Hello everyone, this is the third and final part to my series breaking down Baylor football’s 2020 recruiting class. In case you missed the previous editions or want to read again, Part 1 is here, and here is Part 2.
I’m going through this class in alphabetical order. Our last one ended with Taye McWilliams, so this one we’ll begin with Brooks Miller. Here’s a helpful overview of the class that Baylor athletics published: https://s3.amazonaws.com/baylorbears.com/documents/2020/2/5/2020_BAYLOR_SIGNING_CLASS.pdf
Brooks Miller. Linebacker. 6-1, 195 lbs. West Monroe, LA.
Testing Results: Unofficial
Miller is another prototypical Matt Rhule recruit: a lightly recruited athletic freak who requires some projection. Those testing results listed above are unofficial, but even if you add several tenths of a second to each of them they are still fantastic results.
Miller played safety and nickel at West Monroe but he is a clear projection to linebacker. He’s already 195 and has a frame to easily get up to 220-230 lbs. He could fit as a nickel or safety in a pinch, but his true upside is as a LB who retains a good amount of athleticism. As a safety he spent a lot of time playing adjacent to the box, usually spinning down to cover a slot receiver. His film is replete with him defending screens and RPOs over the middle. He shows good instincts and had quite a few interceptions and passes defended.
I was curious to see whether West Monroe kept Miller at the same position his senior year, but he doesn’t have senior highlights available (Miller committed prior to his senior year, and so probably didn’t feel the need to create a senior highlight tape). I did find this full game, however, and he is still playing the same safety/nickel position.
Projecting down to LB is difficult, especially with a guy like Miller who hasn’t really done it at all in high school. Probably more than any position in football, playing inside linebacker requires instincts first and foremost. When you think about the best inside linebackers in recent Baylor history—Bryce Hager, Taylor Young, Clay Johnston, Terrel Bernard—all had great instincts with varying degrees of athleticism. What is clear is that Miller has the athleticism on a level with Hager and Johnston.
One guy really comes to mind when I watch Miller and that’s current TCU standout Garrett Wallow. Like Miller, Wallow was a safety at a big high school in Louisiana but easily projected down to inside linebacker (highlights here) I think Wallow is more explosive than Miller, but Wallow is one of the most explosive players in the conference so that’s no major slight. Miller’s future will come down to how natural of a fit he becomes as an inside linebacker. If it clicks his upside is joining the list of Baylor great LBs. His floor is as a good special teams player. It’s also possible that he doesn’t naturally gain 20-30lbs and sticks as a nickel.
Devin Neal. Defensive Back. 5-11, 192 lbs. Lexington, KY.
Testing Results: 4.41 forty, 4.28 shuttle, 39.20 vertical, 41 foot power throw.
I went on a mini-rant about Neal after he committed to Baylor. Recruiting services have him as a mid three star prospect, which is absolutely laughable when you look at his testing numbers (the reasons the numbers from the picture differ from the listed ones above is because he improved on them at another Nike testing event).
LOL this guy is a consensus mid 3 star recruit with these testing numbers. I haven't watched his film yet, but if he can tie his shoes he should be a borderline 4* at worst. These are upper echelon Big 12 athlete numbers. https://t.co/WQZrS9WYj8 pic.twitter.com/Wxj8zCseup— Travis (@Travis_Roeder) December 15, 2019
I seriously don’t get it. With those numbers, for him to be a mid three star guy his film has to be bad or horrible. But that’s not the case at all. His film shows a really versatile athlete, a long touchdown at RB, TD on a kick return, touchdowns on screens as a RB and WR, and of course all his highlights on the defensive side.
Neal primarily was a RB and safety at his high school, but I think he is a guy you dream on at corner. At 5-11 he isn’t too short, and he certainly has the requisite athleticism and toughness. Because of his ball skills he might be a better fit at safety to get him around the ball more, but his total package screams lockdown corner to me. Furthermore, the only other option at CB in this class is AJ McCarty, whom I happen to think better fits as a safety.
