You can't rate a recruiting class until you see the impact that it had on your program, so while these young high school prospective student athletes are being coveted and signed to letters of intent, all you can do is project where they might fit in over their careers and hope for the best.
The majority of internet jockeys and recruit zealots do not have the knowledge or the talent to be able to evaluate high school talent. Particularly when you take into consideration the vast disparity in competition each player faces, the differing systems that these young men play in, or the injuries they may be playing through when you saw them.
Even college coaches have difficulties with these considerations when evaluating talent, which is why they log thousands of miles on planes, trains, and automobiles, paying visits to schools, families, and far-off football fields, to see these athletes in person.
College coaches have the unique distinction of having their futures depending in large part on the decisions on 18-21 year old men. It is in their best interests to get to know these young men as well as the NCAA rules allow in the small windows of time available to them.
Knowing this, it is very difficult to know how to "rank" a recruiting effort. Most use a comparison scale against how other schools did in recruiting these same athletes, or similar ones. It's not very accurate or scientific, but more for fun.
So where I decided to look at Keith Gilbertson's effort was in three areas:
1) Did he fill the team's immediate needs?
2) Did he bring in players that increased team speed?
3) Is the balance of depth improved at each position?
Let's take a look at the class that has agreed in verbal principle to attend Washington and become Huskies and compare them to these three criteria and see how it falls out.
WHERE THE NEEDS ARE
Looking at the Husky team from 2003, it was clear that there was a lack of depth on the offensive line. The move of Stanley Daniels from defense late in the season was done out of desperation to get enough healthy bodies on the O-line. The fact that Daniels saw action in a game despite only six practices was further proof. The lack of a pass rush other than Terry Johnson from the inside was also glaring, and needed addressing. The other major need was for a safety that could intimidate the way Phil Snow would like when a receiver or ball carrier comes through the line.
On the offensive line, Gilby looks like he'll bring in six, possibly seven big trench dawgs. The Huskies particularly have needs at tackle, and Casey Bulyca, Jordan-White Frisbee, Nathan Flowers, and Jovon O'Connor all could play outside. White-Frisbee wants to begin his career on defense but it's hard to not get excited when you envision a 6-7 athlete that moves as well as he does, protecting the quarterback's blind side. Inside Gilby got verbals from Ryan Bush, Tyler Ashby, and may add one more before LOI day.
It was clear that Gilbertson was trying to get more big bodies into the program so he would not have to move guys in an emergency again. Never get caught with your guard down on either line.
To help out on the pass rush, Gilby will look at Rashaad Goodrum at the rush end backer (REB) position. Goodrum is not a big guy but he showed a real propensity for getting into the backfield and harassing quarterbacks. He will get a chance immediately to try to bring that look to the Husky defense. Caesar Rayford and Greyson Gunheim are also athletes that run extremely well, and will also be tried on the ends. Rayford was a solid tight end while Gunheim was a bruising tailback, so both have offensive skills and are used to running near the action.
At safety, Gilbertson will bring in four athletes to bolster the ranks. The two guys that he needed to get, he got. Dashon Goldson is the one guy that was available to help right away, and the Huskies were able to keep his verbal despite heavy overtures from USC. He'll compete for time this spring and then look to grab a starting role, or at least a nickel back spot in the fall. Keauntea Bankhead was one of the top safety prospects on the west coast this year, and Gilbertson made sure he knew it. Bankhead and Goldson could wind up to be a nice tandem lining up next to each other in the secondary, just as Gunheim and Rayford could be on the ends. Gilby added Chet Sanders and Mesphin Forrester to the safety mix as well. The competition at safety just got a lot better, and with competition comes desire and improvement.
The need for speed
You can win with a safety that runs a 4.8, but it definitely limits the defensive packages you have available for your arsenal. That is why Gilbertson had to get Goldson, who runs a 4.46. Bankhead is a legitimate 4.5 guy, which is an upgrade as well. Those two guys can run, hit, and make the secondary a less "user friendly" place for opponents.
It's also difficult when you lack speed on the outside, as the coordinator has to decide whether to play contain to not allow the quarterback outside, or to come after him and risk that he'll get outside the pocket and create a big play. That is why you go after defensive ends that can run. Goodrum, Rayford, and Gunheim have all been clocked in 4.6 or lower in the 40, meaning they are explosive and can get up field. Speed on defense allows the coordinator to be much more aggressive because if the athletes are faster, they can recover quicker when the ball is in the air or if the flow of the play reverses. Washington got a lot faster at these positions as a result of this incoming recruiting class.
The need for speed was particularly clear in those two areas. Gilby gets an "A" for addressing it.
Balance and depth
You want your recruiting class to be balanced, but you also want to make sure that you achieve that in such a way that you are balancing your entire roster, not just that particular class. In a perfect world, your attrition would come across the board in balanced fashion, so every time you bring in a new class, it's balanced and matches the players that departed in a good fit.
Unfortunately, that was not the state of the Husky roster, so the recruiting class for 2004 will suffer a bit in the balance area. A good example is at wide receiver. Last year the Huskies brought in no less than SEVEN wide receivers (Anthony Russo, Charles Smith, Sonny Shackelford, Craig Chambers, Corey Williams, Bobby Whithorne, and Quintin Daniels). Thus, they chose to take a pass this year (pun intended) at receiver.
With the needs on the offensive line, Gilby loaded up there instead, and had a good argument to do such. It wasn't just a case to improve the talent there, but also a case to be able to conduct a decent practice. Last year Gilbertson was hard pressed to come up with a scout team offensive line. That will no longer be a problem and his defensive line will reap the benefits of practicing against deep and quality linemen.
At running back, with two dynamic redshirt freshman returning and a true freshman that could be the complete package, the Huskies only really needed to add one. They got the state's best in Johnie Kirton, who came within one yard of setting the all-time state single season rushing record. Kirton is so different from any other back on the roster that he is a terrific fit. He is the big bruiser, to complement the speed guys (Sampson and Rankin) and the shifty between-the-tackles guy (James). Even if Kirton doesn't ultimately wind up a running back, he's a great recruit at this time that brings a unique look that the Huskies do not currently have.
At defensive line, when haven't the Huskies needed depth? Help is on the way with six new faces. Erick Lobos is the big run clogger while Jasper Henry is the guy that remind some of Larry Tripplett with his burst on the first step. Rayford, Gunheim, and Goodrum have already been mentioned. White-Frisbee will probably begin his career on the defensive line as well, and Walt Winter could be added to the mix.
Gilby may have brought in too many safeties, but it is understandable to want to create good competition to improve the back end of the defense. Perhaps one of the four guys he's bringing in can move to corner, and one may move to linebacker.
It also can in no way be discounted that Gilbertson got the top quarterback in the west coast in Matt Tuiasosopo. He and Bankhead were the top recruits in the state this year and he got them both. About the only in-state loss that you can point to as one that hurt was Aaron Klovas, who will be an Oregon Duck.
Overall, this class met needs, increased the speed at the areas that needed it, and improved the balance of the roster. So using those three criteria, it is a terrific first effort on Gilbertson's behalf.
It is important to remember that the class really cannot be rated until we see what kind of impact they had on the program in three, four, or five years. None of these young men have played a down of football at Washington yet. But there is plenty to be excited about if the player evaluations pan out, the injury bug doesn't bite, and the chemistry of this class develops in a positive manner.
Recruiting for need, speed, and balance
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