Written By Sammy Jacobs and T.J. Inman (@Hoosier_Huddle)
Now that the whirlwind that National Signing Day always is, is now we are going to take you through the 2016 signing class for Indiana Football. Kevin Wilson and his staff signed 21 prospects to a class that Wilson admitted was geared toward the offensive side of the ball.
On paper this was not Kevin Wilson's best signing class. In fact, it was his lowest rated class since 2012. That is in-part due to how late this class came together, and how long it took to get an extension announced. However, this is a solid class for the Hoosiers.
Best Recruit – Jonah Morris
Morris, a 6’4” athlete from Ohio, is the highest-rated prospect in IU’s 2016 class and I really wanted to choose someone less “obvious” but Morris’ talent and potential fit in this offense really stands out. He had offers from Notre Dame, Wisconsin and other high majors and chose IU after decommitting from the Michigan State Spartans. Morris played both outside linebacker and tight end in high school but the IU coaching staff is going to start Morris on offense (likely at wide receiver). He is equal in height to Simmie Cobbs and I think we could end up seeing him in that outside receiver role as a deep threat and target on deep outs to the sideline where his height could be used an advantage for his quarterback. The Hoosiers are deep at wide receiver but Morris could very well work his way into the rotation immediately.
Instant Impact Freshman – Tyler Natee
There are multiple freshmen that I believe will have some kind of positive impact during the 2016 season. I think Brandon Drayton, Marcelino Ball, A’Shon Riggins and Khalil Bryant could all see playing time in the secondary (Drayton, a Jonathan Crawford lookalike, stands out in particular). Mackenzie Nworah and Coy Cronk could see time if injuries thin out the depth of the offensive line. Jerome Johnson could see action due to a thin defensive line. We know that Kevin Wilson isn’t afraid to play freshmen wide receivers so Taysir Mack or Phil Benker could see some meaningful snaps. Shaun Bonner is large young man playing a position of need.
However, I chose Tyler Natee because he is truly unique on this roster. There is no other running back capable of filling the potential role he could end playing. Natee is a 5’11”, 258 pound bowling ball of a running back with agility and quickness that belies his size. His blocking skills are unknown at this time but I have faith in Deland McCullough (and potentially some time from Greg Frey) to be able to mold him as an effective runner and blocker. A guy of his unique size and ability will be a very interesting piece that may have a role we haven’t previously seen in a Kevin Wilson offense at IU.
Hidden Gem – Cole Gest
I very nearly chose Marcelino Ball. Ball is a hard-hitting safety/linebacker hybrid it appears is tailor made for the hybrid role in Tom Allan’s 4-2-5 defense. He’s only 16 years old but his frame appears to be that of a 22-year old beast and he has a very large wingspan. He has three older brothers that excelled as D-1 football players and his father is a high school coach. Basically, Ball has all the markings of a player that will excel in the B1G.
After nearly talking myself into selecting Ball (and then writing about him anyway), I’m taking Cole Gest as my hidden gem of this class. Gest is a 5’8”, 195 pound running back from St. Edward High School in Ohio. He’s been incredibly productive while playing at one of the more prestigious high school programs in the country and his height was probably the only thing keeping bigger schools from pursuing him. As a high school junior, Gest beat out a senior that ended up signing with (and getting on the field for) Michigan State and relegating him to the secondary. His high school coaches loved him, the coaches he competed against were impressed by him (and couldn’t stop him) and nearly all of the area journalists who wrote about him have said that Indiana is getting a steal. While he probably doesn’t have the size to ever carry the ball 30 times a game in the B1G, I believe his combination of excellent hands, quickness, shiftiness and his impressive physique will allow him to have a much bigger impact in Bloomington than his offer list would immediately suggest.
Most Likely to Redshirt – Ryan Smith
This selection should not be taken as a knock on the talent or readiness of Ryan Smith. Smith, a 6’5”, 280 pound prospect from Archbishop Moeller in Ohio is a talented player that appears to have a bright future on the offensive line. He played as both an offensive guard and as a defensive end for one of the better football programs in the Midwest and he has the length and balance desired in a good lineman. However, offensive line is undoubtedly one of the deepest and best position groups for the Hoosiers. IU returns linemen Dan Feeney, Wes Martin, Jacob Bailey, Tim Gardner, Wes Rogers, DeAndre Herron, DaVondre Love, Hunter Littlejohn, Simon Stepaniak, Dimitri Camiel and Delroy Baker. In addition, they brought in an offensive guard prospect (Mackenzie Nworah) that appears to be ahead of Smith on paper heading into the spring. Smith was hampered by an injury during his senior season and I think a redshirt season will benefit both him and the IU program in the future.