To say the very least, it's been an interesting month. Between whatever the hell is going on with the basketball team and the whirlwind of Neal Brown sweeping Mountaineer Nation off its collective feet, it was easy for the casual fan to forget that National Signing Day 2019 was just weeks away. But it was, and now it's come and gone and we know the names of the young lads who us old grads will get to watch lace them up for the Old Gold and Blue next fall.
Before we get into which of those names might help us this fall though, we need to pour one out for Darnell Wright. Tennessee's head start ultimately proved to be too much to overcome, but don't sleep on the precedent that Neal Brown set over the last month. Where Dana Holgorsen looked at Darnell and saw the stars and the blue blood offers and thought "why bother?", Real Deal Neal saw those same things and thought "why not?". That's what's exciting about Wright's decision even being a thing worth paying attention to yesterday - it lays a "why not us?" foundation for the future. Why can't we go out and land 4 and 5 star recruits? Why can't we win the Big 12? Why can't we...
Anyways, godspeed Darnell, and on to the guys that matter. Some are on campus already while others will arrive this summer, but here are a few to keep your eye on this fall (plus a couple for the future). Starting with the latter...
S Rashean Lynn - Fr
I know that safety is arguably the deepest position on our roster, and I know that we have two others in this class who are rated higher, but something about Lynn just sticks out. I don't think it's just that he's 6'5 (though he is), I think it's that he doesn't have any of the slow-twitchedness that's sometimes associated with guys who are that tall and lanky. Maybe it's just who he's playing against, but the guy looks legitimately explosive, and when you consider his frame and what he might grow into you have to wonder what everybody was looking at when recruiting him. I guess they all saw him as a receiver? Beats me, but it wouldn't be the first time we benefited from a recruit being miscast by the rest of the country.
S Osita Smith - Fr
Osita Smith is one of those other safeties who was rated higher than Lynn, but my assertion that Lynn is a diamond in the rough has nothing to do with how good I think Smith is (and can be). He has a prototypical safety build similar to a KJ Dillon (6'2 195), but more important than the frame is the skill set - he looks equally comfortable mixing it up at the line or dropping into coverage, and his experience as a receiver means he has fantastic ball skills to boot, all of which means he projects as an exceptional fit at either the Cat or the Spear. We have several talented options at those positions right now, but Smith should be very well positioned for playing time in a year or two as guys like Jovanni Stewart, Deamonte Lindsay, and Derrek Pitts move on.
RB Tony Mathis - Fr
Mathis is a third guy who would likely require an absolute disaster to see the field in anything more than spot duty this year, but man he looks promising for a year or two down the road. His body type (6'0 195) and running style are reminiscent of Kennedy McKoy - one of those smooth striders with a natural body swerve who can throw a leg out or dip a shoulder and then disappear. I suppose the comparison is to be expected considering Holgs recruited them both, and I think he's a worthy heir once Kennedy moves on to bigger things.
Now let's look at some guys who I think might make an impact right away.
DT Jordan Jefferson - Fr
Jefferson is an interesting one. He was 1st team All-Area in Pensacola, which is certainly nothing to sneeze at considering the Panhandle's history of pumping out good football players, but his recruitment (at the P5 level at least) didn't really get going until about three weeks ago when he picked up offers from Louisville and Kansas State in addition to our own. This probably isn't a huge surprise considering that all three schools have recently hired mid-major head coaches, but it would seem to support the notion that all three think Jefferson may be a bit of a hidden gem. We swooped in similarly on the aforementioned Lynn, but I actually think Jefferson has the chance to pay off even sooner - we need help along the defensive front, and his physical stature (6'4 285) and athleticism should allow him to provide immediate depth at both end and tackle.
WR Winston Wright - Fr
Wright is one the guys who understandably wavered in his commitment following the departure of Dana Holgorsen, but anybody who's been paying attention to his Twitter feed over these last several weeks knows that he has warmed considerably to the idea of playing for Neal Brown. He'll have plenty of depth chart to wade through, but he has one absolutely elite skill that could force Neal into playing him - simply put, the guy is special with the ball in his hands.
I don't toss around Tavon Austin comparisons lightly, but Wright is good enough in the open field to at least warrant having the conversation. His jitterbug, stop-start acceleration may not be quite what Tavon's was (but really, who's is?), but the agility, top-end speed, and preternatural ability to use defenders' angles against them all compare extremely favorably. Neal himself has said that his offensive MO is getting the ball to playmakers in space, and Wright will be one of our best guys in those situations the second he walks on campus. Considering all that, it's not difficult to envision a Tavon-esque role for the lad as a freshman - manufacture about 4-6 touches per game for him between kick returns, punt returns, jet sweeps, and quick hitters and just let him do what he does best.
CB Dreshun Miller - Jr
Given our ongoing existence in the pass-happy Big 12, his prototypical size (6'2 175), and our occasionally shaky play at corner last year, Dreshun Miller is a guy who has a chance to make a really big impact early in his career here. I promise I'm not just saying this because they were both JUCO transfers, but the hips, the length, and the ball skills remind me a lot of Rasul Douglas. Like Rasul, he's not a top-end burner, but like Rasul, he has that next-level agility and body control that allows him to fluidly transition from backpedal, to breaking on the ball, to oh wait, nope, we're 45-degree strafing, and now we're knocking the pass down, all without ever flailing or false-stepping or wasting any movement whatsoever. That combination of physical traits should enable him to get sticky in man coverage, jam guys at the line, and challenge bigger receivers on those jump balls that hurt us so frequently a year ago. Best of all, he has that fighter pilot swagger that's so crucial to succeeding out there on the island. Throw it all together and his worst-case scenario probably still leaves him as our third best corner when James Madison comes calling, and that means that we're likely going to see a lot of him this year.
LB VanDarius Cowan - RS So
Cowan is technically going to be a redshirt sophomore, but since his scholarship is going to count against this class I'm going to write about him here. For the uninitiated, Cowan is a 6'4 240lb transfer from Alabama who was a very highly rated 4-star coming out of high school, and though he's a middle linebacker by trade, his size and athleticism probably make him our best option at every LB position (provided he understands what he's doing). I personally think it'd fun to play him at the Bandit (hybrid OLB/DE) because it's arguably the most important position in Vic Koenning's system and he’s one of the few guys on our roster with the physical gifts to make it work, but it's just as much fun to envision him patrolling sideline-to-sideline from one of the two spots in the middle. Wherever he ends up playing, expect him to stand out - we haven't had too many dudes like him.