I was not at all impressed with Oklahoma State’s 2016 recruiting haul, it seemed a major step down from what they had brought aboard in previous years. Then they had a brilliant season and really upped their game in DFW, leading to this group which seems much more promising overall.
The biggest change in 2016 is that they found their run game again by emphasizing outside zone and making heavy use of Hammer-back Zac Veatch, who must now be replaced. With that established, the RPO and play-action passing game with Mason Rudolph and lead WRs James Washington and Jalen McCleskey (2016 winner of the Darren Sproles water bug trophy for most outstanding tiny person) really took off. Their defense was solid, as always, but they still lacked a lockdown corner that could make it all come together.
We’ll see today how they did in replacing Veatch, finding some skill talent for the future, and perhaps upgrading their athleticism at key spots on defense. This is also the first class where we get to break out the IT Top 100 for 2017!
This is a ranking by Eric Nahlin of the top 100 HS players from the state of Texas in the 2017 class. Nahlin has a sharp eye and a ton of contacts around the state so this should be a valuable additional insight to some of these players. I’d have used these for previous classes but…it wasn’t relevant as WVU, KSU, and KU all failed to sign anyone off this list.
Additionally, I watched Gundy’s presser for this one and heard the Arkansas waterfall utter a few things that have me convinced that he’s one of the smartest coaches in the Big 12:
- He loves multi-sport stars and particularly wrestlers because they have a propensity to grow as players well beyond what they show in high school.
- Oklahoma State has put a priority on finding “cerebral” players for defense that can make reads and decisions quickly to handle all the spacing and spread-option. OODA loop, y’all.
- He loves recruiting Islanders and finds their culture makes for an easy transition into the martial culture of football.
- Gundy took a shot at recruiting rankings nothing OSU’s normally low rankings but great success and saying, “We’re either damn good coaches or damn good evaluators.”
You’ll find that Oklahoma State is basically always at the forefront of innovation in the Big 12, which is partly why they win so many freaking games.
I think Gundy’s preference is for a “pro-style spread” that manages balance between attacking teams down the field in the passing game with a robust rushing attack. They’ve had some mobile guys over the years but are usually at their best when they can get in the Spread-I and rip teams with RPOs and play-action.
Jelani Woods: 6-7, 230. 3*** from Elfenwood, GA
Woods’ HUDL film is pretty worthless, mostly him dropping dimes on play-action tosses where you can’t even see how well he hits the WR in stride because the camera lags…so I found some of his team’s full games on YouTube instead.
Honestly, it’s kinda foolish to make definitive opinions on any player without watching a full game and this is particularly QBs. I’m not going to those lengths with most of these kids but it was worth it to get a better idea of what Woods’ brings to the table.
His offense at Georgia was basically what I call a 3rd generation spread O, based primarily around run blocking with RPOs and play-action attached as a constraint. They didn’t seem to have Woods drop back, make progressions, and throw it much because why would you? His accuracy on the RPOs and play-action shots was quite good though. As you might guess from the fact that he’s massive, Woods has a strong arm but he’s also accurate and pretty light on his feet for such a big man.
The only question is whether OSU can teach him how to operate the drop back spread game well enough to complement the run-centric approach he’s already mastered. I’d say that’s a pretty good bet.
I think Woods will need a little bit of time to develop but he’ll get at least next year while Rudolph plays out his senior year to either compete as a back-up or to redshirt. I guess they have enough depth that they didn’t need to grab one more kid but you’d like to see two. Woods could be exceptional down the road if he has enough time to get acclimated to the drop back game.
Assuming that Oklahoma State maintains an emphasis on zone blocking, which presumably they will since that’s where they found success last year, they’ll want plant and go runners that are good at cutting upfield and powering through defenders. The ideal outside zone runner is actually the big power back who can win the edge (or threaten to do so) and then plant and cut upfield past LBs that can’t change direction in time to mount a resistance and power over DBs that can’t tackle a big man with square shoulders.
J.D. King: 5-11, 205. 3*** from Fitzgerald, GA
King is definitely a nice fit for a zone scheme. As “Big Daddy” Gundy noted, his frame would probably allow him to reach 215 or 220 without losing speed and be even more difficult to tackle than he is now. He has a nice jump step, which is useful for inside zone to go from the play side gap to the cutback lane, and he can run hard to the edge.
