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Recruiting Classes Revisited: 2016

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Lucas Johnson, Parker Braun, and an emerging star that nobody saw coming.

NCAA Football: Mercer at Georgia Tech Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

College recruiting classes are always boom or bust, but Georgia Tech’s 2016 recruiting class is one of strangest combinations of boom, bust, boom-to-bust, and bust-to-boom you’ll ever see. Just two seasons of football later, a number of players have emerged as top-tier players in the ACC and others have emerged as guys who just couldn’t handle the pressure. Here’s a refresher on all 18 of the original members of the 2016 class:

Georgia Tech 2016 Recruiting Class

Position Player Height Weight Status Rivals 247Sports Composite
Position Player Height Weight Status Rivals 247Sports Composite
LB Emmanuel Bridges 6-1" 208 Signed (2/3/2016) 3-Star (5.7) 3-Star (0.8634)
BB Dedrick Mills 5-10" 220 Signed (2/3/2016) 3-Star (5.6) 3-Star (0.8535)
DE Desmond Branch 6-4" 265 Signed (2/3/2016) 2-Star (5.4) 3-Star (0.8348)
DT Chris Martin 6-2" 250 Signed (2/3/2016) 3-Star (5.5) 3-Star (0.8454)
DB Jarett Cole 5-10" 185 Signed (2/3/2016) 3-Star (5.5) 3-Star (0.8473)
OL Kenny Cooper 6-3" 285 Signed (2/3/2016) 2-Star (5.3) 2-Star (0.7852)
DT Brandon Adams 6-2" 300 Signed (2/3/2016) 3-Star (5.5) 3-Star (0.8309)
WR Jalen Camp 6-2" 210 Signed (2/3/2016) 2-Star (5.2) 3-Star (0.7986)
WR Jair Anderson 6-2" 185 Signed (2/3/2016) 2-Star (5.4) 3-Star (0.8456)
WR Steve Dolphus 6-5" 200 Signed (2/3/2016) 3-Star (5.5) 3-Star (0.8410)
LB Jakob Brashear 6-1" 210 Signed (2/3/2016) 2-Star (5.4) 3-Star (0.8339)
AB Xavier Gantt 5-10" 170 Signed (2/3/2016) 3-Star (5.7) 3-Star (0.8606)
QB/ATH Jay Jones 6-0" 180 Signed (2/3/2016) 3-Star (5.7) 3-Star (0.8515)
OL Parker Braun 6-3" 272 Signed (2/3/2016) 3-Star (5.7) 3-Star (0.8712)
DE Jordan Woods 6-3" 250 Signed (2/3/2016) 4-Star (5.8) 3-Star (0.8869)
CB Ajani Kerr 6-1" 185 Signed (2/3/2016) 2-Star (5.2) Not Rated
OL/DL Jahaziel Lee 6-3" 260 Signed (2/3/2016) 2-Star (5.2) 2-Star (0.7678)
QB Lucas Johnson 6-3" 185 Signed (2/3/2016) 3-Star (5.5) 3-Star (0.8162)

The class was rated 67th overall by Rivals and 60th by 247Sports, a pair of low marks which were reflective of the overall lack of buzz surrounding the cycle at the time. That lack of buzz, mind you, could be found both nationally and within the Georgia Tech community; the massive 2015 class had set an unreachable bar for Paul Johnson and company.

Who’s gone?

At some point, the question becomes “who isn’t gone?”. We are talking about an 18-man recruiting class that experienced some serious attrition in just two years. In fact, I’d argue that something like four of the five players who fans were most excited for at the time are now gone. Let’s take a sad look at what could have been, Oscars In Memoriam Style (meaning you have to go watch their career highlights after this).

