February 7, 2017

The Day After The Day After The Weekend After The Day After The Day After National Signing Day 2017

Our 2017 recruiting class finished ranked #56 nationally, good for 12th in the 14-team ACC.

ACC Rankings (Composite Score):
#6 Florida State (291.60)
#13 Miami (247.52)
#16 Clemson (238.31)
#25 Virginia Tech (217.80)
#27 North Carolina (211.65)
#32 Louisville (203.89)
#35 Pittsburgh (201.91)
#46 Georgia Tech (184.01)
#47 Duke (183.08)
#52 NC State (180.46)
#55 Syracuse (175.34)
#56 Virginia (173.16)
#65 Wake Forest (161.99)
#66 Boston College (161.03)

Bronco Mendenhall described last year's class as "transitional" and this year's class as "foundational," as in, building a foundation, as in, many of the glaring holes on the roster were addressed.  That's fine, but if we want to rebuild this program to the level of annual bowl game appearances, we need to raise this #56 up to inside the top-40.

Consider this fine piece from Streaking the Lawn:

Virginia football recruiting: An orange-and-blueprint for a winning program

I took that and ran with it, yielding THIS VISUAL.

2017 Season5th YearSeniorJuniorSophRS FreshFresh
2013 recruit2014 recruit2015 recruit2016 recruit2017 recruit
QBBenkert (.8364)Zanders (.8169)Abramson (.8493)Stone (.8559)
Cross (.8046)
RBHamm (UR)Ellis (.8442)Atkins (.8493)
Peacock (.8463)
Kier (.8143)
WRLevrone (.8568)Dowling (.8100)Eldridge (.8544)Reed (.8575)Smith (.8616)
Zaccheaus (.8529)Dubois (.8550)Pratt (.7939)
Blackman (.8529)
Cowley (.8320)
Craft (.8313)
TE/FB/H-BackMarshall (.8453)Butts (.8432)Burney (.8169)
OLMontelus (.9330)Pertile (.8275)Moss (.9157)Bischoff (.8215)Knutson (.8400)Nelson (.8668)
McGovern (.9188)Fieler (.8800)Proctor (.8148)Reinkensmeyer (.8194)Glaser (.8433)
McDonald (.8519)Fannin (.8428)
English (.8059)Swoboda (.8365)
Vollmer (.8285)
DLPowers (.8349)Brown (.9941)Trucilla (.8417)Brooks (.8113)Christ (.8463)
Moye (.8391)Baumgardner (.8071)Kirven (.8350)
Wright (.8346)Crutchfield (.7987)Buell (.8219)
Abdullah (.8032)Alonso (.8256)
Hanback (.8023)
LBKiser (.8778)Stalker (.8690)Simmons (.9310)Snyder (.8150)Zandier (.8616)
Cook (.8727)Gallon (.8195)Sheppard (.8575)Gahm (.8328)
Peace (.7000)Mack (.8537)Snowden (.8246)
Word (.8305)Brown (.8153)
Paul (.8120)
Terrell (.8016)
SBlanding (.9966)Thornhill (.8587)Sharp (.8286)Nelson (.8418)Blount (.8100)
Moore (.8043)
CBHarris (.9150)Latimore (.8457)Gibson (.8265)Davis (.8298)Crowell (.8646)
Garner (.8761)Robinson (.8382)Grant (.8199)Jana (.8387)
Hall (.7906)Burton (.8096)
Bratton (.7989)
K/PDelaney (.7877)

This 2017 class produced four guys rated .8600 or above -- OL Ryan Nelson, CB Germane Crowell, WR Shawn Smith, and LB Zane Zandier.  We really needed three or four more high-3☆ guys to hit the talent standard set forth in Paul Wiley's article.

But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, here!  There are many things to like about this recruiting class!  (Cue bulleted list...)

