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Sooners Recruiting Update: A belated 2013 class review

Editor's note: We wanted to give the Sooners' 2013 class a little time to marinate before we really dug in. We've given each position a grade for both the quality of players acquired and how well OU satisfied its personnel needs. Enjoy.

Verbal Commitments

D.J. Ward, DE
(6-4, 255, 4.6)

Hatari Byrd, DB
(6-2, 205, 4.55)

Matt Dimon, DE
(6-3, 255, 4.8)

Stanvon Taylor, CB
(5-11, 175, 4.4)

L.J. Moore, DB
(6-1, 185, 4.5)

Dionte Savage, OL
(6-5, 345, 5.4)

Dakota Austin, DB
(5-11, 165, 4.5)

Cody Thomas, QB
(6-4, 220, 4.6)

Ahmad Thomas, SS
(6-1, 205, 4.5)

Matt Romar, DT
(6-3, 275, 4.75)

Charles Walker, DT
(6-4, 280, 4.8)

K.J. Young, WR
(6-1,180, 4.5)

Dannon Cavil, WR
(6-5, 205, 4.5)

Quincy Russell, DT
(6-4, 315)

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DE/LB
(6-3, 220, 4.6)

Kerrick Huggins, DT
(6-4, 285, 4.9)

Jordan Smallwood, WR
(6-3, 200, 4.55)

Jordan Evans, LB/DE
(6-3, 210, 4.55)

Jed Barnett, P
(6-2, 210)

Christian Daimler, OL
(6-7,285 5.1)

Josiah St. John, OL
(6-6, 310, 5.2)

Dominique Alexander, LB/S
(6-2, 205, 4.5)

Austin Bennett, WR
(6-0, 170, 4.45)

Keith Ford, RB
(5-11, 200, 4.5)

Quarterback

Cody Thomas is Sam Bradford-like elite. His skill level ceiling is that high. To paraphrase Bob Stoops, Thomas' skill level allows him to do things effortlessly. If not for going to the Elite 11 camp after playing baseball nonstop for three weeks, Thomas would have his proper ranking as the second-best passing QB in the country behind Max Browne.

Thomas is a five-star talent. He has a cannon for an arm and dominated his senior year leading his team into the playoffs against more talented teams. Thomas also showed his ability to make plays with his feet, extending plays and picking up running yardage to move the chains. Thomas was easily the best QB in Texas. The only question is whether pro baseball alters his decision to play football.

Quality Grade: A+
Quantity Grade: A

Running Back

The loss of Greg Bryant in August overshadowed just how good a prospect Keith Ford is. Ford’s senior year left no doubts that OU had gotten a great RB. Ford, like Thomas, dominated at times in leading his team to the playoffs. Ford was easily the best RB in Texas.

Ford can challenge for playing time in his freshman year if any openings appear. He’s easily OU’s other five-star commitment this year.

Quality Grade: A+
Quantity Grade: A

Wide Receiver

I really thought that OU would stick with a two-WR class of Smallwood and Bennett, but OU added Cavil (and got him on campus for spring ball) and K.J. Young. The class provides great depth with two big outside bodies in Smallwood and Cavil and two dynamic athletes in Bennett and Young for the slot position.

I really like this class and think Smallwood and Young are badly underrated. Cavil probably would have been higher ranked (still 4 stars by ESPN), but he was hurt his junior year. Young, who moved to the slot in his senior year, could be a real star for the Sooners. His film is reminiscent of Sterling Shepard – big play after big play.

Cavil is already on campus, and Jay Norvell is raving about his potential and athleticism. Texas offered Cavil just as he was driving up to OU to visit and enroll for the January semester. Smallwood apparently had a great week at the Semper Fi Bowl. For a Sooner comparison, think Travis Wilson.

UT also tried to steal Bennett during the last month of recruiting, but OU locked him down over the summer after he dominated the competition at one of OU’s satellite camps in Texas.

Quality Grade: A-
Quantity Grade: A

Tight End

OU missed out on every TE candidate. It often seemed like there was some indecision on taking a TE or not.

