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Evaluating the Newest Football Signees: Part 1

Jacob Zeno, Jonah White, TJ Franklin, Jaylen Ellis, and Sam Snyder.

NCAA Football: Texas Bowl-Baylor vs Vandebilt Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Hello everyone, it is that time of year again: I am going to be analyzing the film of the most recent football signees, giving my general thoughts and predicting their role with Baylor. For me, part of the fun of watching college football is in watching young men grow from high school projects into really good football players. It is even more fun when you have some background on them.

For example, Denzel Mims was a middling-ranked high school track-star who played with a horrible QB, but showed the potentital of a 4* WR if you really watched his high school film. In this most recent class, I noted that Josh Fleeks was probably the most likely true freshman to get serious minutes, and I predicted that Kalon Barnes’ highest upside was at CB. I say this only partially to pat myself on the back, but mostly to show that “out of nowhere” happenings (i.e., Kalon Barnes, a high school WR from a small school, playing CB) can be predicted from digging into high school film.

So let’s get things started. There is no real rhyme or reason to the order I do these in, it is mostly who I feel like watching at the time. I don’t really like watching a lot of the same position group back to back, because it causes things to start to melt together. So I’ll vary the positions up a bit. Let’s start off with what is probably the most crucial aspect of every class, the QB...

*These previews will all include “SPARQ” ratings for players that have them. These are Nike/ESPN camp testing results that use laser measurements. These (along with track times) are often incredibly helpful for ascertaining the athleticism of some prospects—particularly small school guys. As a quick primer: the forty yard dash helps measure long speed; the shuttle measures short-area quickness; the vertical jump measures explosiveness; and the power throw is just a strength measurement.

Jacob Zeno, 4* QB. San Antonio, TX.

6-3, 192 lbs. SPARQ: 4.70 forty; 4.51 shuttle; 36.0 vertical; 40.0 power throw.

Senior Film

Last year, Baylor waited until the last minute to find out who their QB of that cycle would be, but this year Zeno committed early and has been steady ever since. It is hard to ascertain the likelihood of QB success from high school tapes, because so much of being a D1 QB is mental. You have to be a hard worker, a great leader, etc. I remember that when Art Briles had his press conferences on signing day, people would ask questions about the QB like, “What do you like about [X QB]?” It always struck me that he never led with physical attributes, he would always lead with something like, “He’s a tough, phsyical competitor. Smart.” etc. Coach Rhule has had similar things to say about Charlie Brewer and Gerry Bohanon. The mental attributes determine whether you’re going to get a starting shot; the physical attributes tell us what kind of QB you will be. Thus, while I know little about Zeno’s character (I presume it’s high!), I can break down the physical attributes that will manifest if he ever sees the field for Baylor.

Zeno has a solid build for a QB. He’s tall and has a solid base (i.e. not rail thin legs or anything). His testing results show that is an above-average athlete for the position—the results are pretty similar to a lot of the highly ranked linebackers. He’s never going to be a blazer, but he can provide enough athleticism to be a threat on the edge, a la Bryce Petty or Jalan McClendon. His testing results are pretty similar to the ones Petty put up at the NFL combine, so I think that is a reasonable comparison.

Zeno has an absolute whip for an arm. Particularly when he is on the move, his arm strength is elite. Throwing while on the run is a real strength for Zeno. In large part, this is partially due to the fact that his high school team is terrible, so he is frequently on the run. One area where college coaching will really help is his ability to generate the same arm strength from the pocket. Currently, his throws are much stronger on the run because he is using his full body to generate power behind the ball. He will learn to generate that same power from inside the pocket.

Accuracy is almost always impossible to discern from highlight tapes, because QB’s don’t put errant passes in their film. However, there are enough good throws in his 7 minutes of highlights to guess that he is a pretty accurate thrower.

Zeno is a big, mobile-enough QB with a strong arm. He has the traits to become a really good college QB. Only time will tell.

Jonah White, 3* Athlete, Merkel, TX

6-0, 200 lbs. No SPARQ available. Consistent low 11’s 100 meter dash times.

Senior Film:

Most of the commitment articles were reporting that White was an athlete and probably destined for the defensive side of the ball, but Baylor listed him as a running back on signing day. This makes me very happy, because when I initially watched White’s highlights I thought, “RB all the way.”

White’s highlights are truly hilarious to watch. It is why I picked to review him so early on. White played small school in Merkel, TX, and he just toyed with the overmatched competition. In general, if you want to be a D1 player from a small classification, you need to dominate. And White did just that.

White played QB for his high school, but he is primarily a runner. He shows a good build for the position, with thick legs and nimble feet. He doesn’t have great deep speed, but it is good enough. His ~11.2 100 meter dash times show that he probably runs around a 4.65 or so.

White will develop into a good all-around back who will excel in turning 5 yard runs into 15 yard runs. It is also possible that a college strength and conditioning program will help him develop his speed further. He will remind Baylor fans of Shock Linwood, but White is taller and faster, while Linwood had more power and few were better in tight spaces. But the overall running styles are similar. Because of his make-you-miss style, I think White becomes a fan-favorite.

TJ Franklin, 3* DL, Temple, TX.

6-5 280 lbs.

Senior Film:

Franklin is an interesting story of development. He committed during his junior year, and at that time he didn’t have any film available. I assumed he must be injured or something, but apparently he was just struggling to get playing time on a loaded Temple team. Well, the coaches saw something and absolutely exploded for his senior season. His highlights, as a defensive lineman, are 19 minutes long! If Franklin isn’t committed to Baylor for so long and still an uncommitted prospect during his senior year, I think he gets offered by everyone in the state and beyond.