Chuba Hubbard: 6-1, 195. 3*** from Canada
Hubbard is a really interesting guy to study. He ran a 10.5 100m dash, which translates to 4.4 or better speed, and played by Canadian rules where slots are evidently allowed to get a running start at the line of scrimmage before the snap. That’s tough to defend, I can’t imagine trying to handle a runner of this quality when your force players are backpedaling at the snap to avoid getting run past.
Where his speed really catches your eye is his ability to stop on a dime and then re-accelerate in the blink of an eye. I think he may need some time to really weaponize his abilities in the OSU scheme but he probably won’t have to play a major role early on unless his speed is so fantastic that the Cowboys just have to get him involved. Gundy thinks he’ll reach 215 or 220 as well without losing speed, which his horrifying. You’re talking about Dalvin Cook at that point. That’s the possible upside here.
I think the OSU staff is as shocked as anyone that they found this amazing athlete up in Canada and that they held on to him despite late pressure from some Pac-12 programs. The major issue, as with all teams, is whether the Cowboys can maintain their strong run blocking and run game infrastructure to make the most of any backs that they bring in. That said, Hubbard could potentially be an elite player.
The Cowboys are very proud of their “Cowboy back” position, which is just a broad term that gives TE coach Jason McEndoo wide jurisdiction to try and make something of different fringe elements of the roster by forming ancillaries that can have value in their offense. Their success last year with Zac Veatch last year as a “Hammer-back” and Blake Jarwin as a motion weapon who was a supplemental blocker, play-action target, and occasionally outside chain-mover was impressive. I think they’d like to be able to go double TE as much as possible and combine a guy who’s primarily a blocker with another guy that’s a little more versatile.
Incidentally, I’ve long been curious to see if the TE coach was a short term designation while they groomed young McEndoo for the OL coach (which he held at Montana St) or if they wanted to put more emphasis on development at that position. We may be about to find out but if it was the former they may want to repeat the experiment with another up and coming coach because McEndoo has been a boon to this offense with his development here.
Sione Finefeuiaki: 6-0, 245. 3*** from San Mateo, CA (JUCO)
The plan for Finefeuiaki is to replace Zac Veatch, but unfortunately his film mostly features his abilities in catching quick passes off blocking action. For instance, maybe as many as half of the plays on his highlight are him feigning a split zone block only to release into the flat for a quick pass. The oldest trick in the fullback’s book. He’s pretty good there but it’s hard to say how effective he’ll be as a blocker at trapping DEs on split zone or base blocking them from an H-back or inline alignment. Positive auspices include the fact that Finefeuiaki definitely has a very sturdy build and that teams repeatedly left him open on his play fake routes, suggesting they were legitimately concerned about him as a blocker.
Baron Odom: 6-4, 222. 3*** from Wynnewood, OK
Gundy said they like him for the Blake Jarwin role, which is to move around and be a blocker at times and a big target in the passing game at others. He’s definitely a big target and his senior film reveals he got a little more sudden and effective with his routes than as a junior, but he’s not really that fast and will probably struggle to get a lot of separation in the Big 12. I like his promise as a blocker, given 25 extra pounds and more training in that regard.
Two scholarships allocated but I’m not sure if they really got much of a difference maker in this group. Odom could become a really valuable player down the line but Finefeuiaki is a two-year loaner player that may or may not be as fierce a blocker as the guy he has to replace. I wonder what happened to Gundy’s pitch for an undersized OSU OL to walk-on for a chance to play that hammer-back position? Perhaps that’s the long-term plan.
Oklahoma State always does absurdly well at the WR position, it’s frankly uncanny. Their tradition of deep threat, outside WRs in the Gundy era is probably superior to that of any other program in the Big 12. They’ve had eight seasons in 12 years in which they had an outside WR with a 1k yard receiving season that included the likes of Adarius Bowman, Dez Bryant, Justin Blackmon, and now James Washington. They’ve also had some really impressive slots over that period like Josh Cooper, Josh Stewart, David Glidden, and now Jalen McCleskey. Their system is truly at its best with a deep threat and then a slot that can attack the seams and they use “dig/post” as well or better than any other team in the league.
Braydon Johnson: 6-0, 185. 3*** from Arlington, TX
I really like how Johnson breaks off his routes. He has a real ease to the way he can get separation out of the breaks and then accelerate after the catch. I don’t know that his top end speed is great or if he’ll be a great outside guy but he seems like a good project in the slot.
