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Analysis: Full assessment of Arizona football’s 2019 recruiting class

Rebecca Noble

Arizona football runs out to the marching band and fireworks at the beginning of the Wildcats’ game against OSU on Oct. 10, 2015. This Saturday, Sept. 29 will be UA Athletic’s Hispanic Heritage Night, featuring local music and DJs and food from Tucson-Mexican food favorite El Charro Cafe.

Kevin Sumlin’s first complete recruiting class as head coach at Arizona wrapped up its national early signing period with a total of 20 signees, eight of which are set to become early enrollees when school reconvenes in Tucson in January. 

According to ESPN, the ‘Cats 2019 class includes two four-star and 17 three-star prospects. Below is an in-depth breakdown of each player and where they’ll project to make an impact for the Wildcats over the next 4-5 years.

Full list of Arizona’s 2019 recruiting class (by position): 

Quarterback (1) 

Grant Gunnell – St. Pius X HS / Houston, TX / 6-foot-6, 192lbs. / signed 

ESPN Ranking – 4 stars No.15 QB (Pocket Passer)

Considered: Ohio State, Texas A&M

Strengths: Natural instincts inside the pocket. Keeps his eyes downfield while eluding pass-rushers. Displays nice touch on deep passes. Accurate on quick hitting throws. Makes good decisions with the football – doesn’t force a pass that’s not there. 

Weaknesses: Needs to add weight to his frame in order to sustain hits and remain healthy. Doesn’t always throw the prettiest ball. Attention to detail in the weight room will also increase arm strength and quicken throwing motion. 

What it means: Gunnell has all the intangibles of an elite quarterback. He’s poised in the pocket, deceptively nimble on his feet and does a great job of protecting the football. It’s not a coincidence that he finished his prep career as Texas High School’s all-time passing yardage leader. Still, Gunnell is bound to be more of a project for Sumlin and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, instead of an instant impact player. A redshirt year, aided by a Division I nutrition plan and workout regimen will do Gunnell wonders in the long run. Khalil Tate has the starting quarterback gig on lock for the time being, but there could be a heated competition in the QB room in Spring 2020. 

Running back (1)

Michael Wiley – Strake Jesuit HS / Houston, TX / 6-foot, 190lbs. / signed 

ESPN Ranking – 3 stars, No. 91 RB

Considered: McNeese State, Princeton 

Strengths: Terrific change of direction, acceleration. Disciplined in hitting designated running lanes. Does a great job of setting defenders up before making cuts back across the field. Above-average vision. 

Weaknesses: Doesn’t appear to possess exceptional top-end speed. Operated primarily out of an I-formation or loaded backfield set in high school. Gets knocked off balance at times because of his lack of size. Not the shortest ball carrier, but he’s not the thickest either. 

What it means: Like Gunnell, Wiley will benefit from an entire year of workouts and proper eating habits. There’s no question that he’s a fluid runner once he gets out of his stance, but the majority of his work in high school came out of tight formations, meaning Wiley was often getting the football at a downhill angle, building speed before making first contact or having to stick his foot in the ground to make a cut. At Arizona, Wiley’s game will have to feature more lateral agility, and quick recognition of zone blocking schemes. With a relatively loaded backfield intact for next season, Wiley won’t be expected to contribute any time soon. But, when his time does arrive, he’ll offer a skill-set that closely mirrors rising junior Gary Brightwell. 

Receiver (3)

Jalen Johnson – Eleanor Roosevelt HS / Eastvale, CA / 6-foot-3, 183lbs. / signed 

ESPN Ranking – 3 stars, No.109 WR

Considered: Colorado State, Oregon State 

Strengths: Big target capable of reeling in contested throws. Knows how to attack zone defenders and make cornerbacks miss at the line of scrimmage. Displays terrific burst breaking out of his routes. Understands how to find the holes in a defense. Superb change of direction skills for a player his size. 

Weaknesses: At times, Johnson’s quick feet become choppy feet, ultimately slowing him down. Will need to bulk up in order to withstand constant contact against the Pac-12’s top defensive backs. 

