Overall class grade: Exceeds Expectations- | Acceptable+
As recently as three weeks ago, I had this grade pegged as Poor+, because coming out of the dead period, things looked quite bleak. Like, really bleak. There were big time programs going hard after some of our recruits, we were down two position coaches, and most troubling of all -- the quality of class hadn't improved much compared to last year.
Then a funny thing happened, because the Cal Bears began to do something they haven't done in quite some time.
We closed -- and we closed pretty strong, bringing in the signatures of Carlos Strickland, Jaylinn Hawkins, Semisi Uluave, Brandon Singleton, and Patrick Mekari the last two weeks. The first three names would have to be considered major victories, which helps salve the sting of high profile losses closer to home earlier this year: Rosen, White, Langley, and so forth.
Granted, there were some misses heading into February 4th (Chris Williamson, most notably), and a couple of guys who reneged on their pledges, but for the most part, we certainly we gained more than we lost. Compare this same time period to last season:
|Notable 2014 decommitments||Notable 2015 decommitments|
|4* Jaleel Wadood||3* Nick Buchanan|
|4* Koa Farmer||3* Johnny Capra|
|4* Jalen Harvey||3* Keith Washington|
Yeah, we got away pretty good -- 2 to 3 decommitments per cycle is a normal amount, especially with two coaches being replaced late.
Now, the various services have this class landing outside of the top 25, and considering we were 5-7 and eliminated early by many West coast prospects, I am satisfied with the overall haul. You might be less so, and that's fine too, but there's no serious way you could peg this effort as unacceptable.
Before I get into discussing some overall trends this year, I want to point out that everything is currently set up for an even better haul this time next February -- the doldrums of 1-11 will have fully been put away behind us, so there won't be prospects crossing us off early in the process simply due to that alone, and we will hopefully be able to reap the benefits of relationships that have been in place for close to three years already. Cal was among the first offers for Caleb Kelly and Shurod Thompson, for example, so if they can display continued improvement on the field -- think 8+ here -- things get even more interesting...
I do fully expect us to be toward the top 25 next season.
Outstanding, Exceeds Expectations, Acceptable, Poor, Dreadful, Troll
2015 class trends:
- A Southern Invasion - With eight of the class hailing from the Southeast, it's clear that the staff decided to shift away from the Golden State this season -- that's a reflection, first and foremost, of them realizing our position as the 4th best option among the California schools (and even further behind schools that mine California themselves), and then reacting quite intelligently to that hard reality. No matter what anyone says -- and people will say it -- about needing to fence off California first and only California, by ceding ground here at home, the staff spent better time taking advantage of their already established contacts and networks back East, mining less heavily recruited areas for similarly heralded/rated talent. This is fine in the present, although hopefully not forever. The way I see it, you can get really good at fighting people in the store closest to you, but sometimes, you'd be more effective driving a little further out for less lines and similar prices.
- Speed, athleticism, and versatility - ...And while it may not necessarily be true, having a ton of players from the South also comes with a second perceived benefit, as well: S-E-C SPEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED. It may take a few more years for that athleticism to fully take root here in Berkeley, but it's a very, very intriguing class in part for that reason - if nurtured properly, this could be the beginning of a program makeover, with more than a handful of the 2015 signees running reported sub 4.5 40s, led by Billy McCrary III's laser timed 4.43. (There's fast, and then there's #BearRaidFast. You're welcome, marketing.) In addition to speed, this is a class with some emphasis on diverse skill sets, too, as McCrary, DePriest Turner, Zeandae Johnson, and Lonny Powell are among the guys who were projected as capable of playing on either side of the ball. We have a good sense of where the staff would like them to start, though. We think.
- Play now...or play later? - There are a bunch of candidates for immediate impact this year and should help the team, who I'll discuss below, but there are also some really interesting longer-term prospects that could be something down the line, currently needing strength and conditioning, or additional coaching and refinement. Both defensive backs mentioned up top are an example of this, as are the offensive linemen (Gibson, Mekari), Zeandae Johnson and Brandon Singleton.
- #NABSS - The present of the passing offense arrived mere three years ago, when Bryce Treggs and company signed to Berkeley. The future, while less highly-rated, is actually stylistically similar to their senior counterparts...and they plan to catch a lot of passes while they're here, so...#NABSS
2012 2015 Smaller Frame, Polished and Well Rounded: Bryce Treggs Kanawai Noa Big Size, Possession Type: Darius Powe Austin Aaron Smaller Frame, Shifty and Sudden: Chris Harper Greyson Bankhead Lengthy, Downfield Threat: Kenny Lawler Brandon Singleton | Carlos Strickland
- Student-athletes - If there's one part of Coach Dykes' regime that must remain criticism free, it's his continued emphasis on the student athlete aspect here in Berkeley. The GPAs have begun to turnaround team-wide, and both this class and the last one have a marked emphasis on taking the classroom seriously, too. You've likely heard some of the stories already about the '15ers: Carlos Strickland (my mistake!) taking 4 APs (including Calculus), Ross Bowers and Lonny Powell graduating early, DePriest Turner turning down a Duke offer, Russell Ude saying no to Yale...I feel reasonably confident that these young men will take the academic opportunities offered here extremely, extremely seriously.
