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Analysis: Three positives and three negatives of Washington State’s 2019 signing class

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 6, 2019, 10:47 p.m.

PULLMAN – After picking up 20 signatures in December, Mike Leach and Washington State added two more pieces on Wednesday, signing high school defensive end Nicholas Sheetz and junior college offensive tackle Jimmy Price to enhance a recruiting class the Cougars believe has as much depth, quality and variety as any of the ones signed during Leach’s stay on the Palouse.

By position, the Cougars signed six defensive backs, four offensive linemen, three linebackers, three defensive linemen, two wide receivers, two running backs, one quarterback and one long snapper.

WSU cast a wide recruiting net, inking players from Washington, California, Ohio, Colorado, Arizona, Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, Hawaii, Florida and South Carolina.

With the early period and the official National Signing Day in the books, we analyze WSU’s latest batch of signees, listing three positives and three negatives of the 2019 class.

The positives

1. Quarterback (for the future) – In the wake of the news surrounding Gage Gubrud’s potential move to Washington State, some fans have bemoaned the Cougars’ pursuit of a second transfer quarterback in as many years, suggesting Leach and his staff were neglecting the high school QB market. In reality, WSU is set up nicely for the future – if not for 2019, then 2020 and beyond. The Cougars signed 6-foot-5 Casteel High (Arizona) product Gunner Cruz in December, placing another highly coveted prep pocket passer on the Pullman campus. Cammon Cooper was the nation’s 11th-ranked pro style QB in 2018 and Cruz checked in at No. 16 on the same list this year. Neither may be an immediate solution, but for anyone decrying WSU’s stability at the QB position – or lack thereof – it’s entirely plausible that the Cougars will introduce an eventual three- or four-year starter in 2020, be it the left-handed Cooper or the right-handed Cruz.

2. Offensive line haul – The offensive line didn’t seem like a position of high priority for a team that returns four starters and gave up just 13 sacks in 2018. But the Cougars stocked up for the future, signing three high school prospects in December before adding a junior college standout on Wednesday. Jimmy Price, an offensive tackle who played one year at Stephen F. Austin before transferring to Tyler Junior College, looks like a viable replacement for Andre Dillard and all three of the prep signees bring tall frames to Pullman similar to Dillard and Abraham Lucas.

3. Early birds – Why wait until February to do what you can do in December? Unlike many of their Pac-12 peers, the Cougars weren’t waiting on pins and needles for any of their commits to make a decision on Wednesday. WSU finished with a another workmanlike recruiting class that ranked just 11th in the Pac-12 according to 247Sports.com, but the Cougars accomplished most of what they needed to in December, signing 20 of their 22 prospects before they traveled to the Alamo Bowl. The early period is favorable for programs like WSU, which locate and secure diamonds in the rough before higher-profile schools try to pilfer them.

“The early period is so good for us,” WSU Chief of Staff Dave Emerick said Wednesday on the NSD19 Radio Show. “When it used to just be the February signing period, there’s all kind of schools that would just come after our guys. You see if someone has success – let’s say if a big school, USC or whoever, misses out on one of their guys, let’s see who Washington State’s recruiting and go after those guys.”

Casteel quarterback Gunner Cruz looks to pass in a game against Higley High. Cruz signed with Washington State during the early signing period in December 2018. (Andy Silvas / Courtesy)
Casteel quarterback Gunner Cruz looks to pass in a game against Higley High. Cruz signed with Washington State during the early signing period in December 2018. (Andy Silvas / Courtesy)

The negatives

1. Quarterback (for the present) – As we mentioned, the long-term future of the QB position looks bright, but the Cougars, who are well-stocked at just about every position on offense, still need to address the short term. Leach has stated confidence in the signal-callers he has on campus, but for the time being, it’s still a QB room that has just 10 pass completions under its belt. The Cougars have browsed the NCAA transfer portal already, expressing interest in Gubrud, but now it seems unlikely the former EWU QB will obtain a medical redshirt. The grad transfer search could be far from over and fans might recall Gardner Minshew didn’t announce his decision until March of last year. So, there’s still time left and scholarships available, but now with four of the most important days of the recruiting year behind them, the Cougars still have quite a bit of uncertainty at the most important position on the field.

2. RB2? – James Williams threw a wrench in WSU’s plans when the running back declared for the NFL draft less than a week after the Alamo Bowl. It was never guaranteed the Cougars’ primary back would stick around for his senior season, but by most accounts, the coaching staff had been betting on another year of Williams and perhaps it reflected in the early signing class. WSU added two high school running backs in December and only one of them – Jamir Thomas – looks like he’d be suited to back up Max Borghi this fall. Neither Thomas or Jouvensly Bazile will be on campus until July. The Cougars could still spend one of their remaining scholarships on a junior college running back, but given the diminished depth of the position in the wake of Williams’ exit, it’s a little surprising they haven’t done so already.

3. Win some, lose some – There weren’t many surprises during the early period – good or bad – but the Cougars lost a battle for prized offensive lineman Liam Dick, who had WSU as a finalist before choosing Pitt. In 2018, the Cougars beat out a handful of Pac-12 schools for Borghi and defensive back Halid Djibril, but they didn’t win any big recruiting duels this year and lost a defensive tackle commit – Dejon Benton – to USC on day one of the early period. While the Cougars felt good about the group they signed, it didn’t have the flourish it had in 2018.

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