What it means: Johnson’s sheer height will allow him to compete for playing time early on out wide. Arizona’s offense was at its best in 2018 when Tate and Shawn Poindexter were in sync. Johnson doesn’t offer as much length as Poindexter did, but he does present similar abilities catching the football. If Johnson is able to prove his worth as a deep-threat, he’ll find plenty of opportunity in Arizona’s offense. 

Jaden Mitchell – Desert Oasis HS / Las Vegas, NV / 6-foot, 180lbs. / signed – Greyshirt

ESPN Ranking – 3 stars, No.132 WR (2018) 

Considered: Hawaii, UNLV

Strengths: Reliable hands. Elusive in the open field. Makes difficult catches look easy. Twitchy player with terrific awareness. Knows how to make defenders miss. Rarely gets brought down on first contact. 

Weaknesses: Must become a master technician in order to stay ahead of the competition because of his lack of size. Rarely gets behind coverage, instead choosing to do the majority of his damage underneath and in intermediate routes. 

What it means: Mitchell was originally a member of the 2018 recruiting class, but opted to greyshirt last season (incoming college freshman who postpones his enrollment in classes until the second term of his freshman year). Arriving on campus a year after his initial report date may actually serve Mitchell well in the short-term. An extra year of training and preparation could translate to early playing time, especially thanks to the ‘Cats recently depleted receiving corps. Mitchell’s ceiling is somewhat limited given his size, but his skill-set suggests that he’s more than capable of becoming a versatile playmaker for the ‘Cats over the next 4-5 years. 

Jalen “Boobie” Curry – St. Pius X HS / Houston, TX / 6-foot-2, 197lbs. / signed

ESPN Ranking – 4 stars, No.19 WR 

Considered: Auburn, Penn State, Tennessee 

Strengths: Rangy receiver capable of dominating a defense. Displays soft hands and a determination to catch any ball thrown his way. Doesn’t shy away from contact. Utilizes his strong frame and good lateral agility to gain tough yardage after the catch. 

Weaknesses: Has to develop a greater array of moves off the line of scrimmage to stay one step ahead of defensive backs. Will need to work to create separation against veteran defenders. 

What it means: Curry had his picking of schools to attend, and rightfully so. At Arizona, he’ll look to make a lasting impact by being certain he’s ready to contribute right away. The ‘Cats don’t return much experience at receiver, so Curry’s commitment to become an instant impact player is that much more important. He’ll arrive on campus in January and look to develop a rapport with Tate ahead of the 2019 campaign. 

Offensive Line (4)

Jamari Williams – Cardinal Gibbons HS / Sunrise, FL / 6-foot-3, 310lbs. / signed

ESPN Ranking – 3 stars, No.43 Guard 

Considered: Louisville, Boston College

Strengths: Athletic enough to use his size to his advantage and overpower defenders. Quick feet in pass protection. Has a very strong base. Does a good job of firing out of his stance. 

Weaknesses: Will need to gain upper body strength to match his lower body explosiveness. Doesn’t have the longest arms. Misses his hand strike at times while pass setting. 

What it means: Like nearly every other high school offensive line prospect, Williams will need a year or two at minimum to adapt to the college game and get his body up to speed. His height and arm length won’t be an issue as long as he continues to refine his technique and increase lateral agility. With proper weight training, and patience, Williams could evolve into a viable piece along the ‘Cats offensive line – but don’t expect to hear his name in 2019, unless depth is drastically needed. 

Josh Donovan – Trinity Valley C.C. / College Station, TX / 6-foot-6, 310lbs. / signed

ESPN Ranking – 3 stars, No.12 Tackle (Junior College) 

Considered: Arkansas, McNeese State

Strengths: Monster prospect. Obtains long arms capable of controlling defenders. Relatively quick for a player his size. Rarely gets thrown off balance. Does a good job of driving his feet after making first contact in run blocking. 

Weaknesses: Needs to improve lateral agility if he’s going to have any shot at protecting the edge in the Pac-12. Has to eliminate false steps in pass protection. Doesn’t stand much of a chance blocking speed rushers, or trying to contain defenders in the open field. 

