Heading in the the 2017 season, Coach Bobby Petrino will be required to find replacements for some key offensive contributors including James Quick, Jamari Staples, Keith Towbridge, Cole Hikutini, and Brandon Radcliff. As anyone with even limited knowledge of Bobby Petrino’s offense knows, there are never enough playmakers at his disposal as they are what makes his offense so exciting to watch. The Louisville coaching staff has done a great job in the 2017 class of identifying and landing some of the top offensive skill players nationally. Dave Lackford (@Rivals_DLack) and I (@cpersonTCZ) break down these offensive skill players to give you an idea of the excitement to come.
**Note: If you missed our first piece in the series (Offensive line), be sure to check that out HERE**
1. Malik Cunningham (QB)
247Sports Composite Rating: 3-Star (0.8544)
Dave’s Evaluation: I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cunningham push Jawon Pass for the starting job in 2018. Cunningham’s running style is disciplined and explosive. He looks like a running back the way he reacts to his environment, waiting for downfield blocks to develop, using acceleration and deceleration to set up defenders in the open field. As a passer, he is very accurate over the middle of the field on intermediate passes, showing zip on his throws on quick hitters and touch on passes over defenders down the seam. He also anticipates his throws well for a high school kid, throwing the ball to the spot he expects receivers to be rather than holding the ball waiting for his receivers to separate, this is something that is very hard to teach. Another impressive thing about his game is his eye discipline. He was already going through his progressions as a junior and he also keeps his vision downfield looking for receivers while scrambling behind the line of scrimmage. I hold that Cunningham is a very underrated recruit and he will be the ‘Cards starter by 2019, maybe sooner.
Chris’ Evaluation: Malik Cunningham is an exceptional recruit for Coach Petrino and staff and will be a star at Louisville before it is all said and done. He is most known for his legs, possessing all the running ability a star running back has including patience, the ability to cut, quick acceleration, and good top end speed. He reminds me a lot of Lamar Jackson in how both use their eyes and their bodies to set up defenders for failure. What most have overlooked about Cunningham is his throwing ability. He has a very quick release, good accuracy, and very good arm strength. When scrambling, Cunningham keeps his eyes downfield, and is able to hit receivers with ease even out of the pocket. One thing in particular that stood out to me was his ability to change velocity on his throws depending on the situation. He understands that not every pass needs to be thrown at 100%, but also that some require that extra zip to get there.
2. Colin Wilson (RB)
247Sports Composite Rating: 4-Star (0.9093)
Dave’s Evaluation: On October 19th when Wilson committed to Louisville I was concerned that injuries had taken a drastic toll on the young man’s athletic ability. Admittedly, I was not very high on him. Since then he has quieted all concerns by rushing for 984 yards in the subsequent six games. He is now showing the explosive burst and jump cuts that had scouts drooling over him following his Sophomore season when he ran for 1,555 and 27 touchdowns on 218 carries. He currently has 1,322 and 18 scores on only 161 carries this season, as Clay will host Ponte Vedra in the Florida state semis.
At 6-foot-1, 220-pounds Wilson is the prototypical back for Bobby Petrino’s offensive scheme and could make an early impact as a freshman depending on how well he picks up the playbook.
Chris’ Evaluation: Wilson is a prototypical every down back that is the highest rated running back in quite a while for Louisville. One source close to the program described him as having all of the intangibles, size, power, and speed. When you first turn on his tape you see a bruising, in between the tackles type of runner. If you continue to watch his tape you see someone who is very explosive, able to change directions very quickly, accelerate incredibly well for someone his size and stay on his feet through contact. If you try to arm tackle Wilson you will simply not succeed. He has great balance and is always moving forward, fighting for extra yards.
3. Justin Marshall (WR)
247Sports Composite Rating: 3-Star (0.8754), 4-star (Rivals)
Dave’s Evaluation: Things I always look for when evaluating a high school receiver are blocking ability, route speed, hand strength and body positioning when battling for contested passes, and toughness after the catch. Marshall checks all those boxes. He’s vicious on crack down blocks and has the size to level edge guys. Some kids run a 4.5 forty in a straight line but run a 5.5 over the middle, Marshall is fearless. He does a good job of getting between the ball and his defenders and attacks the ball in the air. After he secures the ball, he fights for yardage, especially on tunnel screens and short flares, and shows good leg drive. he does raise make me a little nervous with how he holds the ball away from his body sometimes however. I think Marshall’s 4-star Rivals ranking is based upon the level of college readiness exhibited in his game.
