Watching the tape: Tech’s 2018 football recruits

Photo by Samuel Stewart

National Signing Day 2018 wrapped up late Wednesday, as the most elite high school recruits in the country committed to their respective college programs. Tech’s signing class was ranked No. 55 in the country and second in Georgia, courtesy of NSD 2018 gives a perfect opportunity to examine Tech’s recruited class through the lens of game film: while their highlights do not necessarily show every aspect of their play, they provide an enticing first impression of what they might bring to Tech’s offense and defense.

Jaylon King

Upon watching King’s tape, the first takeaway is his unique versatility and overall athleticism. During his senior year alone, King made game changing plays lining up as a quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback, safety and kick/punt returner. King is a well-rounded player, and the Tech coaches will have to decide which of these roles suits him best within the dynamic of the team. Some of King’s most standout traits were his ball skills — making many one-handed grabs for interceptions and breaking up well-thrown passes — and his hard-hitting ability, which he demonstrated by often knocking the ball out of receivers’ hands.

With these in mind, the ideal role for King in the Tech secondary is as an Earl Thomas or Keanu Neal-type player who always plays for the ball, forcing turnovers through hard hits and ball tracking. His measurables fit the bill for a successful safety as well: at 6’1’’, King should be able to cover big wide receivers and tight ends with whom smaller defensive backs struggle. He could also be useful on special teams as a returner given his prior experience and success in the role from high school, racking up three return touchdowns in his senior year.

James Graham

Graham is a truly electric player — if he gets in the open field, he is off like a shot. In most of his breakout plays on film, he looks to be the fastest player on the field, and on top of that, he is excellent at breaking tackles and making jukes. As a dual threat quarterback, he is reminiscent of Michael Vick (minus the incredible arm strength) due to his agility and overall ability in the open field.

While he may not start at quarterback his freshman year, he should at least earn early touches as a running back or receiver as someone who has the potential for a big play anytime he touches the ball. Similar to Terrelle Pryor, there is even the possibility of him playing a new position like wide receiver for the long-term given his skill set, although he has said one of his primary reasons for coming to Tech was to play quarterback in a system he would thrive in, so his willingness to make that switch is questionable. Either way, having an offensive playmaker like Graham on the field could be the push the Tech offense needs to compete at the level of other top offenses in the country.

justice dingle

Justice Dingle profiles as an outside linebacker. Dingle’s tape presents him as a very balanced linebacker with pass rush and coverage abilities. His most impressive trait is his closing speed, that is, his ability to catch up to a runner and make critical tackles to stop big gains. He is very successful at stopping quarterbacks from scrambling and stuffing the run before a back breaks into the open field. He also tackles with intent, often reaching for the ball before making a hit. As a result, he is effective in forcing fumbles not necessarily through force, but though precision. Dingle is very athletic and shows promise to develop further under the guidance of our coaches.

With these talented players coming in, among many more, comes the huge responsibility on the Tech coaching staff to develop them fully to their potentials. There are countless examples of talented, exciting high school players falling flat at the next level for any one of many reasons.

At least on paper, Tech has an uphill climb ahead of it in the conference. Fellow ACC Coastal member Clemson brings in the No. 6 rated class in the country by those same 247Sports rankings, with five 5-star recruits, good for No. 2 in the country. No. 1? Rival UGA, whom the Jackets will play in Sanford Stadium this season. Both teams showed that the best way to stop Tech’s scheme-heavy option offense is by pitting it against elite, well-coached, NFL-caliber athletes. No matter who lines up for Tech’s offense next season, that reality will remain; they will have to outplay bigger, faster and stronger counterparts.

That is not to say that there is no hope. Tech has made changes of its own this offseason, with Tech announcing Wednesday that the athletic department has already received $315,000 in alumni donations towards its new recruiting efforts. The talented athletes Tech is reeling in now are theoretically just scratching the surface of Tech’s potential in the long run. For now, a defensive-focused recruiting class coached up by new defensive coordinator Nate Woody promises very solid early returns.