What it means: Donovan is certainly big enough to handle Pac-12 defensive linemen, but the difference in speed of competition will pose problems until he improves his overall athleticism. Shedding some bad weight to regain muscle over the next six months would do wonders to Donovan’s physical makeup. It would also increase his chances at seeing playing time in the fall. 

Jordan Morgan – Marana HS / Marana, AZ / 6-foot-5, 270lbs. / signed 

ESPN Ranking – 3 stars, No.131 Offensive Tackle 

Considered: Arizona State, Southern California

Strengths: Good athleticism for an offensive line prospect. Utilizes his hands well in pass protection. Does a good job of beating defenders to certain spots, taking away free lanes and shielding his running back from tacklers. 

Weaknesses: Needs to consistently fire off the ball in run blocking scenarios. Doesn’t manhandle defenders off the edge. Is considerably thin for a Division I lineman. 

What it means: Morgan is a raw prospect with plenty of natural talent. He’ll need to make strides in the weight room to become a bookend tackle. It’s evident that the potential is there, but plenty of work is on the horizon before Morgan will have any shot at protecting Arizona’s quarterback. 

Paiton Fears – Hutchinson C.C. / Mascotte, FL / 6-foot-6, 320lbs. / signed

ESPN Ranking – Not ranked 

Considered: Baylor, Missouri, West Virginia 

Strengths: Strong, aggressive and extremely athletic. Efficient blocker that does a great job of staying square and keeping defenders within his frame of target. Incorporates a deadly hand strike in pass sets. More than capable of paving the way in the open field, and directing running lanes for ball carriers past the initial point of attack. 

Weaknesses: Plays too high at times. Needs to perfect his leverage. Occasionally has a hard time redirecting after getting beat in pass protection. 

What it means: The sky is the limit for Fears. He possesses a rare combination of size, strength and athleticism. Even more importantly, he has experience at the junior college level and is mature enough to compete for playing time right away. Whether it’s at tackle or guard, Fears is bound to instill fear in his opponents at some point during the 2019 season. 

Defensive Line (3)

Trevon Mason – Navarro College / Arlington, TX / 6-foot-5, 280lbs. / signed

ESPN Ranking – 3 stars, No.11 Defensive Tackle (Junior College) 

Considered: Nebraska, Southern Miss 

Strengths: Instinctive defender. Willing to throw his body around to disrupt blocking schemes. Gets decent extension at the point of attack. Long enough to set the edge, or wreak havoc in the interior on twists and stunts. Does a good job of shedding blocks. Recognizes when to get his hands up on quick-game throws. 

Weaknesses: Gets pushed around at times due to an unstable base. Has to add upper and lower body strength to avoid losing ground at the next level. Doesn’t display an elite set of pass-rush moves. Has to work on gap control. 

What it means: Mason is exactly the type of prospect Arizona should be recruiting for its defensive front. His length and awareness allow him to make a variety of plays, whether it be chasing down ball carriers from behind, or blowing runners up before they get going in the backfield. Due to a lack of playmaking and depth, Arizona needs Mason to blossom as soon as he steps foot on campus. 

Kane Bradford – Skyline HS / Dallas, TX / 6-foot-5, 275lbs. / signed

ESPN Ranking – 3 stars, No.80 Defensive Tackle

Considered: Baylor, Navy 

Strengths: Moves well and shows good burst off the ball. Displays some level of pass-rush intelligence. Understands how to control his gap. Despite his size, plays with great leverage most of the time. Above-average lateral agility. 

Weaknesses: Doesn’t appear to overpower opposing offensive linemen. Has to develop upper and lower body strength. Needs to improve pass-rush moves. 

What it means: Bradford will be eased into the defensive line rotation. He has plenty of attractive qualities, but is a long ways from carving out a starting role. Arizona needs larger bodies on the defensive front, so Bradford’s number will likely be called once he increases his overall strength and develops a greater collection of pass-rush moves. 