Marshall is from Kentucky, although he lives in Georgia now, and grew up crafting his game after DeVante Parker. I spoke with DeVante Parker’s high school coach at Ballard, Mike Jackson, and he told me he sees a lot of Parker in Marshall’s game. He said Parker was fearless over the middle and was an effective blocker, and the same can be said for Marshall.
Chris’ Evaluation: Justin Marshall was a target of Bobby Petrino’s for a long while now and it is easy to see what makes him so special. Marshall mirrors his game after his favorite player, DeVante Parker. This is very evident in the way he plays. He has nice size for a receiver, both in height and in frame. What separates Marshall from a normal “outside” receiver is his versatility. Not only can he go up and make a play on a deep route, but he has the speed to be a playmaker catching the ball on quick slants, screen passes, etc. Just like Parker, Marshall is not afraid to work the middle of the field which makes him very unique. Along with these qualities, Marshall displays a willingness to sacrifice himself to take a defender completely out of a play. In a sense, Marshall is about as well rounded of a wide receiver as you could ask a high schooler to be. This should help Marshall earn some early playing time at Louisville.
4. Corey Reed (WR)
247Sports Composite Rating: 3-Star (0.8644), 4-Star (Rivals)
Dave’s Evaluation: Louisville has done well with recruits from Georgia in the past few years and Reed continues that trend. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Reed plays for undefeated Georgia powerhouse Roswell, a team that spreads the ball around in a balanced run/pass attack so his numbers are pretty humble. He also missed three games this season. That being said, he has a ton of upside based on his size and athleticism. He’s very physical and provides a matchup problem against smaller corners. When he has the ball in his hands he shows good agility, utilizing a nice jump cut and finishes runs by throwing his shoulder into his defender violently. His physicality and catch radius also help him win contested throws and jump balls. He’s also a high wire act that will make the circus catches.
The knock on him is that he doesn’t have exceptional speed and acceleration so he is going to have to perfect his route running at the next level. His ability to win jump balls may get him on the field early but I don’t think it’s likely, as the ‘Cards already have a bevy of receivers that fit that mold. That being said, I think his high ranking is based on his upside, and after a year or two with wide receiver coach Lonnie Galloway, Reed may turn into a star, he has the tools to do so.
Chris’ Evaluation: Like Marshall, Corey Reed was a target the Louisville staff focused on from the beginning because of how much they liked him. Reed came to “Light Up The Ville” this past summer and reportedly was hands down the best receiver there, putting on a clinic. He has a spectacular catch radius that makes him a very good downfield and endzone target. To go along with this, he also has the playmaking ability to catch the ball close to the line of scrimmage and get some major YAC due to his speed and ability to plant his foot and cut on a dime. Regarding his speed, Reed appears to have better acceleration than he does top end speed, although neither are detrimental to his receiver ability whatsoever. Another similarity to Marshall is his readiness to play from day one. A good comparison I see in Corey Reed is UofL freshman Seth Dawkins.
5. Josh Johnson (WR)
247Sports Composite Rating: 3-Star (0.8544)
Dave’s Evaluation: If you’re under 6-foot and want to play receiver at the P5 level you better be tough as hell, fast, agile, make very few mistakes, and catch everything. That’s how Johnson rolls. His team, Woodward Academy, just lost in the third round of the Georgia playoffs (yulp, another Georgia kid) and he is a big reason they went so deep. He finished up with 40 catches for 1,014 yards and 13 touchdowns, that’s good for 25.4 yards per catch and a touchdown per every four catches.
Johnson’s speed is a notch below elite and his route running is fluid and efficient. The thing that stands out the most to me is his athletic IQ and how he processes information while moving at top speed. He fires into his routes, decelerates from top speed while changing direction, then explodes out of his cuts with his eyes and hands up. The kid is also very tough over the middle and makes catches through contact and also bounces of hits because he runs so hard over the middle.
Johnson reminds me of FSU’s Nyqwan Murray coming out of High School. I like this kid a lot and think he could take over the slot receiver role by his Junior year and possibly contribute in ’18 as a punt returner or ration guy on offense.
Chris’ Evaluation: Ever since I watched Johnson’s highlights for the first time I was very impressed. When I went back and watched them again after Marshall and Reed had been added to the fold, I was even more impressed. Johnson plays mostly in a slot receiver role, working effectively over the center of the field with no reservation. One of the most recent examples I can compare him to would be Eli Rogers, but with a little more speed/quickness. Along with his speed, Johnson is also tough to bring down as he possesses a strong lower body and has great balance to go along with it. He will be fighting for playing time early behind Reggie Bonnafon and Traveon Samuel, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he contributes in the return game given his playmaking ability.
