SEC West Recruiting Breakdown: The Dorial Green-Beckham Sweepstakes
Published on: August 04, 2011 | Written by: Chad Gilbert
Yesterday OKTC brought you our rankings for the top classes in the SEC for 2012. You can see those rankings here. Here's the individual team breakdowns for the SEC West so you can keep tabs on where the class of 2012 is headed. Again, due to how rapidly these classes are filling up, by the time the season kicks off most teams will already have the bulk of their classes in order. As such we're trying to help you keep tabs on all the classes with one quick overview of each team's current status.
The Tide's current 2012 class isn't as loaded with can't-miss prospects as in years past, but there's still plenty of quality here and a few big-time names left on the board. As one might expect, the biggest committed names so far are on the defensive side of the ball with another solid crop of linebackers including the likes of Reggie Ragland and Dillon Lee. For the past three years, Alabama has hauled in some fantastic LB classes and this one is no different. With players like Kwon Alexander still available, 'Bama could add to its stellar defensive haul. Plenty of players in this class stand out as guys who might fly under the radar early in the process but bloom at the Capstone. Ryan Anderson sticks out as someone to look for in coming years who may be undervalued at this point in the process.
Upside: Alabama is still after a number of top recruits, including blue-chip WRs Dorial Green-Beckham and Chris Black, as well as DT Eddie Goldman. If Alabama can close strong, it can shoot even further up the rankings quickly...but...
Downside: The fact of the matter is, the past two weeks have been among the worst (recruiting-wise) of the Saban era. Alabama needed a top QB in this class, and it was firmly in the mix for two of the nations best - Gunner Kiel of Indiana and Jameis Winston from right down the road in Hueytown, Ala. It missed on both in recent days, and also missed in-state on Justin Shanks. A bad recruiting stretch for Alabama is still a decent one by most teams' standards, and Alabama will recover, but the misses on Kiel/Winston will be felt more in 2-3 years than in any recruiting rankings this year.
Star of the Class: It would be easy to pick either of the top linebackers already committed, but the real star for 2012 was the class' first commitment - elite DB Eddie Williams. Williams is a prototypical back-end player in Saban's system - big, fast, and athletic. Think Mark Barron's instinct with Dre Kirkpatrick's size.
Auburn has continued the recruiting hot-streak it began last year by quickly landing some of the nation's top athletes. There's no doubt that some teams are negatively recruiting against the Tigers as the cloud of an ongoing NCAA investigation continues to hover over the program, and that's what makes Auburn's current commitment list so impressive. That they've been able to lock down so many high-ceiling players so early in the process clearly shows that this coaching staff knows how to recruit and recruit well. They've already filled a need by receiving a commitment from Zeke Pike, a big QB prospect with a strong arm who will compliment the athletic ability of other QBs like Kiehl Frazier who are already on the Plains. TJ Yeldon is an in-state prospect and Auburn commit who could project at a number of different positions but will likely start at RB. Auburn has had issues on defense for the past two years, and players like Cassanova McKinzy and Tyler Nero should help shore up some of those issues in the future.
Upside: Auburn continues to receive unofficial visits from some of the nation's best players, including a recent trip by the previously mentioned Green-Beckham. Chizik's staff does an amazing job of connecting with prospects in person when they're on campus, so if the recruits keep coming, you can expect them to continue to hit on a high number of elite athletes. Geno Smith, an elite corner prospect, is down to the Tigers and Tide. Smith is set to announce on Aug. 17.
Downside: Any potential roadblocks or detours between now and February. One detriment to receiving commitments so early (without an early signing period in place) is the pressure that mounts as you try to hold onto them. Darius Philon's decommitment this week is one example. You can bet many teams will be coming after current Auburn commits in the coming months, and if any other bad PR comes off the field, it may be tough to hold onto everyone. Auburn's class, as it stands right now, is fantastic. You can expect them to add more talent, as well, but holding onto what they have is a key challenge.
