My observation from doing these Big 12 class breakdowns for four years or so is that Dana Holgorsen tends to load up on skill athletes, take a suspect number of bigs, and then select QBs that don’t seem to necessarily match the style of offense he inevitably runs in a given season.
Maybe that’s confirmation bias though because in a given year the Mountaineers typically field a team that has skill talent on both sides of the ball comparable to most anyone else in the league but can’t keep up with the top dogs due to inferiority in the trenches. They do okay on offensive line but sometimes have big holes there and on defensive line they vacillate wildly from year to year and often are relying on one or two guys behind whom they have a whole lotta nothing.
The 2018 class looks pretty much like what I’ve described with a few takes here and there that could help them get beyond their normal ceiling. The 247 rankings have this as the sixth best class in the league, I think those rankings typically have West Virginia decently pegged except that the Mountaineers often have a good transfer QB (Clint Trickett, Will Grier) or other player that can elevate their play and make everything fit together properly.
The Holgo-Raid is very much a “spread-I” offense at this point that looks more and more like a Briles “veer and shoot,” particularly when they have a strong-armed QB that can throw outside of the hash marks. 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.
Woodrow Lowe III: 6-3, 185. 3*** from Bolivar, TN (Central)
I was somewhat impressed by the play of Chris Chugunov against Texas and evidently I had him pegged as a promising Air Raid QB in my 2015 WVU class breakdown. This offense really hums with a smart, solid pocket passer…but I can understand why Holgs would take a chance on Lowe.
This guy is an unbelievable athlete with a strong arm and a nice ability to keep his eyes downfield and throw the ball after being flushed from the pocket. That’s a hard skill to learn when you’re this athletic and dangerous just running around. He could make the QB run RPOs they used to run for Skyler Howard extremely dangerous and seems to have some potential as a pocket passer as well. Some of his decisions on film seem kinda iffy but worst case here is a guy that translates well to WR.
West Virginia is in good shape with Grier locking things down this year, Chugunov around as a solid insurance plan if someone else isn’t ready in 2019, and then Miami transfer Jack Allison around. You may recall that in my breakdown of West Virginia’s 2017 class that I was puzzled by their lack of a QB take and speculated that they may be in the running for at transfer. Sure enough, they nabbed big, tall, former 4-star prospect Allison when he decided to leave Miami.
West Virginia and many of the other Big 12 schools are well set up these days to serve as destinations for QBs and skill players that are frustrated by the inability of bigger programs to make the most of their abilities. Like Ok St stealing Tyron Johnson from LSU when he realized that his path to a great season at WR was in the B12, not under LSU’s passing-game challenged coaches. Anyways, West Virginia has a young transfer in the pipeline so taking a shot on a high upside athlete here was a good decision.
West Virginia uses the RB position much better than most Air Raid schools, unless we’re still counting OU as an Air Raid. They put a big emphasis on running the ball with RPOs and doing so to set up play-action. They also throw to the back a fair amount on flat routes and screens. They generally have some really good players here and they put them in a lot of space to work in.
Leddie Brown: 6-0, 210. 3*** from Philadelphia, PA (Neumann Goretti)
Lots of schools liked Brown as a versatile, hybrid back of the sort I’ve been promoting in my “positionless football” theorizing. He runs some decent routes on his HUDL but his hands seem a touch iffy to me. That said, he’s very impressive as a power back and I almost wish he was going to Wyoming to run in Craig Bohl’s A-gap power schemes. He keeps his feet churning and has the acceleration to pull away suddenly when tacklers either fall off him or he finds a crease. This is the kind of guy that can really work over a defense that’s spread out by an offense like this one, think Terence Ganaway minus 15 pounds (currently).
Another strong horse in the stable for Holgorsen, gotta make sure OC Jake Spavital gets them the ball in coming seasons.
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. Things seem to be changing this year as they are aiming higher at that position.
TJ Banks: 6-5, 250. 3*** from North Versailles, PA (East Allegheny)
West Virginia hasn’t had a guy like TJ Banks that I can recall. He played some DE in Pennsylvania and has a really good first step off the ball in the pass-rush but it’s even more effective when he’s using it to create separation in his routes or to pick up quick yards after the catch. He has strong hands and experience running some crossing routes, I think he might be really special down the line for them and could take their offense to new levels. He’s big, athletic, and has ball skills, 3-stars seems kinda low.
Mike O’Laughlin: 6-5, 230. 3*** from Oak Park, IL (Fenwick)
Technically O’Laughlin played WR on film but he’s not super fluid looking and seems most comfortable either blocking or just trying to run by people. I don’t know that he’s really 6-5 either. To my eyes he looks like a guy that will grow into a really solid blocker that is eminently capable of catching the ball if opponents don’t cover him. That’s a valuable piece to have.
