Breaking down West Virginia’s 2017 recruiting class

The 247 composite rankings didn’t think too much of this West Virginia recruiting class (57th nationally, 8th in the B12), but there are a few missing components that have to be considered which may make future WVU rosters better than expected. One is that Holgorsen has been investing in beefing up their walk-on program and this class of preferred walk-ons is well regarded. You can check them out here, I’m not going to break them all down but let’s just make a note of the fact this group might provide a contributor or two not accounted for by evaluating their scholarship commitments.

The other issue is that Holgorsen loves taking transfers, such as likely 2017 starting QB Will Grier, who had to leave Florida when he was busted for PEDs. I think Grier is a good player who could have a substantial impact on the Mountaineers offense this coming season. They might have some other transfers stepping in I don’t mention there that will upgrade their level of talent as well.

This past year was the best West Virginia has had since losing their trio of Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, and Geno Smith and it wasn’t because they finally found some NFL skill players again but because they had a ton of guys on both sides of the ball that were veterans within their program. The question here is whether they kept that up while perhaps adding players closer to Austin or Smith that could take them higher than “2nd tier B12 program.” Particularly at QB which has been their weakest spot.

Also worth noting, this is the ultimate Air Raid staff. You have Wickline and Holgorsen who made hay at Oklahoma State back in 2010 and now Jake Spavital is back after a controversial run at A&M where he seemed (IMO) to get scapegoated for a bad culture and injuries to Kyle Allen that sunk their season. From there he went to Cal and helped Davis Webb have a brilliant season in 2016, I think Spavital is a good one and both he and Holgs are good in the spread-I/Air Raid system.

Tony Gibson has learned to work really well alongside this offense and his defensive program is the major reason for their success last year.

Offense

Quarterbacks

The Holgo-Raid is very much a “spread-I” offense at this point although it retains a good deal more of the emphasis on Air Raid passing then a Meyer or Malzahn type “smashmouth spread.” They’ve shown they know what to do with a dual-threat QB but passing is the most important element here and especially throwing the ball on play-action and RPOs.

None

Grade: F

Weird. I wonder if they have another transfer in the works, with both Holgs and Spavital there now that’s a lot of Air Raid connection around the nation. Does Cal have any QBs that seem likely to transfer out in search of a coach who likes to throw the ball around? Keep an eye out.

Running backs

Holgs has always made his name by being more balanced than his mentor Mike Leach or other Air Raid coaches and with Wickline around they’re always going to emphasize inside zone and the run game as an important complement. Holgs has also made a name for using his backs in a variety of ways.

Tevin Bush: 5-8, 165. 3*** from New Orleans, LA

I list Bush here but I think he’ll probably spend more time in the slot. He has good hands and his incredible quickness really plays in the slot. A lot of his highlight runs consist of him just bouncing everything outside and then reversing field and outrunning his competition when things go wrong. That won’t play in the Big 12, you gotta be able to turn upfield and threaten the interior gaps. Maybe he’ll get there with time, we’ll see. Either way he projects really well as a WR despite his lack of height.

Alec Sinkfield: 5-10, 190. 3*** from Delray Beach, FL

I think Sinkfield is the best player in this class. He has a clip where he lines up in the slot, runs a sweep and cuts upfield through the B-gap. In addition to that kind of cutting ability and willingness to turn upfield, which makes for an ideal fit in their zone run game, the acceleration he gets in his first few steps makes him a legitimate threat to score on any given play.

Grade: A-

West Virginia is always bringing in talented backs and it’s not hard because they always use them well and put them in position to show a lot to the NFL. Bush might be a nice player for them but Sinkfield I think will eventually be one of their featured weapons.

Ancillaries

As an RPO spread offense, WVU finds great value from having a “fullback” and will sometimes also use a traditional in-line TE but usually just one of their hammer-back/fullback players.

None

Grade: A

Not a big deal that they didn’t sign any on scholarship since they added another Wolfley boy that could end up here (more on him later) and also signed all those preferred walk-ons from whose ranks they’ll undoubtedly find a blocker. That’s the way to do it, hence the grade.

Wide Receivers

West Virginia needs guys on the outside that can burn you for playing man coverage in order to try and account for their option game and play-action. However, the nature of the Air Raid is also to put a reliable guy in the slot to attack in the middle of the field after the WRs outside draw in the safeties. Their ideal set up would be a reliable chain-mover like Daikiel Shorts in the slot with burners like Mario Alford or Kevin White on the outside.

Dominique Maiden: 6-5, 190. 3*** from Riverside, CA (JUCO)

Maiden looks like he’s probably a legit 6-5, he’s enormous if not particularly thick. He looks much like every other solid 6-3+ WR we’ve seen over the years, he’s fluid enough to run adjustable routes and has a big catch radius thanks to his reach. He has some quickness to hurt you after the catch but I’m not sure his overall athleticism is enough to burn teams that want to play him in off coverage with a reliable, tackling corner.