Tyron Johnson: 6-1, 189. 5***** from New Orleans, LA (via LSU transfer)
Tyron Johnson was a big time Louisiana recruit that was intrigued by Oklahoma State but determined to stay home at LSU, like so many other great WRs. Also, like so many other great Louisiana WRs, he found his talents wasted by LSU’s pathetic excuse for a passing game. So he decided to transfer to a spread offense and is now eligible in time to play with Mason Rudolph. Things worked out pretty well for everyone here, except LSU. He’s a good route runner, very athletic obviously, but also has really good hands and made some sensational catches in high school. Reviews out of OSU practices have been very positive…it’s kind of horrifying to imagine him playing across from James Washington next year with McCleskey inside. I think the 5-star rating is too high, perhaps a feature of having multiple SEC programs fight over him, but maybe we’ll find that it’s accurate this coming season.
Shamond “LC” Greenwood: 6-3, 215. 4**** from Garland, TX. IT #45
Greenwood is a strange athlete to behold. He is very thickly built in his legs with room yet to grow in his upper body, he packs a serious punch in the blocking game and regularly dominates DBs in that pursuit, and yet he has some serious speed. He ran an 11.17 100m which translates to something like 4.6 speed, which is devastating from a guy that big, especially when he starts with the ball out wide away from everyone else on the field with anything close to comparable size. Greenwood might be something really special down the road because that kind of speed combined with this height, and perhaps more importantly, this kind of thick build generally makes for a dominant player.
He’s going to end up being a 6-3, 230 pound target with legit breakaway speed and real power to go through defenders. Who have we even seen with that blend of attributes that in this league or the pros? Seriously, help me out because I can’t think of anyone like this that didn’t play defense as a star pass-rusher.
Tylan Wallace: 6-0, 179. 4**** from Ft. Worth, TX. IT #24
Wallace is the presumed better half of two brothers who both committed to Oklahoma State and arguably the crown jewel of the 2017 OSU class, although Shamond Greenwood and Chuba Hubbard also have some compelling cases to make.
The upside from Tylan comes largely from his athleticism. In the SPARQ test he ran a 4.58 40, 4.2 shuttle, jumped a 33.4″ vertical, and threw the power toss 34′. In other words, virtually every movement you can conceivably make in any direction Wallace makes with close to elite suddenness and power for his position. He’s also a really tough player who was a punishing cornerback and a hard running and aggressive catching receiver. Sounds like they’ll use him at WR where he’ll be the superior athlete against most every DB he faces in the Big 12.
Perhaps I should downgrade Kansas’ WR class because while I still think the Jayhawks landed several really good players, Shamond Green and Tylan Wallace are the kinds of prospects that can truly grow into unstoppable monsters. Add in the transfer of Tyron Johnson and you have a really impressive group. Yes, gonna go do that now…
Here’s where things really get interesting. Oklahoma State only signed one player here (although they secured a transfer from Minnesota) because they had a few guys poached late in the process and weren’t able to replace them. That seemed to be the impetus for getting OL coach Greg Adkins fired because it certainly wasn’t the performance of the 2016 OL. By emphasizing zone blocking the Cowboys finally got their unit back on track last year.
Anyways, they want size if possible but lateral quickness and scrappiness are the main desired attributes for this system. Again I’ll pause to note that McEndoo’s preference is to run power, which would require some major focus for this group over the offseason but can often work well with an outside zone group composed of guys chosen for their lateral mobility and scrappiness.
Arlington Hambright: 6-5, 300. 3*** from Garden City, KS (JUCO)
“Hambright” is a rather fitting name for an offensive lineman, no? This guy is pretty mobile, he makes some nice reach blocks in outside zone on DEs on film and when he successfully gets in the way of pass-rushers or blitzers they are totally absorbed by his size and mass. I don’t know if he’s a good enough athlete or technician to play left tackle, that’s probably rather dubious, but he might be some immediate help elsewhere, particularly at guard.
You can’t sign just one guy on OL in ANY year, and that’s why the OL coach no longer has a job.
Oklahoma State started experimenting with their three-down package a lot more last year without necessarily changing their techniques too much for their DEs (leaving them in 5-tech alignments). They like to have active, disruptive DL but I’m sure they’d love to have a double-team eating nose as much as the next team. They have a blitz package but they like to rely on their DEs for pass-rush when possible, kind of like Kansas State.
Enoch Smith, Jr: 6-2, 293. 3*** from El Dorado, KS (JUCO)
Smith played some 4i at El Dorado and had some really good clips working across tackles on either the inside or the outside. I’m starting to wonder if lining up as a 4i makes it easier or harder to fight through a blocker. On the one hand you’re facing a superior athlete in a tackle then you draw inside at a 3, 2i, 1, or 0-technique facing a guard or center. On the other hand, tackles generally aren’t used to getting low and winning wars against 280+ pound DL like guards are. At any rate, he was pretty good at it vs OTs and presumably projects to 3-technique for OSU.
