Just over a week ago, Cincinnati fleshed out their 2016 recruiting class with National Signing Day. The damage? 21 high school athletes make up the class with 14 officially signing last Wednesday.
Tommy Tuberville and company put together a class heavily focused on the perimeter with six wide receivers and five players in the secondary to refill at key positions. The Bearcats are trying to replace six receivers and were looking for more depth in the secondary after the defense struggled to stop anyone last season. Cincinnati also added three defensive lineman, two offensive lineman, two linebackers, a running back, a tight end and a quarterback.
Tuberville said their focus this year was to seek out and sign more athleticism.
"We had to have more athletic ability," Tuberville said. "It sounds broad but it's not. We've been short on true athletes that are playmakers. One of our main goals in this class was to get more athletic and find versatile playmakers who can play several roles."
While this class doesn't rank as highly as some Cincinnati classes, there is a lot to like about these players and that emphasis on athletic ability does appear to shine through with the signings.
247Sports has Cincinnati's class graded out as the No. 7 class in the American Athletic Conference, behind SMU, UCF, Memphis, USF, Temple and Houston, who topped the list. Cincinnati ranks No. 79 nationally with their 2016 class. While the rankings are fun to look at and offer a nice general perspective, I'm not overly concerned. This incoming class has a number of players who appeared to be (and continue to be) undervalued in the recruiting world. That is perhaps a little wishful thinking on my part, but only time will truly tell.
Still, it's fun to look at the class right now, so let's dive into it.
Cincinnati signed (or had already enrolled) six of them, including JUCO product Devin Gray, Tyrin Summers, Malick Mbodji, Jerron Rollins, Marcel Paul and Thomas Geddis. All six offer different skill sets and should be able to contribute over their Cincinnati careers.
Gray is relatively polished as a receiver and brings a good deal of speed. Summers is shifty and a playmaker with the ball in his hands, setting up nicely as a guy who could step into a Shaq Washington-type role. Mbodji has tremendous size for the position and catches the ball with his hands well. Rollins isn't quite as imposing as Mbodji, but catches the ball well and plays with more speed. Paul is a solid receiver in almost every facet of his game and brings more of that coveted athleticism to the unit. Geddis is a burner, with height, and catches the ball well in traffic.
This position group has to be considered a "win" for Tuberville and company with all six necessary additions to the receiver depleted roster and all six offering elite athleticism at the position.
None of these guys will be expected to come in and immediately take the starting reigns with highly-touted returning players like Avery Peterson, Jamil Kamara and Kahlil Lewis likely stepping into that role with the upper classmen (Nate Cole and Tshumbi Johnson), but I'd like to consider the receiver position replenished.
This was an obvious problem area for Cincinnati last season, especially when Adrian Witty suffered a season-ending injury, forcing Leviticus Payne to play corner with a generally inexperienced unit. Now, Cincinnati is getting an influx of talent with the likes of Marquis Smith, James Wiggins, Davin Pierce, Perry Young and Bryce Beard.
Smith is incredibly athletic and has all the tools to be a very good corner at the college level. Wiggins shares many of those same gifts. Smith and Wiggins are both playmakers at the corner position, which is something Cincinnati needed to get more of after struggling to force turnovers in the secondary.
Pierce, a JUCO guy, brings more game experience from day one and should eventually slide in easily at safety with Zach Edwards entering his senior year this upcoming season. Young is one of my favorite players from this entire class, bringing tremendous versatility and physicality, after playing linebacker in high school. Beard is the brother of Cincinnati wide receiver Brayden Beard and displays great speed and athleticism in his own right.
Tuberville and company were looking for athleticism in this class and certainly found it with this position. With a year of coaching and work in the weight room, look for these guys to make their way into the starting lineup.
Cincinnati, after signing six defensive lineman a year ago, added a couple more bodies to the defensive line. Michael Pitts, Elijah Ponder and Curtis Brooks are the new Bearcat additions, with each offering promise, especially with a year or two under their belt.
Pitts is a very athletic pass rusher who moves very well along the line and has the potential to create a lot of havoc at the college level. Ponder and Brooks received less attention in recruiting circles, but both are big bodies who terrorized offensive lines in high school. They need a little more coaching, but could be solid contributors down the line.
All three recruits will likely require a year or two of further development, but adding players like that after Cincinnati signed six defensive lineman a year ago is a smart move.
Cincinnati signed five offensive lineman a year ago, and much like they did with the defensive line, opted to add a couple promising players who won't need to be called upon immediately.
Zach Bycznski is an early-enrollee center who is a sound technical player. He is a versatile player who should settle in as a contributor in a year or two. He moves well and plays with good power. Kendall Calhoun is a JUCO recruit who has a good frame for an offensive tackle, at 6-foot-7, 290 pounds. Calhoun is a big body that can move. You can't have enough of those players.
There are only two linebackers in the 2016 class, but both bring a lot to the position. Tuberville wanted to collect athleticism at key positions and their moves fall in line with that.
Tyquan Statham is widely considered the top recruit in Cincinnati's entire class. Statham is a big, physical player who is athletic enough to play running back in high school at a very high level. He offers a tremendous level of versatility thanks to his athleticism.
Meanwhile, Ty Sponseller offers potentially a larger frame to develop into. After playing safety at Mason High School in the Cincinnati area, he brings a similar level of athletic ability that Statham brings to the unit. Both players love to hit, which is always good.
Running Back, Tight End and Quarterback
Running back Gerrid Doaks is a very intriguing athlete who just adds to a stable of running back talent on the Cincinnati roster. Tight end Bruno Labelle and quarterback Jake Sopko are both early-enrollees. Labelle is a recruit from Canada who is really a big receiver. He will need some time to adjust to the tight end position, but could be a matchup problem with time. Sopko is a player who I feel was underrated through the recruiting process, displaying good arm strength and good accuracy. He needs time to develop further, but he won't be called upon early-on anyway because of Cincinnati's quarterback depth.