  • OFFENSIVE LINE!  Maybe it's light on sheer quality, but the quantity is exactly where it needed to be: five strong.  High-upside projects in Ryan Swoboda and Gerrik Vollmer capture the imagination while sure-things Ryan Nelson, Tyler Fannin, and Chris Glaser buoy the haul.  Would I have liked to have had Mekhi Becton as part of this class?  Of course I would have.  But I do like this quintet of additions to the OL, they are like manna from heaven.
  • PLAYMAKERS.  Jitterbug Shawn Smith and near-elite tall corner Germane Crowell could provide some real sizzle to this class.  D.J. Pratt has an intoxicating size/speed combo, safety Joey Blount brings bluechip ballhawking to the table, and twin tower OLBs Charles Snowden and Elliott Brown could develop into great edge blitzers.  There's plenty of juice for a winning cocktail here.
  • MISSION ACCOMPLISHED ON THE SECONDARY.  In Crowell, Blount, Riah Burton, Darrius Bratton, and [most likely] Terrell Jana, the reinforcements have arrived.
  • THREE-HEADED MONSTER AT RUNNING BACK.  I love all three of our running back recruits.  P.K. Kier is the burner, Jamari Peacock is the thumper, and Lamont Atkins is the all-around dynamo.  They complement each other very well.
  • #56 is low, but there are some programs below us that I found interesting: #57 West Virginia, #58 Minnesota, #60 Kansas State, #61 Boise State, #63 Indiana, #64 Vanderbilt, #67 BYU, #68 Kansas, #69 Houston, #70 Purdue, #71 Cal, #100 UConn.

And a few things I dislike:
  • Low rankings.  We needed more .8600+ guys in this haul to pull that number up into the top-40.  Recruiting at a #56 level will only serve to sustain a losing program.
  • No true nose tackle.  Mandy Alonso probably fits there, but this class really needed a can't-miss type of nose... and we whiffed on too many of the guys we pursued.
  • Mostly "plan B" guys on the o-line.  The OL quintet could have included Becton (Louisville), Tyran Hunt (Maryland), Bryson Speas (NC State), Mo Unutoa (Utah), Billy Ross (North Carolina), Nick Brahms (Auburn), and/or Harry Crider (Indiana) -- all higher-rated dudes we recruited hard but ultimately missed out on.  And as you can see, it's not like they were ditching us in order to go to Alabama or USC.
  • Not enough wideouts.  If we're eschewing the TE / FB / H-Back position in order to go 3- and 4-wide, then shouldn't we have three or four wide receivers in each class?  This class has 2.5 wideouts (Terrell Jana could end up at either WR or DB).
  • No real headliner.  Nelson/Crowell are great, but this class lacks the real star power at the top.  There's no Brown/Blanding, no Taquan Mizzell, no Eli Harold.
  • Programs who finished ahead of us in the recruiting rankings that specifically hurts my feelings to see: #18 Maryland, #29 Kentucky, #42 Rutgers, #53 Iowa State, #54 UCF.  It's difficult to acknowledge that these guys have passed us by in the pecking order.

Okay, enough intro and overview.  Now I'm just going to give you my thoughts on these dudes...

Mandy Alonso, Nose Tackle, 6-2, 290, Gulliver Prep (Miami, FL)
Rivals and 247Sports 3-star
He's big and active, with nice potential.  I would say the most fair projection for him is that he focuses on playing the nose, and develops into a strong member of the two-deep with a chance to start as an upperclassman.  The reality is that we potentially need to recruit over him... but for now, in the rebuilding of the our program, we need bodies at certain spots.  I know that's damning Alonso with faint praise, and I don't do that intentionally --- I do think he has some untapped upside that hopefully our coaches can coax out of him.

Face of the franchise?

Lamont Atkins, Running Back, 5'10, 200, Lake Braddock (Burke, VA)
Rivals and 247Sports 3-star, 2016-17 Virginia Football Player of the Year
A dynamic do-everything speed back who should be able to step right in and challenge for carries as a true freshman.  My guess is that Atkins is the #3 in 2017, Jordan Ellis' primary complement in 2018, and then our bellcow runner in 2019 and 2020.  I consider him one of the steals of this recruiting class, a guy with a Kevin Parks / Cedric Peerman / Wali Lundy type of career arc.