O’Laughlin projects as a guy that can allow them to do what they’ve typically done in their offense and perhaps a bit more. Banks brings a whole new dimension and can probably have value on OL or DL if he ends up filling out to 280 or something like that. This is a really intriguing part of the class and they also have a TE transfer from Miami that will be eligible. In a related story, West Virginia’s move to fill out the 10th coach position was to promote offensive analyst Dan Gerberry to TE coach.
West Virginia always gets good WR play and the return of the “Will Grier to David Sills” dimension of their offense is quietly one of the big stories of the 2018 Big 12 season. They usually build around having vertical threats outside but they also often have a really good possession guy that will play mostly in the slot and beat people up running precise routes in the middle of the field.
Sam James: 6-0, 160. 3*** from Richmond Hills, GA (Richmond Hills)
James is a good athlete with a 4.63 electronically timed 40 to his name that didn’t seem to have the best QB in the world at Richmond Hills HS. Lots of snaps include him running by a CB only to have to pull up when the QB throws it up to him and the placement is terrible or short. I think his best fit is outside, particularly after continuing to learn how to use already solid footwork to create lanes to accelerate by CBs down the sideline.
Randy Fields: 6-3, 185. 3*** from Baltimore, MD (St Frances Academy)
Fields doesn’t seem terribly fast, but he’s super coordinated and always using good footwork and routes on film to get open. I see him as another Daikiel Shorts, perpetually open in the middle of the field and very difficult for less skilled defenders to cover up.
Dillon Spalding: 6-1, 216. 3*** from Lorton, VA (South Country)
Spalding is a really interesting guy. He participated in a Sparq drill but only ran the shuttle and did the power throw, he ran a 4.51 shuttle (not good at all) and threw the ball 38′ (exceptional). On film he looks blazing fast, regularly running by defenders or catching the ball on the run and blowing through and by people. Jim Harbaugh pushed hard to get him to Michigan as an H-back, probably envisioning him as a guy that could learn to be a strong blocker and then get set up to torch people running routes in the middle of the field.
West Virginia ended up winning his signature, probably for similar reasons that they always end up with strong pro-style QBs that transfer from Florida schools. Being a WR at West Virginia is fun. I don’t know what to make of the shuttle but he looks legit fast on film and he’s a load to handle due to his strength. Opposing DBs can’t muscle him off his routes and often get a nasty stiff arm once he has the ball. I think he’ll turn out to be really good.
Bryce Wheaton: 6-3, 200. 3*** from Holly Springs, NC (Holly Springs)
Second best player in the class, ran a 4.53 40, 4.12 shuttle, jumped a 36.1″ vertical, and threw a 42′ power toss at a Sparq event. He’s an insane athlete and could do anything he wanted in a high school football game. He has some good ball skills so I figure they’ll develop him as the next Kevin White in their receiver room.
Everyone in this league is always loaded at WR. I like that West Virginia snagged a couple of guys that look like they’ll be good at doing yeoman’s work in this offense and then a couple of guys that could be superstars (Spalding and Wheaton) and didn’t take a ton of numbers overall. There’s not much fear that West Virginia will lack for skill player talent, they always eval and develop well, so why load up with obscene numbers?
I’ve heard mixed things about Joe Wickline’s investment level and there seemed to be some turmoil and frustration amongst the offensive coaches last year. Aggies are always trying to tell me that Spavital is no good and I usually blow them off because A&M was so dysfunctional when he was there and the bad season came with an injured Kyle Allen and a pouty, entitled Kyler Murray. That said, Holgorsen seemed really frustrated last year at the end of the season with how things had gone on offense. But he brought Wickline and everyone back so we’ll see.
The MO here is to grab big guys at every spot that project well as “obstacles” in pass protection in true Air Raid fashion. Wickline made his name by demonstrating an ability to teach those kinds of guys to be effective inside zone blockers and West Virginia has also mixed in outside zone and gap schemes in recent years. So they ask a lot of these guys and generally try to get big, tall, fairly mobile “jack of all trade” type players.
James Gmiter: 6-3, 310. 3*** from Bethel Park, PA (Bethel Park)
247 lists Gmiter as a DL but I don’t think he’ll stick there. He gets good push as a nose tackle but he’s not laterally quick enough and you can catch him getting reached a few times (doesn’t matter because he still overpowers the center) which spells trouble against B12 OL. As a guard though he’d be a plus athlete and he played there in HS, showing nice push in the run game and the ability to move around and find guys as a pulling blocker.
