The Oklahoma Sooners took an unconventional approach to re-stocking their roster for 2021.
OU landed a total of just 16 players in its ‘21 recruiting class, which came in 11th overall in the 247 Sports Composite rankings. Among the top 20 classes in the country, Clemson and North Carolina signed the next smallest groups at 19 players. The fact that the Sooners ranked so high despite the lack of bodies speaks to the individual quality of the recruits they did get: 13 of the 16 signees were ranked as four or five-star prospects.
Being so choosy (and suffering a few setbacks) on the national signing days positioned OU head coach Lincoln Riley and his coaching staff to take advantage of an unprecedented influx of talent in the transfer portal. The Sooners scored big there, securing five players – and perhaps a sixth – with experience playing for teams in major conferences.
Here’s an overview of where all the newcomers will fit in this fall, including an assessment of the likelihood they will make an impact right away.
Wanya Morris, OL
Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh couldn’t have been satisfied with the play of his unit last year, and the decision by right tackle Adrian Ealy to declare for the NFL draft added an element of uncertainty to the lineup for 2021. Consider some of those questions answered with the acquisition of Morris from UT. Bedenbaugh will do his typical mixing and matching in the offseason to figure out which combinations he likes best, but the smart money is on the ex-Volunteer landing on the top of the depth chart at left tackle for game one. Second-year freshman Anton Harrison will likely swing over to the right side to replace Ealy.
Challenging for a starting position
Key Lawrence, DB
To be clear, Lawrence probably will not win a first-string spot in the OU secondary in ‘21. He played sparingly at nickel for the Vols as a freshman last year, suggesting he still has some acclimating left to do at the college level.
Nevertheless, the nickel spot is up for grabs this year following Tre Norwood’s departure for the NFL and Brendan Radley-Hiles on the precipice of transferring. At 6-2, 200 pounds, Lawrence has the size defensive coordinator Alex Grinch supposedly covets for the role. That means he will get an opportunity to compete for the job.
Ultimately, Lawrence should get some run as a backup.
****Big Kat Bryant, DL**** (in the event that he announces)
So, here’s a true wildcard.
For weeks, rumors have swirled that Bryant was leaving the Plains to spend ‘21 at OU. Yet... crickets.
If Bryant becomes a Sooner, he will work into the mix quickly at one of the edge positions in OU’s defense. Ronnie Perkins’ early entry into the draft indicates OU’s most pressing need may be at strong side defensive end. Bryant’s frame, however, may fit best at RUSH linebacker.
Either way, Bryant has the talent and pedigree to contribute on defense immediately. Let’s see if he makes it to campus.
Eric Gray, RB
With the addition of Gray, the Sooners seem to have four running backs on the roster of comparable ability. Can the former Volunteer elevate his game to the point where he becomes the No. 1 option in the backfield? Kennedy Brooks and Seth McGowan probably have the inside track there, but Gray will become a not-insignificant part of the RB rotation.
Clayton Smith, OLB
You could probably bump Smith up a category if you were so inclined. OU has recruited few defensive players with his ceiling in the last 15 years.
Smith won’t unseat incumbent Nik Bonitto, but outside linebackers coach Jamar Cain will work the rookie into the RUSH rotation. A tailored role on passing downs could work especially well.
Mario Williams and Billy Bowman, WR
Williams and Bowman have very similar games with very similar outlooks for this year. If OU ever wants to go four-wide at receiver, it could open up some opportunities for the pair to do some damage working out of the inside positions. Either could contribute in the return game, too.
Note that Bowman could eventually move to defense.
Isaiah Coe, DL
You can never have too many defensive linemen. That said, Coe is competing against a group of experienced, productive players for snaps on the defensive interior. It’s no lock that he will become the impact player you’d hope a JUCO transfer would be.
Latrell McCutchin, DB
McCutchin gave the Sooners a needed recruiting win in the secondary when he flipped from Alabama. He has the skills to take over as the third CB in the rotation, which would allow Jaden Davis to slide in at nickel if defensive coordinator Alex Grinch decides he wants a coverage player there.
Caleb Williams, QB
Is Williams going to push Spencer Rattler for playing time behind center this year? Of course not. However, he will be the No. 2 QB by process of elimination following the transfers of Tanner Mordecai and Chandler Morris.
*Robert Congel, OL
The thinking here goes that Bedenbaugh wouldn’t give a player in his fifth year a spot if he couldn’t help the team out in some way. Look for Congel earn a spot as a reserve swing player on the interior.
Spot duty (i.e. See you in 2022)
Nathan Rawlins-Kabonge, Edge
NRK seems a little too raw to get on the field right away. A little polish this year could help him turn into a monster in 2022.
Jordan Mukes, DB
Much like NRK, Mukes could use a year refining his game. The Choctaw product has a promising future at safety.
Cody Jackson and Jalil Farooq, WR
In the long run, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Jackson develops into the best receiver in the ‘21 class. He doesn’t fit in an obvious spot right away, however, so it’s tough to see him playing a big role on this team in the fall.
Farooq also finds himself the victim of a logjam at WR.
Danny Stuntsman, ILB
Linebackers coach Brian Odom continues mining for diamonds in the rough. Three-star recruit Shane Whitter generated buzz at inside LB in his first year on campus, although he never could force his way onto the field consistently. Stuntsman, a three-star prospect from Florida, has a similar feel. A Stuntsman-Whitter combo could be OU’s starting ILBs of the future.
Damond Harmon, DB
Harmon could turn into the sleeper of the ‘21 class. If he adds some size this year, Harmon should make some noise at nickel in a couple years.
*Micah Bowens, QB
(Penn State transfer)
Bowens provides desperately needed depth at QB and could make for a solid Wildcat option. Tough to envision him playing much this year otherwise.
Ethan Downs and Kelvin Gilliam, DL
It’s really difficult for a first-year player to make an impact if he plays with his hand in the dirt. Downs and Gilliam probably take a year to bulk up and prepare for the future as three-tech defensive tackles or strong side DEs.
Savion Byrd and Cullen Montgomery, OL
After striking out on some highly regarded prospects, Bedenbaugh came away with Byrd and Montgomery as the only first-year linemen in the class. The likelihood either sees the field in a meaningful situation is slim.