Having previously worked for Rivals.com for five years prior to my arrival at The Daily Journal, I have had my share of experience with the recruiting process.
I have spent countless hours at high school and junior college games and attending camps and combines throughout the country evaluating talent. I covered recruiting on a daily basis through mid-July and was able to see much of Mississippi State’s 2014 class be assembled.
Over the next two days I’ll break down the class by position and give my opinion of who the Bulldogs brought in based on what I have seen either in person on through film study.
Today’s focus will be on MSU’s offensive signees.
I am very intrigued by the signing of Elijah Staley. He was Dan Mullen’s top choice at quarterback in this class. If you know anything about Mullen’s past, he likes to hand pick which signal callers the Bulldogs choose to offer. Staley will give State their tallest quarterback in recent memory and also its first left-hander in a while. Staley is highly athletic as evidenced by his high basketball prowess but can really sling the football. He’s got a soft touch and a natural throwing motion.
I had some reservations when Nick Fitzgerald committed to the Bulldogs back in the summer simply because he had never been a starting quarterback at the high school level and played in an option oriented offense. But all those questions were answered once Fitzgerald practiced with the team leading into the Liberty Bowl. He came in about 15-20 pounds heavier than he was in the summer and showed off a much stronger arm. Getting in early and already taking snaps and being able to go through offseason conditioning and spring practice will benefit him greatly in the short and long term.
I really like the two backs the Bulldogs brought in and their running styles. Both Aeris Williams and Dontavian Lee have that downhill, power style between the tackles that I enjoy watching.
I’ve followed Williams career for years at West Point and was told by one of his coaches four years ago that he was going to be a star. He wasn’t kidding either. That dude has been a workhorse for the Green Wave and if he can stay healthy I expect Williams to be an impact player in the backfield before his days are done in Starkville.
Lee didn’t receive quite the recruiting attention or honors that Williams did but is a solid back in his own right. He helped lead Forrest County AHS to a state title this past season starring in all three phases. When teams started to focus in on stopping the run he started to open things up for his teammates. He also unselfishly began playing more defense as the season progressed trying to help the Aggies get to Jackson any way he could.
For the first time since Mullen arrived, receiver was not a huge priority. Mississippi State signed a slough of them last year so the staff was very selective in their approach this time around. The Bulldogs signed an outside receiver in Petal’s Jesse Jackson and a slot guy in Newton County’s Jamoral Graham. In my opinion they were the top two wideouts in the state.
I know Markell Pack was rated higher than Jackson but I liked Jackson’s physicality and bigger frame more. Jackson might not be as much of a vertical threat as some receivers out there but has the toughness to go across the middle and make the catch to move the chains on a critical third down. He sustained a knee injury during the season but with the work ethic he’s shown it should not have any lingering affects on his career at the collegiate level.
Graham is a dynamic playmaker in the open field. He’s is one of those athletes capable of playing a number of positions at a very high level. Graham has many of the same traits as Jameon Lewis and should benefit from working and learning from him. Graham and last year’s signing day steal Fred Ross should make a solid tandem in the MSU receiving corps for several years to come.
Darrion Hutcherson was just the second true tight end that Mullen has signed during his tenure. At 6-foot-7 ,250-pounds, Hutcherson should not only be able to be an every down tight end but also create mismatches in the passing game. With two years of experience at the JUCO level, I think he can contribute right away even though the Bulldogs are already deep at that position. He and Dak Prescott really bonded during his official visit and I expect that relationship to spill onto the field this fall.
With the loss of two starters at left guard and right tackle, I really liked what State tried to do bringing in two JUCO lineman mid-semester. But Norman Price flipping to Southern Miss last second thwarted those plans. Still I expect Jocquell Johnson to step right in where Charles Siddoway left off at right tackle or at least push Damien Robinson for that spot.
If the Bulldogs can get Jordan Harris into school they’ll have a versatile lineman who could play tackle or guard in my opinion. The other three signees – Deion Calhoun, Ronald Cochran and Elgton Jenkins – are all likely developmental projects. Calhoun will have to make the jump from the Alabama private school ranks (where I was once an offensive lineman) into the Southeastern Conference. State has had luck the last few years signing private school o-linemen from Mississippi so we’ll have to see what happens in this case.
I suspect Jenkins is still growing and will take some time to add size and strength before he’s ready to contribute. And honestly I’d never even heard of Cochran until he’d signed Wednesday. After watching some film, he’s got a ways to go with technique and also physically. Luckily State has some time to develop these guys having redshirted some talented lineman last year.
Stay tuned Friday as I breakdown the Bulldogs defensive signees.