Neal’s film reminds me a lot of a slightly taller version of current TCU starting CB Trevius Hodges-Tomlinson, also knows as the local Waco product who had his attempted commitment refused by the former Baylor coaching staff which I am still baffled by (watch his highlights here, what were they thinking?). Both players are explosive athletes in sub-6 foot frames who have tremendous ball skills. Hodges-Tomlinson worked his way into the starting lineup as a true freshman at TCU, and while I don’t expect the same to happen for Neal crazier things have happened. Baylor only has two corners with any significant experience (Texada and Barnes) but behind them the depth is thin and inexperienced. Neal could be a big time contributor by 2021.
Chateau Reed. Safety. 6-2, 175 lbs. Lawton, OK.
Testing Results: 22.22 200m, 22’ 11.5 long jump.
Another one of Rhule’s under the radar camp specials, Reed did not even have a recruiting profile when he committed to Baylor back in the Summer of 2019. His athleticism on tape was obvious, however, and recruiting services somewhat ameliorated their error by slapping a low to mid 3* grade on him.
Reed, I would presume, is from a military family as he was in Alaska before moving to the semi-remote Lawton, OK before his junior year of high school. This understandably kept him under the radar a bit longer. He’s a really fluid athlete and has really good speed, as evidenced by his consistently running in the mid to low 22s in the 200m. That isn’t elite speed for a Big 12 skill player (guys like Denzel Mims, Tyquan Thornton, and Jared Atkinson all ran in the low 21s) but it is certainly above average.
As you can see if you watch his highlights, despite being listed as a safety by Baylor he plays exclusively wide receiver at Lawton. This obviously makes him a bit tougher of a projection. As a WR his athleticism would be about league average, think somebody like Kansas State’s Malik Knowles. Aranda expounded upon his vision for Reed, saying he sees him as a center field type type who can play over the top as a single high safety. I agree—it would be stupid of me not to.
Rhule played with a lot of single-high safety looks and Aranda likes them even more. The main traits you want out of this position is somebody with good instincts, good deep speed to cover the entire 50 yard width of the field, and good ball skills to make plays on the ball when you get there. As a tall athlete with plenty of experience playing WR who has good long speed, Reed fits all those criteria. What will make the difference for him is whether he develops the requisite acumen and toughness necessary for playing safety.
Baylor really only has two guys similar to Reed on its roster, JT Woods and Hakeem Vance. Woods obviously has much more experience at this point. Safety is a vital position in Aranda’s defense, and the cupboard is a bit thin at this point. Reed may end up seeing action before he’s 100% ready. But because of his inexperience on defense and need to gain about 30 lbs, he is most likely several years away from seeing significant playing time.
Blake Shapen. Quarterback. 6-0, 192 lbs. Shreveport, LA.
Testing Results: 4.83 forty, 4.78 shuttle, 32.2 vertical.
Every class needs a QB and Shapen is a phenomenal get by Baylor. A two sport star, Shapen is also a highly coveted infield prospect in baseball and plans to play both sports at Baylor.
Evaluating QBs from highlights is not very instructive. They don’t include their interceptions, sacks, or other bad reads, so the highlight reel basically just tells you what they do well. You can learn much more from a full game tape, but I was unable to find one. If you can, let me know.
Athletically, Shapen plays better than his testing results would indicate. His best attribute is his quick feet mixed with good pocket instincts which make him really hard to sack. His size and escapability should immediately remind of you of someone very similar: current Baylor QB Charlie Brewer.
As far as health goes, the good news for Shapen is that he looks a little naturally stouter than Brewer, as Brewer stands at 6-0, 206 lbs, whereas Shapen looks like he can more easily get into the 215 lbs range that Baker Mayfield is at. Simply because of his body type, Shapen will get lots of comparisons to Mayfield, but whether he has anything close to Mayfield’s accuracy is yet to be seen.
His arm strength is sufficient to be a good college QB, there are several examples in his film where he throws 55-60 yards without too much effort.
