Breaking down Kansas’ 2019 recruiting class

Les Miles, like most every other coach hired by Kansas for the last decade or so, has a tough task ahead of him. However, it’s a little less tough thanks to the roster building of David Beaty which was ineffective but at least left something approaching real scholarship numbers behind. Beaty had an impossible task early on trying to develop a team without even having the numbers to run high level practices. At the end Beaty did cave and bring in a larger number of JUCO signees but he also left behind some actual talent including star RB Pooka Williams, who I hear will be able to play in the fall.

The mad-hatter had three tasks for this class. The first was to sign as many quality players as possible to continue to beef up the talent and numbers on the Jayhawk roster. The second was to find good fits for the coming adjustments with the new coaching hires. Finally they needed to add some guys that could help immediately and allow them to make the most of the Pooka Williams era. In that magical little creature is the key to a turnaround for Kansas football, they HAVE to make something of his time in Lawrence to build momentum and hype around the program to turn things around.

The new systems coming to Lawrence include a 3-4 defense. The Colorado coaches coming over to install the front ran more of a true, three-down that remained a three-down in nickel with big guys up front to eat blocks. I don’t know if those guys exist on the Kansas roster though so it’ll be interesting to see if they stay there or try a 2-4. Clint Bowen is still around on the back end, which is kinda hilarious because he’s been there for this entire tumultuous era, yet also kinda fitting because his DBs and their shifting disguises were often the best features of the whole team.

On offense Miles hired some spread guys, ultimately settling on Les Koenning as the OC. Koenning is the cousin of the new WVU DC and was a WR coach for Charlie Strong at Texas for one year before moving on. Koenning seems pretty solid to me and he helped rebuild the UAB offense a couple of years ago when they brought back football and understands spread run game. He’ll be tasked with being the architect of a run game that can free Pooka.

Not counting the kicker, because I don’t bother trying to evaluate kicker film, Kansas got 18 in this group. 10 are from the south, which may be a theme under Miles, three are from TX/OK (some of the best), three are in-state kids, and then they found six JUCOs to help bring some immediate help. Here’s a breakdown of last year’s class.

Now the 2019 crew:

Defense

Secondary

Kansas has been pretty good about DB development over the last few years, at least in regards to playing coverage and disguising alignments. They haven’t been all that physical at most spots and even Mike Lee, who was a fearsome hitter when he arrived, didn’t make all that many big hits in 2018. They seem to be looking for coverage overall so they can show a lot of looks and move guys around.

Jayden Russell: 6-1, 180. 3*** from Lenexa, KS (St. Thomas Aquinas)

SPARQ: 4.77 40, 4.51 shuttle, 36.5″ vertical, 38′ toss

There’s no doubt Russell is pretty big and powerful and he’ll probably get bigger still and maintain his downhill speed. The only issue for the Jayhawks is that he doesn’t seem all that flexible when it comes to turning his hips and carrying guys down the field. He probably needs to be covered up some in a role where he isn’t asked to navigate open spaces and react to route breaks without the benefit of time and space to close.

Kenny Logan: 6-1, 180. 3*** from Saint Augustine, FL (Pedro Menendez)

Logan is also best playing on the back end but he’s much more fluid and positionally solid than Russell. He’s really good reading the QB from zone and breaking on the ball and he’s also good at filling the alley or dropping into the box to support the run. This is what you want your support safeties to look like.

Valerian Agbaw: 5-11, 185. 3*** from Powder Springs, GA (McEachern)

Agbaw was left on an island in HS, regularly playing press or straight man without anyone around to offer any help. Sometimes he’s barely getting the job done but that’s less concerning how much space he’s having to cover and the likelihood that he was often drawing tough assignments. He’s very loose in the hips and sticks on guys through their routes, usually taking away the easy stuff and then closing on the outside shots. Really useful guy in this scheme.

Justin Ford: 6-2, 175. 3*** from Huntington Beach, CA (Golden West College)

Ford is immediate help for a team that will start three or four seniors in the secondary next season and needs some help at CB if they want to keep Hasan Defense at nickel where he thrived a year ago. Ford is a very well rounded guy who plays the edge well in run support and can play deep and use his length and ball skills to contest the difficult sideline throws. Kansas could potentially play him alone the boundary some and hold up while moving the safeties elsewhere.