Incomplete

Offensive Line

Strap in, because this will be long.

OU needed to sign at least two and ideally three HS offensive tackles. OU was not going to offer many if any guard or center prospects this year.

Bruce Kittle offered probably the top 20 kids in the country regardless of location – no visits. OU offered another group of national/regional kids like Aaron Cochran, Sean Dowling, Na’ty Rodgers, and did get visits, but no real visit upswing or verbal commitments. When those kids fell by the wayside in the summer and fall, Kittle and James Patton's biggest mistake proved to be not knowing when to drop these kids and move on to other kids and get more offers out there.

For the most part, I do think fans freaking out over rankings at OL is somewhat unwarranted. In my opinion, the recruiting services miss more kids at OL than any other spot. There are lots of three-star kids who are easily as good OL projects as four-star kids. So, the group of kids who can help is large, and often you want kids with high ceilings who have not maxed out yet. The NFL draft offers a glimpse of this with Central Michigan's Eric Fisher (two-star TE) and Lane Johnson (zero-star QB/TE) being projected in the first round along with Luke Joeckel (four-star OT) and D.J. Fluker (5 star OT).

OU got an excellent JUCO OT, an excellent HS OT prospect and an interesting JUCO OG prospect. Josiah St. John is a fantastic-looking OT prospect with a serious NFL frame and athleticism. He will provide competition and depth at OT, but it’s hard to see him unseating Daryl Williams or Tyrus Thompson at OT this year. If he’s struggling at all, though, don’t be shocked if OU tries to redshirt him so that he’s available in the fall of 2015 to be a senior starter at OT.

The only HS OT signed, Christian Daimler, won’t be an impact OL player in 2013. He does have a great frame. His senior year film is so much better than his junior year film. OU can afford to wait two years for Daimler to develop, but by the fall of 2015, expect him to be in the rotation challenging for a starting job. Texas A&M really wanted Daimler to flip late in recruiting, but he stuck with OU.

The last addition, Dionte Savage, looks like more of a reaction to the injury issues at OG. Adam Shead’s back limited his play this fall, and both Nila Kasitati and Tyler Evans are recovering from ACL tears. At 6-5, 340, Savage provides a huge power run blocking presence. Savage gives OU four big guards to rotate inside. With Irwin and Evans gone after this year, Savage will become even more important. The JUCO guard move, in retrospect, was a good addition, but it doesn’t change the fact that OU is two HS OLs short in this class.

Quality Grade: B
Quantity Grade: C

Defensive Tackle

DT was the key position in this recruiting class. OU graduated three seniors and needed to replenish numbers and increase competition and talent on campus.

Huggins is a big-time talent at DT. If he can get eligible – and it looks like his odds of qualifying have improved with his first semester grades posted – then Huggins could be an athletic DT able to stop the run and provide a pass rush. His senior year film is such a big step up from this junior film.

After landing Huggins, Jackie Shipp was able to secure a verbal commitment from JUCO DT Quincy Russell. Russell, a former UT signee, had a great second year at Trinity Valley Community College and was named a first-team NJCAA All-American. Unfortunately, Russell was not able to graduate at semester as previously planned, so he will not go through spring practice. Russell provides a big body and should be in the two-deep come fall.

OU then went after Charles Walker and Matt Romar aggressively. Walker flew completely under the radar due to injury issues keeping him off the field as a junior. But his senior year film is just awesome. If Walker plays up to that film, OU got an absolute steal. He is 6-4, 280 right now, but his frame easily would allow him to go 6-4, 300.

Romar was the last addition. In his junior year, Romar played outside at DE, and his film there was pretty good. In his senior year, Romar moved inside and his level of play was much better. At 6-3, 275, Romar’s speed and quickness inside allows him to make more plays. He can easily carry 285 and be an ideal 3-technique DT or a 3-4 DE in a hybrid front.

So, despite some losses in recruiting, OU signed a very good DT class. If Huggins makes it on campus without going to JUCO, then the class goes up a notch.

