There’s no denying the fact that Dave Clawson has been able to do remarkable things on the recruiting trail since he arrived at Wake Forest. Being a small private school without a ton of prestigious football history, recruiting at Wake Forest is one of the toughest jobs in the entire country year in and year out. Clawson has to sell a brand to many kids who may have never heard of it before, or if they have, only know of it briefly as a school that has infrequently been to the postseason in their adolescent years.
Given the obstacles in his way, the fact that the Wake Forest staff has put together another strong 2016 recruiting class is nothing short of fantastic news for a fan base desperate for this rebuilding process to be completed. Front to back this 2016 class is extremely talented and many will go on to have great careers in the Black and Gold, but which recruits have the best chance at starting or playing significant minutes next fall? Based on the current depth chart and talent coming in, here are my five players of the 2016 class who I think could be big contributors starting next September for Wake Forest.
Greg Dortch, WR, Highland Springs (VA)
The electric VA product I suspect will immediately have a chance to takeover both return roles as soon as he steps on campus next fall. Wake’s top kick return man in 2015 was Chuck Wade, who ranked 120th in FBS in return yards and averaged 17.4 YPR. The punt return game was only slightly better, with main returner Tabari Hines racking up only 91 yards on the year and 3.8 YPR. Hines broke 20 yards on a return only once on the entire season despite having 24 attempts. Of the 18 players with 24 attempts or more, his longest return was tied for the lowest of all qualified candidates and his YPR was the smallest as well.
Needless to say, I suspect the staff will be very willing to give the quick-footed Dortch, who had 4 return TD’s this past season, an opportunity to step in and be a playmaker at this position day 1. Given his sensational agility I also wouldn’t be surprised if they used him in a variety of packages in the slot in the offense.
He and incoming WR Malik Grate should have the best chance to rotate with Tabari Hines on slot routes and screen plays that became so prominent in the offense this past year. The only question is how many of those snaps they take away from Hines who had a solid freshman season.
Traveon Redd, S, Magna Vista (VA)
Redd’s commitment to the Deacons in July was a huge recruiting win for Dave Clawson and the staff. The Magna Vista 2x State Champion will also be coming into a position (SS) that at the moment is vacant thanks to Zach Dancel’s graduation.
ICYMI, the full story on Magna Vista's Tra Redd and his decision to play football at Wake Forest. http://t.co/AG5d0LEzMf— Bulletin Sports (@BulletinSport) August 2, 2015
Junior Thomas Brown did get his fair share of reps throughout the season in this role, but given Redd’s natural talent and the fact that Clawson has time and time again started his own (often less experienced) recruits over commits from the old regime makes me think we could see Redd in the secondary Week 1 against Tulane. Tra is a hard-hitting “ball hawk” that will fit perfectly into Mike Elko’s system.
Sulaiman Kamara, DT, Hermitage (VA)
Sulaiman Kamara is the highest ranked commit in the Deacons’ 2016 recruiting class and, quite frankly, is going to be a handful for opposing O-Lines for the next four years. Kamara clocks in at 6’3 295 and was the focal point of a Hermitage Panthers defense that finished the season 12-2 in Virginia. Kamara was reportedly dominant all season long despite the fact he was often the center of attention for the opposing line and frequently double-teamed.
Hermitage's Eli Odom and Sulaiman Kamara are named Conference 11 offensive and defensive players of the year. #804varsity— Eric Kolenich (@EricKolenichRTD) November 17, 2015
His performances helped Hermitage to hold opponents to 13 points or less in 9 of its 14 games despite playing in one of VA’s toughest conferences and competing in Group 5A. I fully expect Kamara to come in and rotate reps with Zeek Rodney at Nose Tackle and contribute on the defensive line throughout his freshman season. I think a stat line similar to Rodney’s freshman year should be expected in Year 1 for Kamara: 7-15 tackles, 1-2.5 sacks, and 225+ snaps on the defensive side of the ball.
Laronde Liverpool, OLB, Landstown (VA)
Despite Landstown having a difficult 2015 season, Laronde Liverpool made his impact felt throughout the year for the Eagles. He can play on the defensive line or step back into coverage and this versatility is a valuable asset for Wake’s 4-2-5 defensive scheme. I can see Liverpool getting time in the “BUCK” position that Brandon Chubb occupied for Wake Forest over the last two years, which allows him to drop back into man-to-man coverage (which at his 6’3 frame will be helpful), but also be able to line up on the outside of the line for different looks.
