I am taking a break from my Grading the Big 12 series to cover the Bears upcoming opponent, SMU. Keep in mind that the SMU players are being graded on the same scale as the Big 12 players have been (a C grade means that position is near the average for all of FBS). Lets jump right in and see what Baylor is up against this week.
Matt Davis looks to keep the starting job for the Mustangs after starting the final five games of 2014. He isn’t a bad quarterback, and is a good runner. In fact, Davis will probably pose more problems for the Baylor defense with his legs than is arm. Overall, he isn’t far behind the overall level of many quarterbacks Baylor will face this season. Behind him, true freshman Ben Hicks, a three star composite recruit, is probably the second best option on the roster. That isn’t a good things for the mustangs. I believe Hicks will develop into a good quarterback, but he could use two years to learn and grow before taking the field. He is more of a typical pocket passer than Davis. Garrett Krstich, who started four games last year to very limited success, and redshirt freshman Darrel Colbert are other players to watch at this position.
Starter grade: C+. Davis isn’t a great passer, but he brings an interesting dimension to the game with his legs.
Depth grade: F. Hicks isn’t ready to go yet, but could face a trial by fire this season.
Position grade: D+. Serious offensive struggles await the Mustangs is Davis misses any significant time.
Prescott Line is a great power back who has been hampered by running behind low quality line. The junior looks more like a fullback than a traditional spread running back, so it remains to be seen how well he fits into Chad Morris’ new system. Nevertheless, he runs very hard between the tackles, where he is often forced to make his own space since the line rarely creates any for him. There are three other backs to keep an eye on, but none have really impressed me. Senior KC Nlemchi returns some experience, as he ran for almost 150 yards last year. Sophomore Darius Durall also played a bit last season. Finally, true freshman Braeden West has more speed than his competition, and is probably the future of the position. However, he was merely a two star recruit, and while I see him as a bit better than that from his film, it is true that he doesn’t look like a D-1 back at the moment. However, I am confident that he can get there. In the depth chart released today, freshman Xavier Jones was named the second team back, which definitely surprised me. His composite three star rating seems generous to me, given that he is the 194th ranked true freshman back in the country coming out of high school. He has good straight line speed (though there’s no way I believe the 4.46 40 time he lists on his hudl page), and good change of direction, but lacks the strength to be a good back at this level.
Starter grade: A. Prescott Line could be an NFL fullback, but it is difficult to see how well that skill set fits in the new system.
Depth grade: F. No one on the roster will pose problems for an opposing defense at all.
Position grade: B-. The running game can be decent if the blocking is there (see below on that).
One of the biggest surprises from SMU’s depth chart was seeing Ryheem Malone listed as a starter. After playing sparingly last year, he is expected to take on a much larger role, and I simply don’t see him as a dependable player. He was a two star recruit a year ago, and has added some weight but still lacks the ability to be a productive receiver at this level. Also listed as a starter is Shelby Walker, who only caught seven passes last year. He is, like Malone, a smaller quicker receiver, but is overall a better player. He needs to improve his route running and become more reliable at catching the ball before he becomes a quality player. The third starting spot belongs to a player who definitely deserves it: redshirt freshman Courtland Sutton, who is a prototypical possession receiver, standing at 6’4’’. If there is one player that could give the Baylor secondary trouble, this is the guy. He won’t run past Xavien Howard, but could go up over him. That being said, he isn’t a great receiver by any means at this point in his career. Behind them, two true freshman look to see the field on the second team. They are Kevin Thomas, who saw a decent amount of attention from recruiters his senior season, and Xavier Castille, who held an offer from Oklahoma State. Both would be candidates for playing time following a redshirt year ideally, but SMU doesn’t have that luxury. Other players providing depth are upperclassmen Arrius Holleman and Anthony Buffini, who will see their first meaningful time on the field this season. Two notable absences from the depth chart are Darius Joseph, who has showed potential in his previous years at Baylor, and Deion Sanders Jr, son of the NFL great, who looks like a good receiver himself. Joseph is out with an injury, and I’m not sure why Sanders didn’t make the two deep, but I believe both would be upgrades in terms of talent. At tight end, Jeremiah Gaines isn’t very good, but will play a larger role in the Morris offense. His backup is true freshman Mitchell Kaufman, who played linebacker in high school, so I have no idea how that will work out.
