That Mike London is able to put together a class at all is still something of a testament to his recruiting chops. Rarely does a coach occupy a seat this hot for this long. Who knows how 2016 will pan out? Not well, is the likely answer, but there's always
This post, as ever, is comprised of standard features, so let's get at them after the asterisked disclaimer.
**This paragraph will serve as my plea for forgiveness. Objective evaluation and unfiltered opinions have always been a goal of this blog. Both are unreachable ideals, but worth striving for. One thing that makes them unreachable is that it's a dick move to talk way down about the worth of a bunch of not-even-graduated high school kids who've just taken a big step toward living out their hopes and dreams. At the same time, I couldn't ask anyone to take me seriously if every recruiting evaluation said, "yay team!" I'll just have to risk giving offense - judiciously, though.
This class was always going to be large; the initial assessment was that the only limit was the yearly limit of 25, or London's hot seat, or the coaches' imagination in figuring out how to stuff as many players as possible in the class. They didn't quite get to 25; the final tally is 23, with two of them enrolling early. It's unfortunate they couldn't. The roster now has 85 scholarship players on it, meaning if there's any attrition at all (so, for example, if George Adeosun's knee is healed by Jesus), UVA will go into the next season undermanned. Attrition is probably not done for the offseason, and even if not, the roster lists a few players who could've been turned down for a fifth season with no reservations. Room definitely existed underneath the roster limits for another player or three.
There'll be only 15 graduating seniors after the upcoming season, which is a blessing - it means that if a new coach is in the office by next New Year's Day, he won't have to flail around just to keep his head above water in the numbers game.
Quarterback - Nick Johns
Early assessment: "I won't be surprised if the coaches take one. I won't be surprised if they don't." (From the big-picture post last March, linked above.)
They took one, and no complaints here at all because we'll carry five next year and that's about the ideal number to have. (We'll definitely get deeper into the right number of players to have at a position, later on.) The coaches zeroed in on their target very early in the game and landed him only a little bit later, and by most accounts he's a worthy candidate to start at a P5 school. It's taken a long while, but I think it's fair to say the coaches are finally steadying up the quarterback position. Either London has learned some lessons, or Steve Fairchild is providing valuable advice, or both.
Running back - Chris Sharp, Olamide Zacchaeus
Early assessment: "Two backs in the 2015 class would be a very sound investment."
So far, so good. Neither of these two backs come with major-league credentials, but there's some good diversity of skills here - these two should complement each other well - and this position continues to be staffed at just the right levels. Tailback is one of the most likely places to find quality sleepers, so I tend to lean optimistic on the position in almost all cases, as long as the depth is there and they're not all the same style of back. I like how this looks going forward.
Wide receiver - Warren Craft, David Eldridge, Myles Robinson
Early assessment: "Let's say anywhere from 3-5 as a possibility. I'd prefer three or four..."
Hard to say I didn't get my wish here. Perhaps my wish was a little overwrought; UVA tends to list three receivers as starters, and this is one position where you don't need to go more than three deep. But we'll be going four deep this year, with 12 receivers on the roster. (Assuming this is where Robinson slots - he's more the kind of undefined "athlete" that London loves to fill the team with, and could be a cornerback.)
UNC transfer T.J. Thorpe isn't listed here, because he's not technically in the recruiting class, but he'll be on the roster all the same. Thorpe is also the best chance among the newcomers to add some electric flash to the 2015 outfit. The signees were rated pretty low, without standout athleticism to make the raters look twice.
Add Dominique Terrell back to the list - he's a newcomer in a way, as last year's big-picture assessment assumed he'd be graduated by now - and you get the five receivers that I said would be too many. On the plus side, it's not five all at once, which would've been a big mistake. Three each in four different classes, until and unless this group of three gets broken up by putting one of them on the field. That shouldn't happen, though.
Tight end - Richard Burney, Tanner Cowley
Early assessment: "It's a safe bet we'll take at least one, maybe two."
That was assuming Mario Nixon might ever be available to play, which he almost certainly won't. Given that, two tight ends was an absolute necessity for this class, lest the position become uselessly thin. Burney and Cowley aren't the least bit flashy (they're tight ends, what do you expect?) but they fill a huge need.
Offensive line - Ryan Bischoff, Grant Polk, R.J. Proctor
Early assessment: "Need-wise, the barest of bare-bones minimums here should be four. That's still not enough....I'll settle for five in the class - the undermanning of the depth chart just isn't going to be fixed in one year."
You're shitting me.
You've got to be shitting me.
Start this breakdown by reading the O-line section of last year's Signstravaganza, where UVA took two linemen. Every word of it still applies.
The depth chart I have lists 17 offensive linemen. That'd be enough to keep me happy, if George Adeosun didn't have an evil spirit residing his knee; if Jack English weren't desperation-moved to left tackle where he lined up as a 260-pound blindside protector; if Jay Whitmire's back doesn't have any more setbacks ever; if Jackson Matteo were actually on scholarship, if, if, if, if, if.