As I’ve mentioned several times before while writing for ODB, evaluating high school quarterbacks is really tough. There are the limitations from film that I mentioned above, but there is also the inability to discern the qualities that really determine your success as a P5 QB. One thing I always remember about Art Briles is that when he was asked about whichever quarterback they signed on signing day he always started with the intangibles; e.g. “Tough. Competitive. Natural leader.” etc. When you step into a QB room at a P5 school everyone in there is going to have a ton of natural ability. Shapen certainly has that. It’ll come down to has ability to be accurate and demonstrate all of the intangibles necessary to lead a team.
James Sylvester. Defensive Line. 6-4, 243 lbs. Newton, TX.
Testing Results: None
Per the 247 composite, Sylvester is the highest rated recruit in this class and it isn’t difficult to see why. From a small but powerhouse school in Newton, TX, Sylvester has been a big name since getting his first offer from Baylor as a sophomore back in 2017. He was committed to TCU—where several other Newton players have gone recently—but flipped to Baylor late in this cycle.
Sylvester is an explosive athlete with a great frame. College football is replete with 6’3+ guys who can get their weight up, but the true prizes are guys like Sylvester who happen to be that big while also having freaky quickness and overall athleticism. He looks like he has a very long wingspan, as well, which is very helpful for a DL as they do most of their work extending the arms and working off OL. For a guy his size, Sylvester has great get off and can really turn the corner.
Most guys with Sylvester’s overall athleticism come in around 6’1 and 200 lbs, not 6-4 43 like Sylvester. It’s very east to see Sylvester getting up to 270+ and providing a true weapon at the defensive end position. Sylvester’s game reminds me of a taller and more explosive James Lockhart (highlights here). Lockhart was a big time recruit who fit into an unheralded role for Baylor, doing a lot of yeoman’s work in the trenches. Sylvester has the potential to become a better pass rusher while simultaneously providing a lot of value using his big frame to rip through double teams like Lockhart did.
An early enrollee, Sylvester should have an opportunity to make an early impact. If anybody burns their redshirt as a freshman, it’ll probably be Sylvester or one of the defensive backs. Sylvester brings an enticing combination of high floor and high ceiling. Worst case scenario he is a rotational DL, best case he is a 1st team all big 12 player.
Alfahiym Walcott. Defensive Back. 6-2, 187 lbs. Butler Community College, Kansas.
Testing Results: None
Another lazy rating from the recruiting services, Walcott is the lowest rated recruit in this class despite having other offers from Auburn and Oklahoma. Walcott was a big get as a junior college defensive back who will come ready to play. Looking at scholarships, safety and cornerback are probably the two thinnest positions on the team entering 2020. Baylor added several other talented defensive backs in this class, but a guy like Walcott who is more ready to go is a very valuable piece.
Aranda mentioned that Walcott is particularly valuable because he has the ability to play both cornerback and safety. When I initially watched his film I was skeptical of his ability to stick at corner, but after watching again I am more bullish. The thing is, when you’re 6’2 like Walcott is, you have to have really quick feet to stick at corner otherwise you’ll get eaten alive by shorter and quicker WRs. Watching his film closer, Walcott has quicker feet than I realized.
Aranda loves to press with his corners which gives Walcott an opportunity to play immediately. Baylor’s starting corners are pretty good, but neither Texada nor Barnes are guys you’d describe as very physical. Walcott gives you a corner you can stick on the boundary (the short side of the field) and press guys. He’s also a much better tackler than most defensive backs which is a real asset to have on the boundary.
Walcott’s rating is up there for dumbest in this class, I think he is one of the better players Baylor has signed. He’s essentially a sure bet to become a starter at one of the most important positions in football. Walcott is a gifted athlete at a position of need. The only question that is tough to see from film is how good his deep speed is. I doubt Walcott redshirts, I think he is immediately in the rotation. Homerun signing for Baylor.
First of all, thank you everyone for reading and for you comments. These take forever to put together, so all feedback is very gratifying.
Baylor put together a solid class in a transition year, about as good as you can hope for with the early signing day and a coaching change. The fact that all guys who signed with Rhule in December have decided to stick with Aranda is a great sign. Baylor has quite a few open scholarships to work with and I would expect a handful of grad transfers and regular transfers. They once again have a tiny senior class so there isn’t much harm in taking guys who will only be here for one year.
Thanks for reading!