And finally, it’s decision time.
First of all, at the conclusion of the 2015 season, we still had 72 players on our roster. But with our first class dating back to 2013, we finally had players eligible to leave early for the 2016 NFL Draft, and before it was all said and done, we ended up losing eight players who chose to declare for the draft. That got us down to 64 players, but with a class of 27 new players (11 offense, 11 defense, 2 specialists, 2 juco transfers and 1 ‘wildcard’) arriving tomorrow, we still had to cut six players to get to the 85-man limit.
Now, our goal is to never cut a player that is a senior-to-be, so we decided those players were off limits. Additionally, any redshirt freshmen are safe since we’ve not had a chance to evaluate any of them in game action. That leaves us with only players entering their sophomore or junior seasons as potential cuts, and we actually made our first two cuts back on January 20 when we sent Arkansas redshirt sophomore kicker Cole Hedlund to the Practice Squad along with ULM punter Chris Qualls.
Hedlund struggled as a redshirt freshman last fall for the Razorbacks connecting on just nine of 15 field goals. That ranked No. 101 out of 108 qualifying kickers in the FBS, and with an All-America prospect in redshirt junior-to-be Daniel Carlson of Auburn, we just didn’t have room for Hedlund. Besides, our goal was to hold on to Notre Dame true freshman Justin Yoon from the Class of 2015 after he finished sixth in the country last fall connecting on 15-of-17 attempts. Qualls, meanwhile, was even worse than Hedlund finishing dead last (No. 107) in the FBS in punting average as a true freshman at just 36.7 yards per attempt – a full 1.2 yards per punt worse than the guy ranked No. 106.
Of course, we still had to find four more cuts, and it got harder from there. The next step was to identify any ‘problem’ players who might not make it with their current program anyway, and we didn’t have to look far to find one. Texas A&M wide receiver Speedy Noil had already served a couple of suspensions under head coach Kevin Sumlin when it was announced last December that he would be suspended yet again. He missed the Aggies’ bowl game, and his current suspension will keep him out of the 2016 season opener. With Noil probably down to his last chance in College Station, we’d hate to keep him at the expense of cutting a different player if he ultimately can’t find a way to stay out of trouble in the future. With that in mind, Noil became our third cut.
With no other problem players in The Program, our next step was to look at the Depth Chart and identify any 2016 juniors that were buried on the three-deep. We found our next two cuts there – Oklahoma wide receiver Michiah Quick and Tennessee defensive back Todd Kelly, Jr.
After finishing third in receiving for the Sooners in 2014 as a true freshman with 25 receptions for 237 yards and a touchdown, Quick suffered through an epic sophomore slump last fall despite playing with a Heisman-contending quarterback in Baker Mayfield. Quick played in 12 of the Sooners’ 13 games, but managed just nine catches for 103 yards and no touchdowns. His disappearing act relegated him to the three-deep on our roster, and as a junior-to-be, we needed to make the decision sooner rather than later to adhere to our goal of not cutting seniors-to-be. Thus, he became our fourth cut.
Tennessee’s Kelly was a tougher call. He’s actually one of the top defensive backs for the Volunteers, but we are so strong at the safety position with All-America candidates like Washington’s Budda Baker, Virginia’s Quin Blanding, Ole Miss’s Tony Conner and Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers that Kelly ended up buried on our depth chart. We hated to do it, but Kelly became cut No. 5.
Finally, having scoured the three-deep, it was time to look at any positions where we have too many players piled up, and that led us to the offensive guard position. With two incoming freshmen, we would have been backed up about eight deep counting previous tackle recruits that have moved to the guard position. It was the most logical place to find our final cut, and Ole Miss junior-to-be Rod Taylor turned out to be the odd man out in the two-deep. Taylor is no guarantee to start for Ole Miss this fall as a junior, and with his career in Oxford in the slow lane so far, we ultimately made him cut No. 6.
That gets us down to 58 players – ready for a new class of 25 incoming freshmen and two juco transfers that will bring us to a full 85 players for the first time in the history of The Program.
We will announce that class of incoming freshman on Wednesday, February 3, 2016.
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