We've already broken down the Sooners' 2017 offensive recruits. Here are some thoughts on the defense, as well as an overall assessment of the entire class.
2017 Oklahoma Recruiting Grades: Defense
Isaiah Thomas (6-5, 230, 4.6)
Zach McKinney (6-5, 290, 4.9)
Troy James (6-3, 280, 4.8)
Tyreece Lott (6-4, 270, 4.8)
Prior to the Jacob Phillips defection, every ounce of Sooner fans' angst was directed at new DL coach Calvin Thibodeaux.
DL is the toughest position to recruit. The number of top athletes is small, and 2017 was a very bad year for DL talent overall, too. There was exactly one elite kid in Texas, no kids in state. Everybody in college football is going after that small pool of talent. Usually, the top kids are buried in SEC territory (Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana). Add in the fact that OU is on its third DL coach in four years, so there has been no continuity in building relationships. Thibs was playing catch-up from day one.
Thibs managed to keep OU in striking range with Marvin Wilson, but ultimately lost out to a DL coach who had been working Wilson for three years. OU lost out on Greg Rogers, despite him telling numerous Sooner players on his visit that he was going to be a Sooner – distance cost OU that battle. Josh Pascal followed his brother to Kentucky. Those were OU’s best shots at Plan A guys.
If OU’s desire really is to play more 4-3 looks, Isaiah Thomas could be an elite player at defensive end. He has the frame, speed and athleticism to be an elite 4-3 DE at 6-6, 260 in time. He could even see some early time as a third-down pass rush specialist.
In my opinion, the second-best DT in Texas based on senior film was Zach McKinney. His film is better than Josh Rogers, Corey Bethley and Damion Daniels. He has also a huge frame that will enable him to get bigger. His best football is ahead of him. He may end up being an Adrian Taylor-like, all-conference DT.
Troy James may seem like a Plan D guy to some folks, but he was actually one of Thibs' first offers in the fall after losing momentum on Wilson and Rogers. He didn’t reappear on OU’s radar until the final week of recruiting. He played DE, DT, OLB and RB for his high school. At 6-3, 280, he has the kind of athleticism you saw on Charles Walker’s high school tape. The potential again here is very high. If McKinney or James come into camp in great shape, either player could help in the DE/DT rotation.
The final piece is Tyreece Lott, who OU allegedly preferred over Josh Rogers and Corey Bethley. Lott flashes unreal speed for a guy his size, making some Charles Tapper-like plays down the field pursuing runners. The issue with his highlight film is that he’s not making that many plays in the backfield, while McKinney and James live on that side of the line of scrimmage. If Thibs can develop that athletic skill into an attacking DL, then Lott is the steal of the class. Right now, that’s a big if.
Quality Grade: B (Only position, save for QB, with only one four-star recruit.)
Quantity Grade: B+ (Developmental depth was added)
Addison Gumbs (6-4, 215, 4.6)
Kenneth Murray (6-2, 215, 4.6)
Levi Draper (6-3, 225, 4.65)
K’Jakrye Daley (6-4, 215, 4.5)
The loss of Jacob Phillips makes it easy to obsess on what is missing. However, what was added was very good, i.e. the best class of high school LBs ever signed under Bob Stoops.
The gems are OLB Addison Gumbs and ILB Levi Draper. Gumbs is very close in talent and potential to Caleb Kelly. (The hashtag #CaliOUOLBs might be trending this fall.) Gumbs has an elite first step in getting to the QB. He’s just a blur off the line. With Gumbs enrolling early, he has a huge chance to back up Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. He might even line up across from Obo in some pass rushing schemes. At the very least, with a great spring, Gumbs could end up poised to keep Obo as fresh as possible.
Draper is simply the best in-state LB OU has signed since Curtis Lofton – we know how well that worked out for the Sooners. Like Gumbs, Draper is on campus early. OU badly needs to upgrade and replace the ILBs, and Draper has a great frame with speed and instincts for the spot. No surprise if he walks out of spring as the favorite to land one of the ILB spots.
The third early enrollee at LB is Kenneth Murray, who would project at SAM/nickel if Caleb Kelly was not there. Murray had excellent coverage and blitzing skills at 6-2, 215, so it’s likely OU will need him somewhere else. If Draper moves inside to MIKE, it’s easy to see Murray being tried at WILL. His frame easily would support 230-235 pounds – more than big enough for the WILL role. Like Draper, his versatility is a huge asset for OU.
