Appalachian State has completed National Signing Day with an 18-man class and sprung immediately into spring practice on February 6th. Despite the visibility of signing day and spring ball there’s even more work going on behind the scenes with regard to evaluating 2018 recruiting prospects.
From graduate assistants to the primary staff, everyone received geographic assignments from Secondary Coach and Recruiting Coordinator Scot Sloan and the individual player assessments have already begun. Literally thousands of prospects will be studied, graded, and ranked for further evaluation by position group coaches, all the way through to Head Coach Scott Satterfield as potential offer candidates.
There are some safe assumptions that apply in every recruiting cycle – Appalachian will always sign a handful of linemen on both sides of the ball with a focus on offensive tackles, at least one quarterback and running back, two to three wide receivers, etc. But, there are almost always unique position group needs that extend beyond a typical recruiting template.
Graduation, attrition, injury, failure to develop – there are any number of reasons, or more specifically combinations of them, that can shift focus and urgency to specific position groups. 2018 will be no different.
Based on future graduations, the existing depth chart, and the incoming 2017 recruiting class, App State Mania assesses the position groups of greatest need for 2018.
Graduating After ‘17: Eric Boggs (ILB), Devan Stringer (OLB Anchor), Rashaad Townes (OLB Dog)
The graduations of ILB John Law and OLB Kennan Gilchrist coupled with the post-2017 losses of Boggs, Stringer, and Townes signals a turnover of iconic defenders that projects to have started nearly 200 games between all of them by the end of 2017. It’s a huge changing of the guard across the linebacker group.
There is younger and exciting talent behind these pillars, in Anthony Flory, Edward Davis, Jordan Fehr at inside linebacker and Akeem Davis and Noel Cook at outside linebacker. But, even Flory graduates after 2018, and other than Akeem Davis none of the others have significant game-snaps at their positions.
Add to this a thinner than desired 2017 linebacker class, at least in terms of total signees (especially at outside linebacker) and now the 2018 linebacker haul becomes the most important, in terms of quality and quantity. Expect 4-5 total linebackers with a ratio of around two inside and, ideally, three outside (one Anchor and two at Dog).
Graduating After ‘17: Caleb Fuller (DE), Tee Sims (DE)
The graduation hit after 2017 isn’t as big along the defensive line as it is at linebacker, but there is simply a lot of still-to-be-proven young depth in the group. Fuller and Sims are both highly productive ends (54 combined tackles, 17.5 for loss, 10 sacks in 2016).
There is plenty of excitement surrounding the new group of both defensive ends and nose tackles, but uncertainty comes along with the group based on nothing more than sheer inexperience. At defensive end, in addition to returnees Okon Godwin and Devin Papenheim are redshirt freshmen Elijah Diarrassouba, Matthew McClurg, and Chris Willis. True freshman Jermaine McDaniel will join that group this fall, following spring recovery from shoulder surgery.
At the nose, 2016 breakout star Myquon Stout (rising junior) is backed by redshirt sophomore Brody Barrett (seven games in 2016) and redshirt freshman Baer Hunter.
Look for Appalachian to target 4-5 defensive linemen in 2016 recruiting, including 2-3 defensive ends with one of those having the frame to potentially grow into a nose tackle. After signing no natural nose tackles in the past two classes, 2018 is especially urgent for the position. Don’t be surprised to see App State consider junior-college transfer help to bridge the 2018-19 gap and sign a true freshman at the position, as well.
Graduating After ‘17: Shaedon Meadors
Of course, Appalachian will sign multiple receivers in all slots in any given class but of particular interest in 2018 could be the outside/X-wide receiver spot, today manned by Shaedon Meadors.
Incoming freshman Thomas Hennigan fits the X-spot but in replacing Meadors there’s a very specific physical trait that’s important – game-changing speed. Now, don’t be mistaken, Hennigan can run, but Meadors flies. While it’s not absolutely necessary to have a burner at X, for example Malachi Jones was very effective at the spot for App, the ability to take a defense over the top holds unique value.
Redshirt sophomore Mock Adams returns to back-up Meadors in 2017 and he’s a very imposing physical receiver, but also not a stopwatch guy when it comes to elite speed. One possibility is the shift of redshirt freshman Jalen Virgil, who may be the fastest Mountaineer at any position, though he perhaps fits the other outside slot (Z) better.
App State will likely sign no less than three total receivers but look for the staff to prioritize a true burner with lengthy range in the group, who can keep a defense honest when they come to stack the box against the Mountaineer run game.
Graduating After ‘17: Levi Duffield
In App State’s run-first offense, an effective blocking tight end, or H-back as he typically lines up in the backfield, is a critical though sometimes undervalued offensive weapon.
Levi Duffield has been the primary blocker out of that slot for the past two seasons and he’s coming up on his final year. Now, this isn’t to say that Collin Reed, Mitchell McClurg, or even potentially true freshman Zeke Brandle aren’t capable of holding down blocking duties. But, traditionally, the receiving tight ends tend to be better at catching vs. blocking and vice versa.
It’s always possible there could be a player move from another position on the team to H-back, but having another tight end with blocking capabilities, especially in the event that Brandle ends up playing elsewhere, is perhaps a lower-level priority but not an unimportant one.