1. Who is the most important signee in this class?
EJ Holland: The obvious choice here is Traylon Shead because he's the best commit in this class and fills an immediate need. But I'm going to say Jeremiah Gaines. I'm choosing to do so because landing Gaines shows that SMU is capable of landing Dallas-area athletes, who hold multiple BCS offers. And the staff can also pitch this to the upcoming class by using Gaines as an example. We've already seen them visiting area schools and know it's not impossible for them to land high caliber kids from around the metroplex. It just takes time and effort. Gaines doesn't have to be an abnormal anomaly. For this reason, I feel the signing of Gaines is the most important thing that happened this recruiting season. He's a top tier player and can make an immediate impact for this team as a true freshman. His versatility will also help the Run N' Shoot continue to evolve from a prehistoric offense into a more modern and exciting offense.
Billy Embody: Traylon Shead. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound bruiser will be looked to take the starting running back role after Zach Line's departure. After talking with Dominic Espinosa, the Longhorns center, he said Shead is a great guy with a ton of talent and expects big things now that he is on the Hilltop. Shead's combination of size and speed will help him fit right into the Mustangs lineup. There is a huge need for a feature back in the Run N' Shoot now that Line has departed and Shead will be the most talented back under Jones at SMU.
Russell Palmer: Jeremiah Gaines. Beating out schools like Arizona State, TCU and California for Gaines's services was a huge step for the Mustangs as it was able to show that SMU can in fact beat out some of the top schools in the country for local talent. If the Mustangs can continue to out work the top programs in the country for local prospects, the Mustangs could build a viable winner in the Big East.
Beionny Mickles: Traylon Shead is the most important commit in SMU's class because of the importance of his position and who he will be taking over for. Zach Line was one of the most productive running backs in SMU history. At times Line was the only consistent part of an offense that sputtered along all season. Shead, a former Texas Longhorn, has the ability to come in and shine from the very first snap. He is fast, powerful and really the only player from the class that is a lock to start immediately. It is imperative that the running game has an impact in the offense next year not only for balance but to help Garret Gilbert. Everyone knows that Gilbert has the intangibles to be an elite quarterback but for some reason he hasn't stepped up to the plate in his college career. Now granted, he did not have adequate time to prepare for the complexities of June Jones' famous Run N' Shoot, but people expected more out of the former 5-Star quarterback out of Lake Travis. Shead must come in and carry the load next year to take some of the pressure off of Gilbert and to keep the offense two dimensional. He will be essential to the Mustangs' success. People will be watching to see if he can rise to the occasion and I think he can.
2. Who is the most underrated signee in this class?
EJ Holland: I believe it's Trey Washington. Yes, he probably has worst game of the year when most SMU fans were able to watch him play on television at the state championship. But Washington was very impressive when I saw him throughout the playoffs. He's a talented East Texas athlete who is extremely proud to be a Mustang. He will need a year or two to bulk up and really develop, but he has the height and speed to match up with taller and more physical wide receivers. I think Washington is that hidden gem in this class.
Beionny Mickles: Nate Halverson. I saw this guy's highlight tape and was very impressed with his entire game. His football IQ, his speed, his quickness, his position in coverage, his recovery speed. I love it all. He looks so natural on the field. I think that 5-foot-11 175-pounds is the absolute perfect size for a cornerback- not too tall and not too lean. He does have a choppy (but quick) back pedal that could be smoother but that can be corrected by SMU defensive backs coach Derrick Odum when he gets to campus. The only thing Halverson could get a bad wrap for is playing in the Northwest where the football isn't necessarily Texas High School Football if you get my drift. However, on film, he still looks fast enough and skilled enough to play with the big boys. With SMU's depth at the DB position, he won't make an impact anytime soon but I think he has a bright future ahead of him.
Russell Palmer: Deion Sanders Jr. Despite being a well-known Mustang in this class, Sanders' talent can sometimes be under looked over. Enrolling early, and being able to go through spring practices will allow Sanders to gain a competitive advantage on his fellow classmates in the race for early playing time. Sanders is shifty and elusive in the open field, and could be the perfect player to replace Darius Johnson in the slot.
Billy Embody: Nick Horton. Horton was injured most of the season for Garland (TX) and with his size, 6-foot-3, 220-pounds and speed, 4.5 forty, Horton should be able to play on special teams early. Horton, a two-star, is a smart kid and he will need to put on a little bit of weight to play outside linebacker but should have no problem doing that with his frame. Horton plays basketball as well so he is a good athlete and the SMU coaches have said he should be able to come in and compete for playing time early.
