As you may or may not be aware, the Daily Oklahoman (much like the rest of us) is currently feeling the effects of the offseason and as a result has been producing a list of the fifteen best Bob Stoops-era Oklahoma football players. Makes sense, right? Stoops is entering into his fifteenth year as head coach and these kind of lists have long been used to generate conversation in a time where there is little to talk about.
But while listening to Sportstalk 1400 and a discussion regarding The Oklahoman's list, an interesting question was posed. That question was how many, if any, of the players who would eventually be placed on the list (at the time of this post, they were only up to No. 13 Teddy Lehman) would be from 2008 or after?
It was an interesting, albeit not necessarily fair, question to pose. I'll address the interesting part first.
It's of interest to me for any number of reasons, but the most prominent being as someone who follows recruiting (probably closer than I should) there is a general consensus currently that Oklahoma is no longer landing the elite level athletes they once reeled in on a pretty regular basis. The results of which are nowhere more evident than in the struggles of this Oklahoma defense, specifically along the defensive line, both last year and with expectations of once again doing so this coming season.
With respect to the 'fairness' of the question itself, it's somewhat convenient in the sense that judging players from the Class of 2011 or later really doesn't make much sense given how little opportunity they have been given to see the field. So to a certain extent you are narrowing down the size with which you have to sample from thus helping to make the point posed in the nature of the question (i.e. OU isn't recruiting elite level talent).
The difficult part of this type of "analysis" is that there are a number of factors contributing to the drop-off of elite level talent annually arriving in Norman. Part of it was a sense of complacency on the recruiting trail which Stoops appears to have addressed with the recent staff changes. An even bigger part of it is the absence of momentum currently surrounding this Oklahoma football program.
And that is something which is almost impossible to truly quantify and/or put into words. Perhaps an example would serve best in an attempt to explain. Take for instance the current state of the Texas A&M football program. That is perfect storm of recruiting momentum right now. A lot of things had to work out just right for them in order for things to be where they currently stand, but to their credit they are capitalizing on said momentum in a BIG way.
The primary point here being, if you'll forgive the cliche, that momentum is a tricky thing. It's difficult to define and it's impossible to artificially manufacture. You either have it or you don't and right now Oklahoma definitely does not have it. Adding to the frustration is the fact there is no one way to get it back. That said, playing for national championships again, like they did in 2003, 2004, & 2008 would be a really good place to start trying to recapture some of that recruiting momentum.
Be all of that as it may, it is the offseason. You need something to read and we need something to write. So, two birds-one stone as they say.
Before we get started however, one caveat that doesn't really need to be made but we're going to make it anyway. Recruiting ranks are about as inherently flawed as day after "grading the draft" columns. This will be evidenced by the team rankings we'll give you with respect to where Oklahoma finished and how little contribution they have since received from those same recruiting classes. It's a flawed system. It's the reality. Moving on.
Class of 2005
We'll start here as a gauge for the kind of recruiting class most OU fans who follow recruiting are nostalgic for and hoping the Sooners can get back to.
By most accounts, this probably qualifies as Oklahoma's most recent truly "great" recruiting class. It finished No. 3 overall in the Rivals team rankings for that year and included a lot of names you'll remember. Guys like C.J. Ah You, Keenan Clayton, Jon Cooper, Brody Eldrige, Auston English, Demarcus Granger, Nic Harris, Juaquin Iglesias, Brian Jackson, Manny Johnson, Malcolm Kelly, Curtis Lofton, Ryan Reynolds, Duke Robinson, and Reggie Smith.
That's fifteen names from the class of twenty seven guys that were signed all of whom you could argue made a pretty significant contribution (if not more so) over the course of their Oklahoma careers. And that doesn't include guys like Brandon Braxton, Matt Clapp, and Allan Patrick who while not stars necessarily were guys that started and definitely contributed over the years.
The big names at the time of their signing were Granger & Reynolds who were both considered to be five star recruits. As well as the thirteen four star guys Oklahoma signed some of whom you remember (Kelly, Lofton, Smith, Robinson, etc.) and others who you likely do not (Eric Huggins, Brandon Keith, or Jesse White).
To be fair, this is probably more the exception than the rule with respect to an individual class producing this many solid contributors but at the same time that is goal of this whole process.
The other thing to keep in mind here with respect to context is where Oklahoma was at as a program. At the time these guy would have signed (February 2005), the Sooners were coming off their second consecutive national championship appearance (albeit their second consecutive loss in that game). Granted, it was the humiliating loss they suffered to USC but even with that it's still a program who has played in back-to-back national championship games. Adrian Peterson, coming off an incredible freshman season, was coming back for his sophomore year and five star quarterback from the 2004 recruiting class, Rhett Bomar, was waiting in the wings. Oklahoma had about as much momentum as a program could have and that fact cannot possibly be understated when it comes to recruiting.
