In a word, this is an athletic class. The Bears loaded up on linemen the past few seasons, signing 10 offensive or defensive linemen in 2014 and 9 in 2013. This year there were just 5. The 2015 class focused on athleticism and speed. Guys that could play multiple positions are scattered throughout the 19 signees.
The class started with two high profile commitments, both with that positional flexibility that the Baylor staff wanted. Chad President and Blake Lynch committed to the Bears to get the party started. We all know what happened with President’s decommitment from the Bears. Lynch though was the cornerstone of this class pretty much from the start. A quarterback his junior year, Lynch transferred to Gilmer High School where he was primarily a wide receiver, running back or secondary player. The multi-talented Lynch is the second highest rated recruit in this class, but probably has already had the biggest impact.
While Lynch was the first multi-dimensional athlete to give his pledge to the Bears and stick with it, he would not be the last. JaMycal Hasty would commit in March, with his ability to be a big-play running back and a weapon out of the slot in the passing game. Sam Tecklenberg would commit a few weeks later in April, and he could see time at tight end, guard, center, or somewhere on the defensive line. Clay Johnston, who flew up recruiting rankings after a head-turning performance at the Dallas SPARQ combine in May. Add in one of the best athletes in the state of Texas in J.W. Ketchum, and you get a group of very athletic players.
This class is loaded at the defensive back position, and the most common trait is speed. The headliner is the aforementioned Ketchum, who played quarterback at Lamar High School. Safety appears to be the future position for the 6-foot standout. A strongly built 200 pounds, Ketchum could even slide to the other side of the ball and play running back. As a safety though, he profiles as a true game changer, where his body control, short area burst and change of direction could make him a star.
Joining him in the defensive backfield are 6-foot-2 athlete Jameson Houston, 5-foot-11 cornerback Jordan Tolbert, 5-foot-11 speedster Tony Nicholson, and 6-foot corner Henry Black. All five have at least average height for their position and bring speed to the secondary. With the performance of the secondary the biggest issue with the Baylor program right now, taking quite a few prospects makes sense.
The issue though is that outside of Ketchum, the rest of the newest Bears profile more as projects, or at best, a level below the game-changers that the Bears were involved in at one point. There is no Kris Boyd or Holton Hill in this class. No 4 or 5-star stud with offers from a who’s who of college bluebloods. The Bears swung for the fences early with their defensive back recruiting. Here is a list of the cornerbacks they went after, and where they ended up:
· Kris Boyd – Texas
· Holton Hill – Texas
· James Locke – Texas
· Antoine Stephens – Oklahoma
Every single one of those players is ranked above the bears top cornerback signee in terms of the scout rankings (Jordan Tolbert). Sheffield is a 5-star recruit, with Boyd, Hill and Mbanasor 4-stars. The first four names on that list happen to be the Top-4 corners in the state of Texas. Baylor missed on all four of them. You add in the 4-star safeties that did not choose Baylor to that list (Deionte Thompson – Alabama, Justin Dunning, Larry Pryor and Rodney Elam all to Texas A & M, DeShon Elliott – Texas, and Kahlil Haughton – Oklahoma) and that is a total of 12 top level secondary recruits that Baylor missed on.
This is not to say that they did not get some good projects in this class, but that is what the majority are at this point. Projects, which will take 1-2 years to get to a good enough level to play. Tolbert is the most highly recruited (with offers from Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona State and Wisconsin) and profiles as the best cornerback from this group, but he tore his ACL right before he committed and missed the entire 2014 season.
Another position where the Bears went athlete first is linebacker, with Clay Johnston, Lenoy Jones Jr. Jordan Williams and Eric Ogor all signing with the Bears. Baylor added the last three in mid-January after missing out on some of the high impact recruits in Texas. Johnston and Ogor are the stars of this group, with Ogor being a late qualifier that stayed on the Bears radar throughout the season. With 134 tackles, 34 tackles for loss, 15 sacks and a ridiculous 9 forced fumbles, the 2-star unranked linebacker is a true playmaker.
The highest rated linebacker signee, Clay Johnston is another impressive athlete, who impressed at the Dallas Nike Football Sparq Combine putting up a SPARQ score higher than several 4-star recruits. Johnston profiles as an outside linebacker, or maybe in the nickel role that Collin Brence most recently played.
Again though, the Bears missed out on the top-tier of recruits. Malik Jefferson, Cameron Townsend and Anthony Wheeler chose Texas. Landis Durham and Richard Moore are off to Texas A&M. The Bears missed on the state’s BEST linebackers again, and had to settle for guys with untapped potential.
Overall, this class is one where Briles and Bennett can mix and match the pieces to fit where they have needs. They have guys that can play multiple positions littered throughout this defense heavy class (8 offense, 10 defense, 1 special teams). The Baylor coaches have decisions on where to line certain guys up like J.W. Ketchum (safety, running back, wide receiver), Sam Tecklenburg (Guard, Center, Defensive Line), or Jameson Houston (Corner, Safety, outside linebacker).
The Bears checked one big item off of their list, a top-notch 5-star quarterback of the future. Briles knows as well as anyone that it starts with your quarterback. If you don’t have one, you aren’t going to be a great team. Ask Texas how it is searching the dessert of the quarterback landscape for a signal caller that can actually win them a game. Ask Oklahoma how life is like with a loaded team with stars all over the field, but no quarterback to run the ship. The Bears got the biggest piece of the puzzle with Jarrett Stidham.
In the end though, this class fell a step lower than I thought it would. It is a class that is probably a 4-star recruit or two from making pretty much every Baylor fan very happy with what Art Briles brought in. This class would look much better with a 4-star Cornerback or Linebacker in it. It is a good class, one that has Art Briles “giddy with excitement”, but one that has some fans of the 2-time Big 12 champs still wanting for more.