3. Who is the most overrated signee in this class?
EJ Holland: I've said this plenty of times and my opinion still hasn't changed despite a flood of emails that found their way into my inbox. Kolney Cassel is the most overrated recruit in this class. First of all, I have to give him kudos for his SMU pride and willingness to help the staff recruit. But, I really don't think he's that good of a player or the answer to SMU's problems at quarterback, which has plagued the Ponies. Many say Cassel has a rocket arm, but I've seen stronger arms in the Dallas-area and his footwork is really bad. Not too mention, he broke his leg midway through this year. With SMU moving into a better conference, I thought they would have landed a much better signal caller. There is a reason he has no other offers. I think he will sit behind Neal Burcham for almost his entire career at SMU.
Billy Embody: Travis Fister. While he has size at 6-foot-3, 270-pounds and will be playing guard in college, he plays extremely high even in the run game. In high school, he relied on his size to bulldoze opponents, but Fister cannot play that high in college. He's a little slow off the ball but again can lock up on run plays due to his size. In college, the three-star will have to play lower and improve his footwork in the pass game. His athleticism allows him to be a threat pulling around the side, but again he has relied on his size, not technique to do well in high school.
Russell Palmer: Kolney Cassel. Despite being ranked a three-star by most recruiting services, Cassel will have a tough time competing for playing time in his first few years on the Hilltop. His arm strength needs to be improved upon as well as his footwork. Cassel may redshirt his freshman year and then compete with Neal Burcham, who will be entering his third year in the program. If Cassel does not improve overall as a quarterback quickly, he could find himself sitting on the bench for a while.
Beionny Mickles: I think that Lufkin (TX) wide receiver JaBryce Taylor has very good hands and excels at going up and making acrobatic catches, but I don't think he is very polished or complete. At 6-foot-2 185-pounds, I think he's a little lean and should add a little bulk to his frame. I say that because it seems that his go to play is to put on the jets to run a fly route down the sideline to go up and get a jump ball over the cornerback. However, when a bigger more physical corner comes up to jam him at the line of scrimmage he needs to be big enough to hold his own. Another thing is, with his propensity to go up and get balls in the air, it will expose him to big hits and at a lanky 185 I don't know if he'll be able to take that punishment. In his film I also didn't see very much crispness in his routes or the ability to use his body to create separation. At the next level being able to do both of these well is extremely important. I think Taylor can be a good player, however, I think there are a couple of guys in the class who would be stronger options at wide receiver for the Mustangs this year.
4. Who is the prospect SMU will most regret missing out on?
EJ Holland: There were a lot, but the biggest recruit SMU missed out on was Demarcus Ayers. The Lancaster athlete is a phenomenal player and would have been an absolute stud on the Hilltop. In fact, he would have been ranked as the second best recruit in this class behind Shead. This whole process with Ayers was ludicrous and pathetic. After offering him, Phillips waited months to contact him again. Then he finally kept in contact and communication broke down. Then the big kahuna finally decided to get off his rump and personally visit him only to never speak to him again. Ayers had has set up his official visit to SMU and the Mustangs had him in the bag. But these coaches are who we thought they were, and they let Ayers off the hook. They weren't even professional enough to just let him know that they weren't going to pursue him anymore. Have fun trying to land another Lancaster kid. I understand there MIGHT have been a grade issue but with an open spot, you take a chance on a kid like Ayers.
Billy Embody: Dwayne Johnson. This 6-foot-6, 275-pound mammoth offensive tackle holds offers from Arkansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Purdue to name a few and took a trip to Washington State with Zelt Minor recently. The huge tackle from Houston Bellaire was considering SMU and would have been a great add if the SMU coaches would have stayed on him. SMU was full early along the line, but taking Johnson would have been a significant upgrade over any of the linemen in this class.
Russell Palmer: Brandon Hines. Rated a four-star prospect by ESPN, who held other offers from Baylor, Kansas St, Purdue and Kansas, visited the Hilltop, and then tried calling the SMU coaching staff to commit, but the coaches would not pick up his calls. Due to being over filled at the linebacker position, the SMU coaches would not accept his commitment, even though he would have been, in my opinion, the best linebacker, and perhaps even player in this entire class. Hines instead became New Mexico State's first commitment in November. Along with Hines was teammate and friend Prentavious Morehead, who had his own problems with the SMU coaches.