Class of 2006
Another solid class on paper for the Sooners that proved to be even better as things played out. It finished a respectable No. 9 in the Rivals overall team rankings and was highlighted by the likes of five-star Gerald McCoy, four-stars Jeremy Beal, Demarco Murray, Jermaine Gresham, and Dominique Franks.
But it also included a future Heisman trophy winner in Sam Bradford (three-star), a future All-American and multi-year start in Quinton Carter (three-star), and a future Top 5 NFL Draft pick in Trent Williams (three-star).
It was a class that included 28 players and by my count 18 of those made what many would deem a contribution over the course of their respective careers. If you do the math, it comes to almost 65% of the class that "panned out."
This is also a class, largely (and understandably) due to Bradford, that many point to with respect to the OU coaches ability to develop talent. It's something many feel they have not done as successfully in recent years and likely played a significant role in the staff changes Stoops made earlier this year. Whether it was Bradford, Carter, Williams, Mossis Madu, Pryce Macon, Eric Mensik, or Adrian Taylor the coaches were taking three-star talent and coaching it up to four or five-star level.
That doesn't appear to be happening at the moment or at least not nearly with the same frequency as it once was.
Class of 2007
This might be where the problems started.
Finishing an uncharacteristically low No. 14 overall in the Rivals team rankings, this class on paper looked better than that ranking but would prove to be overrated. We're going to get a little more in-depth from here forward to better illustrate the point of all this. We'll look at the class player-by-player and use a super sophisticated scoring system of "success" or "disappointment" to grade the class as a whole.
DE Frank Alexander -
Future Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a current member of the Carolina Panthers. (Success)
DE David Anderson - Local product from Lawton, never panned out. (Disappointment)
LB Austin Box -
We all know the tragic end to his story, but even with all the injuries he was a solid linebacker over the course of his career. (Success)
WR Ryan Broyles -
One of the greatest and most productive receivers in OU Football history. (Success)
DE Jontae Bumpus - Never panned out. (Disappointment)
OL Kody Cooke - Never panned out. (Disappointment)
CB Jamell Fleming - Two year starter and current member of the Arizona Cardinals. (Success)
OL Jason Hannan - Never panned out. (Disappointment)
DB Desmond Jackson - Never panned out. (Disappointment)
LB Travis Lewis - Tackling machine for OU and still with the Detroit Lions after being a 7th round draft pick. (Success)
OT Phil Loadholt - One of the relatively few JUCO success stories for OU in the last five years, still a member of the Minnesota Vikings. (Success)
QB Keith Nichol - Lost out on the starting job and transferred to Michigan State where his most success came as a wide receiver. (Disappointment)
DT Jordan Nix - Local product from Lawton, never panned out. (Disappointment)
S Sam Proctor -
Never really won a starting job, but had a solid career as a reserve and special teams player. (Success)
LB Mike Reed - Five-star JUCO talent who turned out to be a massive bust. He's probably best remembered for a big hit he delivered during a spring game, which pretty much tells you all you need to know about his OU career. (Disappointment)
OT Donald Stephenson - Took longer than hoped to get on the field with grade and personal issues, but would start as a junior and senior then later drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs. (Success)
K Jimmy Stevens -
Yes, he obviously had his issues and lost his job as a senior but he's still going in the 'success' column. Flame away if you must. (Success)
WR Tyler Stradford - Never played, eventually transferred. (Disappointment)
WR Londell Taylor - Never made it to OU after signing a minor league baseball contract. Is actually now back in Norman and on the roster as a linebacker. (N/A)
OL Alex Williams - Never panned out. (Disappointment)
WR Corey Wilson - The younger brother of OU wide receiver Travis Wilson, would later be paralyzed in a devastating car accident. (N/A)
So with 19 total recruits in this class, disregarding Taylor and Wilson, Oklahoma had nine successes and 10 disappointments. For a small class like this one was, a 53% failure rate is certainly less than ideal.
Also returning to the initial premise of this whole exercise, who aside from Broyles would be considered for The Oklahoman's list of the Top 15 players during the Bob Stoops era? I suppose there is an argument to be made for Lewis based on his productivity, but he's not going to be ahead of guys like Lehman or Rocky Calmus. And would he even be ahead of a Torrance Marshall, Curtis Lofton, or Rufus Alexander?