Star of the Class: Pike's definitely a talented passer, but he's seen his stock drop slightly in recent summer camps. While he's still more than likely the bellcow of the class, for now we'll go with Yeldon because of his versatility and legit 4.4 speed. Ricky Parks is another player to keep an eye on - a rangy TE who could do major damage in Malzahn's attack. If he were at a higher-profile position, Parks probably would've likely gotten the nod here.
It's no secret that Arkansas' success under Bobby Petrino rests with his pro-style passing juggernaut, so it should come as no surprise that the Hogs already have another bumper crop of WRs and all-purpose athletes committed in this class. Losing players like Greg Childs and Joe Adams is going to sting. Receiving corps' like the one currently on campus don't come along often. With Tyler Wilson's seemingly limitless potential under center, Arkansas' desperately needs to backfill its skill players. The Hogs have done a nice job of getting solid offensive athletes each year - players like Ronnie Wingo and Quinta Funderburke of past classes come to mind. That trend is continuing this year with players like Jalen Cobb, D'Arthur Cowan and Eric Hawkins. Cobb is the best of the bunch, and is very similar to Adams at this point.
Upside: Despite the talk around Arkansas' offense, Petrino understands that if he's going to consistently field an elite team in the SEC West he has to bolster his defense quickly. The Razorbacks are in on a number of defensive prospects with high-major offers. If they can convert on some of those, this will be a better class than it currently looks on paper.
Downside: Ultimately, at the mid-way point in the recruiting cycle, this just isn't a great class. It's not even an above-average class. The versatility of some of the offensive commitments is certainly a positive, but it's not a great year in the state of Arkansas, which doesn't typically produce a high number of elite prospects each year anyway. Arkansas is doing a decent job of finding talent in Oklahoma and Texas, but it's going to have to ramp things up considerably to remain competitive with its divisional counterparts.
Star of the Class: Cobb, who committed in February, is the only player who really stands out in this group right now. It would do wonders for Arkansas to land a couple more stellar players in the defensive front 7. Green-Beckham's name pops up here, again, as a player to watch. That three SEC West opponents are all hard after arguably the best player in the nation tells us a lot, and it will go a long way in determining who those three classes shape up. He's that good.
With 18 commitments already on board, LSU will be very selective in the coming weeks and months with their final pledges. The Tigers never lack for star power with the newcomers they bring on campus, and they've already assembled an impressive class this year with exceptional talent lined up at virtually every position except for the offensive front line. Another key ingredient to LSU's recruiting success of the past decade has been the program's ability to keep Louisiana's top prospects from leaving the state. With only a few notable exceptions, Les Miles has carefully guarded the wall Nick Saban built around the border. Miles didn't need to leave the state for 14 of his current commitments, and more are certainly on the way. The Tigers have signed big names on the OL in each of the past two classes, but it probably wouldn't hurt to land one more big name in the 2012 class to anchor the line.
Upside: With a few Louisiana prospects still set to make a decision, there's room for LSU to close out strong and vault to the top of the 2012 SEC class rankings. Landon Collins, a hard-hitting safety out of Dutchtown HS (the same program that produced current Alabama RB Eddie Lacy and has a couple of prospects to watch for in 2013) is one uncommitted name of interest. In order for LSU to have a top 5 class nationally, though, they'll need to steal a couple more high-caliber players from out of state. They're still in on a number of athletes, but that number will begin to dwindle soon with some of their top prospects set to announce in the coming weeks. Denzel Devall is another in-state commodity that the Tigers would do well to land.
Downside: The success in Louisiana is always welcome, but as mentioned above, LSU could really use another high-profile lineman or two in this class. It's not the best year ever in-state, so stealing another commitment out of Texas or Florida, two fertile recruiting grounds for LSU, will be important. If this will ultimately be the kind of class LSU is accustomed to, there's still work left to be done.