Reggie Roberson: 6-0, 180. 3*** from Mesquite, TX

Roberson is really fast, I haven’t seen any SPARQ testing results on him but he appears to be a 4.6 or better kind of sprinter, which is they type that’s hard to stay on top of even with off coverage unless you have some really athletic corners. His hands are solid and he showed the ability to run some crossing routes in high school as well, I think they got a steal here.

David Sills: 6-3, 198. 3*** from Torrance, CA (JUCO) (originally MD)

Back in the day, Sills was a top rated young QB that Lane Kiffin offered a scholarship to at age 13. Later Kiffin pulled that offer (of course) and he ended up at West Virginia. While there, the Mountaineer coaches liked his athleticism and decided to get him on the field at WR while he waited his turn at QB, the results were very positive:

However, he decided to go JUCO to take one final stab at QB. It didn’t garner him offers so he’s back at WVU to embrace his potential at WR. He’s really quite good at it, he runs good routes and can beat a corner deep if the safety tries to drop down to stop the run like in the clip above. I bet he figures heavily into the rotation next year.

Grade: C+

This is the second year in a row in which WVU didn’t really take many WRs, which is pretty interesting. Perhaps they figure some of these DBs in a big class will move over. Sills should have an immediate impact though and the others are solid prospects. Bush probably factors in here as well.

Offensive line

Joe Wickline’s gift is the ability to snag big, wide-bodied kids from the 2/3 star ranks and teach them how to pass protect in the Air Raid (not that unique) but also how to block inside zone with exceptional technique. He’s had mixed results since his heyday at Oklahoma State but I think he still has it. Anyways, that gives you an idea of what he’s looking for. Lots of marginal tackles that he can groom into technically proficient machines.

Tyler Thurmond: 6-6, 275. 3*** from Buford, GA

Thurmond has nice length for tackle and he looks good when advancing up to linebackers or caving in the perimeter but his kick step doesn’t look up to snuff yet. Wickline will either get him going there or move him inside.

Kelby Wickline: 6-5, 280. 3*** from Ellsville, MS (JUCO)

Yep, that’s Wickline’s son, and he looks exactly like what you’d expect from a kid who’s dad is a zone blocking guru. Despite a redshirt and a greyshirt in his past, he’s struggling to reach 300 pounds and he might be just barely 6-5. Everything else checks out, his feet are quick and he’s a technician. The question is whether he can get heavy enough to anchor at tackle and if not what’ll happen if he tries to play against big DTs inside at guard. Perhaps center is also an option, I bet they’ll make something of him, he’s better than you might think from the nepotism angle.

Isaiah Hardy: 6-7, 335. 3*** from Scranton, PA (JUCO)

I’m half-surprised this kid didn’t end up at OU since they also have a pipeline at Lackawanna CC. He played guard last year, which gives you an inkling of the kind of talent they have at that place, because I think he’s a tackle in the future. He’s comfortable on the move, even pulling, and excels at tasks where he’s identifying smaller people (anyone on the field, really) within his jurisdiction and then shoving them into the dirt as they try to dart by his massive form. He doesn’t really play very low although I can think of few things worse then taking on a center as a DT only to have this guy crash down on your shoulder and the examples of that happening on film are cringe-inducing. I’m guessing they stash him away to take in Wickline teaching and then he comes out as a tackle in the future.

Grade: C+

Not much here in the way of numbers and there are questions about all of them but I think Wickline the younger could have an immediate impact if he eats enough sandwiches this offseason while Hardy seems a guy that might end up being really good in the future because of his outrageous size and shockingly nimble feet.

Defense

Defensive line

West Virginia has typically taken smaller DL classes since I’ve observed them and I’ve always expected it to burn them but it really hasn’t. Last year they had solid DL play despite losing nose tackle Kyle Rose. Next year they have to replace all three starters. They like size at the DE positions to be able to stunt inside or set the edge based on the call while the nose needs to be a guy that can do work in the A-gaps. They don’t two-gap though, they’ll often play a quicker guy and let him slant into either A-gap. If they ever fielded a dominant 3-down group their defense would take off but they use so many different pressures that the DL has less weight on them to carry the defense.

Jalen Harvey: 6-2, 315. 3*** from Senatobia, MS (JUCO)

I’m not too impressed with Harvey’s film, he’s a big man who can play with good pad level and is hard to move but he’s not terribly quick himself. Many of his highlights are him being reached and then making a play in the cutback lane. He could be a good guy for lining up over the center and being hard to move, we’ll see.

Lamonte McDougle: 6-1, 295. 3*** from Deerfield Beach, FL

I’m a bigger fan of McDougle’s film and his projection to nose tackle. McDougle is very quick off the ball and when the Mountaineers send him on blitzes with some accompanying ILB help he’s going to be very difficult to handle. I also like him to be able to maintain a play side A-gap and keep the LBs free more so than Harvey.

