The hay is in the barn (or the wheat is...wherever you store wheat...I’m not a farmer) for the early signing period, and Coach Klieman and crew’s initial haul is impressive considering the circumstances.
Quarterback is the most important position in sports. If you’ve got a good one, you’ll always have a chance. If you’ve got a...not so good quarterback...things tend to fall apart. Coach Klein needed a big recruiting win, and he got one in 4* Colorado quarterback Jake Rubley.
What intrigues me most about Rubley is his ability to play early in his career. He’s a literal coaches son (he played for his dad, former NFL Quarterback T.J. Rubley at Highlands Ranch High School right outside of Denver) known for his attention to detail. The ability to mentally process the increased speed of the game and read more complex defenses is one of the limiting factors for early playing time. I don’t think that should be a problem for Jake. The quarterback position is up in the air (pending the return of Skylar Thompson) and Rubley will enroll enroll in the spring and have every shot to claim it as his own.
I wrote an article a while back based on the premise that Kansas State should be a premier destination for running backs. Oddly enough, the Wildcats picked up Deuce Vaughn soon after, and I would be surprised if he doesn’t have some Heisman buzz by the time he’s a junior. At the same time, Klieman and Messingham need to find a compliment to the diminutive dynamo. You eventually run into diminishing returns when you over use a player, and Vaughn was the top option as a runner and receiver in a few games this season.
I was a little disappointed in running back recruiting in this class. Jayden Williams, a 3* back out of West Des Moines, Iowa was originally slated to be the running back in this class, but in a bit of a head scratching move, he decommited and is now a Northern Iowa commit. Devin Neal, the top overall player in Kansas, was always going to be a tough pull because he’s from Lawrence, but I was hopeful the Jayhawks awful team and...interesting coaching could help sway Neal to check out a running back friendly system in Manhattan, but the coaching staff couldn’t pick up any traction.
After failing to land a stud power back, Coach Klieman turned his attention to Devrin Weathers. He is a 6’1, 190 pound 3* athlete that was already committed to K-State. When he originally committed, I thought he would end up in the secondary as either a corner or a safety, but when things didn’t pan out at running back, Weathers, a stud high school running back in his own right, was the obvious choice to fill the void in the recruiting class.
At 6’1, 190, he has a more upright, gliding style of running. He has good long speed, but may not be as quick through the line as other, more compact backs. I’ve been trying to come up with a good comparison, because he’s bit of a unique runner, and I finally settled on current New York Giant and former Clemson running back Wayne Gallman. Gallman was a 6’1, 195 pound “athlete” that many people thought was destined for either safety or linebacker for Clemson, but he ended up being one of the most productive running backs in Clemson history. Like Gallman, Weathers may need a redshirt year to get his weight and strength up, but I think he could be an interesting piece to the running game if he can pack on another 10-15 pounds onto his frame. The good thing about Weathers is if it doesn’t work out at running back, he can always give safety a try.
This grade is less a reflection on Weathers as a talent, and more a reflection of a muddled recruiting board, and a few misses. Weathers in addition to a between the tackles bruiser would have bumped the grade significantly.
I had to wait to write this section because with so many “athletes” in this class, it was tough to tell who was going to end up at wide receiver and who was going to end up in the secondary. K-State was kind enough to provide preliminary positions in their announcements, and now I can move forward with certainty (if there is such a thing in 2020).
Wide receiver was a bit of a disappointment in 2020 but I put some of that on the quarterback change to Will Howard. I’m not bagging on Will, but he didn’t have much time to develop a rapport with his receiver group. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, just 2020 bad luck. Towards the end of the season he started to click with Malik Knowles, but promising wide out Chabastin Taylor hit a bit of a wall after Skylar went out. He was fine, but I was expecting a breakout season from the hulking outside receiver, and instead got...fine.
The interesting thing about the wide receiver class as currently constituted is that the Wildcats are bringing in two clones of wide receivers already on the roster. I talked about Malik in the above paragraph, and he’s the perfect comp for R.J. Garcia. At 6’1, 170, R.J. is a slightly shorter version of Knowles. He’s a deceptively quick for having long legs and has nice acceleration and long speed. He’s rail thin and needs to bulk up, but that’s why you have a weight program. With the mass defections at slot receiver, I wouldn’t be surprised if Garcia competed for a spot in the two deep next year. He’s a little bigger than the normal slot receivers for K-State, but he possess the quickness to make it work.
