Iowa State’s Matt Campbell has made history with the highest ranked class in the last decade. According to 247Sports, Coach Campbell’s second recruiting class ranks 52nd in the country, and 7th out of 10 Big 12 schools. In all, there were 24 signees, plus two grad transfers.
In years past, the Cyclones were fighting off the likes of San Jose State, Akron, Northern Illinois and Air Force of the lower-tier conferences for recruits.
Maybe the fact that all of the commitments are 3-stars doesn’t show much on paper, but their laundry list of offers tells a different story.
This staff has battled and beaten out perennial top-25 programs like Virginia Tech, Note Dame, Nebraska, Oregon, Oklahoma and Ole Miss for the right to get these student-athletes. And ladies and gentlemen – they are just getting started.
Another interesting tidbit is the focus on prep athletes in the upper Midwest. ISU garnered six commitments from the state of Iowa, three from Ohio, and zero from the football-craving state of Texas.
Their goal clearly has been to offer early and often, and those immediate discussions and quick triggers on the offer letters paid off huge dividends on National Signing Day.
Because of those relationships, ISU held on to guys like Kamilo Tongamoa, who was being hounded by traditional power Oregon at the 11th hour... Whew.
Campbell’s Long Term Recruiting Vision at ISU
Offensive Line - From day one of Campbell’s opening press conference, he said he wants to win by running the football and taking full control of the tempo, and there’s only one way you can do that: win up front.
The staff targeted multiple offensive linemen, and at the end of yesterday ISU had four high school commits and two graduate transfers. Offensive line coach Tom Manning understood the need for more depth at the position and garnered two stalwarts in Michigan transfer David Dawson and USC transfer Khaliel Rodgers. Both will step in and play right away at the guard positions and make this offense a force in 2017.
Another thing this staff focused on was finding players who can play multiple positions. Manning and Campbell love to go after intelligent players who eat up the playbook and can block either on the interior or outside. That will pay huge dividends with a lack of depth (and experience) on the roster.
Defensive Line – This position group was one of the largest in 2017, with eight commitments, and Campbell knows if he wants to compete against the big boys, he has to stop the run. Again, ISU garnered two transfers who can play right away and will be the focal point of Jon Heacock’s scheme in ’17. Those beasts go by the name of Ray Lima and Kamilo Tongomoa. Between these top-40 ranked JUCO commits, the two defensive tackles garnered offers from Oregon, TCU, Arizona, Colorado, and Oklahoma State.
Matt Leo picked the good guys over Bobby Stoops and Oklahoma, and Cordarrius Bailey selected ISU over Louisville and Mississippi State. Both are rangy rush ends who have the length and motor to wreak havoc in the backfield. ISU hasn’t had that since, say, Jason Berryman?
This staff’s vision for the defensive line has been just that – length. They want players with bigger frames and longer wingspans, and both Leo and Bailey are exactly what the doctor ordered.
Defensive Backs – This is yet another position this staff has recruited for length and speed. In the Rhoads regime, ISU put most cornerbacks on the field under 6-feet tall. This staff has a new approach, with taller coverage corners who can make plays for the football.
With three high school recruits in this class, I still see another push for a transfer or JUCO down the road before next season. ISU has a bevy of talent already stockpiled on its roster in the secondary, and Campbell is a sucker for defensive backs.
These three position groups have been the focal points for this team since they came to Ames a year ago, and will be for years to come. The line play has to improve from a year ago, but gaining four solid transfers who have experience and can play right away is huge for the upcoming season.
Impact Players for the 2017 Season
Aside from the four transfers, there are multiple prep school commitments who I see fighting for playing time for the upcoming season. Campbell has always said he loves competition and will not be afraid to play the best player at each position, regardless of age.
Linebacker O’Rien Vance
Had a great time this weekend can't wait to be a cyclone!!! pic.twitter.com/B8XSO2crQv— ¥0UNG $avag€ (@orienvance24) January 23, 2017
Vance has the body to play right away at a position that lacks both speed and decisiveness for ISU. Leading tackler Willie Harvey is back for another year, but Brian Mills is too inconsistent to be relied upon. As the highest ranked prep commitment in this class, Vance pledged his loyalty to ISU clear back in February. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker out of Cedar Rapids Washington is exactly what this defense needs, and is too good to keep off the field.
Cornerbacks OJ Tucker/Richard Bowens
Tucker comes from Florida, and is used to the speed that will be exhibited on the field against the Big 12’s pass happy offenses. At 6-foot-1 he has the range and leaping ability to make a play for jump balls, and also the speed to recover. Bowens was a track star and 3-time state champion in the state of Michigan, and also has the size at 6-foot-1 to play right away. What gives him a leg up is he is already in Ames. ISU will have Brian Peavy on one side of the ball, and the other side is up for grabs.
Safety Keontae Jones
This Ohio product has the same breakaway speed of his big brother (Deshaunte Jones), but is projected to play at the safety spot for the cardinal and gold. Jones was ISU’s second-highest rated high school commit, and carries with him the size (6-foot-1 and 175 lbs) to play at the STAR (nickel) position at ISU. He may just be too good to keep off the field.
Defensive End/Leo Cordarrius Bailey
Ames caught my eye pic.twitter.com/FvMXE1wTQp— •Cordarrius Bailey• (@baileydatruth8) January 21, 2017
This 210-pound defensive end will immediately get in the weight room and pack on the pounds. His first step is what sucks me right in on his highlight tape. He’ll add depth to a depleted defensive line that only brings back four players from a year ago.
Wide Receivers Josh Johnson/Matt Eaton
Both are bigger receivers who will make it hard for this staff not to give them snaps. Johnson has lightning fast wheels, and also a decent frame at 5-foot-11 to fight off jam coverage. The 3-star product out of Arkansas has been as loyal as they come, picking ISU over an impressive list of Power-5 offers. Eaton is a JUCO transfer who is already on campus, and at 6-foot-4 has tremendous vertical leaping ability. Look for both of these playmakers on the field for Jacob Park and company in ’17.
What this Class Means for the Future of ISU Football
Yesterday’s recruiting class will pave the way for the Cyclone football for years to come. But recruiting is only part of the job. All of these student-athletes still have to qualify academically, and then they have to make it to campus. I guarantee you there will be 2-3 from this class that won’t even make it to Ames or end up flaming out. It happens every year.
Coach Campbell and his staff will carry this momentum into the 2017 season. Stay tuned to WRNL to keep you updated on player development.