2017 Signing Day has come and gone. We did good; really, really, really good. Like, massively good. So with that in mind, what’s the roster look like, and what do our needs look like in a 2018 signing class that already has an elite OT, an elite OLB/edge rusher, and another solid LB in tow.
So before we break down the positions, and then future need, let’s get a good look at the roster, including some likely key contributing walk-ons, as it currently stands (so some current team members may bolt sometime this spring or coming summer)...
QB (3) - Brice Ramsey (sr), Jacob Eason (so), Jacob Fromm (fr)
RB (6)- Nick Chubb (sr), Sony Michel (sr), Christian Payne (sr), Brian Herrien (so), Elijah Holyfield (so), D’Andre Swift (fr)
WR (11) - Shakenneth Williams (sr), Javon Wims (sr), Michael Chigbu (jr), Terry Godwin (jr), Jayson Stanley (jr), Riley Ridley (so), Tyler Simmons (so), Trey Blount (fr), Jeremiah Holloman (fr), Matt Landers (fr), Mark Webb (fr)
TE (5) - Jeb Blazevich (sr), Jordan Davis (sr), Jackson Harris (jr), Isaac Nauta (so), Charlie Woerner (so)
OL (17) - Aulden Bynum (sr), Dyshon Sims (sr), Isaiah Wynn (sr), Kendall Baker (jr), Lamont Gaillard (jr), D’Marcus Hayes (jr), Pat Allen (so), Sage Hardin (so), Sam Madden (so), Chris Barnes (fr), Ben Cleveland (fr), D’ante Demery (fr), Netori Johnson (fr), Solomon Kindley (fr), Justin Shaffer (fr), Andrew Thomas (fr), Isaiah Wilson (fr)
DL (13) - John Atkins, (sr), Michael Barnett (jr), Keyon Brown (jr), DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle (jr), Jonathon Ledbetter (jr), Trenton Thompson (jr), Michail Carter (so), Tyler Clark (so), David Marshall (so), Julian Rochester (so), Justin Young (so), Malik Herring (fr), Devante Wyatt (fr)
LB (16) - Davin Bellamy (sr), Lorenzo Carter (sr), Reggie Carter (sr), Natrez Patrick (jr), Rashad Roundtree (jr), Roquan Smith (jr), Juwan Taylor (jr), D’Andre Walker (jr), Tae Crowder (so), Jaleel Laguins (so), Robert Beal (fr), Walter Grant (fr), Jaden Hunter (fr), Chauncey Manac (fr), Nate McBride (fr), Monty Rice (fr)
DB (16) - Aaron Davis (sr), Malkom Parrish (sr), Dominick Sanders (sr), Reggie Wilkerson (sr), Deandre Baker (jr), Jarvis Wilson (jr), Mecole Hardman (so), Tyrique McGhee (so), JR Reed (so), Tray Bishop (fr), Latavious Brini (fr), Deangelo Gibbs (fr), Richard Lecounte (fr), William Poole (fr), Ameer Speed (fr), Eric Stokes (fr)
Specialists (5) - Trent Frix (sr), David Marvin (sr), Cameron Nizialek (fr), Rodrigo Blankenship (so), Marshall Long (so)
Yes, I know that’s 92 players, and we’re only allowed to have 85 on scholarship. But some of the above won’t be on scholarship, and a couple more won’t stick around after spring for any of a wide array of reasons (want more playing time, want to be closer to home, don’t want to keep getting pounded, don’t keep up their grades, etc, etc, etc). It has a lot of seniors in the defensive back 7, in the offensive backfield, and a couple possible NFL early entrants. So we can likely expect a full 25 man signing class come February 7th next season. And now for my thoughts broken down positionally:
QB- Eason and Fromm will be a helluva competition and starter/backup going forward. It remains to be seen if Fromm can redshirt for two years of seperation, or how well Eason steps up in year 2. But that’s a damn good group. We need 2 more for next year, and they won’t be easy to get with a pair of five stars on campus. Thinking out loud about that need this year and going forward for better QB depth, and the difficulty signing two of even Hutson Mason caliber next spring, maybe we bring in K’Hari Lane as a walk-on or possible blue shirt?
