With college football over for this season, it is time to start looking ahead to next year. With every season comes new talent, and this year, Tech brings in the No. 48 recruiting class across the nation, courtesy of 247Sports.com. New players are coming in to play almost every position, and while not all of these freshmen will be on the starting roster next season, expect them to make an impact on the team sometime in the next four years.
The biggest name on the list is Jaylon King, a 6’1’’ cornerback from Nashville, Tenn. King is a highly ranked athlete who received offers from multiple D1 schools (namely Tennessee and Vanderbilt). King has received a number of accolades, including being rated a four-star prospect, ranked the No. 5 overall player in his home state of Tennessee and awarded regional first-team honor twice. King has the potential for early impact, especially in a secondary that loses seniors Lance Austin, Lawrence Austin, Corey Griffin and Step Durham. Like most every freshman, King will face growing pains, but the opportunity to play meaningful snaps from his first game onwards is definitely there.
Another four-star recruit that the Jackets landed is James Graham, a dual-threat quarterback from Fitzgerald, Ga. Graham originally committed to Virginia Tech, but he cancelled that commitment to come play for the Jackets. Graham was to arrive in Blacksburg with an athlete designation, and it was unclear whether he would have the opportunity to play as quarterback. In Tech’s option offense, Graham will be given every opportunity to do that.
Although Tech is not in desperate need of a quarterback (TaQuon Marshall played relatively well last year and will most likely start again), it is important to have depth at such a pivotal position, and having a highly ranked quarterback on the team to develop for a year or two before he has a chance to start could be a highly valuable experience. As head coach Paul Johnson showed the last two seasons with Matthew Jordan, he is willing to use a second quarterback in favorable situations. Tech’s run-based offense results in the quarterback facing a lot of contact. A competent backup never hurts.
Another banner player for Tech’s recruiting class is Justice Dingle, an outside linebacker from Bowling Green, Ky. At 6’3’’ and 245 lbs., Dingle is a three-star recruit coming to Tech who can make an early start on the defense. Though he is officially an OLB, Dingle is actually a flexible player in terms of position, as he has played as a defensive end and inside linebacker in high school, so he can fill whatever spot necessary to best add value to the Jackets defense.
Projecting which freshmen will have the biggest impact in their first year on The Flats is as futile a task as any. Injuries can press a little-known recruit into the spotlight, or a disappointing set of fall practices could drop a player like King down the depth chart. The more swings one takes, the better a chance he has at a home run. Graham could well be the succession plan to Marshall as soon as this season (Matthew Jordan was largely favored over TaQuon Marshall for the starting job entering 2017) and King could join A.J. Gray to provide playmaking presence for the team.
This recruiting class is the last influenced by former defensive coordinator Ted Roof, who left the Jackets for an assistant coaching role at North Carolina State in a separation that at least outwardly seems to have been mutual. New coordinator Nate Woody has plenty of talent to work with, as does Johnson, as both look to return the Tech football to bowl eligibility, and perhaps even conference contention if circumstances allow.