If you have a really strong stomach, and, as an N.C. State fan you must, indulge me in taking a look at how Tom O'Brien's last full recruiting class at N.C. State is faring now that two seasons have passed since signing day.
Scout's star and position ranking are listed after each player.
Niles Clark *** 120 CB - Clark, a redshirt freshman, appeared in seven games and made two tackles in 2013. Pressed into service due to an injury in the Clemson game, he was twice beaten over the top for touchdowns. He also got some run against Maryland after true freshman Jack Tocho was beaten deep a couple of times and could compete with Tocho for playing time next fall.
Marchez Coates *** 73 CB - Coates, a redshirt freshman, was listed on the two-deep at corner all season but had just a couple of snaps from scrimmage. He did see the field on special teams. He has been making some cryptic tweets that suggest he may be elsewhere next year.
Drew Davis ** 169 OLB - The redshirt freshman made 20 tackles as a reserve defensive end. He shows some promise.
Eddie Gordon *** 76 OG - Gordon was not a grades casualty but rather must not have jived with the new coaching staff, or they were honest with him and told him he was not in their plans. Gordon mentioned wanting to transfer to Appalachian State, but I have no idea where he ended up.
Xavier Griffin *** 169 WR - Griffin did not qualify for enrollment.
David Grinnage *** 21 TE - The only top-50 positional recruit that remains from the class of 2012, Grinnage, a redshirt freshman, led Pack tight ends with 15 catches for 150 yards and would seem to have a bright future.
Charlie Hegedus *** 156 WR - After showing some promise during his true freshman campaign (nine catches for 116 yards and a score), Hegedus had one catch for minus-one yard as a sophomore and would appear to be a prime transfer candidate since he still has a redshirt season.
K'Hadree Hooker *** 29 DT - One of just three top-50 positional recruits in the class, Hooker transferred to ECU after his redshirt freshman season. That one still stings a little.
Jarnor (J.J.) Jones ** NR S - A teammate of Kenderius Whitehead in high school, Jones, a redshirt freshman, has yet to make his way onto the two-deep at safety. This wouldn't be a concern if I hadn't seen Tim Buckley and Josh Stanley, the guys ahead of him, "cover" and "tackle."
Bryce Kennedy *** 55 OG - An early enrollee in 2012, Kennedy has yet to crack the two-deep on the Pack's porous offensive line, a development that wouldn't seem to bode well for his future.
Tyler Knox *** 119 DE - Knox did not qualify for enrollment.
Quincy McKinney *** 72 OG - McKinney would likely have taken Rob Crisp's place at left tackle, where he was listed as second string on the depth chart after the spring, allowing Joe Thuney to stay inside where his skills are better suited, but McKinney was not a champion in the classroom.
Desmond Owino ** 154 DE - Owino won the hearts and minds of WPN when he switched his commitment from UNC to run with the Pack, but he failed to qualify and prepped a year (and still didn't qualify). He's got two sacks this year for Navarro Junior College.
M.J. Salahuddin ** 148 OLB - A special teamer as a true freshman, Salahuddin flirted with the starting middle and weak-side linebacker gigs in the spring but ended up backing up Brandon Pittman. He rotated in with some regularity, making 25 tackles. With backers Robert Caldwell and D.J. Green out of eligibility, Salahuddin will likely start next year.
Josh Sessoms *** 82 S - A redshirt freshman, Sessoms is in the same boat as Jones, though he was much more highly regarded out of high school. He has yet to crack the two-deep or record a stat at State. Virginia Tech offered Sessoms, and, if the Hokies thought he could play for their defense, perhaps there is hope for him yet.
Manny Stocker *** 64 QB - After TOB's inexcusable roster mismanagement led to the waste of Stocker's true freshman season, Dave Doeren tried to stash him and make up for lost development time by redshirting him this year. But Stocker is transferring; so much for seeing what might have been.
Shadrach Thornton *** 84 RB - The gem of the 2012 class, Thornton has been the Pack's leading rusher for two straight seasons, including 768 yards on a respectable 4.7 yards per carry in 2013. As he was little used over the first third of the season due to an off-the-field issue, Thornton, if healthy for all of 2014, should become the Pack's first 1,000-yard rusher since T.A. McClendon in 2002.