Myles Tapusoa – Eastern Arizona College / Rose Park, UT / 6-foot-2, 326lbs. / signed

ESPN Ranking – 3 stars, No.10 DT (Junior College) 

Considered: Houston, Oregon 

Strengths: Elite burst off the ball, shows great strength and leverage. Efficient run stuffer and plays to his strengths, strong finisher. 

Weaknesses: Limited athleticism and makes most of his plays in confined spaces. Leaves his chest exposed at times, luring an offensive lineman to attempt to strike. 

What it means: Tapusoa is primed to make a difference on Arizona’s defense. His elite short-area quickness is unmatched on film. He plays with great leverage, and he does a terrific job of exploding out and under linemen before they know how to react. With a gaping hole at defensive tackle – left by the departed Dereck Boles – Tapusoa will be counted on to become an impact player almost instantly. 

Linebacker (2)

Kwabena Watson – Edison HS / Fresno, CA / 6-foot-2, 225lbs. / signed

ESPN Ranking – 3 stars, No.72 Outside Linebacker 

Considered: Fresno State, Nevada 

Strengths: Doesn’t shy away from contact, has good motor. Displays an elite understanding of gap control and how to attack blocks. Has a knack for creating turnovers. 

Weaknesses: Speed doesn’t flash on film. Slow off the ball out of a two-point stance. Plays with poor leverage at times. Not the best athlete, or strongest tackler. Chooses to recover and make tackles past the line of scrimmage instead of playing in the backfield. 

What it means: Watson has a good frame, but is years away from seeing serious playing time in the Pac-12. He’ll need to develop his pass-rush moves in order to become a threat off the edge. Watson also has to correct his stand-up stance when applying pressure at the line of scrimmage. Poor leverage and slow reaction skills isn’t the ideal linebacker skill-set. Still, thanks to Watson’s potential as a playmaker, there’s plenty of room for having faith in the process. 

Derrion Clark – South Oak Cliff HS / Dallas, TX / 6-foot-1, 220lbs. / signed 

ESPN Ranking – 3 stars, No.172 Defensive End 

Considered: Alabama A&M, Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Strengths: Versatile. Can play a number of different positions. Big-hitter, smart and a strong tackler. Plays downhill from the inside linebacker position. Superb at shedding blocks and has non-stop motor. 

Weaknesses: Size could be an issue versus run-heavy offenses. Needs to add lower body strength to make up for a lack of height. Not exceptionally fast and loses his footing at times. 

What it means: Clark is already at a disadvantage due to his size, but he makes up for it with a resilient motor and elite understanding of multiple defensive positions. Arizona is desperate for depth at inside linebacker, so Clark could find early playing opportunities as long as he increases his overall strength before the start of next season. Either way, Clark is talented enough to make an impact at some place on the ‘Cats defense over the next 4-5 years. 

Defensive Back (5)

Maurice Gaines Jr. – St. Thomas More HS / Sacramento, CA / 6-foot-2, 193lbs. / signed

ESPN Ranking – 3 stars, No.119 CB 

Considered: Arkansas, Baylor 

Strengths: Elite top-end speed. Rangy, capable of disrupting catches at the last second. Above-average ball skills. Has a good feel for his surroundings. 

Weaknesses: Not efficient with his hands at the line of scrimmage. Falls behind early in coverage at times. Not a factor in run support. 

What it means: Gaines Jr. reclassified to the 2019 recruiting cycle after struggling to finish one course for graduation. The extra year at the prep level may result in early playing time, thanks to increased maturity and a lack of experience at the cornerback position on Arizona’s roster. If he’s able to refine his technique playing press-man he’ll have a shot to lockdown receivers as early as the 2019 season. 

Jaxen Turner – Rancho Verde HS / Perris, CA / 6-foot-2, 185lbs. / signed 

ESPN Ranking – 3 stars, No.71 Safety

Considered: Arizona State, Boise State 

Strengths: Good ability to change direction. Has good ball skills, instinctive. Not afraid to lay the wood. Versatile defender with a playmaker’s mindset. Knows how to highpoint the football.  

Weaknesses: May be an equally effective receiver as he would be safety. Will have trouble carving out a role on defense unless he can excel at one position. Needs to bulk up. 

