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Recruiting Classes Revisited: 2015

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Attrition has hurt the class, but it’s still the source of the 2018 squad’s top players

NCAA Football: Georgia at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The first two articles in the Recruiting Classes Revisited series looked at rising second-year and third-year signees—a handful of whom made a splash right out of the gate, but mostly a collection of prospects whose best playing days lie in the future. Today’s article, however, focuses on the 2015 class, whose players are entering their fourth year on campus. Their collective body of work offers a better vantage point for assessing the overall impact of the class and what we can expect from these players in the latter part of their careers.

2015 Recruiting Class Overview

Pos. First Name Last Name Height Weight Hometown State Stars (Rivals/247) Rivals Rating 247Sports Composite Date
Pos. First Name Last Name Height Weight Hometown State Stars (Rivals/247) Rivals Rating 247Sports Composite Date
OL Will Bryan 6-3 280 Carnesville GA 3 5.7 .8605 8/4/13
FS A.J. Gray 6-2 195 Sandersville GA 3 5.7 .8640 3/12/14
QB Jaylend Ratliffe 6-2 200 Laurinburg NC 3 5.5 .8590 3/30/14
AB Omahri Jarrett 5-10 180 Douglasville GA 3 5.6 .8301 6/6/14
QB Christian Campbell 6-1 195 Ponchatoula LA 3 5.7 .8649 6/8/14
DE Trent Sellers 6-4 230 Tyrone GA 3 5.5 .8240 6/8/14
WR Christian Philpott 6-2 200 Tallahassee FL 3 5.7 .8696 6/9/14
AB Nathan Cottrell 5-10 183 Knoxville TN 3 5.5 .8259 6/10/14
OLB Tyler Cooksey 6-3 220 Norcross GA 3 5.7 .8615 6/16/14
DT Kyle Cerge-Henderson 6-2 280 Tampa FL 3 5.5 .8412 6/20/14
WR Harland Howell 6-2 198 Marietta GA 3 5.5 .8476 6/24/14
BB Mikell Lands-Davis 5-11 208 Douglasville GA 3 5.6 .8619 6/28/14
CB Dante Wigley 6-1 180 Carrollton GA 3 5.5 .8482 7/15/14
MLB Brant Mitchell 6-3 248 Knoxville TN 3 5.6 .8534 7/20/14
OL Brad Morgan 6-4 265 Woodstock GA 3 5.5 .8108 7/26/14
DT Scott Morgan 6-4 275 Woodstock GA 3 5.5 .8340 7/26/14
AB TaQuon Marshall 5-10 167 Hamilton GA 3 5.5 .8478 7/30/14
DT Brentavious Glanton 6-2 273 Albany GA 3 5.5 .8431 8/13/14
CB Meiko Dotson 5-9 173 Daytona Beach FL 3 5.5 .8234 10/9/14
BB Quaide Weimerskirch 6-0 200 Pace FL 3 5.5 .8147 10/19/14
AB KirVonte Benson 5-8 191 Marietta GA 3 5.5 .8123 11/25/14
SS David Curry 6-1 190 Buford GA 3 5.5 .8350 1/19/15
FS Dorian Walker 6-0 175 Kennesaw GA 3 5.6 .8493 1/19/15
DE Anree Saint-Amour 6-3 240 Suwanee GA 3 5.7 .8671 1/27/15
BB Marcus Marshall 5-9 200 Raleigh NC 3 5.5 .8441 1/28/15
OLB Victor Alexander 5-10 221 Jacksonville FL 3 5.6 .8650 2/1/15
WR Brad Stewart 6-1 190 Savannah GA 3 5.5 .8455 2/4/15

On paper, this was one of Paul Johnson’s most promising classes. What it lacked in star power, it made up for in depth with a total of 27 signees, all of whom were consensus three-star recruits. Part of the excitement at the time stemmed from some notable late-game commitments, including the last-minute offer to receiver Brad Stewart and the successful flip of linebacker Victor Alexander from UCLA. The end result was a class that ranked No. 39 in Rivals’ class rankings and No. 44 in 247Sports’ class rankings, both of which were steps up from each of the prior two years.

It didn’t take long for things to go sideways, though, which leads to the following section...

Who’s Gone?

