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Kansas State Early Signing Period Wrap Up: Defense

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The Wildcats stocked up on athletes on the defensive side of the ball.

Kansas State shocks Oklahoma, 48-41, beats top -5 team for first time in 13 years Travis Heying/Wichita Eagle/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The wheat is in the bin for the class of 2021 early signing period, and I like what the Kansas State Wildcats managed to bring in under extraordinary circumstances. This defensive class is full of multi-dimensional athletes who could slot in at numerous positions. The defense needed an infusion of speed and received it on Wednesday.

Defensive End

Georgia has been fertile recruiting territory for the defense, and Coach Wyatt headed down to the ATL and pulled out Ozzie Hoffler. This is all about improving the pass rush, because that’s what Hoffler does. He’s explosive off the edge, can make the turn, and puts quarterbacks on the ground. At 6’3, 220, he’ll need to pack on some weight to be a three down player, but in the meantime, he could play early in his career as a situational pass rusher on passing downs.

This grade comes down to where guys like Brayden Wood (DT) and Gaven Haselhorst (ILB) end up eventually. Wood is currently a defensive tackle, but I see some Wyatt Hubert in his skill set, and depending on what the coaching staff is looking for, is a guy that could bounce between the 3-tech defensive tackle and strong side defensive end. Haselhorst is currently a linebacker, but could easily end up as a defensive end with his pass rushing ability. At the same time, if you managed to give the defensive coaches truth serum, I think they would admit to coming up a strong side defensive end short in this class. They handed out 21 offers, and came up dry.

At the same time, they weren’t going to find a replacement for Hubert in the freshmen class, and this could be a place where they bring in a 1- or 2-year transfer while they wait for some of the younger guys. If Bronson Massie comes back, they probably won’t do that either. I would have liked a bigger defensive end in this class, but it’s not the end of the world.

Grade: C

Defensive Tackle

Brayden Wood is a key piece and the coaching staff needs him to be ready sooner, rather than later. He’s a high motor, high intensity player who makes a ridiculous amount of tackles for a defensive lineman. In 2019 he was credited with 116 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. He has a quick get off and closes quickly on tackles. He played defensive end and defensive tackle in high school, and I think you’ll see him pull double duty for the Wildcats as well. In fact, I like his pass rushing skills from the defensive tackle position more than I like his pass rushing skills at defensive end. He’s going to be a nightmare for guards and centers to handle, and could bring a new dimension to the pass rush from an interior defensive tackle position.

In addition to Wood, the coaching staff added local star Damian Ilalio late, and I love what he brings to the table. He’s an undersized defensive tackle, but at 6’0, 270 he’s essentially a fire hydrant with arms and legs. Next time you pass a fire hydrant, give it a push, and see what happens. The coaching staff was able to work the recruiting system a little with Damian, and he’ll come into the class as a “blue shirt” because he was technically “unrecruited”. This means he didn’t take an official visit and didn’t have an in-home visit. Of course, living within 10 minutes (depending on which roads Manhattan has decided to destroy this week) makes that a little more tenable. He’ll be put on scholarship, sit a year, and be ready to roll with freshman eligibility. He’ll count against the class of 2022 in terms of scholarship numbers.

The one thing this class lacks is a true nose tackle, but those are exceedingly difficult to find, and finding a nose wasn’t a requirement for this class. In fact, based on the offers, the coaching staff didn’t really go after one in this class. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them add a junior college or transfer nose tackle before next season, but if they don’t, it won’t be the end of the world.

Grade: B-

Linebacker

The defensive coaches added a ton of speed to the linebacker position. If you’re a linebacker/safety hybrid, Kansas State was all over you this year. Davonte Pritchard is the first name that comes to mind. The 2nd rated played in Kansas could play anywhere from linebacker to wide receiver, but the Mark Simoneau-coached Gardner Edgerton product is going to start off as a linebacker. At 6’1, 200, he’ll need to add some weight, but not so much that it slows him down. Speed is the name of his game, and he tends to get where he’s going in a hurry, and it’s usually not a good thing for the opposing ball carrier because he hits surprisingly hard for a dude that could be a wide receiver.