Fua Leilua: 6-2, 300. 3*** from Ephraim, UT (JUCO)
Fua is a former wrestler and you can see that effectiveness in his play at the nose. He’s really good at getting low and using his flexibility, core strength, and power in his hips to withstand blockers and then work his way into the gap as needed. I think he could be a really helpful nose for them, even good enough to play on the strong side if they want to lean on an Under front.
Brock Martin: 6-3, 220. 3*** from Oologah, OK
Martin is a really powerful player at DE, some of that may be a function of playing against fellow Okies but he’s really mobile on the edge. Reminds me of that Sichterman guy for Iowa State. Martin plays with good pad level and could factor into their rotation relatively because he can play low and play the run well but he’ll need to learn some pass-rush techniques to become a featured player in this system.
Brandon Evers: 6-3, 285. 3*** from Bixby, OK
It’s amazing how much talent the Cowboys found within their own state. Evers is yet another wrestler and he has some serious power in his first step. At one point he throws an OL to the ground who seemed to be expecting a little more help on the double team. Just threw him down like he was using a Jedi force push.
He’s got lateral quickness as well in addition to his downhill, sudden power. He might be a nose tackle depending on how well he learns to use his power in the pass-rush at the other DT spot.
I like this group and it includes numbers and up and coming talent at DT which is very difficult to find. They also found a DE that might have upside in the pass-rush, but they didn’t knock it out of the park with any obvious future NFL guys in the pass-rush. I definitely think this group will make for future units that are hard to move off the ball.
Oklahoma State has some of the best linebacker development in the Big 12 and that’s partly why they still use three of them, in a certain sense. Their middle linebacker is like everyone else’s, he’s mostly roving between the tackles and focusing on the run or inside crossers in zone. The weak side linebacker needs to be able to mix a little bit of that with some range in space in coverage. The “star” backer is strictly a space-backer who needs to be able to cover a lot of ground underneath in a hurry and be really smart and effective in coverage. They’ve recently taught that position to play as the middle robber/third player in their Tampa-2 coverage as well, but they could probably teach a safety to take that on, they just really liked Shaun Lewis and Jordan Burton.
Patrick Macon: 6-3, 235. 3*** from Yuma, AZ (JUCO)
Macon is a big guy that plays really well between the tackles and coming downhill. When he’s moving laterally in coverage with a purpose and awareness he’s plenty quick. If you can force him to change directions, he’s a bit stiff. He’s the kind of cerebral player that Gundy has said they want more of in their program. I think his signing is probably an attempt to back up Chad Whitener or replace him if he’s hurt, God forbid. I’m not really buying him as the next starting will, I don’t think he has quite enough quickness in space, but he could be a really good stopgap at the mike position for a year or two.
Brendan Vaughn: 6-1, 207. 3*** from Forney, TX
Check out the SPARQ results on this kid: 4.52 40, 4.17 shuttle, 36.7″ vertical, 38′ power toss…this is an insanely elite athlete for a guy that’s already about 210 pounds. At Forney he was just an athlete running around out there at a DE/OLB position and at WR. He was at his best at OLB attacking off the edge where he was WAY too athletic for HS OL to handle. Some of the clips of guards trying to find him and clear him out on counter blocks are really amusing, that’s normally a block that makes a guard look good.
Vaughn’s ability to close ground and make plays on the edge will come in handy at the Star LB position but he’ll have to learn a lot about coverage and making reads for his absurd athleticism to translate. The Star isn’t just a freak that runs around, he has to be disciplined or he can set up the secondary to get pillaged.
I’d like to see them take three guys rather than two and one of these guys (Macon) might end up being a really valuable contributor for 1-2 years but then he’ll be gone. However, I think there’s a pretty decent chance that both of these guys end up being really good for them.
This is the spot that has landed Oklahoma State in trouble in recent seasons. They always seem to develop a really good free safety and had an uninterrupted run of really good play at that position from Daytawion Lowe to Jordan Sterns that lasted for six years! Their strong safety position is harder to play and it wasn’t until last year that Tre Flowers really started to shine there (he now returns for one more year). You need a lot of athleticism and know-how to work from that spot. The problem that OSU has had though is at cornerback, to the extent that they started playing more of their new Tampa-2/robber coverage to help protect their outside guys from getting picked on. If they ever find a lockdown corner again they’ll become pretty dominant on defense in a hurry.
