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Georgia Tech Recruiting Debrief: An Overall Look at the 2016 Class

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With the dust settled on National Signing Day, let's look at the 2016 class and see how Georgia Tech's coaches did at addressing the team's needs.

Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics

Alright, folks. Gather round, take a knee. We've all done a good job of fighting the good fight over the last few days -- researching prospects, watching highlights, keeping up with updates, and not tweeting at said recruits. Let's take a step back now and review how things went.

2016 Signing Class

Position Player Height Weight Hometown Rivals 247Sports Composite
QB Lucas Johnson 6-3 185 San Diego, CA 3-Star (5.5) 3-Star (0.8162)
QB Jay Jones 6-0 180 McCalla, AL
3-Star (5.7) 3-Star (0.8515)
BB Dedrick Mills 5-10 220 Waycross, GA 3-Star (5.6) 3-Star (0.8535)
AB Xavier Gantt 5-10 170 Buford, GA 3-Star (5.7) 3-Star (0.8606)
WR Jair Anderson 6-2 185 Suwanee, GA 2-Star (5.4) 3-Star (0.8456)
WR Jalen Camp 6-2 210 Cumming, GA
2-Star (5.2) 3-Star (0.7986)
WR Steve Dolphus 6-5 200 Macon, GA 3-Star (5.5) 3-Star (0.8410)
OL Parker Braun 6-3 272 Hallsville, TX 3-Star (5.7) 3-Star (0.8712)
OL Kenny Cooper 6-3 285 Calhoun, GA 2-Star (5.3) 2-Star (0.7852)
OL Jahaziel Lee 6-3 260 Ponchatoula, LA 2-Star (5.2) 2-Star (0.7678)
DT Brandon Adams 6-2 300 Brentwood, TN 3-Star (5.5) 3-Star (0.8309)
DT Chris Martin 6-2 250 Loganville, GA 3-Star (5.5) 3-Star (0.8454)
DE Desmond Branch 6-4 265 Rio Rancho, NM 2-Star (5.4) 3-Star (0.8348)
DE Jordan Woods 6-3 250 Citra, FL 4-Star (5.8) 3-Star (0.8869)
LB Jakob Brashear 6-1 210 Dacula, GA 2-Star (5.4) 3-Star (0.8339)
LB Emmanuel Bridges 6-1 208 Newnan, GA 3-Star (5.7) 3-Star (0.8634)
DB Jarett Cole 5-10 185 Norcross, GA 3-Star (5.5) 3-Star (0.8473)
DB Ajani Kerr 6-1 185 Powder Springs, GA 2-Star (5.2) Not Rated
Total Commitments: 18

So, once again, here's the total list of commitments for Georgia Tech, ordered by position and then alphabetically. Chances are that few (if any) of these players are true head-turners by the "ratings" columns alone -- only one of them was rated a four-star prospect by either measure. That said, over half of these players were at (or near) the top of Georgia Tech's board at their position -- Johnson, Jones, Mills, Gantt, Dolphus, Braun, Adams, Martin, Woods, Brashear, Bridges, and Cole were all top priorities for the coaching staff at some point given the timing of certain offers and the late pursuit of others. Although the class may not appear particularly flashy from a national perspective, the coaches did a nice job of locking up several of their top targets, including several that they locked up early on in the process.

It should be noted, too, that the Yellow Jackets added five players in the month of January who were primary targets down the stretch -- Johnson, Jones, Lee, Adams, and Woods. Additionally, three of those -- Johnson, Lee, and Adams -- were flipped from lengthy commitments to hometown teams, which can make for some tricky situations.

There are no true "holes" in the class, where any positional needs went unfilled. That said, it would have undoubtedly been beneficial to add another offensive lineman or safety in the class -- which brings us to our next section.

