s offenses but then some pop to beat blocks and make tackles in the box. Blitzing is a plus, as well. You basically want as athletic a guy as you can get but then you need real headiness and the ability to make quick reads and diagnose things. There’s not really a substitute for just grabbing guys that are smart and decently athletic and then giving them several years before they have to play.
Cooper Root: 6-3, 220. 3*** from Wichita, KS
Root has some power in the box to stop a runner or blast through a block and he’s a reasonably solid “in the box” prospect. His lateral range out of the box is decent, nothing to write home about. If he can get a little more loose at Kansas and sit for a few years he might be a valuable contributor well down the road.
Jay Dineen: 6-2, 215. 2** from Lawrence, KS
Jay’s older brother is a starting LB for Kansas right now and was having a solid 2016 until he was injured. Jay has some burst through the wash when he’s blitzing or plugging downhill and like Root he has some acceptable range to pursue the ball or assigned WR outside of the box. I doubt he’s ever amazing but with time he might be serviceable.
Kyron Johnson: 6-1, 200. 3*** from Arlington, TX
I’m not sure what to make of Johnson and I’m not sure if the Kansas staff is either, nice thing that he’s an early enrollee this spring. He played Sam linebacker at Lamar HS and was good at taking deep coverage drops or winning battles vs blocks on the perimeter as a force defender. He ran a 4.4 at Kansas’ camp is probably a 4.5 or 4.6 guy on an electronically timed 40 which is WELL above average for most any position in a B12 defensive backfield.
The kid evidently wants to study to become a neurosurgeon, hopefully that mental acumen translates to studying blocking flow and pattern-matching as well. If they can get this kid playing at outside-backer and capable of surviving in the box then his ability in space could be huge for the Jayhawks.
They’ll probably get a serviceable inside-backer out of one of Root or Dineen, the real key is what they get out of Johnson. If he becomes a freakishly athletic LB that can fly around the field and erase the windows that Big 12 offenses normally find throwing inside against LBs, he’ll be worth his weight in gold. If not, then they’ll get ripped like they normally do.
Believe it or not, Kansas regularly gets pretty decent DB play. They coach ’em up well in Lawrence and often have some surprisingly good athletes in their secondary. They play a few different coverages, mixing man and quarters, and trying to keep guys protected against what offenses want to do. They sometimes get into trouble when they need their safeties to carry the water for a porous front, they’re never good enough to make up for the rest of the defense. They lost 4/5 of their 2016 secondary so they really needed some help from this class.
Hasan Defense: 6-0, 180. 3*** from Kilgore, TX (JUCO)
A nice name for a defensive player, obviously. I have my doubts about the validity of his listed height but he’s not tiny. He’s really solid playing in deep zone and closing on the ball when it’s in the air. He’s more vulnerable when trying to match up tight underneath and I don’t think he’ll be a guy that can lock people down in man coverage but he can play over the top and force offenses to check down.
Robert Topps: 6-2, 180. 3*** from Chicago, IL
Again, 6-2 seems tall but he’s clearly pretty good sized. He puts some good jams on receivers underneath on film and has good lateral quickness for his size to try and mirror routes underneath. Topps gets into trouble carrying deep routes from a tight coverage alignment, I think his best fit might be as a safety or nickel inside.
Antonio Cole: 6-1, 180. 3*** from Highland, KS (JUCO)
More JUCO help coming with Cole, although I’m not sure if he’ll fit immediately his skill set overlaps somewhat with sole returning starter’s Mike Lee. 247 listed him as a corner but he played mostly boundary/robber safety at Highland and he was really good in that role. His lateral range in the deep field was very problematic for teams trying to throw in the seams and he was also sturdy in run support. Hopefully he could learn to play to the field because having sub-190 pound safeties at both spots playing behind an iffy run front is not a recipe for greatness.
Shakial Taylor: 6-1, 188. 3*** from Mesa, AZ (JUCO)
Flaherty liked Defense best of this group of corners, personally I like Taylor best. He played some really good bump and run coverage at Mesa. I’d test him out in practice to see how he might hold up playing press coverage on the boundary with and without safety help over the top. If he could perform well enough without it, he’d make defense much easier for Kansas next season. He was good at really sticking on guys and using his physicality to bump them off routes. If he lacks top end speed (possible) it wasn’t obvious from film because he never allowed anyone enough room to get going.
I’m usually much more impressed by the results that Kansas gets from their DB crops then I am with the players going in. They do a great job of teaching techniques and then teaching enough coverages to allow them to move people around and shore up weak spots. If they ever got a really dominant DB back there I think they could really make some hay, but I don’t know that they got one in this class.
The Jayhawks really got some nice skill players in this class and might field a much more talented team in 2017 or 2018 then anyone would expect from their recruiting rankings or what they’ve done on the field in recent years. However, I still don’t see answers that will allow them to hold their own in the trenches well enough to really compete with the better Big 12 teams and I don’t see a QB signee that can erase the gap.
Expect Kansas to keep getting better and perhaps win some more shocking league games, to even sniff the success they had under Mangino is going to take a while unless Peyton Bender is a much better QB than I realize. A lot is going to depend on the development of young OL/DL that they’ve been grooming over the last few years.