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Evaluating the Newest Signees — Final Edition

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Evaluating Cooper Lanz, Tyrone Brown, Drew Estrada, Connor Heffernan, and Elijah Bean

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

It’s that Time Again ... !

Baylor signed 18 guys in this early signing period, and I’ll be doing in-depth reviews of all these guys here on ODB over the coming days. This is the third and final installment in this series, you can read the first one here, and the second one here.

These evaluations always take more time than anything else I do, but I have always enjoyed them. When I watch sports I like to have as much information as possible about the guys on the team. As an Astros fan, I loved following the minor leagues because it would give me more insight as young guys joined the team. For Baylor, I like to evaluate the signees that way when they hit the field over the coming years I have a summary of information about them that helps me know what they’re good at and bad at and what I should be looking out for.

Anyway, these are a lot of work but I hope you enjoy them. And I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below. I don’t pretend to be an expert, though I do think I’m pretty good at this. You can look back at my posts from years past and see that I generally have a pretty good feel for guys. I’m liable to miss on some guys, of course. Some guys I love will flunk and some guys I’m iffy on with become great. It’s just the nature of the beast.

My Version of a Rating System

In my years past reviews I’ve lobbed insults at the recruiting services for what I think are obviously silly rankings. Usually this involves slapping low grades on guys from small towns or other under-recruited areas that clearly have superior talent. So I decided to create my own of sorts. Here are the basics:

S+: NFL bound barring a major injury or other anomalous setback. These are national level recruits that any school in the country should take. Baylor doesn’t usually sign many of these.

S: As good as you can expect for a reasonable Baylor recruit; i.e., guys that Baylor put at the top of their board and got. They’ll have significant NFL potential and will be all-conference guys barring injury or other happenstance.

A: A very solid program addition. These guys are likely starters or significant contributors. Not #1 on your recruiting board type guys, but close. These guys fit more in the fringe NFL potential range with significant all conference potential. In a good recruiting year, the bulk of your class should be A and above.

B: Solid program addition, but guys that I foresee likely just providing depth or have a tougher road ahead to become a significant contributor. Basically, while guys I grade as “A” are very likely starters, guys I grade as “B” I’d predict could become starters but are less likely. Taking these types of guys is still worth it if you’ve missed on other targets and they still provide value to the program.

C: This is where I get iffy on prospects. These guys I project as most likely just depth or I don’t see working at the position they’re being recruited at. Perhaps worth the take if you missed on other guys, but they need a lot to go right for them to hit.

D: I totally disagree with Baylor taking them.

As you can see, this grading system is Baylor adjusted, so a guy I grade as an S for Baylor I wouldn’t grade as an S for Alabama. But I think this type of system is more valuable for understanding what Baylor is getting and how well Baylor is hitting their mark.

A note about positions. This rating system is an attempt to objectify an inherently subjective enterprise, of course, so the difference between positions is hard to quantify. This is most notable at QB. For example, I have Kyron Drones rated as an “S.” I think if everything goes right for him he’s a probable NFL QB. But QBs aren’t really “NFL bound barring an injury” like say, a WR is.

One more thing: I can’t give everyone a great grade. As I said this past season when I was negative about some aspects of the Baylor football team, positive praise is meaningless if you’re not willing to be honestly negative. Just because I don’t see it with a guy doesn’t mean he is doomed; I guarantee you there isn’t a single staff in America where every assistant coach and recruiting staffer feels equally about a prospect. Staffers and assistant coaches have to fight to get guys offered and pursued all the time. Disagreements are natural and just how it goes. For the few guys in this class that I don’t like as much as the others, I hope they take it respectfully and I understand that I can’t just slap an S+ on everyone, that would be meaningless. I hope the best for everyone!

With that said, let’s jump in!

Cooper Lanz, DL. 6-4, 242 lbs. Denton, TX. Guyer HS.

Rating: A

Lanz is another prospect I’ve been really high on ever since he committed. I initially had him pegged as an OLB because he was about 6-3 225 in his junior film and showed some tremendous movement skills. He showed the ability to “feather,” which means when he gets left unblocked as the read man in zone read where the QB is reading him to determine whether to give the ball to the RB or keep it himself. Guys who can feather are a huge need in the modern game, because guys who can do it well like Lanz can can essentially take away both the RB and the QB if they play it correctly. He’s also really fast for his size. Guys who are his size and can move as well laterally and are as fast as he is are pretty rare. The only thing he didn’t show was a great pass rush, but he has the athleticism to become a good rusher.

Lanz won’t be an OLB, however, because he is simply outgrowing the position. Baylor lists him at 6-4 242 and I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets closer to 270-280 by the time is playing at Baylor. That puts him as a likely field end (the position that William Bradley-King played for Baylor in 2019). That position necessitates a guy who can stand strong in the run game, slant into gaps, and become a secondary pass rusher on early down passes. Lanz can do all of that. I just don’t think that position has as much need/upside as a JACK does.

