The 2014 Wake Forest Demon Deacons had the 59th best defense in the country last year according to Football Outsiders' S&P+ Ratings. That statistic probably doesn't accurately measure just how hard Wake's defense played, and how well they performed given how much time they were on the field. The defense will lose four starters from last season, including defensive end Zachary Allen, safety Anthony Wooding, Jr. and cornerbacks Bud Noel and Kevin Johnson.
Replacing that secondary will be very difficult, given that Noel and Johnson had more nearly 80 career combined starts. Let's take a look at the composition of the defensive recruits and how the team is set up moving forward. Which of these commits are most likely to see the field this fall?
The most logical place to start is to try and determine how Wake Forest is going to replace two senior/NFL caliber cornerbacks. The short answer is that no one will immediately replace those two, and that Wake simply won't be as good at corner next year. That's just being realistic. I expect junior Brad Watson to be a starting corner next season. 4-star cornerback Dionte Austin has a very realistic chance to play this fall, but could also be redshirted, which would allow him to get stronger. He is Wake's only 2015 cornerback signee, however, so it's very possible he sees time. 2014 commit Thomas Dillon played last year as a true freshman, but it was predominantly on special teams.
Anthony Wooding Jr., will graduate, but he will most likely be replaced by junior Thomas Brown. Junior Ryan Janvion will probably start at the other safety position. Safety is not an area of immediate need, but it's nice to secure quality players who will be able to play significant minutes down the road. I'm a big fan of Amari Henderson as a defensive back. He played cornerback in high school, but is listed as a safety. Either way, he is a playmaker and could get on the field this season. Cameron Glenn, a 2014 signee, is someone I expect to play as a redshirt freshman. Jessie Bates recently flipped to the Deacs from Toledo. He also had an offer from Iowa. My best guess is that he redshirts this season, but his instincts will be an asset.
The defensive line only loses one starter from last year, and that's defensive end Zachary Allen. The Deacs will also be replacing backup defensive end Desmond Floyd, who will be headed to Charlotte. Despite only losing those players, the Wake Forest coaching staff made the defensive line a point of emphasis in this recruiting class. They recruited defensive tackles Kahlil Welsh and Elontae Bateman, as well as defensive end Paris Black. Wake signed four defensive line prospects last signing period, so I would not be surprised if all three of these prospects were redshirted. Look for 2014 signee Rashawn Shaw to get some decent playing time this fall. He was a former Louisville commit and first-team all-State in Florida's class 8A. At edge rush, a player I'm fond of is Chris Calhoun. He hasn't gotten as much attention, but he is physical, versatile and productive. He can play the "drop" position and be used as a linebacker/defensive end hybrid.
Linebacker is another position where it's unlikely that we'll see many, if any, true freshmen. Wake will return starters Brandon Chubb, Marquel Lee and Hunter Williams. In addition to those players, Wake Forest also played true freshman Jaboree Williams last season. 2014 signee Zack Wary is a candidate to get some playing time this year. He was initially committed to Arkansas, and has a strong pedigree. True freshman Justin Strnad has a great story and could be a productive rover for us in the future, but I expect him to redshirt.
The biggest needs for the football team this cycle were on offense. That is why the staff focused heavily on recruiting offensive talent, and that is why the offensive freshmen are more likely to play this fall than the defensive freshmen.
Who are your favorite defensive prospects from the 2015 class?