The new Mountaineers hail from 15 states, include nine junior college players and, across the board, make up as solid of group of signees as can be recently recalled. WVU’s class, currently ranked 26th by Scout, figures to finish in the low-to-mid 20s through the low 30s in all three major recruiting services. West Virginia is rated the fifth-best class in the Big 12. But, at least in the Scout rankings, the Mountaineers are clustered with four Big 12 teams ranked 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th.
Considering that Texas, which essentially gets whatever players it wants from the talent rich-state, is just three spots ahead showcases both the expected parity of the Big 12 and that there is a significant flaw in ranking classes by total points instead of on an average point per player system, in which Texas would then rank a more appropriate seventh while WVU falls into the 40s – mainly because of its junior college two-star players.
No matter. West Virginia appeared to fill needs at wide receiver, linebacker and running back particularly well, and it added solidly-rated players on the offensive line and secondary as well. There were significant questions entering the last weeks until signing day if the Mountaineers were going to ink a defensive lineman. They did, getting end Dontrill Hyman, a 6-5, 265-pounder with an excellent wingspan. He will need to gain upper body strength, but does give WVU a needed player at the position. Add him to a new crop of linebackers that shows very good size with a pair of Scout-rated three-star, 6-6, 215-pound players in d’Vante Henry and Issac McDonald. Both are sub-4.6 runners, and should pair nicely with the 12th-rated middle linebacker in the nation in Darrien Howard.
Perhaps the best defensive signee for the Mountaineers, Howard is a 6-2, 240-pounder that has the physical build and ability to challenge for immediate time. He will be the prototype for the new breed of ‘backers West Virginia needs to challenge in the Big 12. Three safeties and a much-needed punter in Nick O-Toole round out the defensive side.
Offensively, Sheldon Gibson sticks out. The top-rated wideout in Ohio, and the No. 19 receiver in the nation, Gibson (6-0, 185 lbs.) runs well and had offers from powers like Ohio State, Nebraska and Auburn, among others. He’s expected to help replace the lost productivity of Stedman Bailey, in particular, and could certainly play early in his career. The Mountaineers also signed three running backs, two from junior colleges. A pair of the backs are of the more solid build the staff would like to add in. Four linemen begin rebuilding depth lost by the ended eligibility of the majority of the line from last year.
West Virginia went more heavily into the junior college ranks this year and in the past, mainly to begin building a defense that was shredded last year. The Mountaineers had to have players ready to immediately contribute, and that route is the most obvious and secure way to go. Don’t expect this amount in many other classes, but don’t think WVU will completely shy away from the junior colleges, either. The coaching staff also obviously tried to sew some seeds for the future, getting players from Georgia, Texas, California, Mississippi, Ohio, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and West Virginia – and those are just the listings of where they last played. WVU also went into South Carolina, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Delaware. Surprisingly absent was the state of Virginia, where WVU typically dips in for a couple recruits. The Mountaineers are moved a bit more into Maryland of late, but that doesn’t mean they won’t continue to target the talent-rich tidewater area, as well as the remainder of the state.
What this class showcases, as per most schools in West Virginia’s position, is that the staff used the ties it had to get the most it could. The Mountaineers heavily mined Pennsylvania, as it has for years, and added the usual suspects from Maryland, Ohio and Florida. Bur there’s a definite influx of Midwest and southwest talent here that has never before been seen in these numbers. One should expect that to continue as long as the staff has good ties to the areas.
It appears, of now, that the fan base is quite satisfied with the class. That’s a fair on-paper analysis, as this class will certainly rank well (but not at the top) when stacked against WVU’s past recruiting. Positions of need were addressed well in most cases and adequately in others. The Mountaineers appear to have gotten bigger, especially on the defensive side. They added a punter, and they shored up some depth issues. But, again, that’s all on paper. The real judgment comes in seeing how many of the signees contribute, and remain at West Virginia throughout their collegiate careers. Attrition kills more than player rankings. We’ve seen three-stars like Steve Slaton matched against five-stars like Jason Gwaltney, so a wait-and-see is always a safe approach. But there’s a lot to like in this group – and kickoff is just 206 days away.