Joey Blount, Safety, 6'2, 180, Landmark Christian (Fairburn, GA)
247Sports 3-star, Rivals 2-star
I think he's a bit underrated because he was an early commit and then didn't get out there on the recruiting circuit much after that.  Good ball skills, good instincts, centerfielder type safety.  Most likely the heir apparent to Juan Thornhill.

Darrius Bratton, Defensive Back, 6'1, 160, Fork Union Military Academy (VA) by way of William Fleming (Roanoke, VA)
247Sports 2-star, Rivals NR
Committed as part of the 2016 class, spent a season at FUMA, and joined our 2017 class.  He's a tall corner (which fits the Broncoball system) with some speed.  Might be a depth chart guy for his career; the expectations aren't particularly high for him.

Elliott Brown, Outside Linebacker, 6'6, 220, Taft School (Watertown, CT)
247Sports 3-star, Rivals 2-star
An under-the-radar type for whom we swooped in at the end of the recruiting cycle.  I like that he's [very] tall and can form sort of a "twin towers" thing with 6-7 Charles Snowden at outside linebacker.  Brown is an athletic guy, but undoubtedly pretty raw.  This will be a good litmus test for the staff's ability to: a) recognize, b) scout, and c) develop talent.  If Brown gets on the field within the next couple of years, then that's a win.  At that point, if he shows that he's capable of rushing the passer, then it's a giant win.  Time will tell...

Isaac Buell, Defensive Lineman, 6'4, 260, Knoxville Central (Knoxville, TN)
247Sports 3-star, Rivals 2-star
THE VIKING.  On our defensive line, things are about to go from bad to norse.  Whenever Buell tackles the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage, it is known as a ransack.  So on and so forth, I could go all day.  Val-holla at'cha boy!  Anyhoo... Buell is a big, tough battler.  Not a dynamic pass rusher, but projects as a good 5-technique defensive end with the requisite size / strength / tenacity to control two gaps versus the run.  He's the kind of guy you'd expect to see percolating for a couple of years before he really starts getting on the field.  Once he's up to 280+, he should be ready to pillage and burn.

I think you get the idea.

Riah Burton, Cornerback, 6'1, 180, William Penn (New Castle, DE)
247Sports 3-star, Rivals 2-star
Burton and Bratton are somewhat interchangeable; tall fast guys with low expectations.  Both guys fit the system to a tee, so you have to give them a fair expectation to develop into impact players.

Tommy Christ, Defensive Lineman, 6'5, 270, Dominion (Sterling, VA)
Rivals and 247Sports 3-star
A key recruit along the defensive line.  Not sure he projects to the nose, but as a 5-tech he has awesome upside.  Between Christ and Buell, I think we've got a good future at end.  Conceivably, Christ could bulk up a bit and play the nose, but at 6-5 I just think he's a bit too high-slung.  That said, he is a certified game-wrecker... so... we'll see.  Just know that this is a future starter somewhere on the d-line.


Germane Crowell, Cornerback, 6'3, 185, Carver (Winston-Salem, N.C.)
Rivals and 247Sports 3-star
Crowell is the gem of this recruiting class, as a near-elite, playmaking corner.  He's tall, fast, fluid, and capable of making an instant impact in a secondary that is already stocked with quality young players.  Don't be shocked to see Crowell starting as a true freshman.

Brian Delaney, Kicker/Punter, 5'11, 200, Westfield (Chantilly, VA)
Kohl’s Kicking 5-star as a punter and kicker (No. 1 punter in nation, No. 18 kicker)
He's got a booming leg.  He's a better punter than kicker, but is really good at both.  The expectation is that we'll bring in preferred walk-on kicker(s) and allow Delaney to focus on punting and on kickoffs.  I think we're looking at a four-year starter here.