Grade: B-

Kansas did solidly here, normally finding coverage players is the trick but strangely the Jayhawks are pretty good at that. Their issue has been more stopping the run and finding guys that can tackle in the middle of the field and support the LBs reliably. Logan could be a really helpful addition for them, they probably need to convert some guys from other spots as well to add some muscle to their backfield.

Linebackers

The Jayhawks tend to have one guy on the team who’s lightning laterally that makes all their tackles and then a bunch of scrubs around him that are largely useless. First Ben Heeney and friends then for the last few years it was Joe Dineen. If they could ever play two of those guys at the same time they’d really have something. It’s hard to know what the move to the 3-4 will mean here but honestly, in the Big 12 you want the same thing almost regardless of the scheme. Guys who can read on the run, move laterally quick, and cause problems with their speed.

Gavin Potter: 6-1, 200. 3*** from Broken Arrow, OK (Broken Arrow)

I guess shorter, lighter guys with obvious functional strength and great speed are still getting overlooked in the quest for good LB play. Potter moves really well and can force the edge from an inside alignment. He also has good instincts for running under blocks to make TFLs on plays away and finding creases in the blitz. I’m shocked Oklahoma State didn’t snatch him up, Oklahoma overlooking him is par for the course for them.

Grade: C

Naturally the Jayhawks found one guy that looks like another star and didn’t sign anyone else. If they got one guy of this quality every class though they’d probably be fine.

Defensive line

Here’s the big area of interest. The Jayhawks have been playing a four-down defense much of the time, though experimenting with three-down schemes that slant and shift into a four-down structure as often as not. They had Daniel Wise, who was a really good and traditional 3-technique, they’ve also tended to have pretty good DEs from time to time like Dorance Armstrong. Much like LB, the story has often been one of a single standout player surrounded by scrubs. The new defensive front coaches came from Colorado where they wanted three big bodies to eat blocks and deny space while LBs did the pass-rushing. Kansas doesn’t have guys like that around though so we’ll see if they’re married to that approach or not. Also they added…

Dajon Terry: 6-4, 320. 3*** from Meridian, MS (Meridian)

Terry is just a huge, powerful guy playing football. He’s not consistently quick off the ball, probably needs some real conditioning work, and isn’t all that disruptive unless you ask a high schooler to reach block him without help. What he does offer is a massive, strong body that’s hard to move out of the way.

Malcolm Lee: 6-5, 250. 3*** from Council Bluffs, IA (Iowa Western CC)

I was really unimpressed with Lee’s JUCO film. He doesn’t look all that explosive on the edge and many of his plays feature him coming unblocked on a badly read option play or else slowly walking back a TE that was asked to block him 1-on-1. I don’t think he’s going to have an impact on the edge but perhaps he could add weight and slide inside some, be a 3-4 DE that’s hard to shove off the ball.

Caleb Sampson: 6-3, 282. 3*** from Clarksdale, MS (Coahoma CC)

Sampson is what you hope Lee could be with some weight training and a position change. He’s pretty quick off the ball and uses his hands well so he makes a nuisance of himself when he’s working inside against the slower guys on opposing OL. He’s also got some power to stand his ground.

Marcus Harris: 6-3, 250. 3*** from Montgomery, AL (Park Crossing)

Harris is a sort of tweener. At the HS level he’s quick enough to work on the edge but also strong enough to work inside and power by whatever resistance the OL are able to put in his path by the time he arrives. So he’s quick enough to work the edge but strong enough to overpower some guys. At the college level I think his upside will probably come from adding weight and using his first step to command attention so that he can’t shoot gaps inside as a tackle.

Jereme Robinson: 6-4, 212. 3*** from Montgomery, AL (Carver)

Les Miles really worked hard in the south to find some DL. Robinson is a really strong OLB/edge guy prospect. He’s very comfortable in space with plenty of explosiveness to win the edge on guys and handle the various challenges that come from playing there. He looks a little raw as a pass-rusher but the athleticism and tools are there.

