5 main takeaways from Mississippi State’s first day of Early Signing Period
The first day of the Early Signing Period is nearly in the books, and for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, it’s been a good day.
As of this writing, the Bulldogs have signed 14 players, including 5 4-star prospects. 247sports ranks the class 18th in the country, which is good for 8th in the SEC and 5th in the West.
Here are 5 takeaways from the Bulldogs’ big day.
1. Charles Cross is literally a huge catch
You can make the case for a number or players being the “key” prospect in this signing class, but in my opinion 4-star OT Charles Cross is the pièce de résistance of the group. The 6-5, 270-pound Laurel, Miss., product was long considered an Ole Miss lean, but committed to the Bulldogs the day after his official visit in Oxford.
Considered the No. 79 player nationally, and No. 12 OT (which is actually a bit low, in my opinion), Cross has the makings of an NFL edge protector. He was outstanding in his week of practices for the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game, showing beautiful footwork and using his long arms well. He’s a natural in pass protection, which is good because the Bulldogs struggled to protect the perimeter this year. The cherry on top is the fact that he’ll be an early enrollee, so he’ll have the advantage of going through spring ball. Big signing for the Bulldogs.
2. Impact JUCO prospects
The Bulldogs have done a great job in recent years of mining the sea of talent in the state’s JUCO ranks, and that trend is continuing under Joe Moorhead. The Bulldogs captured the signatures of 3 JUCO prospects (with another committed), all of whom will likely see time right away.
Fred Peters, a 3-star safety, looks like a natural replacement for Johnathan Abram in the secondary, and 3-star OG LaQuinston Sharp could be the guy who replaces Deion Calhoun up front. JaVonta Payton (who is expected to sign in February) will provide further depth to a still-growing receiving corps and Kareem Walker will likely take some of the carries that Aeris Williams had this year. Overall, this is a good group of players who not only fill needs, but have the ability to make an impact right away.
3. Terrific group of defensive linemen
Without a doubt, one of the primary reasons the Bulldogs had arguably the best defense in the country this year was due to an unbelievably talented defensive line. To succeed in the SEC, it’s absolutely critical that the line not only stuffs the run but also pressures the QB. Unfortunately, State is likely going to have to replace all 4 starters up front, but fortunately, they’re bringing in a heck of a defensive line class to fill the holes.
The Bulldogs signed 3 defensive line prospects, including a 2 4-star prospects in De’Monte Russell and Ani Izuchukwu. Those two, along with Jack Harris, likely need a redshirt year to gain weight and get stronger, but I’d be surprised if Nate Pickering and Charles Moore (two very highly ranked 4-stars who will sign in February) didn’t see snaps early on. Overall, this is a group should lay the foundation for another generation of strong play up front on the defensive line for the Bulldogs, giving defensive coordinator Bob Shoop more weapons to work with.
4. Potentially landed the QB of the future
As I’ve said before, Nick Fitzgerald will go down as one of the best quarterbacks in program history, but he simply wasn’t a good fit in Moorhead’s offense due to his inability to consistently complete passes downfield. You couldn’t help but wonder what the offense would look like if it were run by someone Moorhead picked, instead of someone he inherited. Well, we’ll finally get that opportunity now that 4-star QB Garrett Shrader has signed.
Shrader not only has the athletic ability to make plays with his feet (which is a key tenant to running Moorhead’s RPO-heavy scheme), but more important, he can move the ball downfield with his arm. He has the ability to drive the ball to all three levels and has shown good ball placement. He needs his mechanics cleaned up a bit, but that’s Moorhead’s specialty. Considering he’ll be enrolled in time to go through spring ball, there’s a very realistic chance he beats out junior quarterback Keytaon Thompson for the starting job by the time Week 1 of the 2019 season rolls around.
5. Moorhead and Co. took advantage of in-state talent
The great state of Mississippi is loaded this year with talent. Of course, the state has never struggled to produce quality players, but considering the small population level, it has struggled to produce a high quantity of quality players. Of the past 10 years, the Magnolia State has averaged 7.5 4- or 5-star prospects per year (according to 247sports), but this year that number jumped up to 16. An historic class, indeed.
The Bulldogs took advantage, signing 3 of the 16 4- and 5-star prospects, including 2 of the top 8, and have commitments from 2 more of the top 10. Of the state’s top 25 players, the Bulldogs have commitments or signatures from 8, and that number should grow by the February signing period.
Kudos to Moorhead and his staff for reeling in a Top-20 caliber class. This staff has been together for just over a year, meaning it was well behind the proverbial 8-ball in terms of building rapport and relationships with the prospects.
A handful of these guys committed to State under Dan Mullen, but the new staff managed to hold onto the bulk of those players, and the results is a deep and talented class that should lay the foundation for what Moorhead is looking to build moving forward.
Cover photo credit: @HailStateFB