Tyler Fannin, Offensive Lineman, 6'3, 290, Mill Creek (Hoschton, GA)
Rivals and 247Sports 3-star
He's just a big ol' center, man.  I'd say Tyler already has most of the cerebral parts down.  Tujague will need to brew a toughness and edge to his game, but once that's in place, look out.  Fannin will also need to transform some fat into muscle.  He's listed at 290 now.  That needs to get down to around 275... and then back up to 290.  My guess is a redshirt, then a season to soak, then a three-year starter at center.  We won't know if he's become nasty enough until we know.  Recent Hoo comp: Ian-Yates Cunningham.

Matt Gahm, Linebacker, 6'3, 225, Highland Park (Highland Park, TX)
Rivals and 247Sports 3-star
He's a Texas linebacker.  'Nuff said.  Tough, instinctive, great in pursuit, strong tackler.  Projects to ILB for the Hoos, and should be able to start seeing the field once the Stalker/Simmons/Sheppard trio graduates.

Chris Glaser, Offensive Lineman, 6'4, 255, Solon (OH)
Rivals and 247Sports 3-star
The staff loves him because he's a wrecking ball who could play anywhere on the o-line or d-line.  That being said, I think his ceiling is probably the lowest of the five OL recruits.  Not sure he has the frame to get much bigger than around 285 or so, which is perfectly fine for the college level.  The projection I like best for him is pulling guard, because I think he's got the mobility to be a real bulldozer ushering backs out around the tackle.  Get Glaser blocking linebackers or safeties on the move, it's a win.  Ask him to grind for 60 minutes in pass pro against DTs and interior blitzers, and it may be a problem.  Recent Hoo comp: Brian Barthelmes.

Terrell Jana, Wide Receiver / Cornerback / Safety, 6'1, 190 pounds, Woodberry Forest (VA)
Rivals and 247Sports 3-star
I like him best as a defensive back, but he's pretty versatile.  More of a possession receiver on offense and a free safety type of defense, he earlier said that UVA's staff had recruited him to play cornerback... so we'll see where he ends up.  If it is in fact at corner, he's another long, athletic guy to add to the mix.

P.K. Kier, Running Back, 5'11, 200, Millbrook (Winchester, VA)
Rivals and 247Sports 3-star
He's the fastest of our three RB recruits.  He's also the most lightly-regarded.  Not sure if he's destined for a Marquis Weeks type of career at UVA or if he'll be able to push for a more prominent role.  One thing is certain: Kier needs to come ready to play special teams!

John Kirven, Defensive End, 6'5, 260, Woodberry Forest (VA)
Rivals and 247Sports 3-star
Mike London recruited him at tight end, Mendenhall recruited him at defensive end.  I view Kirven as sort of a blank slate --- he'll need to add strength and refine his game before he's ready to play.  This is likely a 2-3 year project, and the best hope is that it yields a pass rushy nickel type who can complement the 5-techs we have in Christ and Buell.

Ryan Nelson, Offensive Lineman, 6'5, 280, Buena Park (CA)
Rivals and 247Sports 3-star
Needs to get bigger/stronger, but possesses literally every trait you want in a left tackle.  Already has a near-complete skillset, and everyone raves about his work ethic.  Once he adds 25 pounds, I think we're looking at a multi-year starter at LT.  My $0.02 is he's the best recruit in UVA's 2017 class.  Recent Hoo comp: Brad Butler.

Jamari Peacock, Running Back, 6'0, 245, Yulee (FL)
Rivals and 247Sports 3-star
From the same high school that gave us Derrick Henry, the 240-pound bulldozer who won a Heisman Trophy at Alabama.  Now, Peacock isn't on the same level as Henry (who was a 5☆ recruit in 2013), but many parallels can still be drawn.  Peacock is a big human who [obviously] is considered a "big" back in UVA's system.  That's the Albert Reid grinder role from 2016.  Peacock has to survive the offseason conditioning program, but a golden opportunity awaits him as a true freshman in 2017 on a roster that lacks a power back beyond Jordan Ellis.

