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Baylor’s 2020 Recruiting Class: Part 1

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NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Hello all, it is time to recap Baylor football’s newest signing class. They signed 17 guys, so I will be doing this in 3 parts. One of my favorite parts of doing this is being able to look back on them in a few years when most of these guys will actually be playing. For example, here’s a recap I did a couple of years ago which includes Tyquan Thornton, Connor Galvin, Josh Fleeks, Ben Sims, Sqwirl Williams, and Bralen Taylor; I think I hit the mark rather well.

Anyway, my objective here is to look at what a guy does well from his high school tape, project how that fits into Baylor’s system, and ultimately figure out their likely impact.

I’ll be doing these in alphabetical order. All size and weights are from Baylor’s website which reportedly use the measurements from when they came on their official visits. It doesn’t look like they’re fudging numbers here because they have a guy like Mike Harris listed as 5-10. Here’s a link to Baylor’s release which lists every signee: https://s3.amazonaws.com/baylorbears.com/documents/2020/2/5/2020_BAYLOR_SIGNING_CLASS.pdf.

Anthony Anyanwu. Linebacker / Defensive End. 6-1, 226 lbs. Sachse, TX.

Testing Results: None.

Anyanwu is a classic Rhule recruit: underdeveloped with serious upside. 2018 was his first year playing football period, and that was enough for Baylor to offer after he apparently “kill[ed] it at their camp.”

For comparison’s sake, Anyanwu is already the same size as current Baylor middle linebacker Terrel Bernard. At Sachse he played a true defensive end either in a 4 or 3 down front. You can see how inexperienced he is on film; like a young post player in basketball, you can almost see his mind choosing which moves to use rather than instinctively responding to the situation. He hasn’t produced the kind of results you want to see from a high level P5 recruit, but considering his remarkable situation he is definitely a take.

Anyanwu is very explosive, both in a straight line and laterally. He also packs a good punch with his hands showing several good plays where he stacks an OL and then sheds him to get after the ball carrier. His speed is a real asset chasing down ball carriers from the backside. You can easily see why he dominated at Baylor’s camp—he is a really good athlete.

Position is the big question mark for Anywanwu. At LSU, Aranda played with 3 relatively interchangeable DL and one hybrid rush-end / linebacker (played expertly by K’Lavon Chaisson over the past few years). Here’s an image showing the sizes of Aranda’s base D at LSU:

https://www.andthevalleyshook.com/2018/3/21/17134160/lsu-football-2018-film-room-dave-aranda-defense

Basically, it comes down to whether Anyanwu can get big enough to play that boundary linebacker / rush end spot or whether he slots in as one of the two middle linebacker spots. I like him as a middle linebacker, mostly because of his good acceleration and great lateral quickness. I wouldn’t expect him to contribute too early, as linebacker is a position that generally requires a lot of instincts and fast reactions, so he’ll need some time to learn and grow at the spot. If it ever clicks for Anywanwu, his potential is as high as it gets because of his tremendous athleticism.

Jahdae Barron. Defensive Back. 5-10, 165 lbs. Pflugerville, TX.

Testing Results: 10.95 100m.

Barron is consistently rated as one of the top recruits in this class and it is easy to see why. At 5-10, 165 lbs he is slight of build but not of ability. The ability to consistently cover P5 wide receivers is so rare that you take it in pretty much any frame you can find, which is why Raleigh Texada has been a good player for Baylor despite his diminutive stature. Barron clearly has both the athletic ability required to lock down receivers in combination with the requisite mentality.

Barron’s film shows pretty much everything you want to see from a DB. He has great long speed to stay with WRs down field. He attacks the ball in the air and will create turnovers. He has plenty of experience playing WR which gives him better ball skills. He’s aggressive in the run game and shows himself to be a willing tackler. Basically, he’s a perfect starter kit at CB and his only downside is that he is 5-10 instead of 6-0.

It’s funny, I usually struggle to come up with good comparisons, but for Barron and several others in this class it is rather easy. Barron compares rather favorably to former Baylor CB/S Grayland Arnold. Like Arnold, Barron played a lot on both sides of the ball in high school which is why he has such good ball skills. He also shows to be a willing tackler despite his smaller frame. They have similar builds and even similar running styles with longer torsos and shorter legs. Barron isn’t quite as fast as Grayland, but every bit as quick and tough.

In general, you start defensive backs at corner like you start offensive lineman at tackle: try it until you’re forced to move them. I think you’ll see Barron start at corner but he could be a guy who moves to safety if that gives Baylor this best starting 11. He has a bright future, I expect you’ll see him become a starter within 2 or 3 years.

Gavin Byers. Offensive Line. 6-5, 304 lbs. Grapevine, TX.

Testing Results: None.

