Updating WSU's '15 recruiting needs, numbers

WITH THREE VERBAL pledges this past week, Washington State is now ahead of last year’s commitment pace. And with 11 known verbal commitments, Mike Leach now has nearly 45 percent of his class on board before August. Here’s how we project the Cougs going forward.

All three of the verbals this week – WR Dominic Davis, OL Cedric Bigge-Duren and K Matt Abramo, will play on the offensive side of the ball at WSU but we project for Mike Leach to take more defensemen than offensive players in the class.

First, though, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the rarity that was this past week. July is always the slowest month on the recruiting calendar but the Cougs closed it out with a flourish.

Leach had seven verbal pledges at this time last year, as compared to the 10 in this class.

Those seven verbal commits had a 2.85 average star rating. This year’s group has a 3.20 average.

Here’s our projection for the 2015 class, with a few caveats. The final number, and the numbers at each position, remain in flux over the course of a recruiting year. And if the Cougs are faced with a top-of-the-line prospect who wants to come to WSU but at a position they've already filled their needs at, Washington State will find room for him.

QB
Projected to sign: 1
Verbal Commits: Tyler Hilinski, 3-stars.

Hilinski looks like exactly what Leach looks for in a QB to run his offense -- accurate, poised and a good decision-maker. He’s performed well this offseason in 7-on-7 tournaments and competitions. Room for improvement, according to Scout.com’s Greg Biggins, resides in his learning to put more zip on the ball in long out and post routes. That said, Biggins calls him a great fit for the WSU offense. He was offered by Cal not long after he verballed to WSU and turned the Bears down, saying he was “as committed as it gets” to WSU. Despite the departure of Tyler Bruggman, we do not project WSU to take a second quarterback because Leach and crew are high on Luke Falk, a redshirt-freshman walk on. Next year, Peyton Bender will be a second-year freshman and Hilinski a true freshman.
RB
Projected to sign: 1
Verbal Commits: James Williams, 3-stars
The running back position is seeing a major change at both the college and NFL level – for the second straight year there were no running backs taken in the first round of the NFL draft. But our projection has nothing to do with that but rather, WSU is flush at the RB position for 2014 – they’re five-deep with all of them Pac-12 quality starters. Theron West and Marcus Mason do graduate after this season but that still leaves are seniors Teondray Caldwell, Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks back for 2015, plus Williams. And Williams is slippery, athletic and a true all-purpose threat who can run, catch and return the ball. He's a good “skater,” as Keith Jackson used to call the good ‘uns, and that gets him to the second level. Williams ran for 1,469 in 2013 and 1,443 yards in 2012 at Burbank High, just missing the single-season school record of 1,504 yards. His 2,912 career rushing yards over two seasons are a school record, coming on 297 touches (9.81 yards per carry) and his all-purpose yardage last year, 2,307 hashes, was also a program best.

WR
Projected to sign: 3
Verbal Commits: Deontay Burnett, 3-stars; Dominic Davis, 3-stars
Washington State beat out Miami, Utah and others for Burnett and it’s likely they’ll have to fend off other suitors later this season. Burnett played in the shadow of some good ones at Serra High in Gardena, Calif., last year and after a breakout spring, it seems likely he’ll only see more ink coming out of the Southern Los Angeles area as the season goes along. But Burnett has said WSU is the best fit for him, better than the UCLA’s and USC’s of the world. Meanwhile, Davis is arguably the fastest prospect in all of California. He’s made 7v7 tournaments this offseason his personal barn of yarn, with reporters on hand dubbing him the best player present in some impressive gatherings. Davis is also hugely enamored of Leach’s offense and made his verbal pledge to WSU despite, CF.C was told by a prep source, USC imploring him to wait and not commit to the Cougs. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Davis jump up to 4-stars at some point this recruiting cycle, he’s looked that good and that fast this offseason. Some uncommitted prospects to keep an eye on include Andre Baccellia out of Westlake Village, Calif., who is in town this weekend on an unofficial, Ryan Davis out of Saint Petersburg, Florida; Federal Way's Chico McClatcher and Tony Brown out of La Mirada, Calif.

