After the dust has settled from National Signing Day on Wednesday, it’s time to look at how UND’s 2017 recruiting class fits into the roster moving forward.
With that in mind, let’s break down the recruiting class by position. I’m going to include the four mid-year transfers.
Quarterback: Andrew Zimmerman, Fresno City College, and Brock Boltmann, Edina.
Zimmerman, the mid-year transfer who spent some time at Eastern Washington out of high school, was a necessary pickup in the offseason after UND didn’t net a scholarship quarterback in the 2016 recruiting class. Keaton Studsrud returns as a senior in 2017, but the Fighting Hawks don’t have any clear answers between Studsrud and Boltmann. I don’t think Rugby’s Brad Heidlebaugh or Minot’s Ben Bolinske will be the answer in the near future, so Zimmerman will be one to watch in spring ball. It’s worth remembering that it has been a long time since UND has gone through a full season with one healthy quarterback so Zimmerman or Heidlebaugh have a pretty good shot at being relevant in 2017.
Running back/fullback: James Johannesson, Minnesota and Andrew Jones, Northern Cass.
With Jones considered a fullback, UND didn’t get a running back in the 2017 recruiting class and that’s because that position is stacked with John Santiago, Brady Oliveira, James Johannesson and Austin Gordon. It’s going to be fun to see how UND decides to utilize all of that talent. Is Johannesson used in a hybrid fullback role or is Santiago going to be seen in more jet sweeps? I think offensive coordinator Paul Rudolph has done a nice job in his tenure adjusting the offense to his strengths and this presents another opportunity to do that. I really don’t know much about Jones, but UND is set at fullback for 2017 with Kyle Norberg. Tyler Coyne will also see some action and Brett Finke has a good frame for a walk-on in 2016. And Finke has an epic mullet, so that has to help his chances for playing time. With all of the talent at running back, does Oscar Nevermann move positions? That’s what ultimately led him to transfer away from Wyoming but if he wants to see the field …
Wide receiver: Izzy Adeoti, Plano, Ill., Mikey Griebel, Littleton, Colo., Cameron McKinney, Seattle, Jack Pifer, Fargo South.
I think it’s safe to say at least one of these guys is going to play in 2017. When Clive Georges went down in 2016 Week 1, UND had an obvious hole at wide receiver in terms of a burner that could keep defenses honest over the top. (Demun Mercer came on nicely late in the year, though). Adeoti, Griebel and McKinney all fit that category of shorter receivers with a ton of scoot. I’ll give the nod to McKinney as most likely to play right away just because his highlight tape is insane and because he reportedly ran a 4.31 40-yard dash. But Griebel and Adeoti could break into the lineup, and I wouldn’t be that surprised. UND will have Luke Stanley, Travis Toivonen, Noah Wanzek and Mercer back in 2017. This is going to be one of UND’s deepest wide receiver units since Bubba Schweigert took over.
Offensive line: Jeremy Jenkins, South Elgin, Ill., Connor Kruse, Waconia, Minn., and Wil Prine of Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Unless you’re Elijah Grady, you’re not going to play as a true freshman on the offensive line. And that’s fine for UND, who probably still needs to further address the future depth along the OL. When Grady left the program and a couple of others were injured, UND needed to backfill this position. They haven’t really done that yet, so don’t be surprised to see a JuCo or a dropdown added to this group. Competition up front will be huge during spring ball. UND returns 2016 contributors in A.J. Stockwell, Mat Cox, Demon Taylor, Dan Bell, Patric Rooney and Grant Aplin. But this group is going to receive a run for their money from redshirts (Ryan Tobin, Noah Mortel, Nathan Nguon). Oh, and I would keep an eye out for the potential of Bryce Blair starting at tackle. The only thing holding him back early in his career is the proper weight and he’s slowly bulking up.
Tight end: Graham DeVore, Mahtomedi, Minn.
DeVore comes to UND with a sneaky shot at playing as a true freshman. He’s 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, which is already close to the size of UND’s big tight ends from 2016 (Alex Cloyd and Hunter Pinke). UND graduated two tight ends from 2016 in Luke Mathewson and Joe Mollberg. The Fighting Hawks need to be better at tight end. The team returns one clear contributor for 2017 in Luke Fiedler, but this is an offense that plays multiple tight ends often. If DeVore can handle the mental side of understanding the offense, he’s got a shot to play right away. I also expect to see some strides from Cloyd, who really popped during fall camp last year but had some typical ups and downs as a rookie, as well as an injury that shook up his chances of making a bigger impact.
Defensive line: Zeke Ott, Caledonia, Minn., Nick Honerlaw, South Milwaukee, Wis., and Jalen Morrison, Woodbury, Minn.
Interesting that UND’s most hyped recruit in 2017 in Zeke Ott comes to the program’s deepest position group. In 2017, UND returns a slew of proven DL: Brandon Dranka, Drew Greeley, Tank Harris, Mason Bennett, Carter Wilson, Steve Greer and Austin Cieslak. Will Ott be good enough right away to crack that lineup? It’s going to be tough. Morrison is an intriguing prospect. Coaches are high on Morrison, who could be a future standout nose guard despite playing running back in high school.
Linebackers: Noah Larson, Baraboo, Wis., Leig Bungum, Dodge Center, Minn., Hayden Reynolds, West Fargo, and Bryden Swenson, Hallock, Minn.
Noah Larson could be the unsung hero of this recruiting class. Word is that Larson, the son of a former UND running back, tested out extremely well. You don’t often see inside linebackers play as true freshman, but Larson could be it. UND is a little thin inside right now. Starters should be Connor O’Brien and Donnell Rodgers, but the backups are anyone’s guess. Dijon Murray? He was too injured in 2016 for me to know what he brings to the table. Jake Geier, a highly touted safety in the 2016 class, might also be in the mix at inside. It seemed clear throughout the year that his natural build was going to be too big to stay at safety. Bungum is also highly though of, but I’m expecting 2016 kids to fill some of the gaps at outside (Jaxson Turner, Ray Haas).
Defensive backs: Hayden Blubaugh, Aurora, Colo., Kyle Hietpas, Little Chute, Wis., Tyler Shannon, Aarvada, Colo., and Tamas Stewart, Chaffey College.
All four of these guys will get a look to play right away, although I think it’s going to be tough to crack the rotation at cornerback. UND returns CBs Deion Harris, Torrey Hunt, Tyus Carter and Evan Holm. UND’s depth at safety, though, is a huge question mark. It’s my belief that Zach Arnell’s career is done, although UND hasn’t issued that release officially, so who starts opposite Cole Reyes? With Tanner Palmborg probably shifting from safety to OLB, the battle will be between Stewart and Chuck Flowers. After that, UND is going to need someone to step up and that could be a true freshman. Jordan Canaday could me in that mix after redshirting in 2016, so could Dre Randolph, who practiced at corner last season but could move to safety in the future.
I ripped through this pretty fast, so let me know who I missed or anyone you’re wondering about the development.