D.J. Pratt, Wide Receiver, 6'3, 170, Good Counsel (Olney, MD)
Rivals and 247Sports 2-star
Tall.  Fast.  Those two things add up to some nice upside.  Watching his video packages, the thing that pops off the screen to me is Pratt's skill and tenacity as a blocker, which is a pretty unique trait for a wide receiver prospect.

Shawn Smith, Wide Receiver, 5'11, 175, Brunswick (GA)
Rivals and 247Sports 3-star
He's quick, but lacks the size and top-gear speed to be a downfield threat.  With his quickness and wiggle, he can be explosive on the underneath stuff.  Think Olamide Zaccheaus.

Charles Snowden, Outside Linebacker, 6'7, 200, St. Albans (Washington, D.C.)
247Sports 3-star, Rivals 2-star
I'm just going to copy and paste what I said about Elliott Brown, because it's all directly applicable here, too...

An under-the-radar type for whom we swooped in [near] the end of the recruiting cycle.  I like that he's [very] tall and can form sort of a "twin towers" thing with [6-6 Elliott Brown] at outside linebacker.  Brown Snowden is an athletic guy, but undoubtedly pretty raw.  This will be a good litmus test for the staff's ability to: a) recognize, b) scout, and c) develop talent.  If Brown Snowden gets on the field within the next couple of years, then that's a win.  At that point, if he shows that he's capable of rushing the passer, then it's a giant win.  Time will tell...

Lindell Stone, Quarterback, 6'2, 205, Woodberry Forest (VA)
Rivals and 247Sports 3-star
He's not a 'Thor-terback' in that he's not a pulverizing runner nor does he have a rocket arm, but he's a pretty damn good QB.  Quick, compact release, good accuracy, precision passing savant.  You can run an effective spread with him playing cube.  I'm excited about adding his potential to our stable of quarterbacks.

Ryan Swoboda, Offensive Lineman, 6'10, 270, Windermere Prep (Windermere, FL)
Rivals and 247Sports 3-star
It's all about learning proper bend and balance for him, along with adding enough upper body strength to be able to produce punch.  He does that, and he could be a real force.  But that process won't be quick.  I'd put the odds at 50/50 that he either ends up just being a career backup who enters the two-deep in his third season but never starts OR he develops into a starter/star/future NFL player.  It's all about bend, balance, and developing strength.  With those long arms, he could be the absolute ideal tackle in a modern, pass-heavy offense that utilizes wide line splits.  (X-Factor for Swoboda: We don't recruit many TEs and instead endeavor to spread with four wide... however... A big, tall, long, physical freak like this guy could be an absolute ideal 6th OL for an unbalanced line. Something to look for in the future.)  Recent Hoo comp: ???  We've never had a 6-foot-10 lineman before.  This will be a fun situation to watch develop.

Gerrik Vollmer, Offensive Lineman, 6'5, 280, Taft School (Watertown, CT)
247Sports 3-star and Rivals 2-star
Raw technique, outstanding natural blend of size/strength/athleticism.  Tujague is going to either love this guy or hate him.  He'll love him if he's able to learn fast and make strides, he'll hate him if he's an instructional albatross.  I could envision a Trent Corney type of career arc here (though I hope not, because it never really came together for Corney).  Vollmer is sort of the anti-Nelson.  Ryan needs the size and strength, Gerrik needs the refinement.  If Vollmer is a fast learner with a good level of aptitude, he could be a mult-year starter for UVA.  Recent Hoo comp: Oday Aboushi.

Zane Zandier, Linebacker, 6'3, 205, Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson Hills, PA)
Rivals and 247Sports 3-star
Last but not least, it's Zane Zandier, a guy destined to dent the depth chart at ILB sooner than later.  He needs to add some size, but otherwise he's pretty prototypical to what Bronco is looking for in his inside 'backers.  Sideline-to-sideline range, sure tackling, good in coverage, nasty at the point of attack, plays with an edge.  Plus, Zandier is a smart guy who studies the game in the 'gym rat' sense of the cliché.  A whole lot to like, here.