I thought we had four, but the coaches decided to move Eli Hanback to defensive tackle. Granted, defensive tackle is also a thin position in need of a major shore-up, but this would've been much better accomplished by recruiting defensive tackles. So now, we have taken five linemen in two years.
This is so far beyond stupid. This is into blithering, drooling moron territory. Simple math - 85 scholarships divided by 22 positions on the field - reveals you should start with 3.4 players per position, as a base assumption. Five starting offensive linemen times 3.4 equals 17. You should have 17. The hell we have 17. We can't even go three deep without counting walk-ons, ex-tight-ends, and injured guys.
London's philosophy - which you can even hear him state, if you watch the David Eldridge short video on the official site - is that you build a football team with guys who can run. So he loads up on "athletes", thinking he's being so clever and Oregon-esque, forgetting that Oregon has taken a minimum of four O-linemen nearly every year (only one exception, in fact) going back since long before they were Oregon.
Like it's some big frickin' mystery the run game has failed to reach the top 90 each of the last three seasons, and has only gotten worse the more London's O-line recruits and philosophy permeate the roster. London is screwing not only himself, but the next guy too. At the position most heavily affected by injuries and unpredictable player development, London is committing felony negligence.
And by the way, this is not an attack on the actual signees, about whom the only complaint I have is that there aren't enough of them.
Defensive tackle - Eli Hanback, James Trucilla
Early assessment: "Signing at least one is a must...I'd rather see two and wouldn't exactly mind three."
London got to the requisite two by mugging Peter to pay Paul. Hanback comes in as a complete unknown, because all his evaluations were as an offensive lineman. Trucilla is an undersized but quick-twitchy three-tech with mostly MAC offers. This will give UVA six defensive tackles, which I'd complain about except that Jon Tenuta usually has the team in a nickel defense and doesn't usually have two DTs on the field. The position is probably at about the right depth. I just wish it would come at the expense of the WR depth instead of the O-line.
Defensive end - Naji Abdullah, Gladimir Paul, Steven Wright
Early assessment: "I'd say 2-3 is the target, but Jon Tenuta's philosophy might muddy up the numbers a little."
One phrase you hear a lot of now is "in the mold of Max Valles." Valles set the standard, more or less, for the pass-rushing linebacker that Tenuta wants, and yes, this is the defensive end section but the distinction now between DE and SLB is much less than on traditional defenses. In this case, UVA has brought in one more traditional DE (Wright) and two "athlete" types. This to go along with the several more "athlete" types signed in the past year or two. There's probably an overdone glut at this point.
Abdullah and Wright are late, January additions to the class, as the DE position had to be remade pretty quickly after a couple unsurprising decommitments. I don't think the losses of Brandon Wilson and Rasool Clemons were at all unforeseen by London and the staff, and they weren't slow in replacing them.
Linebacker - Eric Gallon, Dominic Sheppard, Jahvoni Simmons, C.J. Stalker
Early assessment: "This class does have to include, however, at least one prototype middle linebacker....I'd say a class of 2-4 would be in range, with three as the probable sweet spot."
You'll note the general lack of star power in this class. Of the 23 recruits, 15 are low-three-stars or less in Rivals's system. Only five are high-three-stars or higher. And of those five, three are linebackers. Looking only at this position, you'd think this was a top-15 class in the country.
Gallon is another late addition, and yes, London dropped the Max Valles comparison in his recruiting short. The other three are regular linebackers all the way, and all of them highly, highly sought-after. UVA probably would've been content with just Simmons and Stalker as their WLB and MLB candidates, but Chris Beatty brought some Signing Day excitement with him in the form of Sheppard, who is one of two former Wisconsin commits in the class. Sheppard was loaded down with an offer list that looked more like one for a high-four-star guy than a unanimous three-star. (I don't think they're all real, though. I think in terms of where he actually could have committed, his list is a little more modest.)
The numbers for the position are a little fat - 11 scholarship players - but such an infusion of talent as this nullifies any complaint.
Defensive back - Kareem Gibson, T.J. Griffin, Juan Thornhill
Early assessment: "One more DB besides Thornhill is all I want, but in the business of predicting, 3-4 total seems like a more likely bet."
Amazingly, left to his own devices, London would've given us exactly that - one more DB besides Thornhill, unless Myles Robinson ends up at corner. Griffin is another Beatty import, as well as a high school teammate of Jahvoni Simmons. I don't mind too much about what that does to the numbers; seven cornerbacks is perfectly fine, as it's 3.5 deep, and it's misleading to think of having only two starting cornerbacks anyway given the proliferation of nickel packages. You need three good ones. Thornhill makes a good addition to the safety corps, which is carrying six players - also fine. London used to be kind of drunk on defensive backs, but the position has been right-sized in recent years and smartly he didn't get excessive this year.
Made-up traditions are a staple of Signstravaganza, and the usual array of lists is important as ever.