Class of 2008
Oklahoma makes a return to the Top 10 finishing as Rivals' No. 6 squad in their 2008 team rankings, primarily due to the three five-star recruits who would sign with the Sooners. Their lack of really anything resembling success and the eventual disappointment of so many others in this class may lead this class to be one of the worst Stoops ever signed.
LB Mike Balogun - One of two JUCO linebackers OU signed in this class who were expected to come in and contribute right away, neither panned out though Balogun did spend some very brief time on the field with the defense. (Disappointment)
LB J. R. Bryant - Bryant being the second of the two JUCO linebackers, played almost exclusively on special teams before eventually moving to defensive end and seeing very few snaps during mop-up duty. (Disappointment)
RB Jermie Calhoun - One of the three five-star recruits who would disappoint before eventually transferring. (Disappointment)
LB Daniel Franklin - There's probably an argument to be made for 'success', but for a career backup and one year start as the long snapper my assumption is the majority would rule disappointment. (Disappointment)
OG Stephen Good - Another five--star who never played up to his ranking, dealt with a number of injuries and basically winding up as a career backup. (Disappointment)
C Ben Habern -
Career was cut short due to a neck injury, but three year starter prior to that. (Success)
TE James Hanna - Really never played up to his talent level and never really emerged until his senior year. Still had a relative amount of success, one of the more memorable plays in Bedlam history, and drafted by the Dallas Cowboys. (Success)
CB Lamar Harris - Spent his time in Norman as a reserve. (Disappointment)
DB Joseph Ibiolye - Fairly consistent starter at OU's nickel back spot despite some issues in coverage at times. (Success)
WR Josh Jarboe - Came to OU under suspect circumstances after multiple off-the-field issues in high school. Would never play a down for the Sooners after getting kicked off the team prior to his freshman season starting. (Disappointment)
LB Justin Johnson - Very highly thought of player in high school, made the move to running back, never played and eventually transferred. (Disappointment)
QB Landry Jones -
Issues aside, this one is an obvious no-brainer. (Success)
DE David King - Never developed into the pass rush threat many had hoped, but the consummate teammate and multi-year contributor. Drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles. (Success)
DT Stacy McGee - Seemingly spent the better part of his OU career suspended or on the bench, yet still drafted by the Oakland Raiders. (Disappointment)
WR Dejuan Miller - Whether or not it was a result of his own inabilities or those of the OU coaches who never used him the way so many fans had hoped they would, Miller never developed into the receiving threat so many hoped he could have been. (Disappointment)
OL Britt Mitchell - Never played, eventually transferred. (Disappointment)
LB Herman Mitchell - Was killed in a shooting prior to arriving in Norman. (N/A)
WR Jameel Owens - Big things were expected from the Muskogee wide out, but things never really clicked for him in Norman and he later transferred to Tulsa. (Disappointment)
S David Sims - Never made it to Norman, later signed with Iowa State and started for two years. (Disappointment)
DT Casey Walker - He was a starter at times and while never a consistently dominant presence on the inside, more than respectable career for OU. (Success)
DE R.J. Washington -
The third five-star disappointment, never really contributed until his final two years and basically started by default as a senior before eventually losing that job as well. (Disappointment)
P Tress Way -
One of the most successful punters under Stoops. (Success)
Um, yikes. Of the 21 recruits that were signed in this class, only seven fall into the success category here. That's a near 67% failure rate and coming off the heels of the 2007 class (53% failure rate), that is the kind of stuff that can set your program back years (plural).
After finishing No. 6 in the Rivals team rankings the year before, the Sooners would drop back down to No. 13 in this 2009 class. A solid though not spectacular class on paper, these freshman would now be fifth year seniors if not having already moved on.