John Tu'uta ** NR OG - One of the least-heralded recruits of the class of 2012, Tu'uta has worked himself onto the depth chart as Quinton Schooley's backup at center.
Kenderius Whitehead *** 45 DE - Along with Hooker, Whitehead was thought to be one the class's best and most important commitments. After apparently not becoming a champion in the classroom during his redshirt freshman season, he's racking up sacks...at Georgia Military College.
Joe Wright ** NR DE - A redshirt freshman, the unheralded Wright wandered onto the field for a couple of snaps in 2013 but did not record any stats.
In analyzing freshman win shares in college basketball over the past couple of seasons, I've noted that it is rare for even the most highly-regarded recruits to make an immediate impact. Experience generally trumps talent on the hardwood. In football this rings even more true, as most coaches would prefer to redshirt just about every member of the freshman class (and Doeren's inability to do so this year is as good a barometer as any for the state of the program). Given coaches' predilection to hand out redshirts, it's not surprising (or even troublesome in and of itself) that Thornton was the only member of the class of 2012 to make a meaningful contribution during his true freshman campaign.
The 2012 class should really "arrive" in 2014, with a few true juniors and a lot of redshirt sophomores dotting the depth chart in both starting and reserve roles. However, with the exceptions of Thornton and Grinnage, what is indeed very troublesome is that no one else on the above list seems like a sure thing to contribute at an at-least-average-for-the-ACC level next year. Salahuddin should also start, but as a second stringer on a defense that yielded 38 or more points in five of its last six games, he is definitely not a sure bet to become even an average starter.
Eight players from the class are sure bets not to contribute because they failed to qualify, flunked out, or transferred for other reasons (and the exodus may not be over). Of the nine remaining (for now) players not projected to start next year, Davis should be on the two-deep and perhaps eventually run with the ones at defensive end, Coates and Clark appear to be career backups and special teamers, Tu'uta is behind Schooley, a guy that wasn't even a starter at his community college but took every snap from center for the Pack, and the other five have yet to scratch the depth chart.
Obviously, you can't get just two guys (Thornton and Grinnage) that are pretty sure bets to be average or above average starters from a single recruiting class and compete in a game that requires 22 solid players (before you even factor in injuries, the need to occasionally give guys a blow, kickers and whatnot).
The class of 2012 is perhaps the most compelling in a mountain of evidence that indicated TOB needed to be let go. #PACK14 will be Doeren's first full recruiting class, as last year's was really a patchwork between a handful of TOB pledges CDD managed to hang on to and a few more he was able to tack on late in the process. That means that 2016, when CDD's first full class can be reasonably expected to contribute, is probably the most reasonable ETA for the rebirth of respectable football in Raleigh.*
It could be worse. Had TOB been retained, I have no doubt we would have seen very similar results on the field this season without Russell Wilson or Mike Glennon around to save the coach's skin. TOB would have been let go this week instead of a year ago, and the ETA for the rebirth of respectable football in Raleigh would be 2017.
*I'm not suggesting that we go into an underground bomb shelter for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. As TOB's tenure demonstrated, an above average QB can make up for a lot of deficiencies elsewhere, and Jacoby Brissett could well be that QB. And even the hastily thrown together class of 2013 would seem to hold more potential than 2012's group, with JuMichael Ramos, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Matt Dayes, Monte Nelson, and Tocho all showing occasional signs of promise during their true freshman campaigns. Perhaps some of the redshirted guys can make an impact next year, as well as a handful from the incoming class. The current roster also won't be hit particularly hard by graduation, though Robert Caldwell, Dontae Johnson, Rashard Smith, and Quintin Payton will be missed. Six or seven wins and a bowl seems plausible over the next couple of seasons, but this season showed that it will probably take a couple of cycles of recruiting and maturation (and that maturation goes for the coaching staff as well) before this program has the experienced depth it will need to reenter the top 25 conversation. And that's IF CDD and his guys are the right guys for the job.