Blaine Scott: 6-4, 310. 3*** from Portsmouth, OH (Sciotoville)
Prototypical West Virginia OL. He’s athletic enough, big enough, if he’s smart enough to play well with others he should be effective as a guy that’s hard to get around or through. I don’t think he’s athletic enough to be a plus guy but he could be a reliable obstacle in time.
Joe Brown: 6-3, 330. 3*** from Thatcher, AZ (Eastern Arizona College)
Mike Brown: 6-4, 330. 3*** from Thatcher, AZ (Eastern Arizona College)
Joe is the older brother of the two who went to EAC (the JUCO) from Miami. Both are really good, mauling guards who can devastate guys with angles but also get push on a single-team block on zone. They’ll probably need some time to work on pass protection but they project really well as guards in this offense. Younger Mike is even more explosive than his brother.
Briason Mays: 6-4, 290. 3*** from Bolivar, TN (Central)
A fun trick I learned from Scipio Tex is to cross-eval guys off their teammates’ HUDL film. Mays was an OL for Woodrow Lowe in Tennessee so you can watch him on Lowe’s film, or Lowe on Mays’ film, and see how they looked on plays that weren’t (necessarily) personal highlights. I loved Mays’ personal film and his appearances on Lowe’s film confirm the same things. He looks like a tackle to me, despite the lack of that preferred 6-5+ height, he’s just quick on his feet.
Oyenmwen Uzebu: 6-6, 305. 3*** from Alpharetta, GA (Alpharetta)
Here’s the prize of this large OL class. He’s supposedly only 16, you hear something similar from fellow Nigerian Moro Ojomo (heading to Texas from Katy HS) because apparently they get started a year earlier or something in Nigeria. Or maybe this is a scam to make them look more impressive when people think they’re younger and have more upside than is the case, I dunno.
Anyways this kid has a good reputation and awesome film. He’s supremely athletic and I noted multiple plays where he picked up late stunts and blitzes with ease, he sees things coming and easily adjusts to pick guys up. I think he’ll be the starting left tackle within a few years.
Multiple guys here who project as plus run-blockers inside at guard and then two (to my eyes) legitimate tackle prospects. What more could you want?
Last year we finally saw Holgorsen’s propensity to take small DL classes burn them when they couldn’t find an upperclassman on the roster that could reliably beat or eat blocks for their 3-3-5. They’ll probably be better next year with that promising nose Lamonte McDougle entering his sophomore year and most everyone back. Still, they should have been aiming higher here since their scheme depends on getting some impact play up front. They did a little better this year.
Tyrese Allen: 6-3, 290. 3*** from Paintsville, KY (Paintsville)
Allen played RB in HS and his film is hilarious as a result. He has some legit quickness and plays with good pad level, which made him unpleasant and difficult to tackle for these Kentucky boys. His sparq numbers: 5.15 40, 4.8 shuttle, 28.7″ vertical, 37′ power toss, tell the story of a guy who’s pretty athletic for 280 or whatever he was when he took the test.
I think he’ll be their nose tackle and, unlike Gmiter, he’s quick enough to consistently fill the A-gaps and stunt in their schemes while also being sturdy and strong enough (and playing with good pad level) to hold up against double teams or down blocks. Really good nose prospect here, although he may need some time to find his upside.
Dante Stills: 6-4, 265. 4**** from Fairmont, WV (Fairmont)
They took Stills’ older brother a year ago…I thought he was decent but it was worth it just to get Dante, he’s the best player in the class. You can catch him working through blockers while reading the backfield and then shucking the blocker at the right time to make the play, at other times he pins his ears back and wins the edge in the pass-rush. He has a good shot to match what Noble Nwachukwu did at West Virginia or surpass it as a 3-3 DE who can play inside some but is at his best working around the edge in the pass-rush.
I dunno, taking only two guys is a tad risky although they loaded up on half-decent bodies a year ago. I think a lot of both of these players so that’s something.
The Mountaineers’ 3-3-5 basically makes hybrids of all three LB spots and gives them a myriad of tasks to perform but all of which take place between the hash marks. They’ve made a living snagging short, stout, quick guys that can stunt interior gaps but also move around laterally and cover space between the hash marks. You need to be pretty versatile but not necessarily great at anything to thrive in this scheme, they have development and deployment here down to a science.
Charlie Benton: 6-2, 210. 3*** from El Dorado, KS (Butler County)
I had Benton pegged as a safety but he’s an early enrollee and already listed on their depth chart at LB. He was a good, downhill box safety at Butler this last season and at his best closing on the ball from some depth because he’s pretty quick and fearless. West Virginia is going to ask him to translate that from closer distances and with the OL more likely to see him coming, so we’ll see how that goes.