OT Josh Aladenoye - Never really saw time as anything but a reserve. (Disappointment)
QB Drew Allen - Hard to fault Allen here for having the unfortunate timing of coming in a year after Landry Jones, but fair or unfair I suppose he has to go down in the disappointment column. Very much looking forward to him hopefully winning the QB1 spot at Syracuse this season though. (Disappointment)
LB Jaydan Bird - Spent his first three years at linebacker before eventually moving over to fullback, had success (albeit limited due to playing time) at both. (Success)
S Kevin Brent -
Dealt with some shoulder issues before transferring after a lack of playing time. (Disappointment)
DE Jarrett Brown - Never panned out. (Disappointment)
DE Justin Chiasson - More popular among Texas fans for his legal issues than he ever was among OU fans. Never played a down for OU after redshirting, a supposed move to defensive tackle, then transferred out of the program. (Disappointment)
OG Tyler Evans - Despite his most recent injury, started multiple years for OU at guard. (Success)
DE Terry Franklin - Never panned out. (Disappointment)
S Javon Harris -
Multi-year starter, solid contributor even with coverage issues. (Success)
CB Demontre Hurst - Multi-year starter, one of the more dependable and underrated cornerbacks to ever play under Stoops. (Success)
OL Tavaris Jeffries - JUCO guy who never really panned out. (Disappointment)
LB Gus Jones - Never panned out. (Disappointment)
WR Cameron Kenney - After struggling as a junior, became a reliable threat as a senior. (Success)
LB Ronnell Lewis - Never the biggest fan of the academic side of things, Lewis' career was shorter than many had hoped. Standout special teams player and starter in his junior year. Athletic freak. Probably should have done more with those physical gifts, but still a solid player overall. (Success)
DB Gabe Lynn - The target of many an OU fan's criticism, I'm of the opinion Lynn has never been properly used by the coaches. Still given the expectations of him coming out of Jenks, his career to this point has to be considered a disappointment. That could change with a big senior year this season, but for now he falls where he falls. (Disappointment)
DT Jamarkus McFarland - A five-star recruit by some services, McFarland never came close to living up to that billing. He essentially started for the better part of his OU career, but never developed into the inside presence the Sooners needed him to be. (Disappointment)
RB Jonathon Miller - Saw time mainly as a reserve before eventually transferring. (Disappointment)
FB Marshall Musil -
Starred in one spring game and then was never really heard from again both due to (1) injuries and (2) Trey Millard
. Would be a fifth year senior, but I believe he is no longer with the program. (Disappointment)
WR Jaz Reynolds - Been subjected to multiple suspensions including a season long punishment last year. Somewhat similar to Lynn, this could change following the coming season but for now his off-the-field issues outweigh his on-field contributions. (Disappointment)
DB Marcus Trice - Saw time mainly as a reserve and special teams player before eventually transferring. (Disappointment)
OL Jeff Vinson - Another JUCO offensive lineman who never panned out. (Disappointment)
LB Tom Wort - Two year starter prior to a since admitted mistake on the part of the coaches to essentially eliminate linebacker from the defense this past season. Wort certainly had his issues as a linebacker, but when used properly he was more than capable. (Success)
Another iincredibly disappointment class with 23 total recruits signed and only eight falling into the 'success' column. That's a 65% failure rate and at this point you are looking at three consecutive recruiting classes in which OU managed a 53% or worse failure rate.
We're looking at the reasons there have been so many conversations over the last two years (and who knows how many more going forward) about how drastic the talent level drop-off has been with OU Football.
This is where things might get a little tricky. The guys who signed in 2010 are either entering their senior years or are fourth year juniors. So there might be quite a few more N/A's than we've had thus far, so it's more about judging the overall talent level at this point than attempting to pass judgment on a player's career which has yet to be completed. Oh, and this is also a class that finished No. 7 overall in the Rivals team rankings for 2010.
QB Blake Bell - Obviously we'll know a lot more after this coming season, but for now his success in the Bell-dozer isn't enough to make a ruling either way. (N/A)
RB Brennan Clay - The senior running back is teetering right on that line of success/disappointment. He came on strong at the end of last year, but prior to that had really only seen time as a reserve after coming in as high as a five-star recruit by some services. Expected to be one of the primary ball carriers this year. (N/A)
CB Aaron Colvin - Few recruits have been more unheralded during the Bob Stoops era than Colvin was when he signed with OU out of Owasso. Needless to say, he has been a massive success and will be the linchpin in this OU defense in 2013. (Success)
LB Rashod Favors - Never really played outside of specials teams and has moved from LB to DE to now DT. Hard to see this not falling in the 'disappointment' column, but with two more years of eligibility it'd be premature to make a ruling at this point. (N/A)
RB Roy Finch - Like several others, Finch's lack of productivity seems to be as much a product of the coaches as it does his own doing. Leaning heavily towards 'disappointment' at this point, a big senior year in a (hopefully) new offense could change that. (N/A)
LB Aaron Franklin - Played sparingly at best to this point, but expected to be a bigger part of the defense this year. (N/A)
WR Trey Franks - Like Reynolds, Franks was suspended for the season last year and has since made the move from receiver to safety. Actually played well on the defensive side of the ball in the spring game. (N/A)