OL
Projected to sign: 5-6
Verbal Commits: Cedric Bigge-Duren
Bigge-Duren is rated two stars but there’s more to that story: He’s dropped about 20-pounds since last season and Leach, Clay McGuire and the WSU staff got an up-close look at him in San Diego in June at a satellite camp WSU was working. He might be ready to earn a lot more ink, and interest, from schools in his senior season. Leach has more offers out to o-linemen than to any other group. And much like the 2014 o-linemen on the roster, they’re athletic and large – Bigge-Duren is 6-6, 295-pounds, so imagine what he’ll look like after a couple years in WSU’s system and at the training table. Among those to watch include 6-5, 315-pounder Noah Myers out of Walnut Creek, Calif., who is in town this weekend on an unofficial. Myers has said he wants to wait until at least midseason and see if other Pac-12 schools will come calling, though it’s worth noting Davis had said he had no impending plans to commit this summer either… right up until he did on Thursday. Others on the crimson radar include Portland’s Blake Brandel, who checks in at 6-foot-7, Sacramento's Darin Paulo (Darryl's brother) who is already 6-6, 320-pounds, 6-foot-5 Kevin Estes from San Marcos, Calif., Dru Samia out of Danville, Calif., Branden Bowen (6-7, 320) from Draper, Utah; and Folsom's Cody Creason (6-4, 270).

DL
Projected to sign: 4
Verbal Commits: Thomas Toki, 4-stars
Toki verballed very early to WSU while at Kirkland’s Juanita High, moved to California and began to open the door back up. But this spring he went on an unofficial visit to Pullman with his mom and both came back singing the praises of WSU. (There’s also been some unconfirmed internet chatter this week than Toki might actually be coming back to Juanita for his senior year.) While it's a long recruiting year, at the end of the day mom looks to be solidly in WSU's corner and it would be hard, very hard, for Toki to say no to Joe Salave'a at the end of the day. Other DLs to watch for include Santa Ana’s Olive Sagapolu, Norwalk's Dillon Faamatau; Murrieta's Tevita Mounga; Encino’s Vaimoe Sekona and Salt Lake City's Mufi Hunt.

LB
Projected to sign: 4
Verbal Commits: Aaron Porter
Porter is flat out rare - the term versatile doesn’t do him justice. He is capable of playing all four (yes, four) of WSU’s linebacker positions. That means he can play with his hand up or down, come off the edge or in the box, has advanced coverage skills and has the lateral quickness to seam off the edge. The former 4-star prospect and UCLA Bruin will have 2-to-play-2 at Washington State once he arrives from junior college. He is expected to be able to enroll early and arrive on the Palouse in January. Other ‘backers that could join Porter at Wazzu in the coming weeks and months include Mustafa Branch; D.J. Beavers out of Encino, Calif., Porter Gustin out of Salem, Utah; Santa Monica's Terrance Jackson; Upland's Josh Woods; Etiwanda's Khaylan Thomas and Puyallup's Mason Tobeck.

DBs
Projected to sign: 4-5
Verbal Commits: Austin Joyner, 4-stars; Kameron Powell, 4-stars; Darrien Molton, 3-stars
Washington State has an impressive early DB haul here. The Cougs have already scored a pair of high-value defensive back prospects in Joyner, a corner, and Powell, a safety. They also have Molton in the fold, considered one of the top cover corners in all of California this cycle. Others in the WSU defensive back orbit: Encino safety Marvell Tell, who is in high demand. Tell would be a huge recruiting win for Leach. But there are a good-sized number of other highly regarded DBs out there too, including Cameron Haney out of L.A.; Waco's Kahlil Haughton; Philip Afia from Chino Hills, Calif., Quinn Fabrizio from Sandy, Utah; Stephen Johnson from San Leandro, Shawn Wilson from Pomona and several more.

K/P
Projected to sign: 1
Verbal Commit: Matt Abramo
WSU wasn’t going to sign a kicker just to sign a guy, they were going to find a quality placekicker or they were going to continue to go the walk on route. The Cougs got their man this past week – Abramo has arguably the strongest leg in the nation according to kicking guru Chris Sailer. He will be able to immediately step in and make a difference on kickoffs in 2015, assuming the Cougs choose to play him as a true freshman and not redshirt him. After connecting on 10-of-16 field goals as a junior, CougFans will be keeping a close eye on Abramo his senior season to see if his percentage climbs and also, in what is becoming something of a predictor for elite kickers, if he has a higher percentage than most in converting attempts of 40 or more yards.


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