Near-Misses

Position Player Verdict? Visit Date Rivals 247Sports Composite
ATH Demetris Robertson Uncommitted 1/29/2016 5-Star (6.1) 5-Star (0.9839)
OL Donavaughn Campbell Signed with LSU 1/29/2016 4-Star (5.9) 4-Star (0.9369)
DT Michail Carter Signed with georgia 1/22/2016 4-Star (5.9) 4-Star (0.9346)
DB Romeo Finley Signed with Miami 1/15/2016 4-Star (5.8) 4-Star (0.8927)
OL Jordan Johnson Signed with UCF 1/29/2016 3-Star (5.7) 3-Star (0.8647)
QB/ATH Deshaunte Jones Signed with Iowa State 1/22/2016 3-Star (5.5) 3-Star (0.8578)
ATH Arkeem Byrd Signed with Wake Forest 1/22/2016 3-Star (5.5) 3-Star (0.8144)
OL Dylan Powell Signed with Stanford N/A 3-Star (5.6) 3-Star (0.8206)
CB Baylen Buchanan Signed with Tennessee N/A 3-Star (5.7) 3-Star (0.8568)
AB/WR Tyler Simmons Signed with georgia N/A 3-Star (5.7) 3-Star (0.8823)
QB TaDarryl Marshall Signed with Samford N/A 3-Star (5.7) 3-Star (0.8550)

The list above was the Big Board from January, with four players in particular highlighted. One of them has yet to sign and could still be in play post-NSD, while the other three (Campbell, Finley, and Johnson) were players that Georgia Tech's fans and coaches were hoping to lock down in the final few days before National Signing Day.

The eve of National Signing Day was particularly rough, as both Campbell and Finley spurned the Jackets in favor of other schools. To have gone 1-for-2 with them would have been far, far more palatable, and it's fair to be frustrated that neither one will end up on the Flats. Finley in particular might be the single-most frustrating, as a long-term, seemingly successful recruitment was totally derailed within the last 2 weeks by that pesky Miami and their pesky new coach, Mark Richt. Donavaughn Campbell was another long-term prospect, but as I've said many times, it's really tough to fault the coaches at Georgia Tech for being unable to flip him from a long-term commitment to LSU. To have him as close as they did is impressive by itself, but again, it's frustrating for fans that they were unable to fully close on him. Adding either of these players would have been beneficial to the Jackets, potentially seeing playing time as true freshmen.

Johnson is another case entirely. The last two months of his recruitment has been a bit of a head-scratcher. He's a clearly athletic and talented lineman who was committed to Georgia Tech for a long time, before that well-publicized incident involving GTPD and stadium security at the final game of the season. It set off a chain of events that saw Johnson back off of his commitment, receive minimal interest from other Power-5 level programs, take visits to Georgia Southern and UCF, and then take an official visit to Georgia Tech on the final weekend before Signing Day. Given the schools involved and the history between him and Georgia Tech, for Johnson to commit and sign elsewhere tells me that this was not an issue of the Yellow Jackets' coaches being "out-recruited". It was a weird saga all around, and honestly, in the end, it was probably best for all involved.

Then there were some others -- guys who popped up late in the cycle like Byrd and Deshaunte Jones, both of whom ended up elsewhere and may not have even had the opportunity to come to Georgia Tech by the time Wednesday came around. There was Dylan Powell, who popped up after decommitting from Purdue, but cancelled his official visit to Georgia Tech after receiving an offer from Stanford (where he would instead visit and ultimately end up). There was also Baylen Buchanan, who backed off a long-term commitment to Louisville in favor of a week-old offer from Tennessee before flirting late with Ohio State, as well as Tyler Simmons, who committed to Alabama early in January before flipping to georgia on National Signing Day. Oh, and there was also TaDarryl Marshall, a one-time top-of-the-board QB prospect and high-three-star who was committed to Tennessee for a long time before completing a total fall from grace by signing with FCS program Samford. (A player with his talent level signing with an FCS school typically indicates other issues, usually of the academic or disciplinary variety.)

But, that also leaves one yet-unsigned prospect, in the form of five-star ATH Demetris Robertson. After National Signing Day, Robertson remains unsigned and still on the board. His situation is a bit complicated, so look for a full article on him tomorrow.

Rankings

Ah, yes. The thing that everyone loves to debate and pretend to not care about, but secretly cares about, at least a little bit. Here's where Georgia Tech stacks up among a few different services, as of Wednesday evening:

Service Rivals 247Sports Composite Scout ESPN
Ranking (ACC Rank) 67rd (13th) 58th (11th) 66th (13th) 41st (9th) or worse
Notes: Conference rank does not include Notre Dame. ESPN stops its rankings at #40.

So, there's a bit of variation here, although none of it is particularly encouraging. It should be noted that, at 18 commitments, Georgia Tech is on the lower end of the country in pure quantity of recruits. While that lower quantity has a certain effect on these rankings, realize also that it's not a particularly drastic one (at least in the case of Rivals).