The other wide receiver in the class is 6’4, 205 pound Brennen Hawkins. If you put him next to Taylor in their uniform, he would look like his skinnier twin. Hawkins has the perfect combination of size for the boundary receiver position. He should terrorize smaller defense backs on jump balls and give whoever is playing quarterback for the Wildcats a tall, athletic red zone threat. We are in a tall receiver era in football, and Hawkins fits the part perfectly.
There is one commit we’re still waiting on in this class. Dorian Stephens won’t sign during this period because he needs to clean up a few grade issues. It’s been a tough year for high school kids, so I wouldn’t hold it against him. Best case scenario is he gets everything squared away and signs in the spring. At 6’3, 185, he’s a rangy receiver who projects as an option at either the boundary or field position.
Grade: C+ (with room to improve if Stephens signs in the spring, this needs to be a three receiver class to replace some of the outgoing talent)
The coaching staff went big game hunting at tight end and struck out. Sammy Wheeler, Konner Fox, Cody Stufflebean, and Will Swanson will all have freshman or sophomore eligibility next season, making tight end a “go big or go home” position this recruiting cycle. The coaching staff threw everything, including the kitchen sink at 4* Thomas Fidone out of Iowa, but lost out to Nebraska. They also made a run at high 3* James Carnie out of Nebraska, and lost out to the Huskers of Corn yet again. Either of those two would have been huge, but it didn’t pan out.
Depending on how confident the coaching staff is in the Wheeler, Fox, Stufflebean, Swanson foursome, tight end could be a spot for a grad transfer. If they like what they have on the roster, they could easily pass on the position all-together and be fine.
Grade: Incomplete (but an A for effort—I like the aggression even if it didn’t work out).
This is another position stocked with young talent, allowing the coaching staff to be selective, but I’m worried they were a bit too selective. I love the two players they brought in, but a two man offensive line class makes me nervous. I usually like to see 4-5 every year because evaluating offensive linemen is one of the hardest things to do in recruiting. They need to hit on both of these guys.
Andrew Leingang was a huge recruiting win for Coach Klieman and Coach Riley. In fact, outside of Rubley, he’s my favorite recruit in the class. The staff put a ton of eggs in the Leingang basket and managed to cash in, beating out both Stanford and Minnesota. He’s a true mauler out of South Dakota, and will be a force in the run game sooner rather than later. He’s a little light at 6’5, 270, but has the frame to play well over 300 pounds, hopefully without losing much of the athleticism that allows him to climb to the second level and destroy linebackers. The staff put a ton of eggs in the Leingang basket and it paid off in a big way.
Austin Weiner is the definition of a high upside, low floor offensive line recruit. The Wildcat legacy was always a take for this class, even without much, if any, experience playing on the offensive line. In high school, he mostly lined up as a 6’7, 250 pound tight end, but in college, it’s left tackle or bust. His father, Todd, was a first team All-Big 12, and Second Team All-American in 1997, and went on to have a 10-year career in the NFL after being drafted in the second round by the Seahawks. Austin has the height and mobility you want in a left tackle, but he’s going to need to maintain that mobility at 300+ pounds while developing his technique. Store him away in the back of your brain, because you might not see him for a few seasons, but his upside is off the charts.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Noah Bolticoff, because the 3* OG/OT was originally committed to Kansas State before defecting to TCU with the help of his TCU legacy head coach. While not a crucial piece in the overall puzzle, he would have added another versatile lineman to the roster, and you can never have too many of those. Leingang, in my opinion, is the better prospect, but I don’t think it was ever an either/or situation with them. Both would have been nice.
This is another spot where the Wildcats could bring in another recruit in the spring, or a graduate transfer, preferably at tackle.
Grade: C (based on coming up at least 1 lineman short)
Honestly, this class boils down to Rubley. If he’s the quarterback of the future, then it’s all good. I like the pieces at the skill positions, but don’t see any transformative talent, with the possible exception of Garcia. Leingang was a huge pick up, but again, I think they came up a few linemen short, especially considering how raw Weiner is coming into the program.
Of course, there is still plenty of time to add a few key pieces to this puzzle through spring signings, junior college players, and transfers, but I can’t grade what I don’t see. I liked where this class started on offense, but it didn’t quiet measure up to where I thought it could have been in the end. I like the guys that they signed, but I think they came up short at a few positions, through no fault of the coaching staff. This was a weird, tough year and that included recruiting.
Grade: C+ (with the potential to move up w/ additional players)