Recruiting Comparison Between East Carolina and UCF, How They Built Their Programs

Evaluating the recruiting classes for East Carolina and UCF, including how both teams use the transfer portal to bolster their rosters.
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ORLANDO - Comparing recruiting rankings provides insight for how two teams stack up against one another. During the past five recruiting classes, here are the team recruiting rankings for UCF and East Carolina. Plus, there are unique aspects for building a roster for each of these teams via the transfer portal.

Recruiting matters. When there’s a definitive pattern of one team holding a recruiting advantage over a team it will soon play, there will be a good chance that team comes out victorious. There are reasons for changes to that logic, however.

There are those recruits that just seemingly come out of no place and make a major impact for a program. UCF certainly produced several like that, as did East Carolina. Before diving into the recruits that made their way to being big-time players, here are the hard numbers for UCF and East Carolina’s last five recruiting classes.

Recruiting Comparison: UCF Versus East Carolina

Recruiting Comparison: UCF Versus East Carolina

The recruiting class rankings favor the Knights, and substantially. Of course recruiting rankings are subjective and there are many aspects that a basic recruiting class ranking cannot project, i.e. transfers, injuries, disciplinary suspensions, early entrees into the NFL, etc.

With all of those aspects of recruiting in mind, the recruiting rankings provide a solid baseline of how each of the two programs compare to one another. Here’s one category that goes along with rankings and why they can be difficult to read, however, and how East Carolina and UCF helped to build their current rosters.

Under the Radar Recruits

The list of recruits signed by UCF that were not highly recruited and went on to be really good for the Knights and sometimes even an NFL player proved to be impressive even before this season.

Take former UCF wide receiver Gabriel Davis. He was barely even ranked by 247 when he came out of Sanford (Fla.) Seminole. From 2017 through 2019, he accumulated 152 receptions, 2,447 yards and 23 touchdowns for the Knights.

Former UCF wide receiver Gabriel Davis celebrates a touchdown with Stefon Diggs.

Former UCF wide receiver Gabriel Davis celebrates a touchdown with Stefon Diggs.

No Power Five schools offered Davis. He picked UCF over teams like Appalachian State, Troy, Florida International and Florida Atlantic. Obviously it worked out well for UCF, and for Davis. He’s now a member of the Buffalo Bills and one of the best teams in all of professional football. There’s another Davis that still plays for UCF that fits a similar profile.

Starting defensive tackle Kalia Davis was only a three star prospect out of Pensacola (Fla.) West Florida Tech. Ironically, he officially visited East Carolina before signing with UCF. Some of his other offers included Tulane, Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina.

Now 6’2”, 310 pounds, Davis was roughly 240 pounds coming out of Pensacola. He changed his body, and his position, once on campus at UCF. He will eventually don an NFL jersey next year after leaving Orlando. He’s probably UCF’s most talented defensive player. East Carolina has a similar player on its current roster as it relates to being under recruited and now being a future NFL player.

Speed, as in, look out! That young man can fly! That’s the best way to describe East Carolina’s best player.

Current East Carolina redshirt freshman running back Keaton Mitchell played for one of the best small-school high school football programs in Georgia -- Eagles Landing Christian Academy -- before signing with the Pirates. Just about every major college football program recruits Atlanta, and the surrounding towns and cities adjacent to Atlanta where Eagles Landing Christian resides, but all but two Power Five programs passed on offering Mitchell. Nebraska and West Virginia offered, and that’s it.

East Carolina running back Keaton Mitchell is one of the nation's most dynamic playmakers.

East Carolina running back Keaton Mitchell is one of the nation's most dynamic playmakers.

Mitchell settled on East Carolina, and he’s been electric for the Pirates during his time in Greenville, N.C. Just this season alone, Mitchell is averaging a whopping 9.6 yards per carry. He’s rushed 60 times for 574 yards and four touchdowns. Additionally, Mitchell caught 14 passes for 145 yards and another touchdown.

Mitchell flat out changed the East Carolina roster because any defense that does not account for him during each snap of the football can be burned for a touchdown. Thus, he helped to make other players on the East Carolina offense better because they are consistently single covered or overlooked by opposing defenses.

Both of these programs found star players that many other programs passed on, and that’s how they continue to move forward, with one additional route for accumulating talent.

The Transfer Portal

Both of these teams found plenty of prospects to come to their respective campuses and play football over the past two recruiting classes, but the 2021 additions really started to change how each of them recruited.

Because each team accepted more than 10 transfers each, both programs should not be graded by traditional recruiting metrics moving forward. In fact, UCF and East Carolina represent great examples of how every network that ranks recruits needs to adjust recruiting rankings.

For instance, East Carolina safety DJ Ford came over from North Carolina as a graduate transfer. He’s a key contributor to the Pirates by way of recording 22 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, two passes broken up, and one fumble return for 16 yards. UCF hit the jackpot with the portal as well.

Amongst several players that transferred to UCF, hybrid linebacker Bryson Armstrong leads the Knights in tackles with 40, 22 of which were solo tackles. He’s also recorded one tackle for loss and is assigned with covering very shifty and athletic slot receivers in addition to run-stopping duties. Imagine where the UCF defense would be without Armstrong right now.

Final Thoughts

These are two programs that found unique avenues to build rosters. True evaluations, players moving to new positions like Kalia Davis from linebacker to defensive tackle, and utilizing the transfer portal much better than the majority of other FBS programs.

Moving forward, look for many other programs to at least begin going into the portal more often. It certainly helped both UCF and East Carolina.

For UCF insights, college football news, and recruiting information go to: The Daily Knight podcast. It will be found on iTunes and Spotify. For more UCF and recruiting information, go to Twitter: @fbscout_florida and @UCF_FanNation, as well as my YouTube Channel and Instagram page. Like and Subscribe!

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For UCF insights, college football news, and recruiting information go to: The Daily Knight podcast. It will be found on iTunes and Spotify. For more UCF and recruiting information, go to Twitter: @fbscout_florida and @UCF_FanNation, as well as my YouTube Channel and Instagram page. Like and Subscribe!

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