Star of the Class: Avery Johnson - not the head coach of the New Jersey Nets - the tall WR from South Florida. The Miami-area athlete has the size and speed to compliment the other receivers on LSU's roster right now. He's not as tall as Reuben Randle, for instance, but he has the ability to provide a playmaking ability that would be vital to LSU's offensive success. The key here is that Johnson has been coy during the recruiting process, and may entertain the idea of flipping his commitment before it's all said and done.
Ole Miss -
Former Ole Miss coach Tommy Tuberville used to say of recruiting that "big dogs walk late." Current Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt has to be hoping his dog hasn't yet seen it day, because the Rebels only have eight committed prospects so far for the 2012 class. Notorious for signing entire villages during past recruiting classes, Nutt seems to be taking a cautious approach to the process this time around and will no doubt look to close strong during the official visit season. Ole Miss did well to land Jordan Batiste out of Lutcher, La., an area that produces a lot of D-1 talent. They also secured the defensive tandem of Issac Gross and Temario Strong out of Batesville back in April. Both recruits are a bit smallish right now but could grow into nice players given time.
Upside: With so few commitments so far, there's plenty of it. Ole Miss has always stayed close to home in talent-rich Mississippi and nearby Memphis when scouting talent, but the Rebels have done a nice job this year of identifying players who fit their system in the Midwest, as well, with commitments out of Austin Ray (Missouri) and Jake Meador (Indiana.) Both are solid prospects with offers from other high-major programs.
Downside: Ole Miss is actually off to a decent start despite the relative lack of early commitments, but they need to capitalize on the momentum they built during June and July. They're on the outside looking in with most of the major prospects that they're pursuing, so they'll have to identify some players who may be under the radar with big-time programs that can also come in and contribute immediately. Playing time is there to be had, but unfortunately for Nutt and Co., development time isn't a luxury they enjoy right now. The pressure is on to recruit at a high level and win this fall, and another mediocre season could spell the end of the current regime. Right now, the immediate impact players aren't on board and time is running out.
Star of the Class: This will likely change as the numbers grow, but right now we really like Ray. He's a big target at TE and is quick for his size. He's a serviceable receiving option, at worst, and has the size to grow into a good blocker as well.
Miss. State -
The addition of standout defensive lineman Nick James earlier in the week may be just what Mississippi State needed to turn around what has been a somewhat disappointing class to date. Coming off the best season in recent memory and an impressive thrashing of a traditional power in a New Year's Day bowl, the class of 2012 represented an opportunity for the Bulldogs to make a lot of headway not only in the rivalry with "the school up north," but also in the rough and tumble Western Division. Dan Mullen went into Louisiana and nabbed Quadry Antoine and Ryan Brown, but neither are above-average prospects and neither had a lot of interest from LSU or other power schools in the region. In short, it's vital for MSU to close out strong if they want to keep the momentum they currently have in their corner. If anyone can take raw players and make them compete, it's Dan Mullen. We're not doubting him. The talent's just not very impressive with this class so far.
Upside: The Mullen Factor and the momentum we already talked about. The MSU staff is enjoying support right now not seen since the middle of Jackie Sherrill's tenure. There's genuine excitement in Starkville, and that may be enough to attract a few prospects late in the cycle, especially if MSU wins again on the field in the fall. The pendulum in the Magnolia State has squarely shifted to the south and west...
Downside: ...and the 'Dawgs would be well-served to keep it there by landing someone, anyone, that can compete in the SEC. Quay Evans, a monstrous DT out of Mississippi, is high on both in-state schools as well as Alabama right now. It's imperative for Mullen to get Evans, but one has to wonder if the addition of James (a DT with a similar build) may be an indicator of Mullen's confidence in Evans' interest. Evans is the best prospect in Mississippi. The Bulldogs are challenged with keeping him there against long odds.
Star of the Class: At the moment, it's James. Nobody else is even close. At 6'5 340, James is a fire plug you can build a defense around. He takes up space but can be athletic enough to get into the backfield if he sheds some bad weight. Evans is the more polished prospect right now, but if MSU somehow lands both it would have a DL tandem any team in the country would be envious of.