Bell Photo

Cougar 2016 class roundtable with 5 experts

RECRUITING EXPERTS from and CF.C weigh in on six burning questions on Mike Leach’s 2016 recruiting class. With Signing Day upon us, we present a roundtable discussion featuring Brandon Huffman and Greg Biggins of, and Braulio Perez, Jack Evans and Barry Bolton of CF.C, offering up their picks for sleepers, immediate contributors and more for the 2016 Wazzu crop.

Who do you think is the biggest sleeper in the class?
Biggins: DB Isaiah Love, hurt end of the summer but when healthy, he's one of the top cover corners in the West. (Note: As CF.C reported earlier, Love is not expected to sign today. There's a chance he could come to WSU in August but a prep source tells CF.C he is expected to delay enrollment and arrive in January 2017, with WSU wanting to give him more time to recover from car accident (neck) this past summer).

Huffman: I know he’s not signing today but as long as the possibility of him blueshirting is still out there, it’s enough for me to peg him here. Bellingham doesn’t put out a lot of top tier prospects, but one of them, Josiah Westbrook, is the ideal type of receiver for Mike Leach’s offense.  He didn’t do many camps or play on the 7v7 circuit, so he was a relative unknown, but watching his senior film, you could see the talent there and it earned him a late season bump in the rankings.

Evans: The surprise of the signing day, JUCO LB Suliasi Tamaivena All you have to do is look at his tape.  The guy is a gamer.

Perez: Offensive lineman don't get a ton of love, they're not always the "sexy" recruits fans get excited about. Well, the WSU faithful should be excited about Christian Haangana. The young man is a monster, checking in at 6-6, 347-pounds. Despite that size, he's got excellent feet for a man of his stature. Get him in the weight room for a year (redshirt) and this kid can really develop into a Pac-12 specimen.

Bolton: WR Renard Bell (pictured above). He committed early in the process and has been somewhat forgotten because of it. But give him a seam and then tell the band to get ready.  WSU doesn't have a glaring need in the slot for 2016 and his biggest contributions will come down the road. But Bell is explosive, and has the ability to break a long gainer at any time.  Leach's litmus test on redshirting guys is whether he can climb into the two-deeps, and Bell is certainly capable of that.

Who makes an impact on Day One in fall camp - who isn't going to redshirt?
Biggins: I think JC LB Chima Onyeukwu is a guy you can see physically stepping in and being ready to go right away. He has a great frame, runs well and has the toughness needed to make an immediate impact.

Huffman: Jihad Woods may not have the ideal size for a middle linebacker, but he has what every DC wants in their linebacker- instincts, high football IQ, hitting ability and range.  With his ability to roam the inside, he’s a likely candidate to get on the field quickly.

Evans: WR Isaiah Johnson. Enrolling early gives the true freshman a leg up and with Mike Leach rotating 8 receivers as a matter of course, I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t carve out a niche for himself on Saturdays in 2016.

Perez: This class is loaded with wide receivers, but perhaps no one is more entertaining to watch than Isaiah Johnson. The Florida native is already in Pullman, having enrolled with WSU in January. He'll go through Midnight Maneuvers, spring ball and summer conditioning. Getting that head start will be tremendous for him. He's already got huge potential, but the additional time with the WSU coaches before his first fall camp is why he'll be ready to make plays this fall.

Bolton: There are true freshmen who will play but in terms of impact, it’s a tie between two JUCOs: safety Robert Taylor and LB Chima Onyeukwu. Both give WSU upgraded speed over last season and WSU is counting on both players to be more advanced in read and react skills than the average junior college transfer coming into the Pac-12. With Taylor, it’s especially key if he can prove he’s the best safety option of those vying to earn a starting job in order to allow Shalom Luani move to strong safety from free safety, where I expect him to make an ever bigger impact than he did as a WSU rookie last year. 

Who is the guy that 4-5 years from now Cougar fans are going to be talking about most?
Biggins: Mason Vinyard is really intriguing to me. He's a big kid but he can run. He's a little raw as a pure pass catcher right now but I think as he develops, he has a chance to be a very good player down the road.

Huffman: Dezmon Patmon is a more consistent pass catcher than Dom Williams was coming out of high school and Williams was a huge part of the Cougs success this year.  I can see Patmon picking up where Williams left off and being ridiculously productive the next few seasons.

Evans: There’s a lot to choose from but I’ll go with OL Keenen King. His feet are exceptional for his size (6-4, 301) and while he’ll need to have the polish slapped on, he will be a great one in Mike Leach’s offensive line that features wide splits and puts a premium on pass protection. And because you can’t stop me, I’ll add a second OL here: Joshua Watson. Huge hands, a big wingspan and a 6-5 frame with lots of room to add muscle and size.

Perez: Have you watched the film on Chima Onyeukwu? His highlight reel from this past season was nothing less than head-turning.  The 6-3, 220-pounder is explosive and can really lay the lumber. With three years to play two, he's got great speed and is an outstanding fit for Alex Grinch's defense as a guy who can cover sideline to sideline. We'll find out soon enough, but he's certainly got the potential to be a star for the Cougars.

Bolton: OL Christian Haangana. He’ll need to spend a year redshirting and also to get into fighting trim but the 6-6, 347-pounder moves well for his size and will move even better down the road after he gets into WSU's weight program and takes a seat at the training table. Just as important: While he is exceedingly polite off the field, Haangana is hugely nasty when he straps on the pads. And that’s something WSU needs more of up front on the o-line in 2016 – that nasty attitude.  Haangana will keep blocking defensemen until they’re flat on their wallets, and after that he’ll go to work on ‘em.

