Mike Bobo and his staff have done a tremendous job on the recruiting trail since arriving at Colorado State. Bobo has already reaped the rewards of signing so many talented recruits, as 14 freshmen from the 2016 class played in over 2,000 plays last season. This year, Bobo is planning on potentially playing even more, as the Rams signed one of the top Group of Five classes in the country last week, according to Scout.
Inside The Rams pauses to celebrate the highly-regarded class by handing out a variety of class awards, something publisher Ryan Krous has done for five consecutive years. As always, we welcome the insight and feedback from CSU fans in our premium community of Rams fans in our ITR Premium Message Board.
The Big Fish
If we're going off CSU's announced signing day list, this award goes to Preston Williams, without question. The former Tennessee Volunteer was Scout's no. 1 rated wide receiver in the nation and a 5-star coming out of high school in 2015. Williams is CSU's highest-rated transfer of the Scout era, topping former 4-star Dee Hart and 3-star Joey O'Connor. Williams will have to sit out the 2017 season since he played in four games for the Vols in 2016, but Williams is a rare talent that folks in Fort Collins aren't used to seeing suit up in the Green and Gold. Now, it obviously remains to be seen if he can reach the status of all-time great Rashard Higgins, but on paper, Williams checks off all the boxes you'd want from a big time wideout - 6-foot-4, a muscular build, great hands, breakaway speed in open space, great leaping ability, on-field confidence, quick feet in change-of-direction, getting low on his breaks, etc. etc. Williams is an enormous addition for the Rams and all eyes will be on the former Under Armour All-American in 2018.
Instant Impact Player
Junior college addition Ben Knox wins the award here. The giant, 6-foot-6, 325-pound offensive tackle is on a path toward earning a starting tackle position for the Rams, should all go according to plan. He is on-campus working out with the team, which is a huge plus. He and fellow JUCO tackle Tyler Bjorklund could very well be bookend tackles for the Rams when they open the season against Colorado in Denver. Knox is a huge, athletic tackle with college experience. Bobo targeted him early as a top offensive line target and the Rams were thrilled to land him. Knox was a great addition to the class and the fact he is already on campus acclimating himself to the team should go a long way in helping to prepare him for the fall.
Top Offensive Signee
In a bit of a twist, I'm going with Justice McCoy here (I'm sticking with a prep signee as opposed to a JUCO or Williams). While the Rams have a boatload of high-potential additions on offense - receivers Warren Jackson and EJ Scott, tailback Marcus McElroy, 3-star tight ends Griffin Hammer and Cam Buter, and a handful of talented linemen - McCoy is a true dual-threat QB CSU hasn't really had of late. He proved himself as an electric runner and thrower for three years in the hotbed of New Orleans. I just think that when you boil it all down, McCoy could be a huge addition considering the importance of the quarterback position. I will admit to being biased - I love dual-threat QBs and what an effective one can bring to the table. McCoy will need to bulk up and refine his passing skills, which a redshirt year would really help with. While it can be foolish to look too far down the road, I don't think it's out of the question that, if all goes to plan, McCoy could take over the starting role by his redshirt-sophomore year. Time will tell, but the Rams were very fortunate to have him available so late in the game. While his throwing numbers may not be as impressive as other recent additions, he is a better thrower than I think he is generally given credit for. I am bullish on McCoy's long term potential. And don't rule out Bobo throwing wrinkles into the offense to use McCoy in ways to get him the ball, whether that be QB, WR, wildcat, reverse passes, or anything along those lines.
Top Defensive Signee
Mullen 3-star DB Christian Cumber gets the nod here. He is the all-around defensive player that I believe is the most well-rounded and physically ready of all the prep signees. He also has tremendous upside. The Rams have been desperate for defensive backs who can straight up cover. Cumber can do that. Not just that, but he is physically imposing and isn't afraid to come up and make a tackle. With great ball skills (8 career picks), Cumber was a steal for the Rams. Michigan State, Wisconsin and Colorado offered earlier in the recruiting process and CSU is fortunate to have him, thanks to tenacious recruiting efforts from Marty English and Terry Fair. Expect Cumber to come in immediately and compete for a spot within CSU's top four corner spots, as well as nickel and possibly field safety. I would be surprised if he doesn't make a name for himself early on in fall camp if he comes in confident and ready to compete.