What it means: Turner’s athleticism cannot be ignored. Unfortunately, it can be challenging to delegate a true game-changer to just one side of the ball. Turner’s most natural position may actually be receiver, but he presents plenty of attractive traits of an elite safety, as well. If Turner can grasp Arizona’s defensive schemes, he could evolve into a legitimate starter in the secondary. 

Eddie Siaumau – Fa’asao Marist HS / Leona, American Samoa / 6-foot-3, 215lbs. /signed

ESPN Ranking – 3 stars, No. 92 S

Considered: Arizona State, Oregon 

Strengths: Ball-hawk. Does a great job of getting hands on receivers, slowing them down early in their routes. Plays the safety position like a true centerfielder, causally covering ground and keeping everything in front of him. Big defender with fluid hips and instinctive ball skills. 

Weaknesses: Could add weight to his frame and become more of a force in run support. Will have to display his backpedal ability while reacting to routes, instead of opting to bailout each coverage snap.

What it means: Siaumua is an interesting prospect because he’s tall enough to possibly add some weight and take on a feature role in the box, as a hybrid safety-linebacker. At the same time, he flashes elite ball skills in the secondary. Siaumua’s role on Arizona’s defense will likely be configured over the next year or so. How his body and mind develops will determine where he makes his impact. 

Bobby Wolfe – Madison HS / Houston, TX / 6-foot-2, 170lbs. / signed 

ESPN Ranking – 3 stars, No. 43 Cornerback 

Considered: Arkansas, Texas A&M

Strengths: Long frame, technically sound. Natural instincts in coverage. Routinely gets his hands on receivers, interrupting the timing with their quarterbacks. 

Weaknesses: Needs to bulk up in order to become a key cog of the ‘Cats defense. Time in the weight room will also translate to increased top-end speed and easier change of direction. Has to prove he can get the job done versus the pass and the run. 

What it means: Wolfe has all the tools to become Arizona’s next lockdown cornerback. It’s all about progress and gaining a level of comfort operating alongside returning players from now until the start of the 2019 season. As long as Wolfe’s body continues to develop, he’ll have a chance to compete for serious playing time as soon as his freshman campaign.  

Chris Roland – William Knight HS / Palmdale, CA / 6-foot, 190lbs. / signed 

ESPN Ranking – 3 stars, No. 127 (Athlete)

Considered: Southern California, Nevada 

Strengths: Threat in the return game and boasts a good jumping ability. Has a knack for the big play and has speed. Capable of lining up at a number of defensive positions and is willing to put his body on the line. 

Weaknesses: Occasionally gets caught reading the quarterback’s eyes rather than playing a man, or area of the field. Needs to add weight, strength. Has to demonstrate the ability to effectively get his hands on receivers at the line of scrimmage. 

What it means: Roland is an athlete at heart, but will likely end up playing cornerback for the ‘Cats. He’ll look to increase his strength and improve his technique in press coverage before making his debut at Arizona Stadium. Roland has the intangibles that all coaches love, but now it’s a matter of perfecting the parts of his game that will make him a viable starter in the long run. 

Special Teams (1)

Kyle Ostendorp – Desert Vista HS / Phoenix, AZ / 6-foot-2, 195lbs. / signed 

ESPN Ranking – 3 stars No. 39 Kicker/Punter 

Considered: Arizona State, Florida Tech 

Strengths: Above-average athlete with a strong leg. Has kickoff experience. Does an incredible job of pinning punts deep inside opponent’s territory. Understands the importance of kicking away from dangerous returners. 

Weaknesses: Will have to quickly come to terms with the challenges that collegiate punters face – pressure, responsibility and the fear of letting teammates down. 

What it means: Arizona is all too familiar with poor punting habits. Hopefully for Ostendorp, he will rise to the occasion early in his career and defeat the pressure that comes with booting a ball in front of 40,000 fans. Ostendorp will look to avoid turmoil in the desert and follow in the footsteps of 2018 grad transfer Dylan Klumph, and former Arizona punting prodigy Drew Riggleman. 

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