With the rise of Baylor recruiting, the entrance of TCU into the Big 12, and Kliff Kingsbury now starting to generate some buzz out in Lubbock, the Oklahoma State Cowboys are now facing more stiff competition for recruits than they have in the last several years.
In fact, the Bears have had better recruiting classes in each of the last two years than coach Mike Gundy and his staff, according to the 247Sports Composite. Success in the draft, improving facilities, and a defense that is increasingly landing top players have all helped to elevate Baylor's perception.
So it's not even that the Cowboys are failing to live up to previous standards -- it's more about other schools in the conference becoming increasingly competitive on the recruiting trail.
Here's a look at the current class for the Cowboys as they fight to stay in the top tier of schools in the Big 12 recruiting hierarchy.
Tyreek Hill, Garden City (Kansas) CC wide receiver
5'8 | 185 pounds | **** | no. 1 all-purprose back in junior college | no. 2 junior college player in Kansas
The No. 5 player overall in the 247Sports Composite rankings among all junior college prospects, Hill's commitment to Oklahoma State in late September was a significant pledge for Oklahoma State, as Hill chose the Cowboys over a national offer list that included Alabama, Georgia, Florida State, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, among others.
Head coach Mike Gundy sold Hill on his program by promising to utilize his elite speed in space as a wide receiver, while other programs recruited him as an all-purpose back. Possessing ridiculous jump cut ability that looks like something out of a video game, Hill projects as a potential home-run threat in college.
Devon Thomas, Broken Arrow (Ok.) running back
6'0 | 190 pounds | **** | no. 10 running back | no. 4 player in Oklahoma
It was something of a tumultuous fall for the Broken Arrow star. After a sensational sophomore season that put him on the map as a national-caliber recruit with over 1,800 yards and 24 rushing touchdowns, Thomas missed the first three games of his sophomore season and gained only 620 yards, with a significant drop in his average yards per carry.
As a result, the player who was given the co-Sophomore of the Year award in Oklahoma by SoonerScoop.com, Thomas fell to seventh in those rankings this spring.
But that wasn't all that was going on with Thomas -- he also committed to Oklahoma in the middle of November, only to decommit less than a month later and wait less than a week before pledging to Oklahoma State in what could end up being a major coup for the Cowboys. In terms of natural talent coming out of high school, Thomas will rank among the best running backs Oklahoma State has signed if he remains committed until next February, and that's no faint praise because the Pokes have landed some good ones in recent years.
Gyasi Akem, Broken Arrow (Ok.) linebacker
6'2 | 211 pounds | **** | no. 23 outside linebacker | no. 6 player in Oklahoma
A significant pledge as the Cowboys battle the Sooners and encroaching SEC powers for the top players in the state of Oklahoma, Akem committed at the Oklahoma State spring game.
Akem chose the Pokes over offers from Arkansas State, Baylor, Clemson, Missouri, Oklahoma, TCU, Texas Tech, and Washington State, an impressive list of suitors.
A speedy linebacker ideally suited for playing in space in the Big 12, Akem also brings a great deal of physicality to the table, though he will have to develop his strength to hold up at the point of attack in college. Capable against the run and the pass, he looks like a potential early contributor who should make an impact on special teams as soon as he steps on campus and could crack the rotation at linebacker quickly as well.
Linebacker is a huge need in this class for Oklahoma State and if Mike Gundy and his staff can secure a signature from him, he would be the top prospect they have signed at that position since Shaun Lewis, a player to whom Akem compares favorably.
Josh Mabin, Spring (Texas) Klein Oak linebacker
6'2 | 225 pounds | *** | no. 16 inside linebacker nationally | no. 50 player in Texas
A prospect who would be committed to Texas A&M if he had an offer from the Aggies, Mabin ended his recruitment in favor of Oklahoma State in August over offers from Boise State, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Washington State. Perhaps the hardest-hitting linebacker in the state for the 2014 class, Mabin is a pure middle linebacker who consistently punishes opponents, though he often hits with his shoulder only instead of wrapping up. There can be some explosiveness to his game with a solid first step, but his top-end speed is questionable and he may struggle to cover the amount of space necessary to excel in the Big 12.
Joyan Williams, New Orleans (La.) Edna Karr defensive tackle
6'3 | 255 pounds | *** | no. 67 defensive tackle | no. 48 player in Louisiana
A high four-star prospect, Williams is a significant addition to the class in part because of the weak in-state defensive tackle group in Texas for 2014, and also because it helps the Cowboy presence in Louisiana, especially in the talent-rich area of New Orleans and at Karr specifically, a school that consistently produces top talent. Williams chose Oklahoma State over 12 other offers, which included Miami, Mississippi State, and Oklahoma.
Currently undersized for the defensive tackle position he will eventually play, Williams is a little bit of a project because of the weight he will need to add in college, along with the fact that he plays defensive end for Karr -- he'll have to adjust to the speed of the game in college closer to the football as well as go against players with much greater natural strength and leverage. Despite those concerns, Williams is a nearly a four-star prospect by 247Sports because of his quickness off the ball and ability to re-direct, both of which should translate well to defensive tackle when he reaches a college-ready weight.