Quality: B+ (like an 89 barely out of the A range)
Quantity: A

Defensive End

Bobby Jack Wright did a great job landing three DEs who will help OU down the road.

The most overlooked/underrated player OU signed in this class was D.J. Ward. Ward, who missed playing his senior year due to transfer issues, is easily the best in-state defensive prospect since Gerald McCoy. If he had played his senior year, he probably would have been close to a five-star recruit. He’s that good. As a bonus, Ward is already on campus, and he’s now 6-4, 255. He could be in the DE rotation by this fall.

If Ward is not the most underrated prospect, then Matt Dimon is. Dimon, however, had a dominating senior year for a state championship team. He still can't get any respect. Somehow, despite film showing him to be a constant threat in the backfield and terrorizing QBs, Rivals continued to rank him with 3 stars. Just ridiculous. Dimon is around 6-3, 250, and perhaps the best comparison would be former Georgia DE David Pollack. Mike Stoops compares him to a Dusty Dvoracek, who, coincidentally, was also a three-star prospect. The returning DEs better take advantage of their playing time lead, because Ward and Dimon are coming after their jobs.

The final DE signee was a former Oklahoma State verbal. Like Dimon, Ogbonnia (Oboe for short) on film is just terrorizing QBs and RBs. He’s bursting through the line and just smashing guys. Oboe’s teammate Torrodney Prevot was much higher-rated, but several coaches who have seen both thought that Oboe had the much better senior year. Oboe can easily be a 6-3, 240 rush end for OU, and he could also be a standup OLB in some hybrid 3-4 looks. Oboe was another player that was high three-star right on the fringe of a four-star ranking.

Quantity Grade: A
Quality Grade: A

Linebacker

OU only signed LBs in February, and it was really a mixed bag in LB recruiting overall. Brent Venables was OU's LB recruiters for so long that Tim Kish had a hard time recruiting this year. It wasn’t a great year in Texas for LBs, and Kish probably made a mistake focusing on too many national offers. In addition, OU’s LBs had a horrible year on the field, culminating with Mike Stoops only playing one LB in November in an attempt to stop four-wide offenses that the Sooners saw most of the month.

Jordan Evans went from being a rising junior at 6-1, 185 to being a rising senior LB at 6-3, 205. Evans had a great Sooner summer camp, and OU kept tracking the son of former Sooner DT Scott Evans. Evans had an awesome year for Norman North. He played as a return specialist (several TDs returning kickoffs), and on defensed, Evans lined up pretty much everywhere, making plays in the backfield and in coverage. His athletic potential and frame are off the charts. He could easily be a 6-3, 235 prototype MLB or end up as 6-5, 250 DE. Or, he could be a big OLB/rush end player adept at playing standing up or on the edge of the line. He’s a big-time sleeper in this class.

Alexander was having a similar year in Tulsa for Booker T Washington. With Alexander, the main question was whether he should play LB or safety since he was playing at around 6-2, 195. OU is going to use him at LB, and he’s already up to 205. On that frame, he should be easily at 220/225 with the same speed. Alexander shows excellent coverage skills, and he makes plays behind the line of scrimmage racking up tackles for loss. Evans committed to OU right after being offered, and Alexander decommitted from Arkansas after getting his OU offer. Before signing day, KSU, Arkansas (again), Nebraska and Stanford all tried to steal Alexander away from OU. He became very popular the more schools looked at his senior year film.

The big blow in LB recruiting occurred after the Cotton Bowl fiasco when Jordan Mastrogiovanni decommitted and pledged with A&M. Kish decided that with no real prospects on the board (Mitchell had decided on Ohio State probably back in November), he should to focus his efforts on 2014 LB recruiting. The Texas pool is very good for 2014, and Kish has had a chance to make connections all fall.

For those ready to tar and feather Kish for LB recruiting, remember Norvell’s first class (Cam Kenney and Jaz Reynolds) was similar to this effort, but he really turned it on in his second year in recruiting and hasn’t looked back. It generally takes new assistants two years to hit their stride in recruiting. Still, OU is one LB short in this class, and that was before Tom Wort left. Hopefully, Corey Nelson and Franklin Shannon can have big years in 2013, putting some buzz back in playing LB at OU.

Quality Grade: B
Quantity Grade: B-

Defensive Back

In Mike’s first tenure as DB coach and coordinator for OU, it’s fair to say that he was an average recruiter. If this year is any indication, his second tenure is going to be vastly different in terms of his recruiting influence. Mike signed the best DB class for OU in a while. He was able to close on prospects nationally before they even visited Norman. In addition, he locked down the best in-state player besides D.J. Ward sidelined. Finally, he went back to a Texas HS that has been very good to OU in the past.

Early on in the summer, Mike landed a pair of big safeties in Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd. They are the prototype safeties for the defense Mike wants to run – big, physical players with excellent range. Both verbaled to OU without visiting the campus. Thomas is already on campus, and with two safety spots wide open and Quentin Hayes as the only returning safety on the roster, you would have to think Thomas’ head start could lead to real playing time.

In addition, in every post-signing day interview, Mike was talking about Byrd as if he could be a serious factor to start at safety. The future of Thomas and Byrd at safety could be as soon as this September.

So Mike landed two great safeties, but he also landed two great four-star cornerback prospects in L.J. Moore and Stanvon Taylor. Taylor had just an incredible senior year. Mike was comparing him to Aaron Colvin, although Taylor might be a much better overall athlete. Moore is the big CB of this class and a teammate of Byrd. Moore is an excellent athlete who played WR, QB and CB for high school in Fresno.

It’s very possible that all four of these DBs play this fall, providing depth and competition.

OU probably needed to sign five DBs. For reasons unknown, OU and CB Lamar Robbins fell off, and OU was still short a CB with Adrian Baker a lock to go to Clemson and Tahaan Goodman going to UCLA. Mike went back to camp all-star Dakota Austin, who had not yet received any BCS conference offers. Dakota had been a star at OU’s camp but his reported size of 5-11, 150 was scaring off many teams. OU, though, had serious connections with Lancaster and went to Austin, who had an excellent senior year at CB. Austin will probably redshirt, but if he can add weight and keep his speed and agility, he will be a factor in 2014.

If Mike can keep up the same level of recruiting effort for 2014, OU will likely sign a class that will challenge the talent of this class.

Quality Grade: A
Quantity Grade: A

Overall

This recruiting class has suffered more negative feedback than any top 20 recruiting class probably should have to endure. The negativity around OL and LB recruiting has completely drowned out the reminders that OU signed excellent DE, DB, DT and WR classes. The Sooners also added elite difference makers at RB and QB. It’s like the struggles at two spots just took on a life of their own.

From my viewpoint, OU landed two five-star talents in Thomas and Ford. I consider these guys four-star recruits: Byrd, Taylor, Ward, Thomas, Moore, Dimon, Huggins, Walker, Cavil, Young and St. John. So, that’s 13 players out of the 25 signed who I would give four stars. There are very few reaches in this class, and most signees played their projected college position in high school. Even Savage has excellent film, and OU stole him from Baylor, where Art Briles has done a good job in the past of evaluating JUCO talent.

Is the class missing players? Yes. It should have another LB and another HS OT, at the very least. Those absences in no way outweight the overall top-end talent acquired? There is no more important position for OU right now than QB, and OU got a great one. Ford continues OU’s lineage of top-flight RBs. The potential of Romar, Huggins, and Walker is sky-high, as is the potential of the DE trio. Thomas and Byrd could bring back an era of dominant safety play unseen since Roy Williams and Brandon Everage were patrolling the secondary. Taylor might be the best pure athlete OU has signed at CB in forever.

All the late three-star offers had excellent senior film to justify their offers. The players were just significantly better as seniors. Their junior year film didn’t necessarily justify an offer; Jordan Evans being the key example. "Film doesn’t lie" is a great quote from Josh McCuistion from SoonerScoop.com, and I’ve watched a ton of film on the players who OU signed. The senior year film is excellent for all of them.

Quality Grade: B+
Needs Grade: B