The only LB signee not on campus K’Jakrye Daley. It’s really a tossup between Daley and Gumbs as to who has the better first step to get to QBs. Daley has that first step you saw from Eric Striker, except he is a long athlete who looks like he could easily carry 235-240 pounds. In the future, OU will play both Daley and Gumbs third and long, which should scare Big 12 QBs. Daley could play WILL LB off the line, but that would waste his pass rushing skills. Daley was the only LB not to receive a four-star ranking, but he may have as much potential as any of the other LBs.
The quantity grade deduction is for missing a second MIKE LB. If Ricky DeBerry and/or Jon-Michael Terry have a huge spring, this issue may be alleviated. No matter what, recruiting at MIKE LB is a concern since 2018 does not look like a great year for ILBs in Texas or Oklahoma. There are plenty of elite regional OLBs and pass rushing DEs, but so far few ILBs in the region.
Quality Grade: A
Quantity Grade: B+
Tre Brown (5-11, 175, 4.3)
Justin Broiles (6-0, 180, 4.5)
Robert Barnes (6-3, 200, 4.5)
Tre Norwood (6-0, 175, 4.45)
Ryan Jones (6-2, 210, 4.55)
Defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks has brought in strong back-to-back classes. Last year, he grabbed starter Jordan Parker at corner, and OU's coaches have high hopes for both Pernell Motley and Chanse Sylvie. This season's five-player class complements that group well.
Robert Barnes and Justin Broiles highlight the group. Broiles is on campus, and with the loss of Parrish Cobb, he has a great chance to jump into the battle at CB and maybe nickelback as well. Broiles had a great senior year and was dominating WRs at the Under Armour game.
If healthy by June to get ready for August camp, Barnes could end up factoring it at safety. He was one of the best DBs at The Opening last summer, showing fantastic coverage skills. At 6-3, 200 pounds, Barnes is ready to help in run support. If there are any openings at safety while OU plays Steven Parker at NB, Barnes could easily see playing time this fall.
Tre Brown is the kind of speed CB that OU has not had recently. A legit question: What if he belongs on offense?
Tre Norwood is the only three-star player in the group. OU pulled him from Notre Dame and a host of SEC offers. His highlight reel shows excellent speed and ball skills – a faster Zach Sanchez.
The last piece at DB is Ryan Jones, an elite athlete from the Charlotte area. I’m fully expecting Ryan Jones to end up at WR in August. His WR film is Dez Bryant good. If Jones really is a better safety prospect than WR, then OU might have signed a Roy Williams-like talent.
Quality Grade: A
Quantity Grade: A
*Nineteen signees from OU's 2017 class received a four-star grade or higher by at least one recruiting service. That’s an all-time high for OU. About 13 players rated in the top 250-300 in the country. Again, that’s an all-time high for the Sooners.
*The class has potential impact players at every position on the field – save for NG, where the upside is high, but the ratings out of high school are not. It represents a massive infusion of talent to OU's roster. Missing impact an DT/NG and the loss of a second elite ILB recruit bring down the quantity grade.
*The 11 mid-term enrollees increases the talent/depth on campus in the spring and increases the possibility that the two key JUCOs can contribute immediately. The chances that the nine freshmen could contribute this fall are promising, too.
*Overall, the talent level is rising to the high mark under Stoops, especially on defense at LB and DB. The coaches just need an underclassman at DT to take the next step to the level of a difference maker such as Gerald McCoy, Tommie Harris and Dusty Dvoracek. Jerry Montgomery’s parting gift was three elite DLs still on the roster: Marquise Overton, Du'Vonta Lampkin and Neville Gallimore. If his suspension doesn't completely derail him, Amani Bledsoe is an elite piece as well.
*In my opinion, OU signed five players who are legitimate five-star talents:
- CeeDee Lamb – Best high school WR since Malcolm Kelly;
- Robert Barnes – If not hurt, he might have jumped into Rivals' top 50 range;
- Tyrese Robinson – A top 50 player before his senior year, he has a great frame and elite skills;
- Addison Gumbs – Bigger frame than Caleb Kelly, but same kind of athlete;
- Trey Sermon – Injured during his junior year, Sermon didn’t start to flash his true potential until the latter half of his senior year.
*Finally, OU didn’t just end up with the best recruiting class in the Big 12. In recruiting terms, the Sooners lapped the entire conference in signing top-flight talent.
Once the defense settled down, there was a notable gap of probably 17 to 20 points between OU and the rest of the conference on the field. OU’s talent edge is only increasing, and for the first time in a decade, the coaches are signing as many stars on defense as offense. If Thibs develops the athletes he signed into all-conference linemen, that talent gap might widen.
Quality Grade: A
Quantity Grade: B+