RB- Chubb and Michel should be something special this season if the OL is improved as hoped. Add Payne leading the way, and that’ll be three significant departures to replace in 2018. Having Herrien, Holyfield, and Swift is a good start. We probably look for two more, starting with Zeus near the top of our list. We may go for a FB as well, or continue to fill that role with walk-ons (which has been a pretty good strategy considering JT Wall and Jeremy Thomas and Payne, among others in the last 10-15 seasons).
WR- It doesn’t look like anything special next year, but with Eason humming it, and an OL giving him time in the pocket and WRs time to find space, it could still be a strong group. Losing Wims likely hurts more than Williams, but we’ll have the bulk of this bunch back in 2018, so look for them to target very few, but very, very good playmakers here.
TE- This is where our big time pass catching talent lies next year, with Blaze, Nauta, and Woerner around, and Harris for a more traditional in line TE. Add big Bynum as a blocking specialist, and it’s a damn good group. But with Nauta a possible first round pick come 2019, Blazevich and Davis graduating, and Harris entering his final two seasons, we’re gonna need probably two here to give Woerner some competition when Jake Fromm becomes the QB.
OL- We found the beef, ma’am. Wynn and Sims will be senior stalwarts for next year’s OL rotation, while Bynum has carved out a nice little role in short yardage situations. But it’s getting to be now or never time for guys like Allen, Baker, Hardin, and Madden. Gaillard is reportedly gonna slide in to be the C, although Isaiah Wynn is another possibility there, as is Chris Barnes. Hayes, Wilson, and Thomas will compete right away for OT spots, while monstrous men like Cleveland, Johnson, Kindley, and Shaffer are going to push for time at both G spots, and Demery could end up at G or T. I assume we’ll look to sign at least 3 here, starting with Wray on board and Jamaree Salyer a priority target for the interior. That number could go up depending on how the above now or never group does this fall
DL- This group looks like it will be a strength next year, and probably the year after as well. But only landing Wyatt and Herring in this class opens a need for the big boys in 2018. If Trenton Thompson continues to improve, he could easily be preparing to become a first round pick next spring, and Ledbetter isn’t too shabby either. We’re probably look at three in 2018, maybe more depending on how that junior crew does this fall.
LB- Probably our biggest need positionally apart from RB, and maybe K/P. Natrez Patrick and Roquan Smith are both good enough the NFL may come calling, and we lose senior edge rushers Bellamy and Carter. It’s got all the makings of a dominant crew come fall, particularly with the DL occupying blockers in front of them. But that’s a lot to replace. So we’re talking 4+ here, and off to a pretty good start with Anderson outside and Georges inside. And there’s no shortage of high upside talent outside to join Anderson in state with, among others, guys like Brenton Cox, Justin Mascoll, Tobe Umerah, and maybe even Quay Walker, that is if the package deal sold to Auburn along with Markevist Bryant doesn’t stick (thought pending NCAA rule changes may impact this supposed deal.
DB- We just loaded up here, although it’s possible some of those guys end up on the other side of the line of scrimmage as WR (Hardman, Bishop, Gibbs, and Stokes all have that sort of ability with the ball in their hands). But replacing Sanders, Parrish, and Davis will create a clear need, and depending on what those new faces show, this could be a huge need again in the 2018 class. We’ll need to add depth at the very least, so a good 3 or 4 minimum, with the chance of needing more and needing guys who can start from day 1, depending on those aforementioned freshmen.
Specialists- It remains to be seen what happens with Rodrigo Blankenship now that Marvin is on board, or what happens in year two with Mitchell Long (perhaps a redshirt if he sticks around?). I’d assume we already have a few long snappers in town competing to fill Trent Frix’s large shoes once he graduates. And we’ve added a walk-on for future competition in Brooks Buce. I could see Kirby signing a kicker in the 2018 class, if not a kicker and a punter. But he’d prefer to find a couple walk-ons to reward with that if he could and save room in the 25 man class for other positions.