6. Kemari Averett (TE)
247Sports Composite Rating: 3-Star (0.8544)
Dave’s Evaluation: Averett is a matchup nightmare in the red zone due to his catch radius and ability to line up anywhere in goal line formations. He is the epitome of a receiving tight end. He will need to work on his blocking prowess if he is to become a full time starter but he can probably play right in certain packages due to his unique skill set. He also doesn’t break as many tackles as one would think for a player of his size. The fact that Louisville will have talented Texas A&M transfer Jordan Davis in the fold next year will allow Averett time to work on his progression.
Chris’ Evaluation: Kemari Averett is physically impressive to say the least. He is tall, he has a huge frame, he moves extremely well, and is just overall a very fluid athlete. Even with Hikutini and Towbridge graduating, Averett will not be forced into a major role immediately, although he may work into the rotation as a redzone receiving threat. In high school Averett is just physically superior to everyone so there will be an adjustment when those physical attributes don’t immediately lead to success. With that being said the sky is the limit for Averett. Add a little more weight to the frame, work on his blocking, and Averett will have a great shot at playing on Sundays.
1. AJ Davis (RB)
247Sports Composite Rating: 4-Star (0.9161)
Notes: Davis has been playing his cards close to the vest and where he will sign is still very much speculation at this point. He has visited Missourri already and plans to check out UNC on January 14th and Louisville on January 21st. It’s a plus sign that UofL gets a visit so close to signing day but if he takes that visit will tell everything. The visits he has scheduled do show a trend that he is leaning towards leaving Florida for college.
Dave’s Evaluation: AJ Davis would be the crown jewel of this recruiting class if the ‘Cards are fortunate enough to land him. He’s ready to come in and play right away. He excels in all facets of the game as a running back and is also lethal in the return game. An old school back who hits the hole full speed, runs through tackles, and makes devastating cuts, Davis shows great vision and athletic IQ. His style would be a perfect fit in Petrino’s offense. He isn’t the biggest back but he runs through tackles with powerful leg drive. He also uses crafty body movement in traffic to pick up tough ground in short yardages situations. He reminds me of Devonta Freeman when he was at Miami Central.
Chris’ Evaluation: Like Colin Wilson, AJ Davis is a complete, 3 down back. Whereas Wilson is shifted slightly towards the power with a good amount of speed thrown in, Davis is slightly towards the fast with a good amount of power thrown in. Like all great running backs Davis is very patient. He is not always rushing to get upfield when there is nothing there. He takes his time, lets the blocks set up, finds the hole, plants one foot, and accelerates with superb speed. Don’t be mistaken though, Davis has the size, strength, and physicality to pound the ball up the middle and is not afraid to take hits. He shows great balance and his feet never stop, running through and over defenders. If Louisville were to land AJ Davis, the duo of Davis and Wilson would be very intriguing for years to come.
Dave’s holistic takeaway:
The skill set class is looking stout with two 4-star wide receivers Justin Marshall and Corey Reed and a 4- star running back in Colin Wilson. I believe Marshall is the most complete player and college ready of the receivers, while Reed has tremendous upside but will need some development before seeing the field. Three star wide receiver Josh Johnson is a dynamic playmaking slot threat who can also line up wide and stretch defenses on deep routes, look for him to contribute sooner rather than later. If Malik Cunningham doesn’t win the starting QB job by then, he will end up pushing Jawon Pass to a elevate his level of play. With Texas A&M transfer Jordan Davis eligible to play tight end in 2017, look for Kemari Averett to redshirt as a freshman unless coach Petrino decides to deploy him as a red zone weapon. Finally, if the ‘Cards can pull in four-star running back Anthony Davis from Lakeland, Florida in addition to Wilson, this class will set the offense up for an explosive 2018 season. This group of skill players is poised to be the highest rated Louisville has ever pulled in, I give it a B+ and if AJ Davis ends up signing I will give it an A-.
Chris’ holistic takeaway:
Last year, Bobby Petrino and staff landed a very impressive wide receiver class in Seth Dawkins, Dez Fitzpatrick, and Keion Wakefield as well as one of the top quarterbacks nationally in Jawon Pass. This year, the Louisville staff has topped that by not only adding 3 highly regarded receivers and a top quarterback nationally, but also a stud running back, and a very talented tight end. Every single one of these offensive skill players I believe will contribute in some form or fashion, fairly early on in their college careers. I also believe all 6 have the talent to possibly make a NFL roster down the road. If Louisville can continue to develop and build an offensive line going forward, these next few years could very well be some of the best, most talented offenses Bobby Petrino has ever coached. As is, I would designate this position class as an A and if they were able to land AJ Davis, an A+ due to its talent, versatility, and fit to the Cardinal’s offensive style.
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