Steven Parker: 6-4, 220. 4**** from Dallas, TX (South Oak Cliff)

Parker is the gem of the class, a no-brainer prospect as another OLB/edge guy. He can change directions really easily, has length to keep blockers off his body, and can dip and blow around guys in the pass-rush. He’ll probably play relatively soon in his career.

My co-worker Eric Nahlin had Parker as the no. 25 player in the state of Texas.

Grade: C+

The Jayhawks definitely found some guys to do damage off the edge in any sort of front. What’s less clear is whether their various takes will grow into valuable pieces up front that can take on the better guards in this league or hold up when the double team comes. They don’t look like they’re particularly close to fielding the sort of big, powerful front that Colorado leaned on. Even if these guys get there it’ll take time. They need to find another disruptive guy in the middle to hold attention and free up the edge guys.

Offense

Offensive line

Much like everywhere else, the Jayhawks have regularly had units with a really strong individual talent surrounded by guys that shouldn’t be starters in this conference. They need to raise the floor of their program with OL that can hold up in pass protection and open lanes for Pooka.

Zero takes

Grade: F

Yikes. Zero additions to the mix up front for the Jayhawks. If Les Miles is going to build a physical team up in Lawrence he’s going to need to go big and heavy here next year and probably go JUCO to boot. It’s easy to see the classic warning signs early on that this isn’t going to work out.

Ancillaries

Kansas could really use some blockers here, like “Jax the destroyer” could have offered as well as some TEs. It’s hard to build much of a run game without a sixth blocker to help the OL account for all six defenders in the box in a nickel front. It’s nice to be able to go 21 or 12 personnel at times too to force the issue.

Mason Fairchild: 6-5, 250. 3*** from Andale, KS (Andale)

Fairchild is a really useful addition. He’s already got the size and experience to help block DEs at the point of attack or lead up on LBs and do a credible job. Fairchild also has good hands and some deft route running skills, but he’s not nearly quick enough to make the most of them unless teams are playing him as a potential blocking threat. That’s fine though, he should be able to carve out an Andrew Beck/Trevon Wesco type role in the coming years, finding open grass to run routes in off the threat of what he could do leading for Pooka.

Grade: C+

It’s not all that hard to find a good blocker, OSU does it regularly with their walk on program, but Fairchild is still a nice addition that could prove very important.

Running backs

Since the Jayhawks seem inclined to build a spread run game up in Lawrence (and one without many OL recruits) they need to get real talent here that can make the most of whatever space they can create.

Velton Gardner: 5-9, 170. 3*** from Dallas, TX (Skyline)

SPARQ: 4.62 40, 4.43 shuttle, 30.4″ vertical, 30.5′ power toss

Gardner has some nice speed, he also ran a 11.1 100m, which basically corresponds to his listed 40 time. In addition to the good acceleration, Gardner is really good at making use of the short man’s faster leg turnover to hit windows in the run game. He’s a good spread RB prospect who will be able to catch out of the backfield as well.

Grade: C

Gardner is a pretty normal looking B12 RB, he’ll be good if he can work in a committee in a scheme that successfully opens running lanes for him to exploit.

Wide receivers

Kansas has probably been better here than many have realized but with their caliber of QB play and blocking it’s not always obvious. They want what everyone else wants, skilled matchup problems that can get open against 1-on-1 coverage or zone.

Amauri Pesek-Hickson: 6-3, 210. 3*** from Leawood, KS (Blue Valley)

Miles mentioned Pesek-Hickson as another RB prospect but I refuse to list him there. This kid doesn’t have the quickness to make the most of the spread run game unless they install a really effective outside zone run game (doubtful) that allows him to cutback en route to the edge. Out in space though he’s a potential problem, his athleticism would be a problem as a sort of flex TE executing the sorts of routes that Jeremiah Booker was running last year.

Ezra Naylor: 6-4, 208. 3*** from Fort Dodge, IA (Iowa Central CC)

Kansas is trying to get ahead here with the selection of a guy who’s a year or two away from making the most of his athleticism and size advantages. He hasn’t figured out how to get a great release all the time but Naylor is fast enough to be a threat on screens and also has the ball skills and size to punish smaller CBs down the field. The way you stop a guy like this is to keep him from getting a clean release at the line so the QB can throw to a spot and turn it into a jump ball contest. If he figures that side of things out he’ll be good.