Disclaimer: in my experience, the two toughest positions to evaluate from highlight films are offensive line and QB. Despite being wildly different positions the reasons are similar: both have lots of highlight plays, but their value is how they handle every snap. QBs don’t put missed throws on their highlight reel, and OL don’t put missed blocks. Basically when I’m looking at an OL, I’m looking for base athleticism and a mean streak, beyond that it’s a sort of crapshoot for who is going to pan out in college because like QBs, so much is based upon mentality and work ethic which is impossible to discern from highschool highlights.

When Byers first committed after his junior year, I was less than impressed. His film showed a guy with heavy feet who relied on mauling people with upper body strength. But much to his credit, he vastly improved in his senior year. When he signed back in December, Rhule raved about his overall athleticism, noting his ability to do some spectacular dunks that guys at 300lbs shouldn’t be able to do. His senior tape still shows a guy with heavy feet, but the rest of his game is good enough to where he has a legitimate chance of becoming a starter. The main thing he will have to work on (like many highschool OL) is operating from his lower body instead of relying on pushing around guys with upper body strength.

Byers played left tackle for his high school team but I doubt you ever see him line up there for Baylor. I think he is rather similar to Casey Phillips in that they both have great overall athleticism but don’t show the lateral quickness you want from a LT. Like Phillips, I think he could be a RT but probably has a brighter future as a mauling guard. Baylor has a lot of those types already on the roster, however, so I wouldn’t be surprised to stick at RT for a while.

Drake Dabney. Tight End. 6-4, 226. Cypress, TX.

Testing Results: 4.89 forty, 4.58 shuttle.

Dabney was a late addition by Rhule’s staff as they continued to try and stock the tight end position. In his film he’s playing the vast majority of his snaps as a split out slot receiver running slants, mesh, and over routes giving his QB an easy, big target over the middle. He does have a few highlights as a TE attached to the line of scrimmage and he shows at least a willingness to be a nasty blocker on the edges.

He’s not very fast, but certainly plenty fast for his size. As a reminder to people that 4.9 speed is much faster than you realize, the first play of his film is him outrunning two defensive backs that have promising angles on him. He won’t be a down field threat in college, however. Like many high school tight ends, he has two main questions that will determine his future: how much of his athleticism will he retain after putting on another 20 lbs, and will he become a good enough blocker to be useful on the line of scrimmage?

There’s a reason Dabney had upwards of 25 offers. He’s a relatively safe, polished prospect who will almost certainly contribute at an above average power 5 level. He’s a natural pass catcher, has a big frame, and will be useful out a variety of formations.

Athletically, he’s pretty similar to Baylor defensive end Bralen Taylor, except Dabney is 3 inches shorter which allows him to stick at tight end. Baylor’s tight end room has a lot of competition but is relatively unproven. Dabney will have the opportunity to earn early playing time if he can prove himself to be proficient in all of the other duties a tight end must perform other than catching the football. He won’t ever be a guy that other teams’ fans are particularly afraid of, but will likely be a consistent, large target.

Will Garner. Linebacker. 6-2, 194. Klein, TX.

Testing Results: None

Garner is one of my favorite guys in this class. Another guy who Baylor got on early because of how well he did at a Baylor camp, he improved massively from his junior to senior year. He doesn’t have any verified testing results, but his athleticism jumps off the screen.

Garner played as a sort of hybrid outside linebacker / rush end at Klein. Ian Boyd was spot on when he reviewed Tyrone Brown in Baylor’s 2019 signing class, “Brown is one of those classic Texas linebacker recruits that have befuddled recruiters and evaluators for years. Teams in Texas regularly put their better athletes at OLB and give them really simple assignments to erase space and tackle as free-hitters off the edge, but then in the B12 teams have to teach these guys to read flow and fits gaps as inside-backers and it’s hard to tell who will take to it and who will not.” This was basically Garner’s role at Klein: get him in space and let his athleticism disrupt opposing offenses.

I go back and forth on where exactly Garner fits in an Aranda defense. He has some highlights playing a traditional middle linebacker role but he doesn’t look natural there (the most natural inside linebacker highlights I’ve ever seen are Terrel Bernard’s). Depending on how much weight Garner naturally puts on, I think he slots in one of those outside linebacker positions, probably to the field. Garner’s best attribute is his lateral quickness, so putting him in a spot where he has to cover a lot of grass sideline to sideline is a good bet.

He’s of similar size and weight to current Baylor safety/linebacker Will Williams and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them playing the same position, wherever that ends up being. Garner, like many of Rhule’s recruits, has a lot of upside because he is relatively raw but has significant athleticism. I doubt he ever becomes an instinctive inside backer like Terrel Bernard or Taylor Young, but he could be an athletic disruptor on the edges like Blake Lynch. Will need some time to put on weight and develop.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Hit me up with questions or comments below.