Lanz is pretty polished and a guy I’m still very excited about. He’s a great all around football player and because of his size, athleticism, and overall technique has a pretty high floor. The limit on him is I don’t think he’ll ever become a dominant pass rusher, but that’s OK. I think he’ll become serviceable enough to provide some real value considering everything else he brings the table. He’ll be a good athlete on the edge who collects a few sacks along the way and provides a lot of value in the standard down run game.

He’s pretty different from a lot of the DL prospects Baylor has taken in the past. The closest comparison I can think of is former bear Chris McCallister who became an All Big 12 DE in 2013. McCallister was a better pass rusher than I think Lanz will become, but Lanz is bigger and will be better in the run game. Both are great lateral athletes who provided a lot of value doing the little things.

Tyrone Brown, LB. 6-0, 220 lbs. Orange, TX. West Orange Stark HS.

Rating: S

Brown is probably my personal favorite recruit in this class, and it’s a tossup between him and Tevin Williams as the highest rated defensive guy in this class. I’ve been paying attention to these ratings for a while now, and Brown takes the cake for the absolute most laughable rating from recruiting services. The 247 composite has him as the 210th best player ... in Texas! They have him as the 3rd lowest rated guy in this class whereas I have him as the 2nd or 3rd highest. Anyway, let’s get into why.

Brown is an absolute freak of an athlete. You have to know what you’re looking for to see it, but it’s there on film. To start with, he’s really fast. He’s faster than most guys playing DB in the Big 12. I hand timed this video below several times, and Brown is running a ~4.65 forty yard dash here. While wearing pads, hopping over a defender, not running as fast as he can, etc. This means he’s a 4.4 guy running in spandex.

Obviously, linebackers don’t run in straight lines with the ball very often. Where speed matters for inside backers in the modern game is their ability to play sideline to sideline. The faster your linebackers are, the fewer guys you have to dedicate to stopping outside quick game. Guys like Terrel Bernard, Clay Johnston, and now Abram Smith have been dynamite doing this over recent years for Baylor. Brown can run sideline to sideline.

So he can really run, he has good size. What about the intricacies of playing linebacker? Is he a good tackler? Can he sift through the trash? Does he pack a punch? Yes to all of the above. Brown’s film, and I think this is why people who don’t know how to evaluate slapped a low rating on him, is mostly him lining up 3 yards off the LOS, staying flat footed until the ball carrier commits, and exploding to the ball carrier. It doesn’t look that sexy. And it doesn’t look much like what he’ll be doing in the college game. But I’ll take an athletic linebacker who has faced 5,000 reps of run game who has to learn how to play zone coverage over an athletic guy who has played a lot of zone coverage and has to learn to how to play the run. When Brown makes contact with a ball carrier they go down.

So I took the time to make 3 gifs for Brown. I clearly like him a lot. He borders on being an S+ for me. The only reason I held off that is because you just don’t know how well he’ll take to playing the space. Some guys just don’t have the knack for playing zone coverage. Brown has the athleticism for it for sure, it’s just a matter of how well he’ll take to it and there isn’t really way to know it; we’ll just have to wait and see. Athletically and size wise, Brown compares very favorably to LSU LB (and first round draft pick) Patrick Queen. Both are 6’0 LBs who can run like the wind and are tremendously explosive. Queen is a phenomenal pass coverage LB, so again we’ll have to wait and see on that for Brown.

At worst I think Brown becomes an above average Big 12 LB who always brings value because of his ability to plug in the run game and run sideline to sideline. If he reaches his potential he is a potential Big 12 DPOY and 1st round draft pick. He’ll need a little bit of time but I don’t think he’ll need as much time as most think. There’s a good chance he is starting in 2022.

Drew Estrada, WR. 6-0, 190 lbs. Transfer from Dartmouth, originally from Argyle, TX.

Big win for Baylor here. Coming as a proven graduate transfer, a lot of schools wanted Estrada, including TCU and Florida State. He exploded as a junior as Darthmouth, catching 51 balls for 827 yards in only 10 games. After the Ivy league elected not to play in 2020, he decided to transfer.

Estrada is ultra-versatile. He’s a slot receiver and only 6-0, but he’s perfectly capable of winning downfield and has a tremendous vertical (he high jumped 6’2 in high school, remarkable for a guy his height). Where he makes his money is his route running. The highlight film above shows just about every route in the book. He’s terrific running option routes against linebackers and finding the holes in zones. As an added bonus, he’s good on end arounds and also is a good punt returner.

I like adding guys like Estrada to a team. He’s probably not gonna become a truly dominant Big 12 player, but he’s really solid and, as a 5th year player with skins on the wall, will show younger guys how its done. I think he instantly becomes Baylor’s starting slot receiver, though it is difficult to predict exactly how Baylor will utilize him since they haven’t hired an offensive coordinator yet. The easier prediction is that people will pigeon hole him as a crafty white slot receiver, but I really like his ability to win downfield. And I really like his ability to become a go-to guy on 3rd down because of his ability to get open, leap, and make tough catches. I think we might see a lot of this in 2021:

Big year for Estrada in 2021.