Keenen Brown, Houston (Texas) Alief Taylor wide receiver
6'3 | 205 pounds | **** | no. 38 wide receiver nationally | no. 31 player in Texas
Thought to be an Oklahoma lean, Brown committed to Oklahoma State in mid August with his high school teammate Chris Hardeman, a defensive back who was formerly committed to LSU. Brown held around 20 offers from all over the country, including Arkansas, Florida, LSU, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Oregon, and Wisconsin.
Brown is a big, physical wide receiver with strong hands and ball skills who can break tackles in high school, but doesn't project as a strong depth threat in college because of his lack of straight-line speed. Route running is an area in which he needs to become more precise to continue separation as he jumps up to college football.
Justin Phillips, Pearland (Texas) linebacker
6'0 | 210 pounds | *** | no. 31 inside linebacker | no. 120 player in Texas
A rather under-the-radar prospect in terms of buzz, Phillips nonetheless held offers from Baylor, Boise State, Colorado, and Northwestern prior to giving his commitment to Oklahoma State in the middle of March.
Undersized for his position, Phillips makes up for his lack of pure height with wide shoulders and long arms that give him the reach of a bigger player. It's questionable whether he will gain the mass to effectively beat and defeat offensive linemen at the next level, but he does have strong short-area quickness and good striking ability, even though he's projected inside since his sideline-to-sideline range is a little bit lacking.
Mason Rudolph, Rock Hill (S.C.) Northwestern quarterback
6'4 | 210 pounds | *** | no. 20 pro-style quarterback nationally | no. 11 player in South Carolina
Rudolph's decision in early June was impacted by several quarterback dominoes that fell across the country, including the Cowboys losing out on Arizona quarterback Kyle Allen to Texas A&M. The South Carolina native pledged to Oklahoma State over offers from Louisville, LSU, Ole Miss, Virginia, and Virginia Tech.
A remarkably strong athlete for a pro-style quarterback, Rudolph has prototypical size and better-than-average speed for his position. His best attributes as a passer are his touch and his accuracy, but there are questions about his arm strength and ability to fit the ball into small windows, as well as make the NFL-type throws from hash to sideline. Improving his delivery should help his arm strength overall.
Ramon Richards, San Antonio (Texas) Brackenridge athlete
6'0 | 180 pounds | *** | no. 58 athlete nationally | no. 69 player in Texas
A sleeper prospect who plays quarterback for his high school, Richards managed to secure his offer despite failing to attend a summer camp, normally a major evaluation tool for schools who are looking at a prospect who will change positions in college. He held offers from Houston, Rice, and Sam Houston State before pledging in late July. The expected college defensive back has reported 4.50 speed in the 40, which he backs up on film with the ability to run by defenders with angles and elude them with jump cuts and his excellent lateral quickness. On film, it's easy to see why Oklahoma State likes him, but harder to understand why no other BCS-level schools offered him.
James Washington, Stamford (Texas) wide receiver
5'11 | 183 pounds | *** | no. 213 wide receiver nationally | no. 262 player in Texas
A productive high school receiver who put up more than 1,200 yards last season and scored 17 touchdowns, Washington is a small-school prospect who committed to the Cowboys two days after receiving his offer. Texas State was the only other school to have offered him at the time of his commitment in late July. With a slight build, Washington is an inside receiver at the next level and combines solid speed at the top end with some post-catch ability. Given his offer list, it's a questionable take for Oklahoma State, but the staff in Stillwater has a strong track record of developing underrecruited wideouts, so they have earned the benefit of the doubt at this point.
Chris Lacy, DeSoto (Texas) wide receiver
6'3 | 191 pounds | *** | no. 160 wide receiver nationally | no. 160 player in Texas
With offers from the likes of Missouri, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Iowa, Lacy was hardly an under-the-radar prospect. After all, it's hard for 6'3, 190-pound receivers to hide at Texas football factory DeSoto, but Lacy's production (less than 400 yards last season) still hasn't quite caught up to his physical skill set, making his senior season an important one in terms of revealing his upside. But at least he won't have to worry about his future knowing that he's headed to such a wide receiver-friendly offense.
Devante Averette, Iowa Falls (Iowa) Ellsworth Community College linebacker
6'0 | 230 pounds | *** | No. 5 inside linebacker in junior college | No. 4 junior college player in Iowa
The Mountaineers landed the undersized 'backer in early August after Averette took a visit to Morgantown in late July, but Oklahoma State stole his commitment from West Virginia in early October after an official visit for . He held four other offers, including one from Oklahoma State. A bowling ball of a linebacker who plays with reckless abandon and strikes with force, Averette is the type of player who plays bigger than his measurables and comes downhill quickly to make plays in the backfield. Additionally, he shows some acumen as an edge rusher, but the bigger question is whether he can defeat blockers at the second level in college given his height.
National Signing Day is still more than four months away. Verbal commitments are non-binding and change frequently.
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