Of the 27 signees in the class, 11 of them have either left the team or had to retire for medical reasons. In other words, less than 60 percent of the class has made it to year number four. The fallout did open up some scholarships for later classes, but there’s no dancing around how ugly that retention rate is.

Two of the players ended up becoming major contributors for Tech before departing for very different reasons:

  • FS A.J. Gray: He made an impact as a freshman and was a two-year starter who was expected to be the senior leader of an otherwise inexperienced secondary in 2018. Instead, he received the unfortunate news that he would have to end his football career due to a heart condition.
  • BB Marcus Marshall: He was 2015’s pleasant surprise when he led the team in rushing yards as a true freshman. He transferred to FCS program James Madison a year later after Dedrick Mills took over the starting job... but Marshall flashed his potential over his last few games at Tech (particularly on his bruising final carry against UGA), which made it that much more painful when Mills was later booted from the team.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, two players never played a down for the Jackets:

  • CB Dante Wigley: Wigley transferred out after redshirting in 2015, and after a year in the junior college ranks, he ended up at Colorado.
  • QB Jaylend Ratliffe: A brutal ATV accident before his senior year of high school ended Ratliffe’s football career. He had already committed to Tech at the time, and Paul Johnson honored his scholarship, keeping him on as a student assistant.

In between was a bizarre exodus in the weeks following the end of the 2016 season, which resulted in a total of seven players (Marcus Marshall plus the following six) leaving the team:

  • AB/WR Mikell Lands-Davis (left team)
  • WR Christian Philpott (UT-Martin)
  • WR Harland Howell (Northeast Mississippi CC)
  • CB Dorian Walker (Kennesaw State)
  • CB Meiko Dotson (Garden City CC -> Florida Atlantic)
  • DE Trent Sellers (Coffeyville CC -> New Mexico)

The class’s third running back, BB Quaide Weimerskirch, finished his degree and left for Division II program West Florida this offseason as a graduate transfer.

The two medical disqualifications were just unfortunate developments, and the loss of Marcus Marshall was mitigated by the emergence of KirVonte Benson this past season. But all in all, there’s still plenty of room for disappointment when stopping to consider the possibility of a Marshall/Benson tandem at B-back or the idea of Gray anchoring the secondary this fall. It didn’t look like any of the other players from the post-2016 exodus were in line to be major contributors, but Walker and Lands-Davis were rotation players already and Philpott was the top-rated recruit in the class on the 247Sports Composite.

Impact Players

The good news is that despite the heavy attrition, the 2015 class did still go on to produce three of the best players on the roster—two of whom were relatively quiet until last season:

  • QB TaQuon Marshall: The former A-back and surprise winner of the 2017 quarterback derby delivered a record-setting performance in the opener against Tennessee and finished with six 100-yard games on the ground. Marshall has proven to be every bit as dynamic of a runner as his predecessor, Justin Thomas. His passing accuracy and option reads need work, but improved offensive line play would go a long way toward helping the latter. If Marshall can stay healthy and make even modest improvement in those areas, he’s primed for a huge senior season.
  • LB Brant Mitchell: The 2018 squad’s other captain (alongside TaQuon) has been a steady presence in the middle of the defense since late in his freshman season and has been a two-year starter. He racks up tackles but hasn’t made a ton of other big plays; it’s easy to theorize that that was a result of playing in Ted Roof’s passive scheme, and conveniently that theory can be tested this fall.
  • BB KirVonte Benson: After recording zero carries as a redshirt freshman, Benson was the other unexpected breakout star in last year’s season opener and ultimately became the first Tech B-back to rush for 1,000 yards since Anthony Allen in 2010, greatly easing (if not quite erasing) the pain of losing Dedrick Mills and Marcus Marshall. Benson needs to work on ball security, but it’s heartening to know that he has two more seasons of eligibility.

Established Starters

Without Marshall and Benson emerging as stars last season, the outlook for this class would have been downright ugly. Instead, the 2015 class has produced three of the most important cogs of this year’s team, plus a number of veterans who have already proven their value.

