It happened. All of it. Well, almost all of it. Last spring, Mississippi State blogs, message boards and pay sites were abuzz with talk about how MSU was going to sign a talented 2015 signing class and win 10 games on the field. And the Bulldogs did. They beat LSU. They beat Auburn. They won 10 games. They were #1 for five weeks of the season. They had a shot, however slim, to make the new college football playoff up until the last game of the year. Dak Prescott was a serious Heisman candidate at one point. You get my drift. Dan Mullen's 2015 squad made a lot of history and broke a lot of records.
The final part to any football season is National Signing Day. It is here when we find out, on paper at least, what type of talent is entering the program and how any holes and weaknesses on the roster were addressed. No matter how much coaches may wish otherwise, no season is truly complete until that year's recruiting class is in the books. With MSU's 2015 recruiting class finally wrapped in maroon and white, Dan Mullen and staff can begin figuring out who fits where and what positions will be vital to fill as they get started on next year's recruiting class, which will undoubtedly be the start of much discussion starting tomorrow. Because, whether we want to admit it or not, a lot of us spend entirely too much time pondering the thoughts and actions of teenage athletes.
Anyway, this class is finished. Done. Over with. Sure, there will be some worries over whether a few recruits will qualify or not, but that will work itself out. The hard work is over, and Mississippi State stands to profit handsomely from inking an extremely solid class.
Yeah, I know. All of State's recruits have signed , and I have yet to tell you anything about them. That's coming. But, I feel it is important to address a few things in regards to MSU's recruiting methods before breaking down the newly-minted Bulldogs and how they fit within the program.
Every year, as National Signing Day is closing in and official visits are going hot and heavy, a familiar outcry is heard: PAAULLL/STEEEVVVEE, how come so-and-so school has a chance at ___ number of "national" recruits and our class is basically finished? Where is OUR excitement?(HELLLOOOOO, LEO LEWIS)
The truth of the matter is this: Mississippi State and Starkville aren't glamorous or sexy, and our coaches recruit accordingly. We're a blue-collar school in a small town that just so happens to have some pretty damn nice football facilities. We aren't going to wow kids with outrageous parties or beat out Alabama and Texas for an out-of-state kid. We preach hard work, discipline and family. Some recruits love that, some don't. The coaches sign the most talented ones that go for this approach. And, contrary to what a lot of our SEC brethren would have us believe, this can work. There is a Sports Illustrated cover attesting to that. And a quote from Mullen himself:
So we tend to get lots of commits during the spring and summer months and hold out for a few guys late in the process while working to hang on to what we have. That is how we do it under Dan. This is how we did it this year. And it worked. It worked pretty damn well, actually.
Enough rambling, though. We signed a top-25 class. Let's do what bloggers and message boarders do best and make super accurate predictions about what type of players these new guys will grow and develop into and how many national championships they will help us win. Because let's be honest: that's why we all follow recruiting in the first place.
Today saw 28 student-athletes sign scholarship papers with the Bulldogs. Of that number, MSU signed the following players who were #1 at their position in their respective state or in the country according to Scout. Another recruiting service, 247Sports, has MSU signing eight of the top 10 recruits in Mississippi, a banner haul for a program that prides itself on representing the Magnolia State.
Donald Gray- #1 JUCO WR
Nick Tiano- #1 QB in Tennessee
Leo Lewis- #1 MLB in Mississippi
Jamal Peters- #1 S in Mississippi (HALLELUJAH! A SAFETY!)
Fletcher Adams- #1 DT in Mississippi
Chris Stamps- #1 CB in Mississippi
Tim Washington- #1 OLB in Mississippi
Malik Dear- #1 RB in Mississippi
Justin Johnson- #1 WR in Alabama
Jonnas Spivey-#1 WR in Mississippi
Darryl Williams- #1 C in Alabama.
That's a pretty impressive haul for Mullen and crew. Let's see how they, and the rest of the members of the 2015 signing class, fit into the program. A highlight video of every recruit can be found upon clicking on a recruit's name.
