For nearly every college football program and every member of the high school senior class, the 2018 recruiting cycle has come to a close.
At the culmination of this years-long process, it’s time for a final exam. And this time, it’s not for the students. We’re due for an evaluation of the Michigan State coaches, who get paid the big bucks to recruit top talent and win games.
How did they do? Oftentimes it’s not as simple as looking at star ratings and rankings. Lots of coaches don’t even pay attention to those numbers. Rather, recruiting success is determined by a program’s ability to fill its biggest areas of need with the guys it wanted most.
Here’s how Land of 10 graded Michigan State’s 2018 recruiting efforts on offense, defense and overall. And keep in mind, the Spartans aren’t yet done. We’ll explain why.
Grading Michigan State’s 2018 offensive signing class
Let’s start with the disappointments. Michigan State’s lone de-commitment of the cycle came on offense when Dayton (Ohio) Dunbar wide receiver Joseph Scates, a 4-star prospect at the time in the 247Sports composite ratings, reneged on his pledge in February. Nearly a year later, the Spartans missed on another longtime target with great length, 4-star Samuel Clemens (Schertz, Texas) wideout Tommy Bush, who signed with Georgia on Wednesday.
On the offensive line, the Spartans were in hot pursuit of the top two tackles in Michigan, 4-star standouts Jalen Mayfield and Ryan Hayes. Not only did MSU miss on both, but both ultimately signed with Michigan. Michigan State finished with three offensive line commits, but there’s a good chance none of them will end up at tackle.
Now for the good. Michigan State secured the top quarterback in the state, Theo Day, and held onto him after Georgia extended an offer. It got two in-state running back pledges, one from longtime target Elijah Collins and one from an all-time great Michigan high school star, La’Darius Jefferson. The latter could be an early contributor for the Spartans.
— Spartan Football (@MSU_Football) February 7, 2018
On the offensive line, Michigan State kept lineage alive by landing Jacob Isaia, the grandson of Spartans legend Bob Apisa. Dantonio and the staff made a splash of the cannonball variety with 366-pound lineman James Ohonba, who had offers from many of the best programs in the nation.
And let’s not forget the top-ranked recruit on offense, 4-star tight end Trenton Gillison. The Spartans lost no depth at the position, but Gillison’s talent will help him compete for immediate reps regardless. His tremendous size and agility have given the Spartans high hopes for what he can accomplish during his time at MSU.
There’s plenty more for Michigan State to be proud of with this offensive class. The Spartans added a lot of explosive athleticism that could play a big part in their success down the road. Some could even contribute next year. The pain of a few big misses could hang over them for a bit, but all in all, this is a group to be excited for.
Grading Michigan State’s 2018 defensive signing class
Michigan State suffered some frustrating misses on the defensive side as well, naturally. It’s bound to happen in every recruiting cycle. The Spartans looked like heavy favorites to land a pair of top talents in defensive end Malik Vann and linebacker DeAndre Square before they chose Cincinnati and Kentucky, respectively. Either of those two losses could hurt even more down the road given how they perform at the next level.
The Vann miss hurts most. Michigan State has three defensive linemen committed to the class in Parks Gissinger, Jacob and Zach Slade, all of whom look like prime candidates to redshirt and develop in 2018. But throughout the month and a half after the early signing period, the Spartans struggled to land a final defensive lineman. They brought in several for official visits, only to see them go elsewhere.
Michigan State still hasn’t signed another defensive lineman, but the hope is that once 3-star Bolingbrook (Ill.) defensive tackle Dashaun Mallory qualifies academically, he will put in the paperwork and join the class. That won’t happen until at least March, when he takes his test.
At linebacker, Michigan State responded wonderfully to missing out on Square. They landed Chase Kline, a bull of a linebacker who plays at 100 percent as if he’s never relaxed for a second in his life. He joined Jeslord Boateng, who has been praised for his upside. He wasn’t particularly highly recruited, but his athleticism has Michigan State thinking he could develop into a special linebacker.
And the secondary might be the most impressive part of the class. Michigan State lost next to nothing from one of the Big Ten’s best defensive backfields, but still added five prospects to bolster depth. Chris Jackson and Davion Williams have the length and athleticism to be outstanding as he develops. Michael Dowell joins his twin brothers, with fans already knowing to expect an aggressive style of play.
Four-star DB signees Xavier Henderson and Kalon Gervin might be the most important members of the class. Both figure to play early. Henderson was the first 2018 prospect to commit, and his tackling skills as well as quick changes of direction make him an outstanding safety. Gervin was one of the last to commit, an outstanding cornerback whom Michigan State wanted for a long time and eventually landed by staying the course.
This could ultimately become one of Michigan State’s defensive classes. But to propel the Spartans’ grade into the “A” range, they need to wrap it up with another defensive line signing.
Grading Michigan State’s 2018 overall signing class
Michigan State surprised some people with this 21-recruit (so far) class. After a 3-9 season in 2016 and the turmoil off the field that followed, the Spartans looked headed for a continued downward spiral. Not only did Dantonio’s team exceed expectations on the field in 2017, but it also did so on the recruiting trail.
Trying to rank the quality of a class that hasn’t even played a college snap can be a fruitless mission. Instead, we can only focus on which recruits Michigan State wanted and which ones it got. There were struggles and disappointments, as there are in every cycle, but for the most part, Dantonio and his staff landed players that they targeted early on in the process.
Some of the best classes on paper prove to be relatively disappointing. Just look at Michigan State’s 2016 class. Eight of the 12 top-ranked signees from that group, which came in at No. 17 in the country, are no longer on the roster. It’s only been two years.
So regardless of the grades doled out now, these players will have every opportunity to prove their coaches worthy of making the recruiting dean’s list.