Kris McCune: 6-1, 195. 3*** from Mesquite, TX
It’s not clear if McCune will be a corner or a free safety. He’s really good at playing off coverage and closing on the ball, that was his specialty in high school. Gundy says he saw him dunk a basketball with his elbow at the rim, suggesting an impressive vertical leap and a lot of short area suddenness. I think that could translate to cornerback and I bet that’s where he starts his OSU career. They like to play a lot of cover 3 where the corner needs to be able to play over the top and then break on deeper throws and his short area burst and length translates well to that technique.
Tre Sterling: 6-0, 185. 3*** from Sunnydale, TX
I thought Sterling might have some CB potential because of his burst but evidently his 40 speed in the Sparq test was a 4.81 with a 4.31 shuttle, 36.2″ vertical, and 37.5′ toss. That’s a great athlete but not necessarily a guy you want responsible for running with another team’s James Washington without help over the top.
Anyways, he’s really violent and lands some huge sticks in the open field so safety makes a lot of sense for him anyways. He might have enough range to play at SS down the line.
Lamarcus Morton: 6-0, 175. 3*** from Gilmer, TX. IT #86
Gilmer is a big time #bEASTexas program that regularly produces some amazing and tough athletes like the Boyd brothers at Texas or Blake Lynch at Baylor (sorta. He, uh, ended up at Gilmer as a senior). Morton is a physical player but his film is mostly just him easily blowing by cornerbacks on deeper routes. He might end up being yet another amazing WR prospect in this class but someone this athletic and this physical on the field, you gotta try him out at CB if he’s at all amenable to that path.
Malcolm Rodriguez: 5-11, 190. 3*** from Wagoner, OK
Yet another really promising Okie. He played QB and safety at Wagoner and excelled at both although he was mostly a runner in the former position. As a safety he was pretty brutal and landed big hits with regularity. Everyone likes to see those but they indicate more than power and willingness to embrace contact but also the ability to move and close in space. Rodriguez is a former wrestling champion and will likely end up at 5-11, 210 or so once he’s been in their S&C program for a while.
I think his ability to grapple might see him move down to Star LB but for now his range and striking makes sense to me at FS in Jordan Sterns’ old spot. Incidentally, Oklahoma State’s competition for his signature was Craig Bohl’s Wyoming…
Thabo Mwaniki: 5-11, 180. 3*** from Denton, TX IT #76
Denton Guyer’s head coach, John Walsh, (father of JW Walsh) called the OSU staff and told them “hey I have this guy that might be the best athlete I’ve coached.” Thabo Mwaniki played a lot of positions for Guyer last year and played many of them with impressive coordination. He’s like Rodriguez in that he’s willing to come downhill with a vengeance and really blow someone up and he’s clearly smart and played multiple positions in high school. There’s a clip where he realizes a LB made a mistake against motion and he comes up to clean up the mistake before Guyer takes a hit from a quick hitch to what was almost a wide open WR. He might have more range than Rodriguez and could be a strong safety down the line.
Tracin Wallace: 6-1, 170. 3*** from Ft. Worth, TX
Wallace played QB while his brother Tylan played WR and I’m not sure that Tylan is necessarily any better an athlete than Tracin. The plan for Tracin seems to be CB, which is a boon for the OSU secondary for all the reasons I’ve been detailing over the last two years or so. He’s got loose hips and crazy acceleration that I think can translate to playing outside on a WR without always having help. Length plus recovery speed is a nice thing to get in your secondary.
The safety prospects in this group are fantastic, the corners are less of a sure thing because we’re projecting athletes that we don’t know will end up here or not. However, Morton and Wallace are really good athletes of the sort that the Cowboys (and everyone else) desperately needs to inject into their CB spots. You can gain a major advantage in the B12 by having athletes this good in your defensive backfield.
The Cowboys got nine Texans and four Oklahoma kids, which is important to their long-term ability to mine these key areas for the foundations of their team. It’ll be funny if they find yet another top QB out of the south (Mason Rudolph being the first) when the SEC can never seem to manage to get QB play of the caliber that is the standard in the Big 12. Gotta be scheme and coaching…
I think this group could easily be the foundation for the next great OSU team after Rudolph and the current crop move on to the next stage of their lives. I’m not sure what’s in between, perhaps one of those rare down seasons, but some of these guys could be really special in the future.