Most likely to make an immediate impact: DeVante Wilson; Antoine Albert
Honorable mention: James Looney, Russell Ude
While it is a cop out to name all JUCO players for this award (again) the truth is that you can't predict with certainty how freshmen respond once they get to campus, and Wilson and Albert already the best chance of being starters -- or at least factor significantly on the two deep -- come September 5th. The former is already on campus for spring ball, and while the latter won't arrive til fall due to a last minute class snafu, they'll bring with them body types and skill sets that the defense has sorely lacked recently, and enter in at positions without established depth.
All of that adds up in a recipe to play immediately.
In the honorable mentions category, Wake Forest transfer James Looney has drawn rave reviews from multiple teammates on Twitter, a situation not unlike Trevor Davis' a year ago. With all that hype, it should surprise absolutely nobody if he comes in and dominates, now that he's eligible. Grant Marek is a particularly big fan of Looney's, among the team's regular beat writers.
As far as Ude and his 30+ FBS offers go, well...he might be the most sought after recruit in the class, honestly. If he can show anything at camp, he could crack the two deep immediately in the same way Noah Westerfield did, simply because the team has very few viable options at defensive end. Ude is among several freshmen who I would anticipate playing immediately, by the way -- I'm just thinking he has the best chance to make a difference among all of them.
Most exciting highlight film: Lonny Powell
Honorable mention: Kanawai Noa
This award is based purely off of tape only, and goes to the guy I find most exciting -- not necessarily the guy with the most long-term potential. Those criteria mean that Lonny Powell, the Jaeger, wins hands down. I mean, have you seen it?
Stop what you're doing and see this.
It's become a bit of a trend, now, really; each of the last three classes, Cal has brought in tantalizingly dominant RB/LB type that I've fallen in love with and hyped ridiculously. First it was Ragin, then Devante Downs...and now, this guy. Kanawai Noa's blistering speed, remarkable balance, and overall slipperiness carried him into second place, but Powell trends on not actually being a human being.
Most likely to make a long-term impact: Ryan Gibson
Honorable mention: Malik Psalms
My first year doing this, I gave this to Goff, Takk McKinley and Aaron Cochran in 2013, and some combination of Luke Rubenzer, Erik Brown (HM), and Chandler Leniu (HM) in 2014. Two of those six never made it to the program, two haven't really made much more than token appearances, and one hasn't played a snap yet.
(Hey, I am not a professional talent evaluator.)
So, with that spotty -- and that's being generous to myself -- track record of picking this award so far, why do I think it'll be Gibson?
Well, of all the Cal recruit tapes I've watched at this position in three years, his is probably the most impressive, simply for the way he moves. Now, all offensive linemen are big and knock people over repeatedly -- he just looks notably, exceptionally athletic in doing so, like a mech seeking out opposing jerseys or something. Throw in the fact that linemen tend to be multi-year starters once they make it, and you have the reasoning behind my pick.
He's still a little small at about 280 now, but considering he has only to gain weight and not lose it, there's a good chance he will have that corrected sooner rather than later. You can get stronger, but you can't really get better feet the way he already has naturally. If Matt Cochran takes the center job in 2015, Gibson looks good to eventually succeed him, or maybe even slide in to guard, if a spot opens up there, first.
Of all the other options, I like Malik Psalms the most here. He got much, much more explosive and athletic since he committed, and combine with a 6'1 height and some long arms, has an intriguing, multiple-year future in a secondary that's ready for any sort of contributors to step up.
Biggest sleeper (majority 3* or less): Ross Bowers
Honorable mention: Billy McCrary III
In my heart and mind, I'm already prepared for Jared Goff to leave after 2015, because even though we'd all love for him to return, the truth is that a senior season from him means that something probably went very, very wrong. His heir apparent right now would be Luke Rubenzer, but the way Tony Franklin and Sonny Dykes deployed him all last season left tons to be desired, especially from a passing standpoint -- for all his jaw-dropping ability as a runner, as a true freshman Rubenzer was further behind as a passer than anyone would have liked.
Again, this is not to doom him, or anything like that. There is plenty of time for further development. All I'm saying is, the keys to the Bear Raid aren't a lock to be handed down to number 8 just yet, just as they weren't to the number 8 before him (although most of us thought so, me included)...not with a surprisingly advanced Bowers coming in early, and Chase Forrest lurking around.
For honorable mention, I'm taking with Billy McCrary, even though Turner has a better physical frame, height and length that might be more useful back there. As to why, maybe it's because I've watched Seattle take over the NFL thanks in large part to Earl Thomas policing the hashes (and more), but I'm enamored with the thought of a player who has the speed to recover the same way. McCrary could be that guy, moving easily and already clearly handles contact.
Or, if the thing on defense fails, there's always a spot for a 4.4 guy coming out of the slot...
Most likely to succeed based solely and solely on badassness of name: DePriest 'Trey' Turner; Evan Rambo
The former is a pun-heavy writer's dream -- DePriest answers De Prayers! Trey Forces a Turnerover -- and the latter is an action hero in the waiting. No honorable mentions.
And finally, our top four: