Assessing the 2012 Recruiting Class

If you haven't already, I highly recommend you listen to this interview with LSU Recruiting Coordinator and Running Backs coach, Frank Wilson. Wilson does an excellent job breaking down how you build recruiting classes, while also addressing "recruiting rankings" and how coaches perceptions are often very different than what recruiting rankings say. He addresses what I consider to be a major weakness for all of the major recruiting networks, and that is the lack of attention given to the state of Louisiana and how they have a guy stationed in Oklahoma who is the "Louisiana" scout, but he's never been to Baldwin or Thibodaux and seen the kid actually play. I think it's a great point that has a lot of truth to it. Most of the national recruiting guys get to Louisiana a couple times of year (if even that), and most are going off what they hear others say. Not always the best means of evaluation.

That being said, we can't talk about the 2012 recruiting class without acknowledging the ones we missed. Gunner Kiel and Torshiro Davis were one-time commits that switched. Mario Edwards and Landon Collins were highly coveted targets that we simply whiffed on. Add any two of those four, and this is a top 5ish class nationally. Subtract all four, and you have national writers calling our class a "disappointment." To me, such reactions are puffed-up poppycock. Is it really that disappointing to finish with an average of 11.25 across the four major recruiting services? If that's failure, give me two spoonfuls. Arkansas fans would salivate over a class this good (in fact, when I expressed even a modicum of disappointment to one of my good Hog friends, his immediate reaction was, "Shoot, I wish we had half that many four stars." Perspective.).

That being said, I don't find it useful to stick your head in the sand and feel the need to act like everything LSU does is always great. In some ways, this class is a let down. But a let down is different than a failure. After the jump I'll delve into the class.

Recruiting is the lifeblood of the program. As the old adage goes, "It's not x's and o's, it's Jimmy's and Joe's." Much of the criticism of this class stems from "losing the top 3 players in-state" or "losing 6 of the top 10" (nevermind that we didn't recruit some of them...). I took the time yesterday to compile some rankings just for personal study:

2005:
1) Ryan Perrilloux
2) Al Jones
3) Nic Harris
4) Darry Beckwith
5) Steven Korte

Others in this class: Chris Hawkins (7th), Lyle Hitt (12), Trindon Holliday (24).

Overall, a really weak year in the state. The best player was a bust, 2nd best nothing special, 3rd best was a good player at OU, but no longer in the NFL (I don't think), 4th was an average regular, and 5th didn't make it in college.

2006:
1) Al Woods
2) Charles Scott
3) Jared Mitchell
4) Richard Murphy
5) Chris Mitchell

Others in this class: 9) Jai Eugene, 11) Kentrell Lockett, 12) Jacob Cutrera, 14) Pep Levingston,

Okay year. Woods was an average regular. Scott was very good, but his football career is over. Mitchell was a fantastic baseball player but did nothing in football. Murphy was nothing. Mitchell, nothing. 3 SEC starters (though none great) outside of the top 10.

2007:
1) Joe McKnight
2) Chad Jones
3) DeAngelo Benton
4) Stefoin Francois
5) Drake Nevis

Others in this class: 7) Will Blackwell, 8) Josh Dworacyzk, 10) Frank Alexander, 15) Luther Davis, 20) Mitch Joseph

Lots of starters/contributors sprinkled throughout the rankings. Hard to argue who is the best overall player in the class, but for all his plaudits, McKnight was hardly a superstar.
2008:
1) Chris Tolliver
2) Brandon Taylor
3) Chase Clement
4) Matt Branch
5) Jordan Jefferson

Others in this class: 6) DeAngelo Peterson, 9) Jerico Nelson, 10) Robby Green, 11) Damaris Johnson, 15) PJ Smith, 16) LaRon Byrd, 17) Prentiss Waggner, 18) Randall Mackey, 21) Brandon Bolden, 32) PJ Lonergan, 33) Lavar Edwards

Overall, a tremendous class. Lots and lots of contributors from all over. But again, the top 5 is wretched. Matt Branch has barely played a snap at LSU. Chris Tolliver didn't do much then succumbed to concussions. Clement is nothing more than a solid regular. JJ's story has been rehashed enough.

2009:
1) Rueben Randle
2) Janzen Jackson
3) Chris Davenport
4) Chris Faulk
5) Michael Ford

Others in this class: 6) Eddie Lacy, 8) Barkevious Mingo, 9) Josh Downs, 10) DD Jones, 12) Kenny Bell, 13) Patrick Lewis, 20) Bennie Logan, 21) Morris Claiborne, 22) Tahj Jones

Mo is the best player in this class and was ranked 21st. Davenport has done nothing, to date. Randle was very good. Faulk and Ford are very good. Janzen was good, but his story is known. Solid set of rankings at the top, though many, many good players were missed.
2010:
1) Trovon Reed
2) Eric Reid
3) Jordan Allen
4) Ronnie Vinson
5) Tyrann Mathieu

Others in this class: 6) Tharold Simon, 10) James Wright, 18) Alfred Blue, 40) Brad Wing

Still early for this class, but the no. 1 player ranking looks atrocious next to a guy starting for the SEC champs, and a Heisman runner up. 3 and 4 not much better, considering they've hardly seen the field and been passed by younger guys. Blue also seeing serious run.

2011:
1) La'El Collins
2) Freak Johnson
3) Jarvis Landry
4) Odell Beckham Jr.
5) Kenny Hilliard

Others in this class: 6) Greg Robinson, 7) Brad Sylve, 9) Jermauria Rasco, 10) Corey White, 11) Mickey Johnson, 12) Jeremy Hill, 13) Trai Turner, 14) Chuck Hunter, 15) Terrance Magee, 27) Ronald Martin

Way too early to judge, but I will note that no. 27 in the state was already seeing PT last year as a true frosh.

2012:
1) Landon Collins
2) Denzell Devall
3) Torshiro Davis
4) Otha Peters
5) Dwayne Thomas

Others in the class: TBD

I am still a believer in recruiting rankings (by and large), but this addresses Wilson's point of the lack of evaluation in Louisiana. On the surface, yes, it does look bad that we "lost" three (I don't count Otha Peters, since we didn't offer) of the top five in the state. But time will tell how well these rankings bear out and history suggests that aren't exactly reliable.

So, let's try assessing this class less from "How many starzzzz did we get?!?!?!" perspective and more from a "what needs did we meet, and are these players capable of filling them" perspective.

QB:

Losing Kiel hurts, so Miles supplemented the QB depth by adding a 6'3, 270-pound Mack truck, who he is, apparently, quite fond of. Let us dizzy ourselves with the potential of a Liggins/Copeland/Hilliard jumbo triple-option package.

In all seriousness, I have some concerns about Liggins' ability to translate as a QB to the next level. If I were to grade his throwing, I think the most accurate grading would be "incomplete." For one, he attempted very few passes in HS. Secondly, I doubt he's received the type of coaching/preparation required to unearth his throwing talent. On a couple of slants he shows pretty good velocity, though he does seem to float the ball when he wings it deep. That doesn't mean he's a complete soft-tosser... he may just need work bringing out the power of his arm. Even still, I find it hard to believe he throws it any softer than say, Chad Pennington, who was able to manufacture a decent NFL career with solid pocket awareness and good accuracy. To me, if Liggins puts in the time, he can be an SEC QB. Even if it doesn't work out, he does have the type of athleticism to play another position, something you wouldn't get from, say, Gunner Kiel.

Overall, this gives us a 4th QB on the roster, and one with some unique qualities. Both Shea Dixon and Miles acknowledged that LSU never stopped recruiting Jeremy Liggins. This makes me believe he was a take regardless of whether or not Gunner Kiel ever stepped foot on campus.

RB:
With such outstanding depth at RB, it's no surprise we didn't pursue or sign a bunch. The old saying is, "You can never have too many RBs" and LSU is really testing that out. Everyone knows Jeremy Hill's story by now. No need to re-hash. I will say, many believed Hill was the superior back to Kenny Hilliard last season. Miles said as much, in not so many words, yesterday. He's a bigger back with good agility who reminds me a bit of Stevan Ridley. I expect he'll see immediate PT. RB wasn't a tremendous need, but it's never a bad thing to have more backs.

WR:
With the departure of Rueben Randle and the rumored transfer (which appears to have died down) of Kadron Boone, some expressed concern that our lone "big WR" on the roster would be the unproven James Wright. Wright has played a ton the past two years, but mostly just as a blocker, catching very few passes. JUCO WR Cordarrelle Patterson seemed the perfect fit as an heir apparent to Randle's spot on the outside, but he opted to sign with Tennessee. Instead, LSU inked three players, Travin Dural, Avery Johnson and Kavahra Holmes. All three are listed at 6'1+, with Avery and Holmes both being put together around 180 pounds. Avery looks to have good musculature and build, sufficient to play the "big WR" role. Dural is lankier, but he's the tallest of the crew. Holmes has elite track speed, but is considered raw. There is fast, and there is Kavahra Holmes fast.

In total, LSU added three weapons. Dural generates the most excitement, but I'm really intrigued by Holmes, who seems to have a little Mike Wallace in him. Overall, it stings to not add a ready-made "big WR" to this class, but Dural and Johnson have the talent to be SEC regulars, and Holmes has the raw athleticism to be something special.

TE:
With Mitch Joseph and DeAngelo Peterson graduating, the need for two TEs was evident. Miles addressed that by adding Dillon Gordon (6'5, 240) and John Thomas (6'6, 225). Gordon is more of the Mitch Joseph blocking TE, but he does have surprising athleticism. Thomas is my favorite sleeper in this class. At the moment he's recovering from injury during his senior season and working to get eligible. I really hope he gets to campus, because I believe he has superb potential.