Offensive Breakdowns by Position
|Nick Tiano||6'5", 230 lbs||3-star||Baylor School (Chattanooga, TN)|
With four QBs returning for next year, headlined by All-SEC performer and Heisman contender Dak Prescott, State didn't have to sign a QB in this class. They did, though. Tiano is a big, physical, strong-armed QB from Tennessee who appears to be a good fit in MSU's spread-option attack. He isn't a burner, but he runs well and is a big guy. Nick can make all of the throws, but he has a funky release that will need to be corrected. Since he is guaranteed to redshirt, he will have an opportunity to work on his mechanics and learn the offense this year so he can enter the melee that is sure to be the Bulldog's QB race in 2016.
|Nick Gibson||5'11", 197 lbs||4-star||Pinson Valley (Pinson, AL)|
|Alec Murphy||6'1", 222 lbs||3-star||Nixa (Nixa, MO)|
RB is another position where MSU already has talent on campus. With Ashton Shumpert, Aeris Williams and Dontavian Lee already wearing the maroon and white, the future at TB already appeared bright. Now that State has added Gibson, who has been hailed by many as a Vick Ballard clone, and Murphy, an underrated bruiser from Missouri, there is little denying MSU RBs Coach Greg Knox will have plenty to work with going forward. Gibson is the star of the incoming guys, but it will be fun to watch all of the aforementioned backs compete for playing time in the coming year. There is too much depth to make any real predictions about this group.
|Donald Gray||5'9", 185 lbs||4-star||Co-Lin C.C.|
|Justin Johnson||6'4", 205 lbs||3-star||Hoover (Birmingham, AL)|
|Jonnas Spivey||6"0", 180 lbs||3-star||Bay Springs (Bay Springs, MS)|
|Deddrick Thomas||5'9", 170 lbs||3-star||Memphis Central (Memphis, TN)|
Coach Gonzalez's group will be the deepest it has ever been next year. But with a veteran group returning, it is always important to have talented youngster waiting in the wings.
Donald Gray is the star of this group. Gray, the top-rated JUCO WR in the country, committed to MSU out of high school before failing to qualify and heading to Co-Lin. After sitting out his freshman year, he had a monster 2014 campaign. With Tubby Lewis leaving, Gray is the favorite to start in the slot for MSU next year. He excels as a punt returner as well, which, as we all know, is something the Bulldogs could use some help with. Oh, and he has three years of eligibility. Helluva pickup for the Dogs.
Spivey, Johnson and Thomas are all great athletes who either didn't play WR this year or didn't get many ball thrown their way. Spivey is deceptively fast and a fluid athlete, and he will probably break into the rotation after a few years spent in the program learning the position and gaining weight. Johnson is a big, physical guy who's performance in the Alabam/Mississippi All-Star Game alleviated many doubts about his ability to play outside in college. He will most likely be a possesion WR, but he could also grow into a receiving TE. Thomas reminds me of Tubby in some ways. He dominated several MSU camps this summer as a WR, but he didn't play the position much in high school. He is another explosive athlete who can excel in the slot with time.
|Farrod Green||6'4", 223 lbs||3-star||Wesson Attendance Cntr (Wesson, MS)|
|Dontae Jones||6'4", 230 lbs||3-star||Louisville (Louisville, MS)|
The TE position is open for grabs this year, so one of these guys has the potential to see the field this coming season. Farrod Green was one of the most important players in this class due to his recruiting prowess alone. A popular guy, Green helped get Leo Lewis in the fold. On the field, he is an intriguing prospect. While still growing into his frame, Farrod has great hands and shows an ability to make contested catches. He can develop into a weapon at TE and has underrated athleticism. Jones is a freak. People his size aren't supposed to run as well as he does. The coaches have told him he has outgrown WR, and he could be a type of talent at TE we have never really seen at MSU. If he stays at TE. With his frame and athletic ability, Jones could grow into any number of positions. People forget how talented he is due to him having an injury-plagued senior year.
|Martinas Rankin||6'5", 300 lbs||4-star||Miss Gulf Coast C.C.|
|Michael Story||6'4", 290 lbs||3-star||Ripley (Ripley, MS)|
|Harrison Moon||6'6", 270 lbs||3-star||Signal Mountain (Signal Mountain, TN)|
|Darryl Williams||6'4", 304 lbs||3-star||Bessemer (Bessemer, AL)|
Rankin is the big story here. Blaine Clausell is gone, so getting the top-ranked JUCO OT in the country was huge. Martinas is considered a prototypical OT by many, and the coaches are expecting him to compete for a starting role next year.