Liverpool’s size and speed is ideal for this position that requires him to matchup with fast RB’s coming out of the backfield as well as big TE’s on certain routes. Junior Jaboree Williams will also be an option for this position, but Liverpool’s versatility and skill should allow him find the field regardless in 2016.
Zander Zimmer, DE, Bishop Moore (FL)
One of the biggest recruiting wins for Wake Forest in the last three years was that of Zander Zimmer, a 3* DE recruit from Orlando Florida who chose the Deacs over Oregon, Cal, Duke, UNC, West Virginia, and two dozen others. Following his summer commitment, Zimmer went on to have a fantastic final year of high school football that concluded with a 5A State Championship victory in which he had 2 sacks, a blocked punt, and a safety to his name. He affirmed his hard commitment to Wake Forest in a postgame interview that day and Mike Elko seems to be just months away from having a new stud on his defensive line to utilize.
RS Junior DE Duke Ejiofor had a strong end to his Sophomore season once he returned from injury in Week 6 and will be ahead of him on the depth chart initially, but I think the staff will have a hard time justifying keeping a talent like Zimmer off the field. Elko will find packages and scenarios for Zimmer in the defensive set and I would be surprised if he didn’t make the most of them.
This is not to say that other 2016 recruits aren’t going to get decent playing time next season. Malik Grate is a 3* WR who was one of the best receivers in South Carolina this fall and played extremely well in Shrine Bowl practices just last week. Cade Carney is an APB that could line up in the slot or take carries out of the backfield and his athleticism will find him some reps throughout the season. WR Jeremiah Brown was one of the first commits of the 2016 class and will be enrolling early which will give him plenty of time to get used to the offense, the Quarterbacks, and life in college in general.
All three of these recruits will be valuable to the program next year and beyond, but each position's depth chart may require a little patience at first. (Side note: I fully expect Scotty Washington to slide into KJ Brent’s role in 2016 given his standout performances in practice throughout the fall and reports I’ve been hearing. At a full 6’5, Washington’s size will perfectly complement the speed of Hines, Lewis, Wade, Claude and the 2016 commits).
But how do the other positions look?
Quarterback, as we all know, will be a battle between John Wolford and Kendall Hinton, with Jamie Newman almost certainly redshirting his freshman season despite enrolling early.
The RB position has a bit of a logjam with Matt Colburn, Tyler Bell, Rocky Reid, and Isaiah Robinson all returning and capable of earning the starting job. That being said, former RB commit Jamauri Wakefield would have had a hard time finding the field next season if he ended up signing with the Deacs.
Last year Wake didn’t run too many sets with dual TE’s and with All-ACC Tight End Cam Serigne back for another year, I think Brandon Chapman will be an asset used more down the line when Cam ultimately goes to the NFL.
As for the three offensive line recruits, Dave Clawson has said over and over again how he thinks it is important for an offensive line of a great team to be composed of mainly upperclassmen. I think this indicates that Taleni Suhren, JeVionte Nash, and Tyler Watson will all be given time to develop rather than playing significant minutes right away.
Of those three, I think OT Taleni Suhren has the best chance to potentially play early after a strong senior season and a terrific showing for the NC line in the 2015 Shrine Bowl. His body is probably the most college ready of our OL commits in the past couple of years and while he still will need to get stronger, it wouldn’t surprise me if the versatile Suhren competes for playing time early in his career.
Apart from the terrific talents I listed above, the 2016 class also features the VHSL 3A State Football Player of the Year (Carlos Basham), a top 10 kicker in the nation (Dom Maggio), a top 15 player in SC who held multiple SEC offers (Emmanuel Walker), an athletic LB that put up great numbers on both sides of the ball in HS (Jacquez Williams), and three key DB’s that will add strong depth to the Secondary next year (Essang Bassey, Deandre Delaney, and Lukas Masterson).
3 star DT Sulaiman Kamara commits to Wake Forest Demon Deacons quietly have a solid class— NCAAF Nation (@SportsEqualLove) November 4, 2015
Unlike some classes of the past decade, this group as a whole is very solid and not remotely as top heavy as ones we have seen This depth improves competition in practice at every position, which in-turn fosters development and creates a program that is on a path to success 2-3 years down the line. I can’t wait to see what Dave Clawson and the staff can do with these young men to help make another leap in getting this program to where we all want it to be.
Shoutout to Deac94 of OGBoards who does a great job constantly gathering stats and info on all our football commits, which certainly helped in a piece like this.
For daily Wake Forest recruiting updates you can follow me on twitter @DeacFan3. And last but not least, Merry Christmas to all and Go Deacs!