It’s not always easy to turn on-field results into recruiting success. Dan Mullen and his staff were able to, though, with the 2015 recruiting class. In what’s being considered the best class of the Mullen Era, Mississippi State finished 18th in recruiting nationally (247Sports). They filled needs and got a few wants. And they did it with Mississippi talent…signing eight of the top 10 players in the Magnolia state.
My breakdown of the class.
1. Jamal Peters (6’2, 206)
Primary Position: Strong Safety
Secondary Position: Will Linebacker
2014 Stats: 60 tackles/4.5 TFL/13 PD/5 Int
Why is he an impact signing? First reason: Peters gives the Bulldogs an immediate upgrade of talent at the safety position. He’s a two-deep player from day one. He’ll give Mississippi State something else they’ve lacked in the secondary: swagger.
It’s an intangible factor that can’t be discounted. He’s the type of guy that leads a secondary and defense. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s explosive and has superb ball skills.
2. Martinas Rankin (6’5, 300)
Primary Position: Left Tackle
Secondary Position: Right Tackle
2014 Stats: N/A
Why is he an impact signing? Rankin will solidify the left tackle position vacated by the departure of Blaine Clausell to graduation. He’s already on campus and will get the benefit of going through spring practice. I don’t know if he’ll be All-SEC. But he fills the one hole on the Bulldog offense.
3. Leo Lewis (6’2, 231)
Primary Position: Mike Linebacker
Secondary Position: None
2014 Stats: 76 tackles/2 TFL
Why is he an impact signing? Well, for one: Lewis was committed to Ole Miss and now is a Bulldog. That’s big enough right there. But he can play the game of football, too. He’s stout and a true “Mike” linebacker. If he doesn’t crack the two-deep as a true freshman, he should be able to help out on special teams as he gets acclimated to the college game.
4. Fletcher Adams (6’2, 260)
Primary Position: Defensive Tackle
Secondary Position: Defensive End
2014 Stats: 136 Tackles/23 TFL/8 Sks.
Why is he an impact signing? Adams gives David Turner, Mississippi State’s defensive line coach, a lot of options depending on who develops. If a defensive end doesn’t develop, then slide Adams in there. If a defensive tackle doesn’t develop, then slide him in there. I have no doubt that the Brandon product can make an impact as a freshman. He’s definitely a sub-package player next season. His future is very bright.
5a. Chris Stamps (6’1, 170)
Primary Position: Cornerback
Secondary Position: Z Receiver
2014 Stats: 24 Tackles/7 PD/4 Int.
Why is he an impact signing? I don’t know why more people aren’t talking about Stamps. He has elite talent. Speed. Length. Ball Skills. If it wasn’t for the fact that the Bulldogs had three good corners: Taveze Calhoun, Will Redmond and Cedric Jiles ahead of him, I’d say he could start as a freshman. He’s that good. He still may crack the two-deep, though. It just depends if Tolando Cleveland ends up at safety or cornerback.
5b. Mark McLaurin (6’2, 200)
Primary Position: Free Safety
Secondary Position: Linebacker
2014 Stats: 38 Tackles/5 TFL/ 7 Int.
Why is he an impact signing? McLaurin represents another upgrade of talent at the safety position. The position is wide open with Kivon Coman and J.T. Gray as the only two players at the position who might seriously challenge for playing time.
The rangy safety reminds me a lot of Eric Reid, the former LSU free safety. He has a similar body type and the same ball skills. We’ll see if he plays the same at the college level.
1. Traver Jung (6’4, 215)
Primary Position: Will Linebacker
Secondary Position: Sam Linebacker
2014 Stats: 38 Tackles/3 Sks. / 6 PD
Why is he a steal? Jung is just a freak with room to grow. He does some stuff that just amazes me. It’ll be scary to see what he and Gerri Green can do when on the field together. Good luck getting the edge with him on the field.
He arrives in the summer, which will hurt his development. But I wouldn’t be shocked to see him be a major part of the Bulldog defense by the end of next season.
2. Michael Story (6’5, 290)
Primary Position: Left Tackle
Secondary Position: Right Tackle
2014 Stats: N/A
Why is he a steal? Whenever you can get a player who will be a three-year starter at left tackle, they’re a steal. Story’s situation reminds me so much of Blaine Clausell a few years back. Clausell was under the radar but talented. Story has a chance to follow a similar career trajectory.
3. Farrod Green (6’3, 215)
Primary Position: Tight End
Secondary Position: Wide Receiver
2014 Stats: 25 catches for 409 receiving yards
Why is he a steal? I’ll go so far as to say that Green is the best athlete in the class. For a player his size, he has amazing fluidity and versatility. He played running back, wide receiver, tight end and returned kicks for his high school team. He’s raw but talented enough that I wouldn’t redshirt him. He’s too good.