The rest of the OL signees are from high school, which means, as is always the case, they are developmental guys and nothing finite will be know on them until they have spent a few years in the program. Story is an under-the-radar type guy the coaches kept quiet and snuck into school for the start of the spring semester. He is smart and mean, and has the ability to play multiple positions on the OL. Moon is the type of guy Hevesy makes a living off of: a big, athletic player who can be developed into a nice piece to the puzzle down the road. Williams may be the most ready-made HS OL we have signed under Mullen. Along with sporting an impressive offer list, he is a tough, physical guy who will be given an opportunity to break into the rotation as an underclassman.
|Malik Dear||5'10", 226 lbs||4-star||Murrah (Jackson, MS)|
|Keith Mixon||5'8", 176 lbs||3-star||Shades Valley (Birmingham, AL)|
RB or WR, PR or KR. There is no telling where Dear and Mixon line up while at MSU. Both are great athletes who can run, catch, and make people miss while doing so. Dear burst onto recruiting scene as a HS freshman and has been predicted to be a college star for years. Where he will line up will depend largely on how much weight he loses. He is really stocky, and he needs to slim down if he wants to play mainly WR. He has boom or bust potential. Mixon is an explosive player who is as comfortable catching balls in the slot as he is running sweeps out of the backfield. He tore it up at the Ala/Miss All-Star game, and he will make plays somewhere on the field. He has the sort of top-end speed MSU needs.
Defensive Positional Breakdowns
|Fletcher Adams||6'3", 260 lbs||4-star||Brandon (Brandon, MS)|
|Kendell Jones||6'4", 255 lbs||3-star||Clay-Chalkville (Pinson, AL)|
|Keith Joseph||6'3", 240 lbs||3-star||Pascagoula (Pascagoula, MS)|
|T.D. Moton||6'3", 310 lbs||3-star||Woodlawn (Shreveport, LA)|
|Anfernee Mullins||6'4", 245 lbs||3-star||Aliceville (Aliceville, AL)|
|Johnathan Calvin||6'4", 250 lbs||3-star||Co-Lin C.C. (Wesson, MS)|
David Turner's unit lost a ton of talent and experience this year. Preston Smith is off to sack NFL QBs, and Kaleb Eulls and PJ Jones each have a chance to make an NFL roster. Throw in the loss of Curtis Virges as well and it was clear MSU needed to sign a lot of guys on the DL. Fletcher Adams is the prize of the group. The brother of current MSU DT Nelson Adams, Fletcher is a bit of a tweener. He could play DE. He could play DT. But there is no doubt he can play. Adams is relentless and has a a chance to get on the field early in his career. Jones is a guy who doesn't get enough hype. A big, physical guy who is strong at the point of attack, he is expected to grow into a DT once he enters the program. Joseph is a different type of DE than State has been signing the past few years. A speed rusher whose father played at State, he can provide some much-needed quickness off the edge going forward.
When T.D. Moton recommitted to MSU, the Bulldogs got one of their top targets at DT. MSU DL coach David Turner has called Moton a "freak" for his size, and T.D. is a player whose physicality and run-stopping ability will give him a chance to play early. He is still really raw, though. Anfernee Mullins is another guy who falls into the "freak" category. A supremely-gifted athlete for his size, Mullins has much upside as anyone in this class. He has the frame to end up weighing 270-290lbs and the ability to play anywhere on the DL as he continues to mature. He isn't ready to play as a freshman, but his talent is undeniable.
Calvin is a gritty DE who was highly-recruited. Despite battling injuries his sophomore year at Co-Lin, he had a productive season. The coaches are counting on him to step in and be an immediate contributor at DE this coming year. Preston Smith's departure gives Calvin an opportunity to make a major impact.
|Traver Jung||6'4", 215 lbs||4-star||Holmes CC (Wesson, MS)|
|Leo Lewis||6'3", 225 lbs||4-star||Brookhaven (Brookhaven, MS)|
|Tim Washington||6'3", 200 lbs||3-star||Yazoo City (Yazoo City, MS)|
Benardrick McKinney is gone. Matt Wells is, too. Both are major losses that will have to be addressed this spring. Thankfully, the Bulldogs have recruited well at LB the past few years. This trend continued this recruiting season.