Darius Stills: 6-3, 280. 3**** from Fairmont, WV

Stills I think would also be best at nose but I’m guessing they want him for DE. He’s quick and long enough to do some work on the edge in their defense but he may be at his best working inside.

Ezekiel Rose: 6-3, 260. Scooba, MS (JUCO)

I’ve seen a few different weights listed for Rose, 230 and 265. I’m guessing he’s closer to the latter since he clearly projects to DL and WVU offered him. They wouldn’t be terribly excited about a 230 pound JUCO transfer to play their DE position. Anyways, Rose is good at engaging blockers and then using his lateral quickness to get where he needs to go. He can bend some around the edge but he’s also pretty sturdy and hard to move in the run game. A guy with this combination of skills is really valuable in their defense, I think they’re often happy if they have three guys up front that can slant into their gaps and maintain the line of scrimmage more often than not.

Grade: C

Rose is probably a legitimately valuable player for them, the other guys should provide depth and allow WVU to keep on keeping on up front. They like to win with their back 8 so let’s see how they did there.

Linebacker

West Virginia asks a lot of their linebackers in terms of all that they do but they generally get to play within the box and aren’t asked to cover a ton of grass out wide in coverage. They want guys that can roam all over the box, blitz from multiple angles, and scrape and fill creases based on what happens ahead of them from the front three. They had a pretty good group last year and bring 2/3 of them back, though they lose the best in Justin Arndt.

Maverick Wolfley: 6-3, 225. 3*** from Morgantown, WV

Wolfley is the son of a big time WVU legacy and the younger brother of a current player (Stone Wolfley, who hasn’t played much yet). My first glimpse of his film had me suspicious that Holgorsen was extending an offer because of some connection the father has to the program but further viewing actually impressed me. Maverick has real lateral range playing the inside-backer positions and his first few steps are really sudden. It’s very easy to see him pursuing the ball out of the box, cleaning things up in front of him in the run game, or shooting through an A-gap on a blitz.

I think he could also translate his size and powerful, downhill burst to fullback but he doesn’t seem that great there right now. He’ll probably be an inside-backer in a future season.

Quondarius Qualls: 6-2, 220. 3*** from Senatobia, MS (JUCO)

I think this guy is probably a little better than everyone realizes because this schematic fit is going to make more of his talents then most. At his JUCO he was playing a DE/OLB hybrid position on the edge and he was really lethal running plays down from the backside edge and also effective making drops into the flat. He wouldn’t be at the top of anyone’s list to play a DE/OLB spot in the Big 12 but in the Sam outside-backer position in WVU’s 3-3-5 he’ll be able to play on the edge and mix knifing through the action or dropping wide.

Grade: C

No one amazing here but these guys could find real success because of the nature of the WVU scheme and I’m guessing that 1 or 2 of their safety takes will grow into this position.

Defensive back

West Virginia does a ton with their defensive backfield, just as they do with their linebackers. They love to be able to play press-man coverage for their blitz package and their system comes alive when they can mix that in but they also play a lot of three-deep zone and often with five underneath droppers helping out. Physical and heady players are the most valuable but they do need corners that can be physical, heady, and also run with top WRs without getting burned.

Collin Smith: 6-0, 196. 3*** from Ligonier, PA

Smith is pretty fast coming downhill but I’d have real questions about his ability to play bump and run with quicker receivers, even from safety where he currently projects. WVU wants him to learn all three positions and possibly fit at FS but I won’t be shocked if he gets a shirt and grows into a Sam LB.

He’s really solid on his film coming down in run support from a deep perch, unaccounted for by the offensive blocking scheme.

Eugene Brown: 6-0, 190. 3*** from Stone Mountain, GA

Brown is just a faster version of Collin Smith, which is another reason I suspect Smith might just spin down to linebacker. Brown is good at collisioning receivers when he’s playing over a slot and can catch and run with players decently but he’s also at his best coming downhill in the run game.

Hakeem Bailey: 6-0, 180. 3*** from Council Bluffs, IA (JUCO)

Bailey plays corner on his film but 247 lists him as a safety and I also think he’ll end up there. He’s very solid playing deep zone and either playing the ball in the air by using his eyes or coming downhill to make a tackle or attempt a break-up. When you see a guy that tackles pretty well like this and plays well in zone, it’s always a plus when he can move inside to safety in the Big 12 rather than trying to stay outside against this league’s passing attacks.

Kenny Robinson: 6-2, 200. 3*** from Pittsburgh, PA

I think Robinson could be a very good slot WR in the mold of Daikiel Shorts but he’s currently slotted for safety instead. In the defensive backfield I think he makes sense at bandit (the boundary safety) or free safety. He can play some man on a slot, his first few steps are good and he’s willing to get physical, but he’s probably currently at his best playing deep zone. He’ll separate the ball from the man and land some wicked shots.