1. Malik Dear (5’9, 226)
Primary Position: Running Back
Secondary Position: Fullback
2014 Stats: 322 rushing yards, 165 receiving yards, 84 total career touchdowns
Why is he a bust? Dear doesn’t leap off the screen. He projects as a running back. But I don’t think he’ll over crack the rotation at tailback. I do feel he has potential as fullback in the spread–as he can catch the football and plays with power.
2. Nick Tiano (6’5, 230)
Primary Position: Quarterback
Secondary Position: None
2014 Stats: 137-224, 2,096 passing yards, 16 passing touchdowns, 723 rushing yards
Why is he a bust? Tiano’s screams career backup or transfer. I know that seems harsh. But I don’t see it. His delivery is elongated and he’s not the dominant runner needed for the Bulldog’s power-option attack.
3. Donald Gray (5’9, 185)
Primary Position: Slot Receiver
Secondary Position: Cornerback
2014 Stats (Junior College): 55 catches for 989 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns
Why is he a bust? He’s not a potential bust because he can’t play the game of football. He’s a solid player who excels as a punt returner. But that’s what he is…a punt returner. I don’t expect him to be more than solid as a slot receiver. Gabe Myles and Jamoral Graham are better players that should beat him out for that spot.
Names to remember: Nick Gibson, Tim Washington, Darryl Williams, Jonnas Spivey and Johnathan Calvin.
The 2015 recruiting class should only be the beginning for Mullen–as most of the class was committed before the Bulldogs went on their magical run. The real dividends of the 2014 season should show up during the next recruiting cycle.
• Even with all the Bulldogs recent recruiting success, their 2015 season hinges on the development of Dak Prescott as a passer. He’s come a long way. His Orange Bowl performance is a testament to that. But he has to improve his deep ball accuracy and proficiency in leading receivers. He has the weapons: De’Runnya Wilson, Fred Ross, Fred Brown and Joe Morrow. He just needs to take advantage of them.
• Speaking of the QB position. Mississippi State took one quarterback in this class and dropped another. But I think they’ll regret not continuing their recruitment of J’Mar Smith. He was the perfect fit for the spread Mississippi State employs and would have been Dak’s eventual heir apparent.
• One thing I’ll be watching heading into next season is what Coach Diaz has planned for the linebacking core. Does he stick with his strategy, which features a hybrid linebacker? Or does he put his best linebackers on the field, which would force him to go big?
If he uses his normal strategy, Traver Jung or J.T. Gray likely start at the Will. If he puts his best linebackers on the field, Gerri Green, Richie Brown and Beniquez Brown will start in some combination. Hopefully with Green in the middle.
• State lost two players to the draft this past year. One they didn’t expect and one they did. This year, they need to be prepared for a couple more departures if they have a season like 2014 in 2015, which I think they can. De’Runnya Wilson, Fred Ross, Chris Jones and Beniquez Brown are four names that come to mind.
• Evan Sobiesk gave the Bulldogs a consistent kicker in 2014. He’s decided to go to dental school. I’m interested in what Mullen has planned to fill the position, which has been a sore spot for years.
The Bulldogs capitalized off their historic season and were able to bring in an impressive recruiting class. But all that will be for naught if they don’t turn them into on-field success. It’s easy to have success when no one expects it. What will the Bulldogs do now that they’re expected to continue it.
They’ve done a good job trying to become one of the nation’s elite from a marketing stand point. The “Dawgs” have signed contracts on twitter and had creative social media campaigns. But you have to win games to stay among the nation’s elite.
Three things must happen for them to maintain elite status.
1. Be More Selective: When recruiting, Mississippi State coaches have to start asking the question: Can this player help me beat Alabama, LSU or Ohio State? In the past recruiting cycle, the Bulldogs signed several players that can help them beat some the elite teams in the nation. But they also signed a few guys that I don’t feel can help them do that. Going forward, they can’t make those mistakes in recruiting. I’m all for recruiting athlete types. But you can’t take too many. You end up with a bunch of players who don’t have a position and you’ve then wasted a scholarship.
2. Hold Coaches Accountable: In the past, coaches have hung around when their units haven’t got the job done. (See: Woody McCorvey, Les Koenning.) If the Bulldogs are to take the next step, position coaches and coordinators have to be put on notice. If your unit doesn’t perform, you’re gone. It sounds harsh. But that’s what the big dawgs do. Elite programs fire whole coaching staffs if the team doesn’t perform. MSU has to operate the same way.
3. Brand Themselves: Mississippi State has to find a way to make themselves hot or popular. Right now, they’re just the school where Dak plays or confused for Ole Miss outside of Mississippi. State has some cachet but not enough.
Jeremiah Short, Peach State College Sports Contributor
Catch me on the “SportsKrib” on Wednesday’s 8-9 Central and Thursday’s 8-10 Central. Follow me on social media @DaRealJShort or check out my facebook page JShortJournalist or my Google Plus page J.Short- Journalist.