Beionny Mickles: Three names come to mind. Brandon Hines, D.J. Green and Dee Paul. Dee Paul is the one in the group that SMU really didn't have much control over. He is a great athlete and it was only a matter of time before the big offers started to get him starry-eyed. Had he come to SMU I think he could have had an immediate impact for the Mustangs but with his talent level he earned the right to be going to a Big XII university and it's really no surprise that he decided to do so. The other two on this list still make me scratch my head. Now before Mr. Embody has a heart attack, let me just say, I know that SMU has plenty of good linebackers. I know this. Tom Mason has done an excellent job making sure that they are good there for what should be quite some time. But I think that Hines and Green would have been the best two linebackers in the class. Hines was a beast at Kimball and played much bigger than his weight which most people considered to be small. He's quick, athletic, and is one of the players who can run sideline to sideline for you. He had great interest in SMU but I guess the coaches just didn't like him enough to make him a Mustang. I think that they should have at least given him a shot at linebacker and if they didn't see it working out trying him at safety. At the very least he would have been a great special teamer. The last guy is DJ Green, who I seriously believe wants to go to SMU so bad that if they were to offer him today he'd probably decommit for the second time and sign with them on the spot. However, more importantly than him wanting to go to the school, I think he has the credentials. He's 6-foot-2, 220-pounds and runs a 4.6. He's strong enough to fight off blocks and plug up holes (which the middle linebackers have to do frequently in the 3-4), he's disciplined and he's a great student. Any time a kid says that he would be willing to grey-shirt, or even apply for scholarships just so that he can walk on to your program there's something about him that you ought to consider.
5. How would you grade the SMU staff's efforts this year?
EJ Holland: First of all, I applaud the coaches for the job they're doing in 2014. A nice effort so far with minimal complaints. But this year was absolutely absurd. Never in my life as a reporter had I ever heard so many kids complain time and time again that they could not get a hold of these coaches. Even when a few were trying to commit, there was no communication. Jason Phillips' impact was anything but significant. The staff still did not understand what hitting the trail truly meant. Tom Mason and Bert Hill did a decent job, but everybody else seemed to be putting in minimum effort. June and Wes Suan were sunbathing on the islands as heated battles were going on. Absurd. This class was an utter disappointment considering the conference shift and the amount of years June's been here. I'm giving them a D. The only reason they don't get an F is because they landed Shead and Gaines and managed to hold on to Minor.
Beionny Mickles: Let me start by giving props where they are due. I think that defensive line Coach Bert Hill and defensive coordinator Tom Mason have done a very good job with recruiting. Two of the recruits that I cover most, Jeremiah Gaines and Everett Dickerson, have told me every time I've spoken to them that they speak to Coach Hill on a weekly basis even if it's just to make sure that everything is ok. Hill has gone to visit his recruits on numerous occasions and makes sure that they know SMU is still interested in them. Mason has also gone on visits out to various parts of Texas to recruit. A number of recruits have told me that Mason calls them just to chat sometimes about things that aren't even football related. As far as developing relationships with recruits and more importantly, maintaining these relationships, I think that Mason and Hill have done their job well. I can't really say the same for the rest of the staff. Too many times there have been recruits going weeks and even months without talking to their recruiter. Another thing that SMU coaches have developed a bad reputation for is stringing along recruits at first and then not getting back to them once they lose interest. This presents a problem for two reasons: one, because it's just plain rude to have a kid considering your school and thinking that you have mutual interest when you don't. The second reason is because high school coaches get wind of these things and it would be completely justifiable for them to cut off communication between the SMU coaches and their players. I will refrain from saying the names of any specific coaches but many of them can do better. It does seem that June has taken notice of the mediocrity of this latest class and from the way that he has been on the road and in homes recently he wants to increase the talent for the classes of 2014 and 2015. Change starts at the top so it looks like SMU may be heading in the right direction but consistency is key.
Russell Palmer: All in all it was not a great year for the SMU coaches on the recruiting trail. The coaches whiffed on numerous players, many of who would have been the best player at their respective position. Also, it was not great when recruits told me SMU would offer them a scholarship, and then never follow through and remain in contact, despite still maintaining interest in the Mustangs. Things seem to be picking up lately, as stories have surfaced of June Jones finally visiting local schools and 2014 recruits, which is an improvement from the past. If Jones and his staff can continue to visit local powerhouse programs and develop a good reputation amongst these schools, SMU could have more success on the recruiting trail.
Billy Embody: The SMU coaching staff had trouble staying in contact with some recruits, but came out firing after the New Years, visiting many schools even if the 2014 class was the focus. The staff gets to a B- because of their recent efforts in closing down some of the commits and trying to work the connections with the current class to get a good start on 2014. The staff could have done more to stay in contact with recruits, but this class was probably affected by June Jones possibly leaving for ASU after last season.
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