That said, here's a look at where this class compares to the other recruiting classes in Paul Johnson's tenure:

Year Signees Rivals 247Sports
2008 20 49th 49th
2009 21 49th 41st
2010 19 43rd 42nd
2011 23 41st 44th
2012 17 57th 52nd
2013 14 85th 76th
2014 22 48th 56th
2015 27 39th 44th
2016 18 67th 58th

In other words, according to what the recruiting services think, this is Paul Johnson's worst recruiting class at Georgia Tech outside of the catastrophe that was (and continues to be, to a certain degree) the 2013 class. It's also the third-smallest class, eclipsing only the 2012 and 2013 recruiting classes in pure size.

So, why are these rankings so low? There are a few explanations, beyond the "class size" one.

  • A rough season did few favors for the team over the final few months of the recruiting cycle.
  • The coaching staff went big early on in the process, trying to lure in some top prospects. They gave out fewer scholarship offers early, and weren't always in great position when they were turned down.
  • Some of the players created interest with the coaches due to improvement from their junior year to their senior year. Improvement from year-to-year will be noticed by coaches and might be a good sign moving forward, although it may not be reflected in recruiting rankings.
  • Quite simply, it feels like some of these players were underrated, which can be a result of several things. It may be that the player doesn't get invested in regional camps or comes from a less-recruited area, like Calhoun-native Kenny Cooper. It could be due to poor camp performances, which can play heavily into ratings, especially with Rivals. Or, truthfully, it could also be that we're overvaluing some of the players. That's something we'll find out over the next few years.

So, no, this class doesn't look particularly good from a rankings standpoint, on a national scale or even on the conference scale. It's not the type of class that creates hype and builds momentum moving forward. However, I think most will agree that there are several players that they really like in this class, rankings be damned.

Verdict

It's important here that we take a step back for a moment and provide a bit of context. After hoping to build football and recruiting momentum off of an Orange Bowl win and a strong finish to the recruiting class last season, the Yellow Jackets finished the 2015 season at 3-9 in excruciatingly painful fashion. As the season got farther and farther off the rails, any recruiting momentum developed from the previous season faded more and more. Losses piled up, multiple players quit the team before the season's end, and frustration was mounting from all angles. By the end of the season, the team missed a bowl game by a wide margin and lacked any sense of hype around the program -- a nearly unthinkable departure from a few short months prior, when the Yellow Jackets were being talked about as dark horse contenders for the College Football Playoff.

That was the narrative around the team heading into the heart of recruiting season. It's probably fair to call that "less than ideal".

At the season's end, two players decommitted -- one resulting from a bizarre incident that the team and its coaches had no control over, and another for reasons unknown (but where a mutual disinterest seems to have developed). Again, not a great sign for a team with only two months to go until Signing Day and work left to do on the recruiting trails.

So, from there, the final two months prior to National Signing Day went like this:

  1. All of Georgia Tech's 12 remaining commitments were held together, seemingly without so much as a question about loyalty.
  2. The Jackets' coaching staff went 5-for-11 on signing players considered their top priorities in the final month before National Signing Day. In those 5, they added a pair of dynamic playmakers at QB, a talented and improving OL, a sorely-needed massive & dominant DT, and a four-star DE. (I'll take that haul every time.)
  3. Georgia Tech went toe-to-toe with recruiting powers LSU, Clemson, and Miami for a pair of prospects, and were squarely in the discussion to land both until the very end.
  4. The Yellow Jackets were able to score a visit from a 5-star in-state player and one of the top uncommitted prospects in the country, and they remain in the hunt for him after National Signing Day.

Now, in a vacuum, what was laid out above isn't particularly awe-inspiring. Near-misses aren't something that coaches or programs can hang their hats on, nor are they cause for much celebration. However, all things considered, and in the context of where Georgia Tech's program was entering the home stretch of this recruiting cycle, this ended up as a decent class for the Yellow Jackets. They addressed needs and added several players that Georgia Tech fans everywhere are excited about. There's no doubt that it very clearly could have been better, and it very well still could get better (more on that tomorrow). It's fair, too, to hope that future recruiting classes are ranked higher.

For now, though, we should at least consider the 2016 class to be decent. A final verdict will be reached in a few years, and in that time, I have a feeling they're going to outperform their rankings. At Georgia Tech, they usually do.

That's just my take though, Yellow Jacket fans. What's yours?