  • DE Anree Saint-Amour: While he’s never been able to fully harness his potential, Saint-Amour made several starts last season and still has potential as a pass rusher. He’ll have to adapt to playing 3-4 defensive end in the new scheme, but the attacking nature of the defense should suit him well.
  • LB Victor Alexander: Alexander cracked the starting lineup a year ago after reserve and special teams duty earlier on. His pass-rushing ability was his most exciting attribute as a recruit, but he never had many opportunities to blitz under Ted Roof; now, as an outside linebacker in his final season, that might change.
  • OL Will Bryan: Bryan became the second Paul Johnson offensive line recruit to play as a true freshman, taking over at right tackle in 2015 after the line’s inexplicable slide into mediocrity. He moved to right guard eventually, and he seems most comfortable playing that position... but he has frequently had to shift back to one of the tackle spots due to injuries, and that has likely slowed his overall development. Where he ultimately lines up will depend on the line’s overall health situation.
  • WR Brad Stewart: A starter for two-plus years at wide receiver, Stewart has perennially given Tech a reliable perimeter blocker who can occasionally (very occasionally) deliver a big reception. He’s also been the main punt returner for two seasons, frequently leaning on fair catches and thus offering low risk but also low reward.
  • DT Kyle Cerge-Henderson: The Florida native made an immediate impact as a reserve defensive tackle and has been a fixture in the rotation since then, though injuries may have limited him last season. He’s currently in line to start at nose tackle this fall.

Potential Starters

  • DL Brentavious Glanton: Glanton got the nod at nose tackle last season over some more experienced players (including Cerge-Henderson). He’s proven to be a disruptive lineman, which bodes well for him in the new scheme.
  • FS Christian Campbell: With A.J. Gray being forced to end his career early, Campbell was next in line at free safety and appears poised to take over as the new starter. He has only one start under his belt to date.
  • AB Nate Cottrell: He was the youngest player in the regular A-back rotation in 2017; he’ll regularly spell Clinton Lynch and Qua Searcy once more and is a virtual lock to start at A-back in 2019 after they depart. Cottrell combines good blocking ability with breakaway speed in the open field, and he can also return kickoffs.

Reserves

  • LB David Curry: When he’s been on the field, Curry has flashed potential, but staying on the field has been his main issue. He’ll be battling for playing time this fall at inside linebacker.
  • LB Tyler Cooksey: Cooksey’s story is virtually identical to that of Curry, though he hasn’t seen the field as much. He’ll get a chance to crack the rotation this fall.
  • OL Brad Morgan: The rising redshirt junior was penciled in as the starting right guard in the preseason depth chart. Whether he ends up starting will depend on center Kenny Cooper’s health, but the fact that he’s listed as the starter is a step forward for the longtime reserve guard.
  • OL Scott Morgan: Brad’s twin brother was the backup center last season. It appears that Jahaziel Lee will get the nod at center if Cooper can’t go for an extended period of time, so Scott Morgan will continue to provide depth at the position.
  • AB Omahri Jarrett: It can sometimes take several years for A-backs to hit their stride, and that seems to be the case for Jarrett, a redshirt junior who is poised to enter the rotation after barely playing up to this point.

Top Five Players of the Class

  1. Brant Mitchell
  2. TaQuon Marshall
  3. KirVonte Benson
  4. Brentavious Glanton
  5. Will Bryan

The top three players are clear, though the best order is much less clear. Mitchell is less of a playmaker than Marshall or Benson, but he’s been a starter for much longer and has been a reliable presence for the defense. Alexander, Saint-Amour, and Cerge-Henderson could all make a case for being on the list somewhere, and Campbell or Cottrell could climb onto the list in next year’s assessment if they perform well this fall.

Conclusion

Given that this class featured three-star prospects across the board, it was always going to be hard to predict who, if any, would emerge as the best players in the class. Gray and Mitchell were good bets, being heralded prospects from their home states, and Marcus Marshall was the brother of a former five-star recruit. All three panned out at first, but only Mitchell made it to his senior season. The other two breakout players were an A-back prospect who was given a look at quarterback and ran with it... and a B-back who tore his ACL just before beginning his collegiate career.

The attrition isn’t pleasant, but as it stands, roughly half of the starting lineup this fall could consist of players from the 2015 class... though it could also consist of much less than that. The 2015 class didn’t pan out nearly as well as expected—there’s no getting around that. But it did produce a couple of unexpected stars last season when they were finally given the opportunity to start. With Campbell stepping in at free safety and at least two 2015 defensive linemen getting the nod up front in the new-look defense, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that something similar happens again.