With Thomas, the needs are met. Without him, it's a bit more questionable, though LSU does have a lot of young (but unproven) TE depth at the moment. Overall, not a glaring weakness.

OL:
Like RBs, it's always a safe bet to add as many quality OL as possible. For one, it's typically the hardest position to evaluate. It's safe to say that a fair number of the guys we've recruited the past two years will never turn into studs for LSU. But, a couple of them will. I'm most excited about Vadal Alexander, who looks like a future stud RT IMO. Others project him at guard, but I like his length and athleticism on the outside, and he is a menacing run blocker.

Both Jerald Hawkins and Derek Edinburgh have massive frames. It seems I'm the lone member of this camp, but I still think Hawkins could wind up at DT. Edinburgh is an OL all the way. He's got some raw tools to work with, though he doesn't look fluid or natural to me and doesn't bend well.

Also, I'll throw Reid Ferguson into this mix. He's a LS all the way, and we need one. He'll probably start this year. Obviously people will say "he's just a LS" but it's rare that your recruiting classes yield immediate starters. It's a plus.

Overall, it's good to add 2-3 lineman a year (more if needed), so it's another need met.

DL:
Danielle Hunter is the lone signee on the DL. Hunter has a big, sleek frame (6'5, 235) and elite athletic tools. If you are looking for a guy with superstar potential in this class, it could be him. Hunter is all types of raw, but you can't teach his athleticism. Chavis loves his speedy edge rushers and Hunter is just another monster to add to the mix.

Much like OL, adding multiple DL a year is always a good idea. LSU lost out on Edwards and was spurned by Davis. In the end, I don't feel like the needs were quite adequately met here.

LB:
Undoubtedly, this is the strength of the class. It's been ages since LSU fielded anything more than a competent LB core. Some good players have come and gone, but when is the last time LSU had an actual great LB? Maybe Bradie James? Maybe...

The LB corps, as currently comprised, are nothing to call home about. Minter and Tahj Jones look to have two of the starting spots locked down with Lamin Barrow having a leg up on the other, but with Ronnie Feist and Lamar Louis enrolling early, they could compete for immediate playing time.

However, the two I'm most intrigued by are Kwon Alexander and Deion "Debo" Jones. After seeing some of his highlights, I thought for sure Kwon would be a top 20 player in the country in 2012. (BTW: Does anyone else feel like all of his highlight tapes should have Pantera blasting in the background... with Poseur playing the lead guitar?). He tore his ACL during his senior season, and his stock sank, partially because of that and "concerns about his coverage." Kwon has exceptional closing speed and can run. To be honest, and this is an unorthodox comparison, but he reminds me of Tyrann Mathieu. He's just a playmaker. He needs work on his form tackling, and likely his coverage, but he has the raw tools to make that happen. And Chavis is just the guy to bring it out.

I posted his tape yesterday, but if you haven't seen it, go to the highlight thread and watch Debo Jones. Highlight tape can be deceiving, but I won't be surprised if this kid turns out to be the best LB in this class. He's got legit 4.4 speed and is an absolute menace all over the field. He comes with authority. And he seems like such a nice guy too. Billy will, regretfully, cheer on this Jesuit grad.

Overall, the LB corp needed revamping. In many ways, signing six LBs sends a message to the current corps: get your ass in gear. Don't be surprised if one, two or even three of these guys sees significant time this year.

DB:
Eric Reid, Sam Gibson, Tyrann Mathieu, Tharold Simon, Ronnie Vinson. Three starters, one guy who lit up camp last year and one guy who has yet to emerge. This is Ron Cooper's first DB recruiting haul while at LSU. I'll give last year's class a pass, since they only had a year on campus on only Ronald Martin didn't RS (he also managed to get PT). What I'm getting at is this: the man knows how to evaluate and coach DBs. I'd rather a Ron Cooper recruited DB than a Nick Saban recruited DB. He's the best in the business, folks.

Derrick Raymond has as much athletic potential as anyone in this class. Dwayne Thomas and Jalen Mills are just football players. I hate that saying, but I don't know how else to say it. They are just intuitive, smart, natural ball players. You can never have enough of those. Jerqwinick Sandolph is also a stellar athlete. And, my thoughts on Corey Thompson can be found here. Two safeties, three corners. I like it.

With all the multiple DB packages we like to use, it's no wonder we recruit so many of them. Need addressed.

Summary:
I noted yesterday, but this class may not have a lot of "star power" but that doesn't mean it doesn't have "star players." Unlike the early years of the Miles era, I've really grown to trust the evaluations of this staff. There are very few, "WTF, who is that guy?" commitments any longer. I'm not going to single out any recruits, but that was certainly an issue in the past. Not every player in this class will become a stud, but I think every single one of them has the potential to be something. That's depth. That's meeting needs. That's why this class isn't worth freaking out over. Sure, it's not an A++. But it's a solid B effort... at worst. A let down, by LSU standards. But not a failure.
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