Projecting the Top Contributors in Oklahoma's 2020 Recruiting Class
John. E. Hoover
The college football recruiting cycle has become so segmented, it can be a challenge to keep track of who’s where and when.
But as of this weekend, Oklahoma’s 2020 recruiting class is finally together.
After recruiting most of them for the better part of almost two years, the Sooners signed 20 newcomers to open the early signing period on Dec. 18. A quarterback was added two weeks later, a graduate transfer receiver joined the roster 11 days after that, another transfer wideout reportedly signed up on Feb. 3, and on Feb. 5, the traditional February signing day, two more four-star defenders signed their letters.
A total of 10 players enrolled early, started classes and went through winter workouts — and a very truncated spring practice.
Now, as schools have developed protocols for managing the Coronavirus pandemic and Oklahoma has set a return-to-work date of July 1 (voluntary, of course), most or all of OU’s “20Deep” class finally arrived on campus this weekend.
So which newcomers will have the biggest impact on the 2020 season? Some are easy. OU has an immediate need, and players have the ability to fill that need. Others need a little more thought, or even thinking outside the box.
With that, SI Sooners projects the five newcomers — excluding grad transfers — who will make the most significant contributions in 2020:
DT * 6-3 * 283 * Jr. * Maywood, IL
It’s almost a no-brainer that Winfrey will inherit Neville Gallimore’s starting role at noseguard, but it’s not by default.
Winfrey was ranked as the best junior college defensive tackle in the country by 247 Sports and ESPN for a reason.
At Iowa Wesleyan College, Winfrey showed good technique, dominant strength, elite quickness, a relentless motor and a ferocious mentality. Programs like Alabama, LSU and Texas wanted him because he’s the kind of player that can own the point of attack.
He’ll need to step up to play at Gallimore’s level, but Gallimore — a third-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys — wasn’t the only Sooner playing well on the interior last year. Marquise Overton also routinely delivered impactful plays during his senior year, and Dillon Faamatau became a reliable contributor there as well.
Winfrey enrolled early at OU and poured himself into winter workouts, trimming fat and adding muscle and improving his speed and explosiveness. He should be ready to make plays when Sept. 5 arrives.
DE * 6-4 * 245 * Fr. * Antioch, TN
Grimes is the closest thing to Ronnie Perkins the Sooners have at defensive end. And that’ll be useful since Perkins is expected to serve a five-game suspension to start the season.
Grimes was an elite pass rusher in high school. He’s obviously been well-coached, but he also shows some innate ability and instincts for getting to the passer.
Although he’ll naturally get stronger as his college career unfolds, he’s already ahead of most incoming freshmen in that category, particularly upper-body strength.
If Perkins’ appeal is denied, Grinch may elevate Marcus Stripling or shift Jalen Redmond or LaRon Stokes — or he may take an extended look at Grimes to fill that role, even if it’s only on passing downs to start with.
DT * 6-2 * 279 * So. * College Station, TX
It’s no mystery why the top three names on this list play defensive line. The Sooners need help.
Ellison — the No. 2 junior college defensive tackle in the country behind Winfrey, according to 247 Sports and ESPN — already has the kind of talent to insert himself into the rotation in a typical season. But with the graduation of three front-line players, Ellison has a chance to step in and make plays right away.
Ellison stood out at Blinn (TX) College, where he also played defensive end, but his competition at OU comes from Winfrey, who should start and has a chance to contend for postseason awards, and 293-pound third-year sophomore Jordan Kelley, who’s expected to be healthy after missing almost all of 2019 with an ACL injury.
On Grinch’s “Speed D,” no Sooner defensive lineman is over 300 pounds this season. So if Grinch ever opts for two guys on the interior, Kelley, Winfrey and Ellison are the biggest, with Jalen Redmond (278), LaRon Stokes (276), Kori Roberson (273) and Marcus Hicks (272) right behind.
No position in football is as physical as d-line, so to keep guys fresh, expect a heavy rotation — and Ellison will be in it.
DB * 6-3 * 192 * Fr. * Houston, TX
Washington’s long frame and explosive ability make him the ideal candidate to impress Roy Manning and take on Alex Grinch’s scheme.
Taking it all in during preseason practice can be like drinking through a firehose, so Washington (and other freshmen DBs hoping to contribute, like Joshua Eaton, Davon Graham, Kendall Dennis, Justin Harrington and Brian Darby) will have to learn fast, make quick decisions and rely on instinct to make plays in camp.
Guessing at which rookie DBs can play right away can be fraught with hazard. But Washington’s size and speed, and his film against top prep competition in Texas, indicate that he could lend immediate impact at the safety position, where there are opportunities to play. (The 6-2, 185-pound Eaton has similar qualities at cornerback, but with Tre Brown and Jaden Davis ahead of him, he’ll likely be a backup this year.)
The safety position at OU will be competitive, but lacks star power. Delarrin Turner-Yell, Pat Fields and Brendan Radley-Hiles are returning starters, and Chanse Sylvie, Woodi Washington, Justin Broiles and Jeremiah Criddell figure to get the first look behind them. Tre Norwood could also figure into the mix after missing last year with a knee injury.
But Grinch and Manning are desperate to upgrade the secondary as quickly as possible, Washington’s decision to enroll early and spend a grueling winter working out with his teammates will help. He’s already added mass and muscle — and probably developed some mental toughness — that will serve him well in 2020 and beyond.
QB * 5-10 * 180 * Fr. * Dallas
OK, this one’s a little unconventional. But on a football team of more than 100 people, “significant contributions” don’t just happen on Saturdays.
Morris isn’t going to compete for game snaps this year (unless the loser of the QB derby between Tanner Mordecai and Spencer Rattler decides to hit the transfer portal and Morris finds himself as the immediate backup).
Morris’ role in 2020 will be as the scout-team quarterback, and considering some of the QBs the Sooners face this year — Jabari Laws, Jarrett Guarantano, Charlie Brewer, Sam Ehlinger, Brock Purdy, Spencer Sanders, Max Duggan, Jarret Doege, Skylar Thompson, Alan Bowman — the scout-team QB will need to be able to run and throw. The shifty, strong-armed Morris can do both.
Morris’ job will be to make the OU defense better every week. If he does that, he’ll be a frontrunner for Scout Team Player of the Year.
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