I reached out to Rivals' recruiting analyst Justin Rowland(@RowlandRivals) yesterday evening to see if he'd be willing to talk to our site about UK football recruiting. Not only was he willing, but he responded with lightning speed. Please check out him out, because he does tremendous work. Thanks again Justin, and without further ado:
A Sea of Blue ran a poll at the end of NSD and 43% thought the signing class was "Pretty good" while 38% thought the class was "Meh. Not bad." How would your categorize your thoughts of this class and why?
Probably somewhere between the two. Between "pretty good" and "not bad." Better than anything Kentucky was pulling in before Stoops. A step down from the 2014 class. More similar to the 2013 class. It was a good recruiting year by Kentucky's standards. It wasn't the best year by Mark Stoops' standards, although the sample is still very small there. It's just tough not to think about what might have been. Impossible not to, really.
In this signing class which players would you identify as immediate contributors? Also, which players do you think will be this class' biggest contributors in the long run?
The only certainty to contribute early is C.J. Conrad. That's because he'll have to. Then you look at two things: Who's enrolling early and who are the skill position players? The early guys have extra time and preparation. Fortunately for Kentucky, that would be Kengera Daniel, George Asafo-Adjei and Jordan Jones, and those are three of the most college-ready players they have from a physical standpoint. You always look at skill players because they generally require less of a transformation in the weight room before they can be impactful players. I don't know that Jabari Greenwood, Tavin Richardson and Therell Gosier jump out as definite early contributors. Of that trio I'm inclined to think that maybe Richardson could play early. Sihiem Ross is a darkhorse candidate to play early because he could return kicks, play in the slot or log carries.
Long-term? I'm a huge Marcus Walker fan. I love his game. He's a ball hawk and a great athlete. I think Levon Livingston is one player you look at and think, hey, if everything goes right for this kid the sky's the limit. He's a great athlete and he's 6-foot-7. I know the coaches love George Asafo-Adjei and he did improve a lot. Once his pass sets get better, and he's already improved a lot there, he can be really good. And Eli Brown needs to get a lot bigger but there's a reason Ohio State and Ole Miss wanted him so badly.
There were multiple decommitments in this class. In your experience covering recruiting, were the decommitments about average for a program? Also, what would you say were the leading factors?
It was a bizarre year. Kentucky had as many decommitments as you would expect a school to that's going through a head coaching change. Even nowadays, when decommitments are common, what happened with UK this year was very rare.
I'd point to three factors. One, the staff did a great job of jumping on guys that turned out to be excellent. Jeremiah Dinson, for one. Alex Stump's another. DaVon Hamilton, although Pitt actually got to him earlier. Second, the six-game losing streak. I think that and the earlier decommitments hurt a lot with the Dowell twins. They want to win and that scared them. Finally, Damien Harris not only picking Alabama, but frankly dragging Kentucky along for a while. That was a monumental blow so close to Signing Day, and so much had been riding on that. That might have cost them Marcus Lewis and it might have contributed to the Dowell twins leaving. Maybe Tyrone Riley and Jason Strowbridge, too.
Vince Marrow gets a ton of credit for UK's recruiting. If you had to pick, who is UK's second and third best recruiter on staff?
After Marrow I think Kentucky's best recruiters are Chad Scott and Tommy Mainord. Scott had a great reputation from Texas Tech. He's young, he played the position he's coaching and at Kentucky, and he knows central Florida really well. He relates well to kids. He did an unbelievable job getting Walker back on board after he decommitted when both Mark Dantonio and Brett Bielema wanted him so badly.
Mainord is a great spokesman for the program. He's so energetic. He buys in. He's genuine. People can't help but love him. He would be great in sales. It's hard to get a foothold in the DMV because Virginia Tech's so strong there, Maryland's so strong there, and then elite programs crash the party every year. He's done a great job.
UK has clearly been taking quite a few blue chip recruits, and borderline blue chip recruits, from Ohio since Stoops arrived. Do you believe UK can continue to sustain that level of output with the success in Columbus and East Lansing, along with Jim Harbaugh now seated in Michigan?
Kentucky's not going to beat out Ohio State and Michigan head to head very often so I don't think it has an impact. Kentucky will recruit against Michigan State, Wisconsin, Pitt, West Virginia, Louisville -- schools like that in Ohio. They've done very well recruiting against those programs, and frankly, all of those programs have been better than Kentucky in the recent past. Some more than others.
I think Urban Meyer's success at Ohio State could actually open up more Ohio kids to Kentucky. They'll be more of a national recruiting power. Kids in Florida, Georgia, Texas and elsewhere, like Maryland and New Jersey, they'll be more open to Ohio State. So maybe instead of taking the eight Ohio kids they like best, they take the six they like best.
Honestly I don't know that Jim Harbaugh is going to make Ohio a huge part of his recruiting strategy. I think he'll recruit the same caliber of player from Ohio that Ohio State wants to get from there. Vince Marrow is one of the nation's five best recruiters in my estimation, based on how he's exceeded expectations and past performances from people in his position. But if Michigan is recruiting a lot of guys Kentucky's recruiting from anywhere, Michigan's not doing the job they should be doing.
Tapping into your knowledge of the wider recruiting world, when this UK staff offers a prospect nowadays do eyebrows get raised at blue-blood schools? Subsequently, does that make it harder for UK to sign the kids they really want when it sets off trip alarms for other staffs?
I think eyebrows are raised every time a kid starts getting offers. Some staffs have a better reputation than others. I do think certain schools pay a lot of attention when Kentucky offers now. Jeremiah Dinson, Derrick Kelly, Marcus Walker -- there are a lot of others. Time will tell how good those guys turn out to be. It's too early to say how good they'll be.
But others do seem to come around when Kentucky offers a kid. It does make it harder. I think right from the start the staff was conscious of the dangers there. They really didn't want the Regie Meant commitment getting out before Signing Day in the '13 class.
Which positions should UK emphasize in recruiting for the 2016 Class?
They have to have a quarterback. They should think about taking two quarterbacks. They need two running backs. You almost always want a solid class of offensive and defensive linemen. Those are the main areas. They already have two defensive backs. They already have two receivers. The running back position already lacks great depth this year coming up.
Quarterback? Honestly you have to wonder if Reese Phillips is ever going to be ready. I love Drew Barker, but at the very best there have been a lot of distractions. That leaves you with one quarterback that you feel good about right now, and frankly, Patrick Towles left a lot to be desired the second half of the season outside of a game or two. And he's only got two more years.
Let's say UK goes, for the sake of argument, 6-6 next season. Will 2016's signing class end up higher than Rivals 17th ranked 2014 class, or does UK need to do even better on the field to beat that record?
I think a great season really gives you a bump for the following class. Kentucky's going to have a hard time beating the No. 17 finish in 2016. I like their foundation. A great quarterback could set off a domino effect or there could be a run on commitments in April or June. But I think a good goal for 2016 should be Top 25-30. That's where the program's at right now. I think if you shock people and win seven or eight games, going to a good bowl and winning a couple of high profile games, then 2017 could be really special.