Freshman Most Likely to Make an Immediate Splash
I hinted at this one already, but Christian Cumber could be the guy that makes the biggest immediate impact. On paper, he checks all the boxes. He was a star at Mullen and already has a college-ready body. He has a team mindset, and provided he can work hard and learn the schemes and techniques he needs to keep up with bigger, faster, more-skilled wideouts at the college level, he could play a big role against Colorado in the opener. Robert Awunganyi came on last last year, but took a month before he started to really make a splash. Cumber may not need that long, but time will tell for the 5-foot-11, 185-pounder.
Here, it's a toss-up between three underrated defenders in Livingston Paogofie, Patrick Moody and Emmanuel Jones. All three are huge and explosive linebackers, but I'm going to give the edge to Paogofie on this one. The 6-foot-1.5, 250-pounder won Dallas-Fort Worth Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2016 after a 10-sack, 93-tackle performance. He will probably play Buck outside linebacker, but because he is already so big, strong and explosive, he could grow into a menacing defensive lineman. Paogofie is a college-ready athlete that I see playing right away, either backing up Evan Colorito, or spending time at defensive end. He has a rare blend of quality thickness, low center of gravity, strength, leverage, and explosiveness that should enable him to see the field immediately this fall. When it's all said and done, Paogofie could be an all-conference type performer for the Rams, and that could happen sooner rather than later.
The One Who Got Away
Welp, where to begin? The Rams shot for the stars - literally. I could list a myriad of prospects here. But let's face it, Bobo wasn't shy about competing with the best for kids he truly coveted. It's normal to miss out on literally dozens and dozens of top guys throughout the recruiting process - teams of CSU's stature typically have around 300 players on their big board, which is constantly in flux and being updated. So if we go back all the way to last spring, CSU lost out on many of its top players at each position, so this "award" is somewhat hard to pin down and describe. The Rams reached for many top-rated kids, but for me, it's a matter of picking a kid CSU had a legitimate shot at, or even had committed previously.
I know I'm breaking the rule here, but I can't go with just one guy. CSU is bringing in a boatload of potential program-changers, but had they won a few more huge names, this class could have been unreal good. While I'm tempted to list a dozen (or more) names here, I've narrowed it to three: DL Reggie Howard, DE David Porter and WR Braylon Sanders. Howard visited CSU in July and committed in the weeks following, remaining a CSU pledge well into the fall. At the time, he was arguably CSU's top commit - a 6-foot-5, 280-pound DE/DT who could do it all. Not only that, but he was physically imposing and would have shored up CSU's defensive front immediately, since he was a JUCO transfer. The Cincinnati native ultimately flipped to Toledo, a surprise flip nonetheless and a huge loss to CSU's class. He signed with the Rockets in December. Howard likely would have competed for a starting job at defensive end and spent time at nose tackle, too, in Ricky Logo's three-man front.
Porter is a name many Rams fans should be familiar with at this point. He was a longtime CSU target, but things didn't heat up for the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder until the weeks leading up to signing day. Porter pledged to CSU soon after his official visit on January 21, picking CSU over offers from Kansas State, Texas, Iowa State, Rutgers, and many others. The Little Rock native took a surprise visit to childhood favorite Arkansas the weekend before NSD and flipped to Arkansas just three days before signing day. It was a massive blow to the Rams' hopes at earning the top spot in Scout's Mountain West Conference rankings (CSU finished second).
The final name is the 'big fish' in the class, 4-star Braylon Sanders. The do-everything wideout picked up offers from Georgia, Ole Miss and Mississippi State last spring and listed a top four of that trio plus CSU for many months. He kept quiet throughout much of his recruitment, picking up an offer from Georgia Tech and receiving heavy interest from Notre Dame after his season concluded. CSU never wavered in its pursuit of Sanders, doing as many in-home visits as possible and peppering him with as much communication as they were allowed. Two nights before signing day, Ole Miss re-affirmed its early offer and Sanders informed CSU the night before NSD he would choose the Rebels over fellow finalist CSU. It was a massive blow to CSU's class, especially at the Rams' chance of making a national splash in the final rankings. Sanders would have been CSU's first 4-star signee of the Scout era (not including grad-transfers).
The "ones that got away" are stark reminders of just how crazy and cutthroat the game of recruiting can be. But it's also a reminder of how far CSU has come in just three years under Bobo and what kind of splash his staff has made on the national scene. CSU has proven to be a force to be reckoned with nationally on the recruiting trail.