Franklin isn’t what I would call a great or even an above average athlete, by traditional means. He isn’t that fast, and he doesn’t have an explosive “get off” that you want to see from a defensive lineman. BUT ... he does a LOT of other stuff well. Despite being so big, he bends really well around offensive lineman which is how he gets into the backfield so often. He also clearly has strong hands and uses them with a good football IQ, batting OL away and discarding them on his way to making tackles. And despite not being very explosive, he has very agile and nimble feet for a guy who is so large.

At his size, Franklin is destined for the interior of the line as a defensive tackle. He also offers the versatility to play DE when Baylor goes into its 3 DL package. I think people might mistake his size and think that he is likely to become a run-plugging nose tackle. I think he’ll be much more in style of James Lynch, a guy who uses instincts and strong hands to make a lot of plays in the backfield.

Baylor is graduating a lot of DL and Franklin is enrolling early. I wouldn’t be surprised if he does not redshirt, but Baylor will probably make every attempt to, especially considering the number of DL signed in this class. Franklin is a disruptive defensive tackle who has a very high floor because of his size and football instincts.

Jaylen Ellis, 3-4* WR, Round Rock, TX.

6-0 186 lbs. SPARQ: 4.59 forty, 4.20 shuttle, 36.5 vertical, 41.0 power throw.

Ellis was the first commit of this 2019 class, thanks in large part to his connection with former Round Rock Cedar Ridge coach (and now Baylor OL coach) Shawn Bell. Coach Bell said during the signing day show that he knew that Ellis was going to be a massive recruit, and was the first guy he turned the Baylor coaches on after being hired.

Ellis has a remarkable combination of athletic ability and production. His testing numbers show that he will be one of the best athletes in the entire Big 12. Ellis played in one of the most competitive districts in the state, and still caught touchdown after touchdown. His main asset is his terrific speed, whichhe used to run by defenders with ease. He plays with about as much game speed as I’ve seen; I don’t think anyone will ever really chase him down in a game.

Ellis has a lot of clips where he attacks the ball and makes plays with toughness. For a lot of guys, player comparisons can be difficult, but for Ellis I think it is quite easy. His game is very similar to KD Cannon, in that his elite deep speed sets up everything else in his game. Like Cannon, Ellis is not the biggest guy at right around 6 feet tall, but they play with a lot of toughness and attack the ball in the air.

Ellis has all the athletic ability in the world. His potential at Baylor is rather high. I think you will see him utilized in combination routes with flexed TEs to provide maximum problems for the defense. If he shows that he can learn a full route tree, he is capable of becoming an isolation route runner as well. It is possible that Baylor uses him inside like they have started using Josh Fleeks, but I think he is more of an outside threat.

Sam Snyder, 3* TE, Orange Park, FL.

6-5 225 lbs. SPARQ: 4.59 forty, 4.69 shuttle, 40.0 inch vertical, 36.5 [power throw.

Senior Highlights:

When I do these evaluations, I like to also watch a guy’s junior year highlights to see how much progression they’re making from year-to-year. Most of the recruiting services are doing their main rounds of rankings after junior year film, and then because of anchoring bias they’re often hesitant to significantly change a player’s ranking. Well, that creates an interesting situation for Snyder, as he played as an Offensive Tackle his junior year, and then moved to Tight End for his senior year. Credit to Louisville who apparently had scouted him and initially saw his potential.

Per the 247 composite, Snyder is your quintessential middle of the pack 3 star recruit, but per my estimation he is really one of the more talented players in this class and should be on that line between 3 and 4 star. If you look at his testing numbers, they are effectively identical to stud Oklahoma TE Grant Calcaterra (who really is more like an inside WR), who was a consensus 4* recruit and top 250 player in the country. Calcaterra was a more polished product, to be sure, but Snyder has the benefit of being raw with a lot of upside.

Snyder’s testing numbers match his highlights to a T. He is a straight-line explosive player with strength. For his size he is abnormally fast. Florida is known for its speedy football players, and there are a lot of highlights where he ouruns smaller DBs to the endzone. He is not a burner by any means, but for his size he is plenty fast. Because of his past as an OL, he also shows a good amount of tenacity in his blocks—he will be a guy LBs will want to watch out for on crack blocks.

His main weakness is his short area quickness, which fits his relatively (compared to his forty time) slow short shuttle. But this is normal, it is hard for guys with such long legs to be quick in short areas. Because of the combination of his strengths and weaknesses, I think you’re going to see Snyder play primarily as a slot WR. This is Jalen Hurd’s position, but he will run different routes than Hurd because they are different players. He can beat linebackers vertical and be a weapon in the screen game as a blocker. I think you’re going to see Baylor use him almost exactly like OU uses Grant Calcaterra, as a spread-iso matchup winner on critical downs. You’ll see Snyder play a ton with another TE on the field to create a lot of formational versatility.

I particularly like Snyder because he brings a different skill-set than the TE’s Baylor already has. Henle is more of a jumbo-TE who will catch the occasional pass. Sims and Henderson are more traditional TEs who fit in between the role of pass-catcher and in-line blocker. Taylor is like Snyder, but I still think his true upside is on defense.

Well, that’s the first 5 signees, which means this series should be done in 4 parts. If you have an requests for who I should review in my next article, let me know in the comments and I’ll abide by that. Thanks for reading and let me know what you think!