Connor Heffernan, OL. 6-4, 280 lbs. Georgetown, TX. Georgetown HS.

Rating: S

Baylor only signed 3 OL this year, but all were major coups for the program. All 3 of Williams, Heffernan, and Lengyel had Texas offers. Heffernan isn’t a national level recruit, but he’s about as good as you can hope for Baylor to sign. Heffernan is also a good wrestler, which is always a major bonus for OL. OL have to learn how to play at 300 lbs, and wrestling is all about being aware of your body and how to dominate your opponent.

Heffernan’s wrestling background shows up on tape. He just dominates the guy in front of him. He plays with great functional strength and knows how to use his body. Where this really shows is when he gets in a stalemate with a DL; he’s then able to create a base with his legs and then win the rep. Athletically he’s no Tate Williams, but few are. And he’s certainly a good enough athlete to become a really good P5 OL.

Despite playing tackle in HS, the plan is to play him at C where his athleticism and size will play better. Baylor has not had good C play for a few years now, and the pipeline doesn’t look full, so I think he has a shot at some early playing time. Hopefully not in 2021, but starting in 2022 or 2023 doesn’t seem out of the question for him. Significant NFL potential.

Elijah Bean, WR. 6-5, 198 lbs. Humble, TX. Summer Creek HS.

Rating: B

Bean is a tough guy to evaluate, at least for me. A couple of weeks ago I would’ve had him as a C, but his senior film does show a marked improvement over his junior film. Also, he participated in a national combine in San Antonio and apparently looked really good, enough to get this praise:

https://247sports.com/Article/247Sports-AllCombine-Team-Underclassmen-combine-2020-141585529/

My worry with Bean is that, at 6-5, he’s just not a very fluid athlete. Very fast? Yes. But he doesn’t have great acceleration for the college game and he’s not very good in and out of breaks. For example, watch his comeback route here. He shows quick feet here, but compare it to a guy like Denzel Mims or Javon Gipson who can make the break far quicker:

You can’t just rely on running by guys in college. You have to become a good route runner and win contested catches. You can look at a guy like Jared Atkinson, who by any measure is an absolute freak athlete for the position, but just hasn’t been able to put it together in 5 years at Baylor. However, I did some things to like in Bean’s senior film. For one, he showed the ability to make a tough back shoulder catch.

If he’s gonna become a productive college WR, he has to make catches like this consistently. When he’s able to get a free release and get a full head of steam, you can really see the speed flash.

I think this last play is how he’ll need to be utilized at Baylor. Put him in doubles or trips formations where he can get a free release and be an active part of the screen game as a blocker. In that way he could act like a pseudo flexed TE (how I’ve argued Atkinson should be utilized), but he’ll never put on the 40 lbs needed to become an actual TE. His upside is a really good Big 12 WR who dominates the sideline, always a threat to either run by the boundary corner or make backshoulder catches. But he also might just be a tantalizing athlete who never quite puts it all together. Like a lot of WRs, it is just wait and see with him to see how well he picks up the small aspects of being a WR.

Ranking the Class

A few years ago I did a top 6 and I’ve been pretty happy with the results so far:

So I’ll try my luck and try it again.

Top 6:

  1. Tate Williams, OG. Surefire NFL OG barring injury. Special movement skills for an OL. Will be starting soon.
  2. Tyrone Brown, ILB. He’ll become a starting LB sooner rather than later. A special athlete at the position. His floor is as an above average Big 12 ILB who can run sideline to sideline. His upside is a 1st round do it all LB.
  3. Tevin Williams, CB. The perfect starter kit to become a press man CB. Great speed, size, and toughness.
  4. Kyron Drones, QB. The only major concern I have with him is decision making, as he tends to force some throws and trust his arm too much. Other than that, he has it all as a QB. Great arm, GREAT pocket presence, a good enough athlete to keep defenses honest.
  5. Javon Gipson, WR. With his size and athleticism, he has everything you need to become a dominant receiver. It’s just a question of how good his hands are and how good he’ll be making catches in traffic. His upside is Denzel Mims.
  6. Jackie Marshall, OLB/DE. Plays with tremendous strength and has good lateral agility. My major question with him is how big he naturally gets, he’s already at 235 and could get much bigger. But at 6’1 you probably want him sticking as an OLB. Plays with a tremendous punch and has the makings of a very powerful JACK who can play the run and pass rush.

Personal Favorite: Other than these guys, I’m just really excited about Monaray Baldwin. He can really fly and is a very versatile athlete. He’s only 5’9, but I think he’ll be a big time player in the Big 12.

Thank you so much everyone for reading and for your feedback! It’s done! Looking forward to your comments, questions, and opinions. Hit me up here or @Travis_Roeder on twitter.