Finding a versatile LB who can blitz and cover was a priority, and MSU feels confident they found that in Holmes CC transfer Traver Young. Young was a prized commodity down the stretch, but he chose to stick with the Bulldogs. He is a fast, rangy LB who will be counted on to provide immediate help at WLB. Tim Washington is a long, lanky OLB who has worlds of athletic ability, yet is undersized. He is a project who has the potential to develop into a good player if he proves he can gain the needed weight.
Leo Lewis. Where do we start? We don't have time to discuss the myriad twists and turns of his recruitment, but he can flat-out play. We all know that. Lewis, an instinctive, hard-hitting MLB, will be given every opportunity to get on the field this year. With Richie Brown and highly-touted redshirt freshman Gerri Green returning, it will be interesting to see how Manny Diaz uses his LBs this year in order to get his best guys on the field.
|Maurice Smitherman||5'9", 178 lbs||3-star||Minor (Adamsville, AL)|
|Chris Stamps||6'1", 170 lbs||4-star||Warren Central (Vicksburg, MS)|
Maurice Smitherman and Chris Stamps have a chance to see the field this year. In fact, I will be pleasantly surprised if one doesn't. With Jamerson Love graduating and Tolanda Cleveland appearing destined for safety, MSU lacks depth at CB. Stamps is a highly-regarded CB whose length and size have earned him comparisons to Taveze Calhoun and Johnthan Banks. If he turns out to be as good as either, there will be plenty of happy State fans. Smitherman isn't a big CB, but he has great instincts, awareness and speed. Like Stamps, he is expected to be a fixture in the MSU secondary in the years to come.
|Jamal Peters||6'2", 206 lbs||4-star||Bassfield (Bassfield, MS)|
|Mark McLaurin||6'3", 200 lbs||4-star||Collins (Collins, MS)|
Mississippi State needs safeties. Lots of safeties. As many safeties as can be found. Anyone who watched the Egg Bowl this past year knows safety was probably the Bulldog's weakest position. It was a necessity for State to sign some talented safeties this year, and Dan Mullen and Co. did.
Jamal Peters is arguably the Bulldog's top signee this year. An exceptional athlete with elite size and speed, he may be the crown jewel of this class. It will be surprising if he doesn't see the field this year, and many people expect him to lock down a starting job at some point during the seaon. Oh, and he has a killer haircut. That has to count for something.
Mark McLaurin is another huge athlete for MSU to try out at the back end of the defense. A standout at Collins High who did a lot of everything for his high school team, the only knock on McLaurin isn't a knock at all: he may simply outgrow the position. Already over 200lbs, it wouldn't be surprising to see him grow into a LB. He will make plays regardless of where he ends up, though.
This is a damn good recruiting class, regardless of how flashy it is. There are a lot of holes to be filled in Starkville, and there are a lot of players in this class capable of filling them. Leo Lewis and Jamal Peters were both enormous gets at positions of need, and their importance to the program cannot be overstated. The same goes for Donald Gray, and, most importantly, Martinas Rankin. No incoming signee will have more of an impact on the 2015 season than Rankin. For the first time in a while, there will be an opportunity for numerous freshman to get on the field for Mississippi State. And this class has several guys who are very capable of playing productive minutes early in their MSU careers.
What stands out to me, though, is the depth of the class. Wherein past classes there have been some signees you never expected to really see the field, there aren't many incoming Bulldogs who can't play. Sure, some are bigger projects than others, but there are a lot more major conference offers sprinkled throughout this recruiting class than in some we have previously seen.
In the end, the Mississippi State staff did things the way they always do. They evaluated and identified players they wanted early in the recruiting process and worked hard to land in-state talent and overlooked recruits from surrounding states. It wasn't flashy down the home stretch as State wasn't waiting on many commits, but the result was the same: a bunch of talented players are heading to Starkville to begin their college careers and help Dan Mullen and the rest of the MSU coaching staff continue to try and win a SEC Championship.