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The Baylor program has been on the rise ever since Art Briles took over six years and took a major step last year when Robert Griffin III won the Heisman. Consolidating that momentum into results on the recruiting trail was the name of the game in the 2013 class.
There's nothing quite like recruits being able to take their picture on a visit with the Heisman trophy. Combine that with the impressive acumen that Briles has shown as a coach developing offensive players, and the Bears were able to sign a class that ranked third in the Big 12 and 27th in the country, an incredible achievement given where the program was before Briles took over.
Nowhere was the new profile of the program more apparent than in two head-to-head battles with the Texas Longhorns, a program the Bears have rarely beaten for recruits in recent years. Five-star wide receiver Robbie Rhodes chose Baylor because the offense has out-performed what the 'Horns have put on the field in recent years, but being able to land a defensive line prospect like Andrew Billings was perhaps even more remarkable as Briles has started to land some top-flight defensive talent in spots over the last several years.
Within the next several years, the Bears could begin to put together a salty defense, one that would give the high-scoring offense some margin of error. and not that the consistently efficient Bears offenses need much margin for error, either, just a few stops here and there.
Bud Elliott’s grade
B-. Baylor signed the third-best class in the Big XII, and it's really not that far off from the classes of Texas and Oklahoma. The Beard landed a five-star and four four-star recruits, beating out Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma for some. Rhodes is a dynamic receiver, Brian Nance is a big body at linebacker, and Billings is incredibly strong. Chris Johnson could be a terror running the zone read, and Maurice Porter is very underrated at offensive tackle.
Top three players
Rhodes has the skillset to become an excellent deep threat in college -- he's exceptionally fluid and both sudden with his first step and incredibly fast at the top-end, a combination that made him extremely hard to stop in high school. He also has a natural ability to get open and to set up defensive backs to get open. In all, Rhodes is an outstanding prospect who should translate his game easily and quickly to the college level.
The addition of Billings to the Bears class is a significant achievement -- other than the pending addition of former Euless (Texas) Trinity linebacker Brian Nance from last year's class, defensive lineman Javonte Magee, and hybrid defender Ahmad Dixon, the Bears have had trouble in recent years landing high-quality defensive players. On offense, the problems have been less pronounced and the track record under Briles better at developing overlooked recruits.
Still, there's no question that the tools are there -- Johnson probably has the best frame of any quarterback in a deep in-state class and looked every bit of 6-5 and well over his listed 195 pounds. Throw in long arms and Johnson is a guy who could project favorably at the wide receiver position, among others, depending on how much weight he could gain. In terms of tools, his arm strength is among the best in the class and something that can't be taught.
Top three rival classes
The disappointment suffered by the Longhorns over its 15 commits was due in significant part due to the sting Texas fans felt by losing those two excellent prospects to the Bears.
For Oklahoma State, being out-recruited by Briles and company surprisingly happened for the second year in a row, as the Cowboys have consistently been the third-best recruiting program of the 10 currently making up the Big 12.
And Texas Tech? Well, the Red Raiders struggled to put together a class that didn't rank at the bottom of the conference, thanks to the departure of Tommy Tuberville to Cincinnati, though the group was hardly among the best in the league even before he left. Slowly but surely, the Bears are beginning to nudge ahead of the Red Raiders in regional appeal.
Biggest National Signing Day drama
There wasn't much Signing Day drama from the Bears, but they did have a big day on Tuesday, securing a commitment from local defensive tackle Billings.
Notes from SB Nation blogs
Our Daily Bears is obviously excited, and with good reason:
There was little intrigue or worry today as everyone signed by 10 AM CST, and we're now just waiting for Briles' press conference at 2:30. If they follow true to course from last year, Bennett will also speak. I should be around to add a few tidbits from that press conference, but if I'm not, I hope everyone feels free to do so. I have a feeling you're going to see a very excited Art Briles -- but when don't you? -- talking about a class they worked hard to build over the course of at least a year.
We've come along way from the first commit of 2013, QB Chris Johnson, to the last, DT Terell Brooks. In between we amassed a group heavy on defensive talent but with several impact offensive players, as well.
The stars of the class-- Billings, Rhodes, Nance, Jones, Jefferson, etc.-- are clear, but some of the more unheralded recruits could end up doing just as much for Baylor. Guys like Raquaan Davis, Kevin Smith, and Austin Jupe could all be impact players for the Bears, and from their comments this morning, are all extremely excited to be here.
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