Starter grade: F. This is largely due to the inclusion of Malone as a starter, who I don’t think belongs on the field at this point.
Depth grade: F. There is almost zero experience here, and while the freshmen have some potential they need time to reach it.
Position grade: F. The Mustangs don’t have any real threats here, which is a problem for a spread offense.
The loss of guard Seaver Myers to injury hurt an already weak offensive line for the Mustangs. Junior Chauncey Briggs returns as the starting left tackle, but he is nowhere near the kind of player who could slow down Shawn Oakman, or a large number of defensive ends for that matter. The other tackle is a better player in my opinion. Kris Weeks is an above average tackle, who may be able to put up a fight against Jamal Palmer. The senior will be entering his third year as the starter. The back ups at tackle are redshirt freshman Chad Pursley and senior Bozidar Antunovic. Neither will be any good, but the selection of Pursley seems especially suspect to me. From what I’ve seen, with a few years of development he would be a decent FCS starter, but shouldn’t be seeing the field for an FBS football team at this point in his career, if ever. Better options, such as Christian Chamagua, are on the roster. At guard, Daniel McCarty is a returning starter, and Evan Brown returns to man the other side. Let me tell you right now, Billings and Blackshear will have no trouble whatsoever against these two. Neither are FBS quality starters. Their backups, Braylon Hyder and Nick Natour, have no real game experience. Hyder doesn’t look very good to my eye, but Natour goes in the same "what are you doing here" category as Pursley. He has a long way to go before the Mustangs can count on him for anything. At center, Taylor Lasecki is an above average player, one of the better blockers SMU has. This will be his fourth year as a starter. His backup, William Barns, is a year or two away from being a dependable backup, but is still probably one of the better second team offensive linemen.
Starter grade: F. Weeks and Lasecki are fine, but there are serious issues at the guard positions.
Depth grade: F--. Things are really bad here. F—isn’t even a real grade, but the situation is that poor.
Position grade: F. Poor Matt Davis. Poor Prescott Line. Especially against the Baylor D-line, SMU is really going to struggle here.
This group is bad. By any standard, they just aren’t very good. They have a couple decent skill players, but the complete lack of depth and blocking will doom this offense, especially against a Power Five team.
At end, SMU brings back starter Andrew McCleneghan, who only recorded 25 tackles on the year. This guy won’t be a problem for either of Baylor’s tackles, especially Spencer Dragon if he happens to line up on that side. The other starter is Justin Lawler, and that absolutely stuns me. He played in every game in 2014 as a redshirt freshman, and is miles behind senior Robert Seals, who is listed as a backup end. Seals would actually be a decent starter. Lawler will not be. The other second string end is Jarvis Pruitt, a junior who saw the field in each of the last two seasons, and another player, though not much good himself, I would start ahead of Lawler. At tackle the Mustangs are in better shape. After starting each of the last two seasons at end, Zach Wood is sliding over to the tackle position. He isn’t a high quality starter by national standards, but my SMU standards he’ll be just fine. The nose tackle is Mason Gentry, also a returning starter and the Mustang’s biggest defensive lineman. He recording a pair of sacks last year, but my personal pick for the starting spot would be South Carolina transfer Deon Green, who will make a fine backup. He had serious injury issues during his time at SC, missing two full seasons there. If he stays healthy, SMU could make use of his size and strength in the middle. Finishing out the depth chart is Zelt Minor, who started two games last year. Minor will struggle to hold his own as a starter, but will bring some decent depth to the table.
Starter grade: F. This is mostly due to the end position, the tackles are a bit better.
Depth grade: C-. I would take the second team over the first based on this depth chart. Robert Seals not starting doesn’t make sense to me.
Position grade: F. SMU won’t be able to get any pressure or stop the offensive linemen they face from blocking at the second level.