Josh Chandler: 5-11, 215. 3*** from Canton, OH (McKinley)
My boy Derek Duke from Heartland College Sports clued me that this guy could be good and he basically looks like the good LBs that West Virginia has had in recent years. Rasheed Al-Benton, Justin Arndt, David Long, he’s another of that ilk. He accelerates downhill quickly and violently and should be really troublesome on stunts or just playing as an inside-backer against the run.
Chandler is a no-brainer to me, Benton is a curious take given the numbers they already have and the time he might need to master a new position. I’m sure they’ll be fine here and didn’t need numbers given how many solid LB prospects they already have on campus but I’m curious if they get anything out of Benton. Maybe they just needed more time for some of the younger players.
Last year was a tough one here for WVU. They kept turning over their cornerbacks, in part because they kept plugging in transfers and JUCOs, and they didn’t seem to land athletic-enough high schoolers to build a pipeline to fall back on in a year where they didn’t land a stud from the transfer markets. So they had to back off some from their press-man coverage schemes they like to mix in and play DGBD (don’t get beat deep) style cover 3 last year.
At safety they ask a lot of the “spur” who’s a nickel type player that plays man coverage, forces the edge, blitzes, the edge, and sometimes drops into deep zone. That’s the money position. Their free safety needs to be athletic and rangy and their bandit (boundary) safety is more of a box/run support guy. Their best Ds have at least one lockdown corner who can hold up without having to bail into a deep 1/3 zone or getting help over the top.
They loaded up on HS athletes last year so eventually they should have some good options, I expected off last year’s haul for this year’s class to be more transfer-heavy. Sure enough…
Joshua Norwood: 5-10, 175. 3*** from Senatobia, MS (NW Miss CC)
Norwood, a JUCO transfer, is presumably part of the solution at CB and is an early enrollee. He played mostly safety at his MS JUCO and demonstrated nice range and physical tackling. As a DGBD cover 3 corner I think he’d be solid but he probably has more utility as a safety unless he has some cover skills that weren’t demonstrated at his last stop.
Keith Washington: 6-2, 170. Wesson, MS (Copiah-Lincoln CC)
Washington I think will be counted on to fix the cornerback problem. He was a well regarded Alabama kid that was competing at Michigan last offseason and then abruptly decided to transfer to a JUCO (best for me and my family). That could send character red flags but evidently the Michigan coaches were surprised by the move and were working him some at safety, so I think this might have been more of a “no way, I’m a cornerback!” kind of move by Washington.
His JUCO film is great and features him playing a lot of MEG (man everywhere he goes) coverage in quarters schemes and locking guys down with press-technique reminiscent of the better players from Michigan State’s “no-fly zone” days. West Virginia doesn’t play any kind of quarters coverage but the technique should translate in their zero blitzes. If they can get back to locking down a WR with a single DB at times and sending help elsewhere or bringing those zero-blitzes with press coverage that’d be a huge boon to their defense in 2018. I betcha he starts.
Kwantel Raines: 6-3, 200. 4**** from Aliquippa, PA (Aliquippa)
Aliquippa has been good to West Virginia over the years, they must have some useful connections there. Raines is the most recent product and he’s a good one, one of the five best players in this class. He’s big and physical in his play but he has the hips to turn and run with receivers, making him a good fit for the spur position manned by similar guys such as Kyzir White and KJ Dillon. He could also be a solution if other B12 teams also start using more TEs to create matchup issues since he has the length and strength to match up to guys like that better than most DBs.
They got one good prospect for the future and then a few of their typical quick-fixes, one of which looks like a really good one. Three is a pretty low number but they took a ton of DBs in the last two classes. They probably need some of their HS CB takes to pan out eventually…but in today’s transfer-crazy CFB world they are a popular destination because of their good scheme and effective coaching.
College football is dominated these days by ladder-climbing coaches that change jobs ALL THE TIME so there’s no question as to why players would also start to show less loyalty. Then there are always the big schools that load up on blue-chip players every year but inevitably relegate some to the bench and ask them to sit and wait their turns while competing with other blue-chip players. Well, today’s increasingly transfer-heavy world and all of the good JUCO programs out there are increasing the options for players.
Why wait for your senior year to play at a struggling big time program if you can transfer and go play sooner in a better scheme? You don’t, you go to a Big 12 school that isn’t overflowing with blue-chip talent and you get more attention and more intentional deployment. Holgorsen is handling this world as adeptly as anyone and it makes their signing days a bit less significant. That said, this is a solid class.