The coaching staff wasn’t done with speed yet, because Krew Jackson is another linebacker/safety hybrid that can get into the backfield in a hurry and cover tight ends down the field. He’s 6’5, 200, which isn’t something I normally type about a linebacker, but that’s what makes him such a unique prospect. He has plenty of room to add another 20-30 pounds and still look tall and slim for a linebacker. Much like Prichard, don’t let his slender frame fool you, because he’s more than happy to lay someone out with a big hit.

Speaking of laying people out, the hitter in this linebacker class is Gaven Haselhorst. He’s my favorite (and 247’s) defensive recruit in the class and I’m convinced he would have a 4* rating if he didn’t live in middle of nowhere Kansas. When Haselhorst hits you, you stay hit, and may need a series or two off to consider if football is something you want to continue to pursue. I’m willing to bet he’s turned a few guys into basketball players in his career. He has great straight line speed and arrives with bad intentions. Some people think he’s destined for defensive end, especially if he keep growing, but I desperately want to see him play middle linebacker at 250 pounds.

I love this linebacker class. You’ve got two outside linebackers with speed and a middle linebacker that hits like a mule.

Grade: A

Cornerback

There has been a bit of an exodus of corners from the program, and the coaching staff needed to fill a few more holes than they did, but I’m not sure they anticipated this many transfers. They found two guys that they liked and stuck with them instead of reaching late in desperation to make numbers.

Omar Daniels is a steal out of Georgia. He’s a physical, long armed corner who isn’t afraid to come up and help out in run support. He carries himself on the field like an elite corner and isn’t afraid to let the opposing wide receiver know he’s not up to the task of catching passes. He can play both man and zone, and was a huge get for Coach Malone.

Darell Jones came out of nowhere (mainly because he’s from Coffeyville, Kansas) and put on a show at the Sharp Performance Showcase in Salina. He ran a 4.35 40, 4.15 agility shuffle (NFL caliber) and has an astounding 40.7 inch vertical. He could play either wide receiver, corner, or safety, but I think corner is the right spot. He’s got nice size at 5’11, and you’re not going to beat him deep or out jump him. This was a huge under-the-radar pick up of a lightly recruited Kansas kid.

If the coaching staff had a crystal ball, I think they would have taken another corner in this class, and they still could add a player later, but I love the two they did sign. These two could both be legit lockdown guys on the outside in the future.

Grade: B-

Safety

This could have been the story of “the one that got away” after the coaching staff went all-in on Matthew Langlois, earned his commitment, and then got submarined by LSU with a last minute offer. Fortunately, Marvin Martin decided to stay closer to home and decommited from Boston College. The K-State coaching staff swooped in and landed his commitment, securing an impact safety for the class. Martin is listed at 6’0, 185, but plays with reckless abandon and hits like linebacker. I see him more as a strong safety, helping in run support, rather than a free safety dropping deep. He looks good playing downhill and is a knock down (as opposed to drag down) tackler that doesn’t get carried down the field for extra yards.

Desmond Purnell was a late addition to the class, and like Ilalio, will “blue shirt”. He’s another hard hitting safety who could eventually end up at linebacker if he continues to add weight. Coach Klieman saw him playing against his son in a high school game and dropped a late offer which Purnell quickly accepted. He’s a quality athlete who plays all over the field for Hayden High School and should be a guy that excels on special teams early in his career. He’s a late addition, but the kind of “under the radar” late addition that I like. The coaching staff is gambling on his talent, and aren’t taking him simply to meet numbers at safety.

Grade: B

Overall

I love the potential of this class. The linebackers, in particular, make me smile. In today’s spread out game, you need linebackers who can cover and hold up in zone defense. Throw in a sledge hammer middle linebacker and you can’t ask for much more in terms of potential.

I would have liked another defensive lineman or two, but think that’s a position that may be better served with a more immediate impact player, only because there is already a traffic jam of young guys. Wood is the gem in this group and I think you’ll see him on the field next season.

Finally, the secondary picked up a few nice pieces, another corner would have been nice, but again, that’s a position where you can pick up someone out of the portal fairly easily. The two corner’s in this class have nice length, and Jones is a straight up freak athlete. These two have the potential to make a tough tandem as they progress through their time in Manhattan.

Grade: B+