If Iowa State is to return to the postseason in 2015, or even compete in the Big XII, you're going to be hearing a lot of the names recently signed by the Cyclones. Recruiting classes at schools like Iowa State are typically heavy on freshmen with the hopes of long term development in mind. For the first five classes of his tenure that's exactly what Paul Rhoads did, but the gloves are off and he knows he must win now.
This class is heavily slanted towards the JUCOs with six having signed their National Letters of Intent to play in Ames last week. The 19 underclassmen are by and large underwhelming, but there are a few guys in the trenches that might have an impact over the long haul.
Of course the importance of a class is rooted in who can actually stick around for four or five years and have a significant impact on the team. And as we wrote on Monday, Rhoads has been struggling with that part of the program. With that in mind let's take a look at the 2015 class and who can contribute right away, the future stars in the making, and take a swag at how many will still be here in 2018 or 2019.
There's no Allen Lazard in this year's bunch and the recruiting services have panned this class like they usually do. Rivals rates this class 65th overall with an average star rating of 2.45. Only Colorado, Oregon State, and Pittsburgh are ranked lower out of Power 5 schools, and Kansas is ranked one spot higher at 64th.
Scout ranks the Cyclones dead last in the Big XII, and 70th overall, with a 2.63 average. They're 10 spots behind Kansas and a full 22 spots behind Kansas State. Colorado and Vanderbilt are the only Power 5 schools to rank lower.
At this point I won't even bother with ESPN, so suffice to say this class is low on talent and long on developmental need. If you're expecting a massive change in how Iowa State's program operates, well, be prepared to be disappointed.
There's no consensus star of the bunch so you look at the players with the most talent and opportunity to play immediately from day one. That man happens to be JUCO defensive tackle Demond Tucker. Tucker clocks in at 6'1" and 285 pounds and was the 2013 National Junior College Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year. He has the same pedigree was Rodney Coe, albeit with more experience inside, and if he can get his ass to the meeting room on time he should have a pretty successful two years in Ames.
Rhoads and his staff put an emphasis on finding a bigger nickelback to fill Jared Brackens' shoes and also a safety to replace the departed T.J. Mutcherson. It's possible they found both in the JUCO ranks.
6'3" 205 pound defensive back Jarnor Jones is likely to take over for Brackens in the nickel role, and if anything he'll be a better fit than Drake Ferch ever was. Jones started his career at NC State before transferring to the JUCO ranks and has the physical pedigree of a guy who can last in the Big XII.
5'10" 170 pound defensive back Jamal Wiltz will slide from cornerback to safety in Wally Burnham's system and play a complementary fiddle to returning safety Kamari Cotton-Moya. Wiltz is on the smaller size for a safety but a summer in the weight room could get him to 190 and ready for the rigors of Big XII play.
If there's one positive to take away from this class it's the fact that Rhoads saw an area of need (the entire defense) and committed to finding players that can make an impact immediately. Tucker will be joined inside by 6'3" 310 pound tackle Bobby Leath, and one would hope the combination of Leath and Tucker would add some much needed size to a defense that was railroaded in nearly every game last year.
The surprise of this class might be 6'6" 215 pound receiver Hakeem Butler. Before any of you get excited about the potential of Butler to become a tight end you should note Rhoads has said it's unlikely. Butler doesn't have the frame to put on the added weight necessary, and will spend his career on the outside. This new approach to recruiting bigger receivers to play in the Big XII is a welcome change from the early days of Rhoads' tenure, and Butler making it on the field sometime in 2015 would not surprise me.
He doesn't have the same caliber as Lazard, but you can't teach height, and if his raw athleticism gets some technique put on top of it he'll be a good back up Z receiver for his first couple of years.
The Potential Bust
You probably look at De'Amontae Jackson's offer list and wonder how the hell he ended up in Ames. He received offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, and Notre Dame; to name a few, but ended up in Ames anyway. Rhoads mentioned in his signing day press conference that Jackson had some grade issues to work out before reaching campus, and suddenly the picture became as bright as the sun.
Jackson is without a doubt a talent that could end up creating a strength on the defensive line for the Cyclones, but getting him to Ames is just part one of the repetitive chore of reaching for players at a school like Iowa State. Jackson possesses the cliche boom or bust potential, and given how the past five seasons have went for Rhoads and his recruits, I won't hold my breath on seeing Jackson in a Cyclone uniform for very long, if at all.
Wyatt Rhoads and Jack Bergstrom head up the rest of the class that is filled with homegrown talent and guys who will never, ever see the field unless the wheels have come off and Iowa State has been relegated to DII. Not FCS, but actual Division II.
Facetiousness aside, there are a couple of guys to watch out for in the future. Cedar Rapids natives Julian Good-Jones and Bryce Meeker are both offensive linemen that already near 300 pounds, and have the frames to be ass kickers at guard. Something this offense had needed since the departure of Hayworth Hicks. Jaypee Philbert is a JUCO offensive linemen that may very well get the start at guard if Jamison Lalk slides further inside to take over duties at center. Philbert tips the scale at 305 pounds and might be the immediate bulldozer needed to jump start the running game.
Dominic DeLira is the quarterback of the class, is drawing comparisons to Todd Reesing, and probably will outlast his coaches and kill those comparisons the second Mark Mangino leaves Ames in the rear view mirror.
There aren't really a whole lot of other guys to get excited about. Both running backs are under six feet tall, only two receivers will probably see the field during their careers (Butler and Denver Johnson), and the bulk of the non-JUCO defensive class is in the backfield due to the impending departures of Sam E. Richardson and Nigel Tribune over the next two years.
Some of these guys we'll become familiar with in the next three to five years, others we'll know of immediately, and some we'll forget about as soon as we close this browser window. That's the cycle, it's best not to get too caught up in it.