Exree Loe: 6-0, 190. 3*** from Johnstown, PA

Loe is a really solid all around athlete who ran a 4.65 in the sparq with a 4.36 shuttle, 30.7″ vertical, and 38′ toss. I think he has enough athleticism and more than enough size and strength to project as a potentially wicked press-man corner. He looks pretty good on his film playing off coverage but he’ll be taught press techniques at WVU. He played some QB in high school and at a few other spots as well so he’s clearly coordinated and understands the game.

Ricky Johns: 6-2, 176. 3*** from Lansdale, PA

Johns ran a 4.69 with a 4.12 shuttle, 33.3″ vertical, and 38.5′ power toss. Like Loe, I think he projects really well as a press corner that can knock a guy off his route but with a little more lateral speed to try and turn and stay with the route. Johns has loose hips and is sudden changing direction, he’s also got film playing the run and blitzing the edge and we all know how much WVU likes to mix in different kinds of pressure. Depending on how he grows he might make sense at their “Spur” nickel position but I bet he stays outside at corner.

Derrek Pitts: 6-1, 175. 3*** from Charleston, WV

Pitts or Johns is the best athlete of this bunch, Pitts ran a 4.58 40 with a 4.27 shuttle and 29.5″ vertical leap. Pitts played inside more in high school and was phenomenal at timing blitzes both up the gut or off the edge and was a physical player. I think he makes a ton of sense for their Spur position and he’s a little less loose in the hips than Johns or Loe so while I think he could learn to play pretty good man coverage I think his speed translate better inside where he’ll be running straight ahead more often.

Grade: B

This is a pretty typical DB haul for WVU these days. They’ll take a ton of guys and try to get as much size as possible and then train them up in press coverage and Gibson’s different varieties of middle of the field safety zone coverages. There’s a ton of wisdom in grabbing as many good DBs as you can and WVU’s strategy frankly depends on it anyways. While I don’t see any obvious future NFL players I see seven guys that seem like they could be good players and a few of which could move to linebacker if this doesn’t pan out. All of the play physical and some may have major upside in coverage as well.

West Virginia clearly has a very tight-knit staff together at this point and they have a program on both sides of the ball that’s working to make the most of their roster, particularly when they have the right sorts of fit for their scheme. I think they got a lot of good fits in this class and will probably over achieve relative to their rankings.

Especially if they keep bringing in transfer QBs like Will Grier that could be game-changers leading the way.

2 Comments

  1. Will

    Good write up Ian, thank you.

    As you note, WVU is pretty reliant on transfers plugging gaps when needed. WVU has been open about looking for grad transfers at CB and WR (Shelton Gibson declared early because dude graduated and can fly). They are looking at transfer options for QB.

    Word out of Morgantown is that Wolfley will be a FB/TE. I like his size at LB but I’m not going to pretend like I know where he profiles better.

    I really like the S and RB commits here based on what I have read. WVU needs to be taking two backs a year given the high tempo, run heavy attack we’ve seen the last couple of years and these guys look like they will fit nicely into the offense.

    Definitely looks like WVU covered it’s future safeties pretty well here, which is important because there are three of them on the field and they are asked to make a lot of plays. Not sure who, other than Bailey, ends up at CB. Lee I guess.

    Glad to hear Qualls has the skills suited for SAM, where Arndt played. I think WVU has a lot of promising young talent at LB, starting with Ferns and Long, but it’s really good to have depth at the position.

    This is the biggest DL class they have taken since I have been paying attention. I think the injuries at the position last year left them feeling vulnerable and uncertain of what they have behind Shriner, Shuler and Donahue, all of whom are too young to play 80-90 snaps for 12 games.

    I really like Hardy, or at least his measurables, the Lackawanna coach is high on him and that guy knows talent. Mark Glowinski came from the same program (obviously a decent number of WVU guys did, but he is the only OL I can think of) and he way outperformed expectations.

    One freshman WR is weird, even if Bush ends up at slot. That’s 3 freshman in the last two classes, gonna be thin there in a year or two. Sills is going to be nasty though, he flashed some serious ball skills for a guy who sorta committed to playing receiver his true freshman year.

    There were a lot of rumors that Holgo’s contract situation hurt recruiting this year, which seems plausible. No consensus 4 star recruits at all is pretty unusual (I guess Rivals had a couple guys as four stars but not the other services) and there isn’t really a guy that WVU pinned all its hopes (like Ferns or Douglas or Askew-Henry the past few years). Still, like you say they know what they are looking for and these guys will probably, at a bare minimum, fit the system. Some of the RBs and DBs could do quite a bit more.

    Great, great write up. Really appreciate the time and effort it must take to do these. Thanks.

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