S Quentin Hayes -
Like Franks and Reynolds before him, Hayes sat out last year under suspension as well. (N/A)
DB James Haynes - Never played, transferred. (Disappointment)
TE Austin Haywood - Flashed a lot of potential, but had some grade/off-the-field issues and eventually transferred. (Disappointment)
DT Eric Humphrey - Never played, transferred. (Disappointment)
OG Bronson Irwin - Won the starting job as a junior and became one of OU's most consistent blockers up front last year. (Success)
S Tony Jefferson -
Despite leaving a year early and failing to get drafted, Jefferson's OU career was most definitely a successful one. (Success)
WR Justin McCay - Many thought he might have a brighter future as a linebacker when he signed, but he wanted to play offense. Fell behind on the depth chart and transferred to KU. Expected to play a significant role in the Jayhawk offense this year. (Disappointment)
WR Sheldon McClain - Never played, transferred. (Disappointment)
FB Trey Millard - One of the most underutilized players in OU history, Millard is also one of the most versatile as well. (Success)
DE Chuka Ndulue - Had mixed success so far, making what many of us think is a mistake of a move to defensive tackle for this coming season. (N/A)
LB Corey Nelson - After spurning Texas A&M on signing day, Nelson came in with high expectations. He, like several others, was a victim of the coaches last year and hopes to play a much larger role in the OU defense this year. (N/A)
DT Daniel Noble - Played as a true freshman, but was later forced to give up the game after suffering multiple concussions. (N/A)
DT Torrea Peterson - Never really played so far, but will be counted on in a big way this year with how few bodies OU has at DT. (N/A)
ATH Joe Powell - Altered between wide receiver and defensive back before eventually leaving the program following an arrest for drug possession. (Disappointment)
OG Adam Shead - Stood out as a redshirt freshman, but struggled last year with a back injury though still managed to start all 13 games. (N/A)
WR Kenny Stills - A three year starter, he left a year early and was drafted by the New Orleans Saints. (Success)
OT Tyrus Thompson - Started five games at right tackle last year and played in all 13. Thompson is expected to be the starting left tackle this season. (N/A)
DT Damon Williams - Never played, transferred. (Disappointment)
OT Daryl Williams - Played both right and left tackle last year in all 13 games, Williams is expected to be the starting right tackle this season. (N/A)
DB Julian Wilson - He has played primarily at the nickel back position and though he's struggled at time in coverage, the coaches trust him and he's expected to earn that starting job again this year. (N/A)
C Austin Woods -
Incredibly played through chemotherapy sessions last year and is now cancer free. Will continue to be a reserve at both center and guard. (Success)
Obviously, there is still a lot to be determined with respect to how this class will be remembered. As it stands today, probably more success stories than failures but it's closer than you'd like. And that's without taking into consideration the incredibly disappointing three year run from 2007-2009 we detailed above.
The 2010 class also produced seven players who are no longer with the program for whatever reasons, which has proved to be a recurring problem. From the 2011 class, nine of the seventeen players that were signed are no longer with the program. That is ridiculous.
Granted, several of those are a result of injuries which obviously cannot be anticipated but at the end of the day it's still over half of your signing class, gone.
Based on everything we've presented here, it appear as though the decline started with that 2007 class even in spite of guys like Frank Alexander, Ryan Broyles, Austin Box, Travis Lewis and others. When you're missing on more guys than you're hitting on, that's a problem. It was only further emphasized with the 2008 and 2009 classes, which proved to be disturbingly unsuccessful. Couple all of that with the 2011 debacle and it's pretty easy to see why Oklahoma is currently struggling.
All of this presents a number of problems for the Stoops, his staff, and the OU Football program. When you miss as badly as they have in 2008, 2009, AND 2011 that sets you back years, plural. It's just not something you can correct with one recruiting class. It takes multiple classes to try and repair the damage that was done.
Adding to the frustration is what we talked about now 4,000 words ago, the lack of momentum this kind of run produces and how incredibly difficult it is to recapture said momentum. Winning games was/is/will always be the best way to generate recruiting momentum, but when you're not landing the elite level athletes (like OU isn't) that other schools are it's difficult to compete on a national championship level. And that's where Oklahoma finds themselves today.
Is this lack of momentum something they can overcome and/or recapture at some point? Yes.
Is it going to be easy to do so? No.
To his credit, Stoops appeared to acknowledge their current standing on the recruiting trail with the coaching changes he made this offseason. Something he would probably not have done in years past when his unwavering loyalty seemed to cloud his decision making at times. However simply bringing in new coaches, no matter how good of recruiters they may be considered to be, alone will not fix the problems. No where more evidenced in the fact Oklahoma lost two recruits last week, one in the 2014 class the other in 2015, where they were believed to be strong leaders for only to have them commit elsewhere.
Recruiting and doing so successfully on a year in-year out basis is what separates the good programs from the great ones. Right now the simple fact of the matter is Oklahoma is not recruiting on the level they need to in order to be a great program, at least not on a consistent basis.
And until that changes, the odds are strongly against Oklahoma having another shot at bringing their eighth national championship back to Norman.