Signing class evaluation: Defense/ Special teams

Cory Thomas boosted the Bulldogs defensive line signing class on Wednesday. (Logan Lowery/ Daily Journal)

Cory Thomas boosted the Bulldogs defensive line signing class on Wednesday. (Logan Lowery/ Daily Journal)

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.

I’ve broken 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.

Yesterday I analyzed the offensive signee’s and today’s focus finishes with the defense and its lone special teamer.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Heading into signing day I’d say the defensive line commitments were just so-so but the additions of Grant Harris and Cory Thomas really bolstered the group. I expected Harris to be a Bulldog since I saw him at their 2012 summer camp but it took a year and a half for it to come to fruition. Thomas is another guy I thought would sign with MSU and when he committed to Tennessee in November it left me wondering what went wrong.

I believe Thomas is one of the most important members of this class and will be an absolute beast in the trenches before his career is complete (health permitting of course). Props to the Bulldog coaches for identifying him early on in the process before he attained most of his big offers and that turned out to pay dividends for them in the end.

Harris should be a solid contributor as well and like Thomas will have to make the transition inside after primarily being used as a defensive end at the high school level. I think State will have one of the top defensive lines in the Southeastern Conference for years to come if they continue to recruit players of this caliber.

Will Coleman will likely come in and play right away having spent two years in the Texas JUCO ranks. I haven’t seen him in person but his film is impressive. Coleman seemed to save his best game for last recording nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and recovered two fumbles in the Kansas Bowl. He might not have the same expectations as Pernell McPhee and Denico Autry did coming in from junior college which says a lot about the talent that’s been recruited at the defensive end position.

Braxton Hoyett was the first recruit I met at MSU’s first junior day a year ago. I was the first person to write about him from any of the three major networks. At the time I was just trying to help an under the radar prospect with no offers get some attention. I never imagined he’d end up in Starkville but sure enough he did. Without Hoyett’s commitment, Thomas may not have been in the class either. Those two are very tight and Hoyett even bragged on Wednesday about helping the Bulldogs flip his friend.

Linebackers

Dan Mullen called Gerri Green the top player in Mississippi and the headliner of this signing class. I tend to think Green’s the third best prospect in the state behind Rod Taylor and Aeris Williams but he’s a very talented get for the Bulldogs nonetheless.

Although Green played on a terrible Greenville-Weston team, his talent would have shown regardless of the roster surrounding him. He is incredibly athletic and strong. He’s a guy that just seems to love contact and I’d compare him to K.J. Wright. I expect that before his time is Starkville is complete that he’ll have the same type of career that Wright did and possibly even surpass that.

Deshon Cooper is another linebacker that State fans should get excited about. This guy just seems to love contact and is a real headhunter out there. He’s going to have to add a little bit of weight but his frame should easily hold that. I’m sort of surprised a school like Georgia would let a talent like this sneak out of their backyard but he could end up being the best steal of the class.

Secondary

Tee Shepard would no doubt have been a huge get for the Bulldogs, especially if they could’ve got him into school with three years of eligibility remaining. While his flip to Ole Miss was a loss, it was the only disappointing news the Bulldogs received on Wednesday and at the end of the day there was plenty more positive news than negative (which hasn’t always been the case on signing day).

Mississippi State signed a pair of instate safeties that I thought both were a little under appreciated. I had Brandon Bryant ranked pretty low in my preseason Mississippi Top 50 but he had a monster senior season at Rosa Fort and I had definitely underestimated his abilities (as I think many coaches did as well) early on in the recruiting process. This guy is a do-it-all athlete in the secondary and might have a Charles Mitchell type career.

J.T. Gray is another safety with a good looking upside. The Mississippi native transferred back to his home state after spending the early part of his high school career in Arizona. Gray had high regard for the Bulldogs even before his move back to Mississippi and became the favorite once he did. He’s an excellent talent and I’m glad to see that State took him since that’s where he wanted to be. It’s always nice to see a dream situation like that come true.

Lashard Durr from Harrison Central is another guy I felt was underrated. He is a big-time talent and feel he’s better than his cornerback counterpart Tito Windham that signed with Oklahoma. I have no concerns with Durr’s ability on the field but academics could keep him out of a MSU uniform for a while. He double signed with Copiah-Lincoln Community College and might have to go that route.

The coaching staff really likes what they have in Byhalia cornerback Chris Rayford, specifically his speed. State actually received commitments from Durr and Rayford on the same afternoon just minutes apart. I’m interested to see Rayford’s transition to covering SEC caliber receivers but he was awfully good at the prep level. When he was healthy this past year he was able to single-handedly take over games but most of his year was spent somewhat hobbled.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Initially MSU did not plan to take a specialist in this class. But after Logan Cooke put on a show punting and kicking off at their summer camp he was simply too good to pass up. At 6-foot-5, 200-pounds, Cooke definitely has ideal size to punt and a big time leg. He too had an injury-riddled senior season but when healthy can kick the daylights out of a football. He’ll push Devon Bell for the punting and kickoff jobs. While Cooke isn’t necessarily a field goal specialist, neither was/is Bell. That’s another area he could contend for if the Bulldogs have another sub-par showing in that area.

I have covered Mississippi State in some capacity since 2004 and joined the Daily Journal staff in 2013. I enjoy short walks on the beach, performing concerts in my car and watching professional wrestling.

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