This is another tough category, because several athletes fit the description. Darius Wise and Jadon Walker were both explosive quarterbacks who played cornerback on the side, while late addition Darius Campbell was an electric two-way skill player. Since I have to pick one, I'll say Walker. He will play corner for the Rams. He sports size (6-foot-1) and speed (sub-4.5-forty) and is a track star for Chapel Hill in Georgia. He could end up returning kicks and may even play receiver, but as long as he has the ball in his hands, he is a big play waiting to happen. Because he is bigger, he is deceptively fast, but he can cut on a dime and can flat out make plays. CSU doesn't have a Detrich Clark type addition in the class (an argument could be made for Campbell, but he will end up at corner), but Walker was a dynamic threat who earned region offensive player of the year honors in Douglasville, Georgia.
Most Physically Ready
If I'm including the junior college additions, I would say Tyler Bjorklund. But I will stick with a prep for this award, so I'll say Cumber. I've already broken down why I think he could flourish immediately. He's skilled, experienced, already has a college-ready body, and can make plays. Perhaps beyond that, I think he can fulfill all the responsibilities of a cornerback or nickel. He can cover in man or zone, tackle in the open field, make calls or necessary adjustments, and I think he can lead. Aside from Cumber, I also believe Patrick Moody (also a very underrated addition), Marcus McElroy, Paogofie, Warren Jackson, and E.J. Scott are just as college-ready.
Livingston Paogofie wins again. While I believe he will play outside linebacker, there is a chance he bulks up and plays defensive line. He's just under 6-foot-2, but I could see him tacking on 30-40 pounds and playing defensive tackle, too. He also spent time as a prep at inside linebacker, and because of his explosiveness and instincts, that also is not out of the question. So, in theory, he could play up to half the positions on defense. He has experience playing on the line and linebacker, so I'm curious to find out how he develops.
The Mullen duo are a bit of a surprise because I (wrongfully) believed they would end up out of state for college, but I'll go with Justice McCoy here. McElroy and Cumber both sited their excitement in playing close to home, so that isn't completely surprising. Plus, CSU had recruited the pair for three-plus seasons. McCoy, however, was an interesting addition because it appeared he was all but gone this summer. Though he visited last March, he didn't seem as hot about CSU, and once CSU got a commit from Ryan Glover, McCoy liked the idea of staying in the South and chose FAU. Once the perfect situation arose - CSU had a QB opening and McCoy's situation was sticky because of the coaching change at FAU - he quickly jumped aboard CSU's class when Bobo came calling later in the process. For that, I'm surprised he actually ended up at CSU because of how his recruitment played out.
Windsor linebacker Corte Tapia. Provided CSU offered, he was a near shoe-in to join the Rams. Once they did this summer, Tapia quickly committed and never wavered. A Power Five offer may have given him more to think about, but his connections to Marty English and growing up a Rams fan played big roles in his decision to stick with the Rams.
Best Position Group
CSU's offensive line group is impressive on multiple levels. For one, there are seven signees. A quarter of the class is offensive linemen. Not only is there quantity, but there is talent and size. The pair of JUCO signees could start, or at least be a big part of the rotation this fall. The others will likely redshirt, but don't count out Lebron, Brooks or Firment from playing at guard right away. This is one area that the CSU staff clearly targeted as one that needed immediate upgrading, even though it wasn't necessarily a glaring weakness. Bobo and Will Friend know that with the current arsenal of star skill players, a dominant and deep offensive line could make the CSU offense downright potent game in and game out for years to come.
The defensive front remains a question mark, but it's not for lack of effort. Plus, CSU has two scholarships it can afford to spend on a graduate transfer(s) and/or junior college defensive linemen as late additions to the class. CSU tried to land impact bigs on Logo's defensive line (Reggie Howard and David Porter, especially). Ellison Hubbard is a very nice addition and he should see the field as a freshman. Christian Howard is also a solid signee, though he did not put up overly dominant numbers in 2016 at Independence. Firment was a two-way player, but it's unlikely CSU moves him to defense. For now, the two additions are certainly welcomed, but CSU could use, really, at least one more, possibly two more defensive tackles. At this point, they would be fortunate to find two available players that fit that description. Otherwise, versatile defensive ends could at least shore up some depth. Transfers with college experience and college-ready bodies would be a major plus.