SMU’s new system includes a hybrid STAR position, which I am choosing to include with the linebackers, but I could just as easily put it with the safeties. The starter at this position is Shakiel Randolph, a pretty decent player. The Waco native started at safety on and off over the last two seasons, and looks like one of SMU’s better defensive players. He plays well against the run and in coverage, which will serve SMU well in the 4-2-5 style scheme. His backup is Kyran Mitchell, a redshirt freshman who the Mustangs will hope stays on the sidelines, as he is nowhere near the player Randolph is at this early point in his career. The outside linebacker role will go to Jonathan Yenga, a senior who will be starting for the third year. Yenga is a mediocre player, but will do just fine against AAC opponents. Behind him is Jackson Mitchell, a former walk on who managed to see the field as a true freshman. Following this impressive feat, Mitchell has managed to cement himself a spot on the depth chart. Like the other linebacker Mitchell, Jackson is significantly worse that the player he backs up in terms of athletic ability and skill. These two would make a solid starting position group, but middle linebacker is a real weakness. I don’t have any confidence in Nick Horton to get the job done, and I saw him struggle quite a bit last year against lower level competition. I think backup Anthony Rhone, a sophomore who played as a true freshman, is a better linebacker, but he’s the bare minimum of what an FBS second team player should be. He really has issues disengaging from linemen and playing against the run.
Starter grade: D-. Horton leaves a big hole in the middle of an otherwise average group that would do well against SMU’s schedule.
Depth grade: F. Only Rhone looks like a second string player, and not even that good of one.
Position grade: F. Between the defensive line and the middle linebacker, the run game should come easy to most of SMU’s opponents.
Horace Richardson started six games a year ago, and is back to lead the Mustang secondary. He is by no means a great corner, and doesn’t stand much of a chance against Corey Coleman or KD Cannon. By national standards, he makes a pretty bad starter, but for the AAC he could hold his own. I like what I saw from Jesse Montgomery in 2014, and look forward to seeing what steps he takes this season. He could be the best member of this secondary. He is a taller corner at 6’1’’, but doesn’t have the strength to go against bigger receivers. Former track champion and Missouri transfer David Johnson could make a push this season. Ajee Montes has starting experience, but has been displaces this season. I don’t think he’ll make much of a backup, but against weaker competition won’t look like a huge weakness if he sees the field. The same goes for redshirt freshman William Jeanlys, a converted receiver and another of the taller corners that SMU seems to like, in contrast to their smaller receivers. At safety, Darrion Richardson is back after starting every game last year and piling up 69 tackles. He is a good run support safety, but don’t expect much help from him in coverage. The other starting spot has been given to Jordan Wyatt, a sophomore who thoroughly unimpressed me last season. He may be the worst starter Baylor faces all year, and that includes the game against Lamar. He has a very hard time tracking the ball in the air, which leads to failure to make plays and to penalties. In my opinion, the bigger AJ Justice is a better choice to start. He may even be a better safety than Richardson, but has been relegated to the second team. Experienced senior Troy Castle will be a valuable backup, but doesn’t bring much to the table. Two star freshman Rodney Clemons also made the depth chart, which means he must be seeing something that I don’t. Give him a year or three to develop, then maybe.
Starter grade: F. Jordan Wyatt will be a massive liability that teams, and not just those with an offense like Baylor, will exploit all season.
Depth grade: F. The backups really aren’t much worse than the starters, but the starters are just bad.
Position grade: F. Seth Russell and the Baylor receivers are going to have fun this Friday.
Front to back, this group has neither the talent nor the depth to compete with pretty much anyone. When I started looking at the roster, I was surprised with how bad the defensive line was, and thought I was looking at the low point. Then I got to the linebackers. Then the secondary. It just kept getting worse.
Special teams: C-.
SMU got a decent kicker in Wake Forest transfer Chad Hedlund. True freshman Josh Williams will handle the punting duties, but he is probably a better kicker than a punter. Deion Sanders Jr. is a decent threat as a return man.
SMU is just a bad team. Coming off a one win season, Mustang fans will have to be patient with Coach Morris, because this year doesn’t look like it will be any better. The lines, both offensive and defensive are terrible, there is no depth to be found, and the defense lacks talent across the board.
Players that could be drafted in 2016: None
Prediction vs. Baylor:
This is just a mismatch across the board. The Baylor defensive line, especially Andrew Billings, manhandles the SMU blockers and effectively shuts down the offense. SMU will score maybe once. Seth Russell will pick apart the secondary, and receivers will run free all day. Shock Linwood will have huge holes to run through and Baylor scores at will. The Bears score as many points as Art Briles wants to.
I plan to release my grades for the Bears this week so you have something to compare to. Let me know what you think of the Mustangs in the comments, and look for the grades for Baylor in the next couple of days!