Apart from simply comparing stars and ratings, how does the WSU class stack up with the rest of the Pac-12?
Biggins: I think it stacks up well. It's a notch below the top teams like Stanford, UCLA, Oregon, Washington and USC but compares favorably with the rest of the league. They filled a lot of needs, signed a balanced class and other than QB, did a really nice job filling out this class. I see some true difference makers and I like the linemen on both sides of the ball as well.

Huffman: This class is right in the middle of that second tier in the Pac-12.  But it has a lot of bodies and a lot of depth, which was most important.

Evans: It’s not as impressive on paper as others in the Pac-12 -- but that’s how WSU does things. It’s a class that’s short on flash but long on lunch pail types, with a good chance for many in the group to outperform their rankings in the coming years.

Perez: WSU's recruiting class is going to end up in the bottom tier of the Pac-12 rankings - not what you would expect coming off a 9-4 season. But the reality is that this class is more of a reflection of the 3-9 year in 2014. That said, despite not signing a bunch of 4-star guys, WSU landed plenty of talented kids at key positions. One place they certainly hurt themselves, though, was with defensive tackle recruiting, a position they're thin at heading into next season.

Bolton: Unclear. It’s a class that was primarily built off a 3-9 campaign but there a lot of promising 3-star types that could outperform their more highly sought after counterparts – but only if they have the drive to do so and if the WSU coaches hit the right strides in developing them. WSU’s 9-4 season of last year is a prime example of a group that did exactly that and with so many returning in ’16, the new crop will come into the right let’s-get-to-work environment. The holes at DT and QB are a concern. The class strengths at OL, WR, LB and DB could end up looking very good down the road.

How does this class stack up against other recent Cougar classes?
Biggins: I thought last year's class was really strong as well so you  can take both of these classes, this year and last and you can say it's their best, back to back classes in some time.

Huffman: This is one of WSU’s most solidly consistent classes across the board.  A lot of needs were filled and a lot of guys who will provide depth in this class.  Because of the previous classes under Mike Leach, there isn’t as big a need from this group to be ready to play right away, so these guys will have a chance to get developed and be physically ready to play, where a few previous classes may have been rushed.

Evans: I’d say it’s comparable. What would place it on top? WSU rises or falls in any given year based on the scholie kids from California. I see a lot of guys coming in who will play with chips on their shoulders. When the California schools in the Pac-12 don’t offer, that ticks those Cali guys off.  I see many of the California signees coming into WSU looking to shove it back into the collective faces of the rest of the Pac-12, and that’s exactly as it should be.

Perez: This class is pretty even with the previous classes for Mike Leach in terms of balance. From a rankings standpoint, this year is a bit of a drop off. WSU doesn’t have a single 4-star commit in this 2016 class. A big takeaway: no quarterback commit. WSU had three quarterbacks commit this recruiting cycle, only to either back off their pledge or mutually agree to part ways. Those QBs were Ian Book, Cody Brewer and most recently, Quentin Davis.

Bolton: A lot of high ceiling guys - similar to previous Mike Leach signing classes. WSU needs to hit on enough of them and at enough spots in order to keep up with the Joneses in the Pac-12. The potential to do that is certainly there. WSU under Leach to this point has looked to beat the Pac-12 competition by out-evaluating them.  The proof will come a few years down the road but WSU’s 9-4 record this past season is an indicator Leach and Co. are capable of accomplishing that.

What should CougFans take away overall from this class - what's the big picture?
Biggins: I think the big picture is good when you look at this year's class plus last year's, it's back to back strong years. Next year the focus will obviously be on a QB but the team is filling key needs and adding a lot of depth. The staff was very aggressive in getting offers out early and recruiting their top targets hard. Overall, I like what I've seen.

Huffman:  Aside from the quarterback recruiting issues, this is a solid class.  It has a wide array of receiver prospects, from big and physical, to fast and elusive.  But all are good, consistent pass-catchers, a requirement for getting into the rotation.  It makes next year that much more important to get a quarterback in that class, so that is the one concern.  if Luke Falk leaves early for the NFL, there would only be two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster heading into spring ball of 2017.  So they filled needs at most every spot, but it ramps up the importance for 2017.

Evans: All in all, it holds a lot of promise. They’ll need to be coached up, and they’ll have to have the mentality of outworking everyone – some in the class already seem to have exactly the right attitude.

Perez: Undoubtedly, there will be Cougar fans will be wondering why this class is ranked low after a 9-4 campaign. I can't stress enough that the 9-4 record will instead be realized for the 2017 class. Recruits these days make their decisions far earlier, with most of them making their pledge before the start of a football season. This class has plenty of talent, with kids WSU fans will be excited to watch over the next 4-5 years, though. The wide receivers are a talented, deep group, as are the linebackers.

Bolton: On the downside, WSU has to do better in d-tackle recruiting. It’s one of the hardest positions to evaluate and they also need time to develop before they’re ready to win the battles in Pac-12 play. As far as positives go, teams that are successful year in and year out have quality depth, and this class adds quality to a number of positions. A big takeaway not being discussed enough: The Cougs upgraded their speed on defense (WIL and FS are the two spots Cougar fans are most likely to notice as far as 2016 is concerned). Cougar fans could also be talking about the wide receiver crop in the years to come: Grant Porter might be the least known of the group after missing virtually all his senior season but he is one of the fastest WRs in Sacramento area.

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