Top five stories of the year:
1. Linebackers. I cannot help but be impressed at the haul. Even more astounding is the difference between the star power at this position and the lack thereof everywhere else.
2. Chris Beatty. Even bowl-less teams can have fun Signing Day surprises, and UVA made it happen by poaching Wisconsin's ace recruiter and then flipping two Badger commitments, one on Tuesday and one on the big day. These had been rumored to be in the works, so not totally out of the blue, but still enjoyable.
3. Decommitments. A record for the London era with four. Two were mainly academic-related. Rasool Clemons was always a longshot to qualify and the coaches had the unpleasant duty of flat-out telling Kareem McDonald he wasn't going to get in, either. Two others outright decided to leave. One had never visited UVA, the other left for a home-state school that was performing a hell of a lot better on the field. These things happen, it's true - but you also have to wonder if the coaches, out of necessity, had been taking a few more moonshots with guys who were more borderline in the classroom than their targets of years past.
4. Offensive line. Come on, man.
5. Low ratings and less competition. Competition in the form of offers, that is. As much as it's worth being reminded that star ratings don't always mean everything and there are lots of examples of star players who the scouting services had panned, it's also worth being reminded that they do tend to be pretty good predictors of future prowess. Far from fighting and beating some of the big boys the way London did in 2011, or bringing in some huge headliners like in 2014, the class has only one player in anyone's Top Whatever list (Jahvoni Simmons) and a huge pile of guys who'd be called fliers in past recruiting classes. In 24/7's composite list, Simmons comes in 150th in the country; the next-best guy is C.J. Stalker at 510th.
Five most likely to play as true freshmen:
1. C.J. Stalker
2. Jahvoni Simmons
3. Richard Burney
4. Chris Sharp
5. Tanner Cowley
All of these guys play positions - LB, TE, RB, that took huge hits from graduation and left behind a depth chart of entirely unproven players. Henry Coley and Daquan Romero sucked up almost every snap on defense, leaving a vacuum at MLB and WLB. Only Taquan Mizzell has any experience at RB, and TE is even thinner where Rob Burns is the only one to have made an appearance in a game. Plus, Stalker is an early enrollee.
Five I'm most excited about:
1. C.J. Stalker
2. Jahvoni Simmons
3. Dominic Sheppard
4. Nick Johns
5. Olamide Zacchaeus
Linebackers linebackers linebackers. I loved watching Coley and Romero, and the incoming group has a real chance to be worthy successors. And I rarely let this list go without putting an RB on it somewhere. Zacchaeus has some elusivity to him that gives him a large fun-to-watch potential.
1. Warren Craft
2. R.J. Proctor
3. Chris Sharp
To be on this list, you have to have been given the two-star of doom from at least one service, and man were there a lot of choices this year - ten, to be exact. Craft is funny because Rivals and Scout think he's two-star material, and ESPN gave him four, with a glowing scout's take. He's tall and athletic, and just as a fun bonus was once committed to VT on a basketball scholarship. Proctor is a boom-or-bust prospect as a lineman, with really long arms and a huge frame. Sharp was a very productive workhorse back in high school - not Kevin Parks level stuff, but he piled up yard all the same.
1. Jahvoni Simmons
2. C.J. Stalker
3. Nick Johns
4. Juan Thornhill
5. Dominic Sheppard
Once based on star averages, but there's too much homogeneity here - lots of across-the-board three-stars. So it's now based on 24/7's composite, except that I can't figure out how the hell their composite put Steven Wright above Sheppard when Sheppard rates higher on all but one system, so Sheppard it is.
Eat it, Shaney:
Eat it, Randy:
Eat it, Larry:
The list of our recruits who spurned our friends in Blacksburg, College Park, and Chapel Hill, respectively. No, I don't think we want to know how this looks the other way around. This list, by the way, was huge in 2011. Huge.
The ones that got away:
RB Jaason Lewis (Arizona State)
TE Chris Clark (UCLA)
OL Austin Clark (Virginia Tech)
OL Blake Camper (South Carolina)
OL Justin Skule (Vanderbilt)
LB Ricky DeBerry (Oklahoma)
DT Tim Settle (Virginia Tech)
Players who, at least at one point, looked like they had a realistic chance of ending up at UVA, and whose addition to the class would've made it noticeably better. Settle, I had to debate on, because his transcript is going to take a couple years to sort out. Chris Clark seemed to be really into UVA initially and likely would've given a longer look if our on-field results merited it. Lewis was recruited by London for a long time, but overcoming his desire to go out-of-state was too big of a hurdle.
That'll do it for now. Had there been such a thing as Signstravaganza 2008, I'd love to go back and compare. That's the class that this one most resembles. This one's larger, but the distribution of star-ratings is eerily similar. That class produced a few really good players, even some NFLers, but the vast majority of it busted out and the top end was for the most part a major disappointment. The stakes are higher for this class because it's that much bigger - it can't afford to have almost two-thirds of it be a complete waste like '08 was.