  • DE Jordan Woods: Once the second-best player in the class as far as recruiting rankings are concerned, Woods sat out his true freshman campaign with a torn labrum. He then departed for FIU, calling his time at Tech “useful”.
  • BB Dedrick Mills: A true tragedy. Mills was supremely talented and likely would have been the top B-Back of the Paul Johnson era if he had distributed his three strikes a bit more evenly across his Tech career. Instead, he’s the biggest coulda-been of the Johnson era.
  • LB Emmanuel Bridges: Bridges was highly sought-after in high school but never showed any real promise at Tech. He was a big get at the time, choosing Tech over Tennessee.
  • QB Jay Jones: Jones came in with Lucas Johnson. It was clear that one or the other would probably not last, and it was ultimately Jones who showed himself the door after being buried on the depth chart.

Immediate Impact

The 2016 class’ offensive linemen have really shined over the past two seasons. Parker Braun is an All-ACC candidate and the anchor of the Tech offensive line, a role he’s held since his first year on the Flats, and Kenny Cooper looks to be continuing Tech’s tradition of strong center play after an excellent 2017 season. I won’t lie — the biggest surprise of all is Jahaziel Lee, who I fully expected to be a career-long depth piece for Paul Johnson. He received a late offer from Johnson, flipping to Tech from Louisiana-Lafayette, and has played significant snaps since day one.

Defensive tackle Brandon Adams has as much potential as anyone on defense but hasn’t lived up to lofty expectations thus far, though I trust Nate Woody to use him more effectively in 2018. We rarely see 300-pounders at Tech, which is part of the reason why hopes remain high for Adams to become a menace in 2018. Desmond Branch is arguably Tech’s best returning defensive lineman and was a bright spot at the position in 2017 after playing sparingly as a freshman in 2016.

Who’s next?

Ajani Kerr will play a significant role in the secondary this season after showing flashes of his talent in 2017, including his game-winning deflection in coverage versus one of the best wideouts in the nation: Virginia Tech’s Cam Phillips.

Outside of him, it’s hard to say that anyone is guaranteed to play meaningful snaps. Nose tackle Chris Martin is talented but stuck behind Kyle Cerge-Henderson and Brandon Adams on the depth chart. Steve Dolphus oozes potential at 6-foot-5, but he too will have stiff competition given Paul Johnson’s proclivity for playing the safe option at all times. Jalen Camp will certainly see some time at wide receiver after playing in 2017.

Lucas Johnson, of course, is the final name to discuss here. I fully believe he’ll have his moment in the sun, hopefully this season but likely next. He’s a vaunted passer, though it’s hard to say if that works in his favor with Paul Johnson after the failed Vad Lee experiment which made the veteran coach gun shy with experimenting with his base offense.

Top 5 Players of the Class

  1. OG Parker Braun
  2. C Kenny Cooper
  3. DL Desmond Branch
  4. NT Brandon Adams
  5. QB Lucas Johnson

That should be Dedrick up there. Pro tip: when you are told how many chances you have to keep your scholarship at an expensive and respected school, subtract one from that number and limit your mistakes to that result.

Braun and Cooper are easy picks. Branch is a strong player who is worthy of number three. Adams and Johnson round out the list as much for potential as anything else, though it’s hard not to include Jahaziel Lee.

Conclusion

At this point, members of the 2016 class are either incredibly strong contributors, bench warmers, or out of the program with few exceptions. Time will reveal more about a few of the names I didn’t mention today (Xavier Gantt and Jarett Cole come to mind), but for now we have to wait. It looks better now than it did at the time, all things considered.

BONUS ROUND/POTENTIAL HEISMAN CANDIDATE!

According to 247Sports, I we have a mystery man among us:

A two-star offensive tackle out of the well-known football factory of - -, () stands at a whopping ___ feet, __ inches. He committed to Tech on January 24, 2016 and never looked back. A quantitative covfefe major at Tech, () chose the Jackets over reported offers from ITT Tech, Le Cordon Bleu, and whatever school George O’Leary told him to write down to “really make his resume pop”.

He isn’t on the straight-and-narrow like his brother [] but is lightyears ahead of oldest brother and Alabama quarterback {} in that regard.