Andrew Parchment: 6-3, 185. 3*** from Fort Dodge, IA (Iowa Central CC)

Parchment is much further along than Naylor, he runs better routes and he knows how to get open in a zone and has a nice catch radius to corral tosses thrown hastily into the windows he settles in. He’s not as big or fast as Naylor but he might be ready to help sooner and he’s still pretty big.

Grade: C-

Pretty standard B12 receiving haul only with less eligibility and speed than your typical class.

Quarterbacks

Kansas hasn’t had a good QB since Todd Reesing. Ryan Willis had potential and then he somehow lost his spot and transferred to Virginia Tech. I don’t know how they let him get away, honestly.

They really just need someone who can read a defense from the spread and hit some throws, if they just had someone who consistently distributed the ball accurately to set up playmakers they’d be better. Value add would include having extra arm talent or running ability on top of basic mastery of spread QB 101.

Jordan Medley: 6-2, 200. 3*** from Kannapolis, NC (A L Brown)

I’m listing Medley here primarily because I’m not sure where he’ll actually end up if Kansas moves him. He’s a big, strong runner albeit one that is often upright and takes some shots as a result. He also has a strong arm that he shows off on a lot of one-read throws down the field off the threat of their run game. I don’t think his ability to overpower opponents at the HS level will translate to the college game and that his highest upside would be as a safety, if he proved a physical tackler.

Thomas MacVittie: 6-5, 225. 3*** from Mesa, AZ (Mesa CC)

MacVittie is the great hope of the Les Miles regime. When he’s seeing things clearly he can spray the ball all over the field and regularly throws with fantastic touch that helps his guys come down with the ball. He also has some ability as a runner, you can’t just ignore him on option plays or he’ll Corndog you. However, he’s been a college QB for three seasons and didn’t seem all that comfortable in his JUCO offense with only 6.2 ypa on the year and a 16-8 TD/INT ratio. For as much physical talent as he has it hasn’t yielded much in the way of consistent production. They’ll need to figure out how to create some easy reads off the threat of Pooka Williams and find him reliable targets.

Grade: C-

Kansas really needs to start looking hard for some guys that have actually shown the ability to be productive in a spread offense rather than guys with raw physical ability or JUCO flyers that will need to finally put it all together while under the stress of playing for the Jayhawks against their perpetually superior opponents. I’m betting Miles continues to struggle here.

In summation

Pretty normal Kansas class. They signed some guys that will likely end up being really talented and effective but they need to do considerably more work to lay some foundation, raise the floor, and establish some infrastructure. They need consistent and solid role players more than anything and they’ve struggled to find that yet again.

However, with better numbers and a better approach to practice and development, perhaps Les Miles can make a lot more of their roster in terms of finding guys that will competently do the work necessary to make a guy like Pooka Williams or Steven Parker shine.

4 Comments

  1. JK

    Good stuff. Big KU fan here. I don’t have too much of an issue with your thoughts. I think you’re a bit down on Da’Jon Terry if for no other reason he’s unlike the kind of guy that any Big 12 program ever signs. He is probably the one guy that I am very excited about considering he only played 1 year of football (classic 6’4 kid who thought basketball was his sport). I do think this staff targeted specific needs well–they wanted big wide receivers to help block for guys like Pooka on the edge and they went to find them. Too often in the old regime swing passes went nowhere cause all the receivers were <190 pounds.

    • ianaboyd

      Here’s my concerns with that kid:
      1) most of his success at the HS level related to being bigger than anyone else. That won’t be the case in college.

      2) he doesn’t seem super quick or well conditioned.

      3) if he was playing b-ball all that time how is he 320? This a guy who takes his craft seriously and takes care of his body?

      Getting a few big guys on the perimeter makes a lot of sense. As does maximizing Pooka in general. A really simple formula would be pooka plus a really fast space player and then endless two-man RPO/play-action combos where teams have to figure out how to cover both.

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