As National Signing Day concluded with the 2017 class intact despite some early suspense (ahem, Tre Brown), the excitement and expectation around this stellar group of newcomers is getting ready to reach feverish heights through the spring and summer. By far the best recruiting class in the last seven years, a few candidates could stand out from the rest right from the get-go. Here’s a top five of which #SoonerSquad17 signees have the best chance to make an early impact next season.
Levi Draper, Middle Linebacker
Along with Robert Barnes, the Collinsville standout Draper is the defensive gem of this balanced incoming class and appears to be ready to take the reigns in the middle of Mike Stoops’s defense. Jordan Evans really came on strong through the second half of his senior season and will be missed, but Draper already comes in with the size of former greats Rocky Calmus, Teddy Lehman and Ryan Reynolds and with time to pick up the scheme, could enter the season the starter at the MIKE spot. Coach Stoops mentioned in yesterday’s presser that Ricky DeBerry is also expected to make a switch to the inside, but with time needed for the sophomore to adjust to the position, Draper already comes in with the experience and athleticism to step in right away. He could be a mad man, the Don of the OU defense, right from the start.
Marquis Brown, Wide Receiver
Coach Stoops was all a glow about the speed and playmaking ability of the JuCo stud Brown, comparing his skill set again to 2016 Biletnikoff winner Dede Westbrook. Another comparison for Brown could be Jalen Saunders. I expect the speedy wideout to also be involved in special teams, possibly along with fellow JuCo product and early enrollee Marcelias Sutton and Kennedy Brooks. But Brown’s experience at the junior college level has set him up well for early time on the field, most likely a starting spot in the slot. Whether he ever lives up to the Dede hype or not, we can all can expect Brown to be catching lots of passes starting in Week 1 next season.
CeeDee (Cedarian) Lamb, Wide Receiver
Speaking of catching lots of passes next season, expect to see Lamb make an artful grab (or two) in the corner of the end zone early and often in 2017. As Brown is expected to be manning the slot, Lamb has the makings of the next Malcolm Kelly, possibly with even more upside, and could be a starter on the outside to begin the season. One thing all successful Oklahoma receivers have been is disciplined route-runners, which may be the only part of Lamb’s game that needs honing. But at 6-3, 190 pounds, the four-star stud is a jump-ball, big-play threat coming off one of the best seasons in Texas high school football history. In fact, he was named The Houston Chronicle’s All-Greater Houston Football Offensive Player of the Year, the Houston Touchdown Club’s Offensive Player of the Year and first-team All-State in 2016. Finishing with 98 receptions, 2,032 yards (fourth-most ever) and 33 touchdowns (tied for second-most all-time), the cornerback posterizer is the NFL prototype Oklahoma has waited for, and thought had landed, for nearly a decade. Hopefully, CeeDeeThree is ready to pick right back up from where he left off his dazzling senior season.
Trey Sermon, Running Back
The Sooners, despite losing two of the greatest running backs in school history, again find themselves in a five-deep rotation with a bevy of youngsters ready to step up. As a healthy Rodney Anderson and Abdul Adams come in expected to see the bulk of touches out of the backfield, it could be the 6-1, 220-pound freshman Sermon who emerges as the shifty inside runner to complement the spread attack. Though there is no Samaje Perine on the roster, and despite Sermon’s physical style, he’d need to add another 25 pounds to be in Optimus’s territory, the Georgia product’s patient, elusive running style, despite lacking elite breakaway speed, could be just what the backfield needs and could rely on as the season wears on. As long he picks up blocking schemes and gains the coaching staff’s trust in pass protection, Sermon certainly has the size to stay on the field more than change-of-pace backs Sutton and fellow freshman Kennedy Brooks. Sermon, by season’s end, could be the go-to guy in short-yardage and goal-line situations, and at the very least be a major part of the Oklahoma backfield in 2017.
Robert Barnes, Safety
It’ll be an open competition at safety this spring and through fall camp, possibly even through next season. The one certainty, though, is the promising depth and athleticism that’s in place to fill the spot vacated by graduating senior Ahmad Thomas and become consistent playmakers in a youthful but potentially very good secondary. Will Sunderland and Chanse Sylvie had a few big moments last season filling in for Thomas. The two could enter the spring frontrunners in the race, along with Kahlil Haughton and Will Johnson, to start opposite Steven Parker. But expect the highly touted Barnes to sneak into the mix early with his multi-dimensional skill set in a “new-age safety” frame. Already coming in an agile 6-3, 200 pounds, the Southlake Carroll product should only add to his rangy frame with Schmitty during the offseason and with the genes of a former OU linebacker legend, the five-star Robert Barnes, son of hard-hitting Reggie, should get on the field immediately. Expect him to make the most of it in exciting fashion.
Marcelias Sutton, Athlete - With his JuCo experience and all-purpose skill set, the early enrollee Sutton could emerge in a role similar to former Sooner and current Miami Dolphin Damien Williams. Some expect Kennedy Brooks to make that type of impact as well, but I feel he may find himself behind Anderson, Adams and early enrollees Sermon and Sutton, in the running back rotation.
Troy James, DE - He’ll get a shot to prove himself early on the defensive line and with his freakish athleticism and versatility, could hit the field running. A late but crucial addition, the former Arkansas decommit is a true beast and sleeper of this class.