So there you have it, the 2017 recruiting class in a nutshell.

A quick snapshot of the positional slotting:
Quarterback) Stone
Big Back) Peacock
Speed Back) Atkins, Kier
Wide Receiver) Smith, Pratt, maybe Jana
Offensive Tackle) Nelson, Swoboda, maybe Vollmer
Guard) Glaser, maybe Vollmer
Center) Fannin
Defensive End) Buell, Christ, Kirven
Nose Tackle) Alonso
Outside Linebacker) Snowden, Brown
Inside Linebacker) Zandier, Gahm
Safety) Blount, maybe Jana
Cornerback) Crowell, Burton, Bratton, maybe Jana
Kicker/Punter) Delaney

Go Hoos.


  1. We really need to recruit better. That Richmond debacle set the tone for the year, and to close out the way we did against Virginia Tech was a flat-out embarrassing job by the coaching staff and surely didn’t help us sell a program “on the rise” (what happened to Hoos Rising?). You can see how we failed to close with ANY of our higher rated targets (Becton, Hawaiian trio) and lost couple of our highest rated recruits (Jeremiah Owusu, Thaxton) no doubt due to the part that we continued to look worse and worse after our close call against Louisville and ended the season flat as a pancake. Tough sell, and either our coaches need to be better at coaching so they can sell the hope of winning, or better at recruiting so we can get kids that will help us win (duh).

    The image of UVa football is at a very low point, and you need coaches who can sell a vision to recruits that they’ll be excited about. Not sure how Bronco gets when he’s actually excited but man, he seems like a quirky librarian. Hope he doesn’t over-project how much he misses the good old days of recruiting high school kids (like he did in his recruiting press conference). I get that he’s trying to establish a culture, but that can take only take you so far compared to talent. No need to give off the vibe that “we’re too good to stoop to that level” in all the extra stuff that comes with recruiting and catering to kids, because we are clearly not good enough to be above any of that. (Not talking strippers and $100 handshakes, more like not being upset that a recruit wants to have fun and pick his school with a 3 hat ceremony). Not to mention that we failed at communicating at least once, maybe twice to recruits that thought they had offers and committed. That's an embarrassing look for a new staff in the area.

    Too early to say this because we don’t really know what he’s got, but I hope Zanders starts and we move to a spread-to-run offense. That will help hide our O-line woes and our defense (time of possession). It will also give us a better and tougher identity on offense. I think most of Benkert’s problems are mental, a poor man’s Greyson Lambert.

    Kicker would’ve saved us a game or two last year, hope Delaney can both punt and kick.

    I’m very disappointed with how this staff showed they were able to recruit in their first class for a new staff. We’ll see how well they can really recruit now that they’ve had a year to go around Virginia and the region, build relationships, etc. Some tough competition recruiting in the region but can’t be any worse than we were this year under Bronco or we will peak at 5-6 wins under him.

    Thanks for the writeup and the Visual (and the link to the Visual).

    1. "Not to mention that we failed at communicating at least once, maybe twice to recruits that thought they had offers and committed. That's an embarrassing look for a new staff in the area."

      No this was a case in which a kid did have an offer and committed, but the staff didn't have a spot for that schollie anymore. It happens. But instead of the kid making it public before checking with the staff first isn't embarrassing on the staff.

      "Kicker would’ve saved us a game or two last year, hope Delaney can both punt and kick."

      They are actively pursuing a kicker right now, probably as a preferred walk on. Delany would handle punting and kick off duty.

  2. If these coaches can coach and develop then they have brought in some reasonable material to work with for near future, win a few games in 2017 and at least compete in others we will then bring in a better 2018 class ,it ain't going to happen over night,will take at least 3 years to win 6 and go bowling